‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ finds its way by going back to basics

Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, Laura Darn, Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, and Isabella Sermon in "Jurassic World: Dominion." (Universal Studios)

★★★★½ out of 5 -- Rated: PG-13 -- Run time: 2 hours, 27 minutes

In this summer’s movie season, the sequels just keep on coming. A couple of weeks ago it was the very entertaining‚”Top Gun: Maverick,” and this week it’s the sixth “Jurassic Park” film. Or to be more precise -- the third film in the “Jurassic World” series, which began in 2015 with Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard as the main characters.

The first film in the series reboot was a hit with critics and audiences. The second film, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” continued that box office success but felt a bit bloated with more and more dinosaur attacks and special effects -- and a less memorable story.

This new, third effort, “Jurassic World: Dominion” returns to basics: Not only is director Collin Trevorrow back (he handed off the director reins for “Fallen Kingdom” to someone else) but so are the three main leads of the very first “Jurassic Park” film -- Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum. This blend of both original and new casts was a wonderful creative decision, buoyed by a clever script by Trevorrow and Emily Carmichael (“Pacific Rim: Uprising”).

The story picks up four years after the end of the last film, with dinosaurs now living free in various places around the globe. Former “Jurassic World” park manager Claire (Howard) and her dinosaur trainer boyfriend Owen (Pratt) are living in the wilderness, still helping to protect dinosaurs while also trying to protect their adopted teenage daughter, Maisie, played by Isabella Sermon. (Maisie was the young girl from the last film who was told she was the cloned granddaughter of the co-founder of Jurassic Park.)

Chris Pratt in "Jurassic World: Dominion." (Universal Studios)

Naturally, they just want to be left alone but powerful forces soon intercede that force the couple into action to find both their daughter plus a kidnapped young dinosaur.

The film manages to navigate the delicate balancing act of a parallel storyline that features “Jurassic Park” original cast member Laura Dern seeking out her old boyfriend Sam Neill for help battling a new super locust that threatens the world’s crops. These giant bugs are tied to a big, mysterious genetics company that’s using prehistoric DNA for evil purposes.

The head of the company is played by Campbell Scott, who seems to be channeling (in the looks department at least) CEO Tim Cook of Apple. Even the circular shape of their company headquarters looks inspired by the Apple HQ. It’s also here where Jeff Goldblum’s scene-stealing character of “Dr. Ian Malcolm” reappears, giving lectures on ethics to the company staff. (His lecture scene does remind me of Goldblum’s “apartments.com” commercials.)

Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and a Giganotosaurus in "Jurassic World: Dominion," co-written and directed by Colin Trevorrow. (© 2022 Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.)

They are joined by a series of returning characters as well as a variety of newcomers. The most notable newbie is DeWanda Wise (“She’s Gotta Have It”) as a super-confident former Air Force pilot-turned-smuggler who slowly drops her tough exterior. She plays a major part in one of the movie’s most exciting sequences -- a dangerous take-off while being pursued by a very angry dino.

The filmmakers made a daring -- and very rewarding -- choice of locations. Rather than the go-to pick of shooting in a jungle, or a modern-looking city, they filmed some major scenes both in the forests of British Columbia, as well as in the old city of Valletta, the capital of Malta. Two spectacular sequences involving dinosaurs chasing a motorcycle plus a rooftop foot pursuit rival anything seen in a “Jason Bourne” movie.

Chris Pratt is chased by a dinosaur in "Jurassic World: Dominion." (Universal Studios)

A big challenge with the Jurassic series is: how do you find new and visually exciting ways to show the dinosaurs in action? The filmmakers accomplished that with this film -- be it an underwater attack below frozen ice, an ejection seat scene involving flying prehistoric birds or giant airborne prehistoric locusts -- we’re seeing things we haven’t seen before.

One criticism -- it seems almost every Jurassic movie has a big climactic battle between two big dinosaurs. They change that formula here -- a little -- but not much.

But what really makes this movie work is that there’s lots of emotional content in the story.

Be it the relationship between former boyfriend/girlfriend Neill and Dern, or the adopted daughter discovering details about her deceased mom, or a dinosaur parent in pain after being separated from its baby. There’s a good balance between both action AND the characters, which helps take “Jurassic World: Dominion” to a higher level.

BONUS: With “Jurassic World: Dominion” now in theaters, I wanted to go back to the release of the original “Jurassic Park” in 1993. I attended the press junket for that film and interviewed cast members both then, and in the years afterward. I’m re-posting this video collection I put together of their stories, featuring Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Sir Richard Attenborough, Ariana Richards and Samuel L. Jackson. Enjoy!