Nostalgia, as they say, never goes out of style. And in a pop-culture space increasingly populated by aging Gen-Xers and millennials with time on their hands, affection for the more sanguine 1990s has reached its pinnacle of saturation. The X-Files, Sex and the City, Friends, Scream — and we might as well throw the box office-crushing Top Gun in there because it’s close enough — are just a few of the franchises that have gone back to their various wells, their stars creakier in the joints and grayer at the temples but still quick with a quip, and still able to hold the gun straight.
For nearly 30 years, the Jurassic Park empire has resisted the temptation to bring the old gang back together. But the trend lines have finally grown too seductive, and Jurassic World Dominion is the fan fiction its most ardent followers have been pining for. For the first time since the 1993 original, Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum are reprising their roles of paleobotanist Ellie Sattler, paleontologist Alan Grant, and chaos theorist Ian Malcolm.
Much has changed since these scientists consulted on John Hammond’s catastrophic folly of a theme park. Following the events of Jurassic World and its successor, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, dinosaurs have now been loosed upon the world, spreading to all of its continents in a reptilian diaspora and reconfiguring migration patterns and the global food chain. Pterodactyls now build nests atop skyscrapers; drivers swerve off-road to avoid hitting the occasional wandering triceratops. Their presence has led to a scourge of black-market animal trading and illegal breeding operations, though Biosyn, a biotech giant with a focus on sequencing dinosaur DNA, purports to be on the side of science and progress, with applications to cure cancer and other lofty objectives.
The company is also responsible for releasing a swarm of genetically engineered locusts that are decimating farmland across the South and Midwest — at least, the farmland that doesn’t use patented Biosyn seeds. But to make an omelet, you’ve got to break a few eggs, right?
This is how Dern’s Ellie Sattler enters the picture. Now an activist with an ax to grind with Monsanto — er, that is, Biosyn — she hatches a plan, with former partner Alan Grant, to sneak into the organization’s research compound in Italy and prove the company is behind the killer insects. But Biosyn’s reach extends beyond biblical plagues, and it isn’t long before Ellie’s crusade merges with that of Jurassic World heroes Claire Dearing and Owen Grady (Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt), who have their own reasons to take down Biosyn and its smarmy CEO, played with relish by Campbell Scott.
Jurassic World Dominion labors to inject scientific bona fides, animal-rights bromides and populist politics into its storytelling, but unlike the Michael Crichton cautionary tale that birthed the franchise, they are all window dressing. After a certain point, its hulking surfeit of action sequences, each piled onto the next in a narrative Jenga tower of sound and fury, merely numb the senses rather then engaging them.
This is not, of course, for lack of effort. Arguably the most ingratiating film in the franchise, Jurassic World Dominion weaves in elements of a Western, a spy drama, a conspiracy thriller and a jungle adventure, in a script that sends its characters from West Texas to the Dolomite Mountains to the narrow streets of Malta. Adding a frisson of crazy in an already chaotic world, dinosaurs attack from the air, the sea and on terra firma.
This is why director Colin Trevorrow is not Steven Spielberg, who, for all his commercial concessions, proved that to stage suspense effectively, we need to see as little of the threat as possible, and let our minds fill in the gaps. This movie is so overstuffed with CGI that even the majesty of its anthropomorphic beasts grows tiresome. After two hours, watching dinosaurs fight each other is actually boring.
Through it all, the writing is decidedly average, sprinkled as it as with such sparkling bon mots as “that’s not good” and “that was bananas.” At its clunkiest, certain scenes are indistinguishable from those in Cliff Beasts 6, the parodic movie-within-a-movie from Judd Apatow’s latest comedy, The Bubble.
At least there’s Jeff Goldblum, appearing here at his most Goldblumiest, imbuing his witticisms with a cerebral patina and almost salvaging a screenplay mired in leaden clichés. Cynical and cash-grabbing as their casting may, he and his fellow Jurassic Park alums still have an inherent charm as they fly and sledgehammer and spelunk their way through a story whose message hasn’t evolved since the original film: Don’t muck with nature. This is reportedly the final film in the Jurassic World trilogy. Time will tell how the broader franchise will revive itself with yet another variation on the theme.
JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION. Director: Colin Trevorrow; Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, DeWanda Wise, Mamoudou Athie, BD Wong; Distributor: Universal; Rating: PG-13; Opens: Friday at most area theaters