Tag: Bryce Dallas Howard

Jurassic World: Dominion (2022)

Jurassic World: Dominion (2022)

It squeezes so many characters in, it totally forgets to make room for plot, invention or anything new at all

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Cast: Chris Pratt (Owen Grady), Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire Dearing), Laura Dern (Dr Ellie Sattler), Jeff Goldblum (Dr Ian Malcolm), Sam Neill (Dr Alan Grant), Isabella Sermon (Maisie Lockwood), DeWanda Wise (Kayla Watts), Mamoudou Athie (Ramsay Cole), Campbell Scott (Dr Lewis Dodgson), BD Wong (Dr Henry Wu), Omar Sy (Barry Sembène), Justice Smith (Franklin Webb), Daniella Pineda (Dr Zia Rodriguez)

As I was leaving the cinema, I heard a twelve-year old talking about which of the dinosaurs in the movie was their favourite. Then they said: “it was a bit samey though wasn’t it?”. I’m not sure I can beat that precocious nail-on-the-head judgement. Nothing happens in Jurassic World: Dominion you’ve not seen many times before in the franchise. Underneath the flash, Jurassic World: Dominion is a tired retread, crowbarring in references from better films left, right and centre, all to hide that there are no new ideas here.

Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) have dedicated their lives to protecting human clone Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) from the grasp of corporations. When she’s kidnapped by foot-soldiers of clearly-evil-corp BioSyn (they even have “Sin” in their name), they pull out all the stops to get her back from BioSyn’sNorthern Italy research compound. Meanwhile, Drs Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Alan Grant (Sam Neill) are investigating genetically modified locusts which are destroying every crop in the Southern USA – except those using BioSyn seed. All roads lead to that Italian compound – where Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is employed as a contrarian philosopher – to try and stop BioSyn’s nefarious schemes.

You know what struck me when I wrote that summary? I didn’t use the word dinosaurs. The prehistoric beasties are pretty superfluous. Sure, they down a plane and our heroes dodge them in various places (BioSyn’s compound doubles as a dinosaur refuge). But, seeing as the last film ended with dinosaurs escaping into the wild and becoming part of our everyday lives… this sequel takes the concept nowhere. Bar an opening news report montage (showing, among other things, pterodactyls – yes, I know they’re not dinosaurs – stealing a bride’s bouquet) and a Star Wars style under-ground market where dino-pets and fighting-pit beasties are traded on the black market, Dominion finds almost nothing to do with this.

In fact, Dominion struggles to find anything to do at all. It’s an extremely loosely plotted mess of a film that feels like two vaguely (very, very vaguely) connected plotlines rammed together in a way designed to shoe-horn in as many legacy characters and call-backs as possible. Laura Dern gets the bulkiest (and only plot essential) role among the returning trio. Sam Neill feels dragged along for the ride (Grant serves literally no narrative purpose) and, while Goldblum gets most of the best lines (delivered in his trademark, improvisational oddness), Malcolm merely splits the role of “inside man” with another character so cursorily introduced and vaguely motivated he feels like he was only there because covid made some of the other actors unavailable for parts of the filming.

The legacy framing is so lazy that all three of these characters essentially wear the same costumes as they did in Jurassic Park. Everyone in universe seems to know who they are (Which I find highly unlikely) and the film bends over backwards to introduce clumsy links between them and the characters from the first two Jurassic World films in ways that feel forced.

The film slowly consumes itself with references back to previous films, linked by sequences that feel ripped out from other hits. Owen and Claire’s opening plotline plays out like an odd Mission: Impossible spy thriller, including a Bourne-ish roof top chase (with Owen haring away on his trademark motorbike from killer velociraptors – the film’s only exciting set-piece, and even that is ripped from other films) with Claire transformed into a semi-adept free-runner. The dino-market is essentially Mos Eisley, by way of that Kamono Dragon fighting pit from Skyfall. By the end a host of famous set-pieces from Jurassic Park and Jurassic World are effectively re-staged or openly referenced and props (such as Nedry’s shaving foam can) are reverentially pulled out.

Any interesting ideas raised are swiftly crushed. Maisie’s concern that, as a clone, she isn’t a real person is fascinating, but the film forgets it in seconds. The villain (a neat Steve Jobs parody from Campbell Scott) spends a fortune capturing Maisie – but when she escapes (thanks to a key to her cage being helpfully left on a table in front of her) he makes literally no attempt at all to recapture her. It’s stressed to us that the whole world is looking for Maisie and that if she is found it will be dangerous for her – by the end of the film she’s doing a press conference and no one gives a damn. The moral implications of a ‘mother’ cloning herself and curing her clone child of a life-ending disease in the womb, is thrown on the table and then ignored.

