Jurassic finale traces the franchise back to its dino DNA

The franchise-rebooting Jurassic World jolted the Jurassic Park franchise back to life in 2015, but it’s only with the followup films that the theme of its title has made its true meaning known. “Jurassic World” began as the name of the resurrected theme park, but with the demise of Isla Nublar and its dinosaurs shipped offsite and released to the wild at the conclusion of Fallen Kingdom, the planet has come to a new age of prehistoric reptiles roaming about in modern times.

The original Jurassic Park is one of my all-time favorites, and I enjoy the sequels in varying degrees. Even III, which I contend is not good — that hasn’t stopped me from watching it half a dozen times. This is comfort cinema. It’s also my son’s favorite series, so these movies get a lot of play around here.

The big draw, aside from this ostensibly being the finale to the franchise, is the return of the classic cast from the original trilogy: Drs. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldlbum).

As a bizarre plague of giant locusts storms across farmlands and even jumps continents, Ellie Sattler is drawn into the mystery of why certain crops — those created by BioSyn (this film’s newest big bad corporation) — aren’t being impacted. I’ve heard a fair amount of complaints about “grasshoppers interrupting the dinosaur movie” from critics of this subplot, but it’s a totally sensible setup for reintroducing the old cast. Sattler is an accomplished botanist; this is her beat.

Meanwhile Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) set out on a rescue mission when Maisie (Isabella Sermon), whom they’ve adopted following the events of the last film, is kidnapped, along with the adolescent offspring of Blue the raptor, by BioSyn agents after their uniquely engineered DNA.

If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve caught glimpses of the absolutely superb Malta sequence, which introduces an intriguing “dinosaur underground” of black market trading and pit-fighting, then launches into a breathless action and chase sequence involving both humans and weaponized dinosaurs through the crowded city streets and alleys. It brings some of that globe-trotting James Bond-esque flavor, something that’s fresh and wholly different for this franchise. Unfortunately, this is probably the best sequence in the film as the third act just isn’t quite as exciting.

The film has a ton of dinosaurs and is pretty action heavy, including some species we haven’t seen in the series before, with heavy concentration on a couple of species new to the series; the massive Gigantosaurus, and the Therizinosaurus, a hulking, menacing creature armed with massive claws.

It may be easy to take for granted how incredible the franchise’s dinosaur effects are, but outside of Apple+’s new Prehistoric Planet series, or maybe Peter Jackson’s King Kong, there are precious few shows or movies that can actually hold a candle to the Park that Crichton built when it comes to realistically presenting on-screen dinos. (Looking past the tons of DTV schlock, even moderate-to-bigger budgeted stuff like Walking with Dinosaurs, Primeval, or Dinotopia just isn’t even in the same conversation).

I was also incredibly pleased to see what seems like a fair amount of practical effects being used, lending even more texture and tangibility and representing a noticeable improvement over the look of the last few films: I think it’s fair to say this is the best these dinos have ever looked and moved, and that’s no small compliment.

Having the old cast back goes a really long way for me, and I loved having them join the party. The character interplay between the legacy characters had me grinning, bringing back Alan Grant’s quiet affection for Ellie Sattler and jealous annoyance at Ian Malcolm’s smarmy coolness. That said, there are a lot of new and returning characters to juggle, including new pilot ally Kayla (DeWanda Wise), familiar characters like Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong, who gets his best outing here), and the return of a familiar, previously minor character from the past (Dodgson! We’ve got Dodgson here!).

While Dominion is a perfectly serviceable dino-sequel and a fun time at the movies, and there’s absolutely no doubt that this will get massive play at Casa Vashaw, in some sense it does feel like a letdown.

With a recent trend of being spoiled by incredible blockbuster finales culminating in grand, mind-blowing fashion (Spider-Man: No Way Home, Top Gun: Maverick) that has you riding high as you leave the theater, it’s a little disappointing that Dominion, which has a similar conceit of tugging at nostalgia with legacy characters we love, simply didn’t smash it out of the park in the way that those other movies managed to. I enjoyed it a lot, but it didn’t rise to what I’d hoped it could be.

— A/V Out

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