It’s the end of an era – the Jurassic Era. After six “Jurassic Park” and “Jurassic World” movies and almost 30 years, it’s apparently the end of the line for the creature feature franchise that left an oversized footprint on pop culture. “Jurassic World” director Colin Trevorrow returns to helm “Jurassic World Dominion,” the final film of the legacy trilogy, and a trio of favorite actors from the “Jurassic Park” movies have returned to bid adieu to the dinosaurs as well. It’s laden with nostalgia, made up of nods to the original films and other action-adventure classics, and as a goodbye note to the franchise, it’s heartfelt, if a bit limpid, giving preference to references over storytelling.
If Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” was a slasher movie where Michael Myers was a velociraptor, “Jurassic World Dominion” is a swashbuckling action-adventure picture in the style of “Indiana Jones,” but with huge, murderous reptiles. After the dip into Gothic haunted house horror that was J.A. Bayona’s “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” the dinosaurs are officially free of the park and out into the world, and we’ve been promised a film about dinosaurs inhabiting the same space humans and other animals do: stampeding across the prairies, invading city parks, rampaging through the oceans, etc.
There is some of that, to be sure, but “Dominion,” written by Trevorrow, Derek Connolly and Emily Carmichael, quickly brings the story back into “Park” mode, after a couple of international detours in the style of Indy or James Bond or even Jason Bourne. Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) find themselves plunged into the dinosaur black market in Malta while tracking down their adoptive daughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), a human clone of a brilliant genetic scientist who has been kidnapped for her valuable DNA.
With the help of a swaggering pilot-for-hire, Kayla (DeWanda Wise), cut from the same cloth as Han Solo, Owen and Claire head for the Dolomite Mountains in Italy, the headquarters of Biosyn, a genetics research company/dinosaur sanctuary headed up by oddball tech mogul Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott). Already at Biosyn are “Jurassic” fan favorites Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who are looking to investigate a plague of locusts that suspiciously don’t eat Biosyn crops. Yep, things are getting biblical.
The film’s best, and most innovative, set piece is a motorcycle chase through the streets of Malta with some weaponized murder-saurs, but once things converge on the contained location of Biosyn, it starts to follow the “Jurassic” blueprint faithfully, and consciously, delivering what we all expect. The humans interface with the dinosaurs up close, Ripley and Xenomorph style, and enjoy a front-row seat to the kaiju big battle that is T. rex vs. Giganotosaurus.
If it all sounds like a lot of references to a lot of other movies, well, that’s exactly what “Jurassic World Dominion” is, and there are some pleasures to be found in remembering the greatest hits of the major action-adventure and monster movies of the past 40 years. But all of those other films were groundbreaking, inventive and original, while “Dominion” merely rides their coattails, or, perhaps, more nefariously, steals their valor, offering up a rewarmed version of “Jurassic Park” jazzed up with nods to “Godzilla,” “Apocalypse Now” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Sometimes leftovers can hit the spot – the cast is game, the new additions like Wise and Mamoudou Athie are great, and Howard gets a chance to shine. But while “Jurassic World Dominion” offers up some lightweight summer fun, it’s not exactly satisfying, lacking in true suspense, tension and the kind of thrilling spectacle that Spielberg so effortlessly mastered in the first “Jurassic Park,” a cinematic high that we’ll be chasing forever.