Two people have directed two “Jurassic” movies: One is Steven Spielberg, who many consider the best American director.
The other, as of this year, is Colin Trevorrow, whose “Jurassic World Dominion” comes out this weekend. This is a key thing to keep in mind if you watch “Dominion,” which is earnest, and wants to show you cool dinosaurs, yet sinks its teeth unflinchingly deep into a climate change metaphor. But it’s also an insecure movie that is awkwardly searching for approval from the audience and from Spielberg, one of the film’s executive producers.
“Jurassic World Dominion” is the fifth sequel to Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” (1993). It’s the end of a story Trevorrow began in 2015 with “Jurassic World.” That movie was essentially, “What if Jurassic Park actually opened and people came to see it, and then the dinosaurs got loose?” Or, if you want to imbue it with a deeper meaning: What if we ignored all the warning signs and chased the profits?
“Dominion” shows us a world where the results of that are speedily becoming cataclysmic. Dinosaurs have escaped and they’re roaming the world. Genetic experimentation has created an “ecological disaster” that might destroy the world’s food chain. It’s a heavy-handed climate change metaphor, but it feels appropriately urgent.
The movie is an arranged marriage between the original’s cast and “World’s,” and it’s a happy marriage while the two are in separate plotlines. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Alan Grant (Sam Neill) team up to meet Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) at a Tesla-esque bioscience company’s mountainous nature reserve for dinosaurs.
They’re suspicious of the company’s eccentric futurist leader, Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott). Dodgson is, of course, hiding something, and his criminal actions also draw in the heroes of the “World” movies, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, because he — um, kidnaps a cloned girl (?) and a baby raptor and I think if I’d recently watched the last “Jurassic World” movie, “Fallen Kingdom,” I might’ve understood it?
When the two groups meet, the movie becomes incredibly disjointed, as if Trevorrow met his heroes and wasn’t sure what to say. He peppers the movie with callbacks to his first “Jurassic World” movie and the original “Jurassic Park,” but it feels like he wants us to acknowledge that his “World” is as iconic as Spielberg’s “Park.” He’s doing fan service, but he doesn’t fully commit.
This results in uncomfortable moments, like Neill being coaxed into doing Pratt’s raptor-taming move from “World,” or Dern and Dallas Howard smashing some power lines together and Dern saying, “That felt good” (??).
No one gets out of here with any character development, and it seems as if late in the process, a screenwriter realized all six leads are white, so they threw in an extra Black sidekick (DeWanda Wise, who somehow manages to feel more like an iconic action star than anyone else here, despite the transparently hacky writing her character is given) and gave her a mini plotline so it wouldn’t be that obvious.
The dinosaurs, of course, are pretty good, even though they have to share screen time with some giant prehistoric locusts (???). It’s more that the movie isn’t sure what to do with its humans — and that Trevorrow deeply wants his leads to feel as iconic as Spielberg’s old leads.
It feels like watching someone hug their dad and their dad isn’t really a hugger.