The whole film revolves around ridiculous coincidences. Villains run away and then helpfully return to ludicrously unsafe places, purely because the plot requires it. Stupid decisions are made right, left and centre. Plot armour ruthlessly protects the expected. The dinosaurs are just irrelevant set dressing: we are told no less than three times the Gigantasaurus is “the biggest hunter there’s ever been”: solely to build up an inevitable face-off with the T-Rex. The deadly locust plot is such a naked attempt to motivate shoe-horning in legacy characters, the film doesn’t even bother to explain what it’s about or what the baddies plan was.

At one point Laura Dern says something to the effect of “we shouldn’t live in the past, we should aim for the future”. Imagine if this slightly lumpen rehash of its better predecessors had done the same.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Chris Pratt comes face-to-face with an old friend in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Director: JA Bayona

Cast: Chris Pratt (Owen Grady), Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire Dearing), Rafe Spall (Eli Mills), Justice Smith (Franklin Webb), Daniella Pineda (Zia Rodriguez), James Cromwell (Sir Benjamin Lockwood), Toby Jones (Gunnar Eversol), Ted Levine (Ken Wheatley), BD Wong (Dr Henry Wu), Isabella Sermon (Maisie Lockwood), Geraldine Chaplin (Iris), Jeff Goldblum (Dr Ian Malcolm)

I don’t care how old I get. I still love those dinosaurs. Doesn’t everyone? And of course what’s better than seeing dinosaurs munch down on them what deserves it? Well you got plenty of that in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which throws everything it can at the screen and is enjoyable enough, even if it feels a little like one for the money.

It’s been five years since the events of the first film, and the old Jurassic Park is now abandoned and the whole island given over to the control of the dinosaurs. In what you have to say is a pretty damning indictment of InGen’s planning (but then they really planned nothing well on this whole project) turns out the whole island is actually a volcano and, yup, she’s gonna blow. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is leading a campaign to win government support for saving the dinosaurs, when she is recruited by Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), chair of a charity foundation set up by ageing businessman and park co-founder Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) to lead a ‘Noah’s Ark’ mission to the island. But they need the help of Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to find Blue the last surviving member of his Velociraptor pack. Arriving on the island howeer, they find not everyone can be trusted.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom plays like a remix of events and moments from each of the earlier films. So you more or less get exactly what you might expect, and the film never really surprises you at all. You have a dangerous mission on the abandoned island (Jurassic Park III), dangerous chases in a lab (Jurassic Park), a bioengineered super dinosaur running riot (Jurassic World), dinosaurs on the main land (The Lost World) and businessmen with ulterior motives (all of them). None of the sly wit and the relatively patient build-up of Jurassic World is really present here: instead we are almost immediately thrown into an island literally exploding, and the film gets bigger and bigger from there (even if it doesn’t get better).

JA Bayona directs this with a breezy professionalism, with a decent sense of pace and some well-constructed tension sequences. There are some decent call-back jokes, not least to Claire’s far more appropriate choice of footwear. The film also gets some decent material out of exploring the back story of Owen’s bond with the velociraptor back, not least his parental bond with lead velociraptor Blue. It makes for some interesting emotional material, but it’s a shame that this never really feels like it plays back into any broader theme in the movie. There is some stuff in there about parental bonds (Lockwood and his granddaughter, Wu’s plans to have Blue “mother” his latest super dinosaur abomination) but it doesn’t go anywhere.

That’s part of the problem of this film: it goes nowhere we haven’t really been before. Even the beats of wonder as people go “oh wow that’s a dinosaur” feel repeated and tired – the first moment even revolves around a brachiosaurus, just as the same moment did in the first film. Bayona does however draw some heart rendering material from the dinosaurs running vainly from death in the volcanic eruption – most notably from a brachiosaurus tragically bellowing in despair as it is engulfed in volcanic gas. 

But it’s all pretty samey. And the plot moves at such a lick that it actually starts to feel a little bit silly. So of course Owen and Claire are persuaded in minutes to go back to the island. Of course they are betrayed in the first few minutes. Of course the island starts to erupt almost as soon as they arrived. Everything happens at this crackerjack pace, that actually starts to make things feel even more cartoonish than a film about a load of man-made dinosaurs feels like to start with.

That’s on the top of the fact that none of the new characters make any real impact – most of them might as well have “Trope” or “Plot Device” written on their faces. The villain stands out a mile away the instant he appears. His main henchman is so nakedly untrustworthy, you marvel Claire and Owen even consider going on the mission with him. The comic relief character is insanely annoying. Countering this, Chris Pratt plays off his charisma extremely well to remain a very magnetic hero, and I think Bryce Dallas Howard gets much more to play with here as a Claire far more plugged in and competent than in the first film.

But the atmosphere of affectionate nostalgia, and delight that powers the first film so well and makes it (for my generation) such a huge joy to watch, with its tongue-in-cheek but also smart and not-overly-done fanboy style, is missing here. This feels more like a film assembled by people who have seen all the films and basically wanted to box tick everything you might expect to see. It’s not really trying to do something different, it’s just treading water.

But despite all that, it’s still quite good fun.  That’s the odd thing. Yes people in it behave with staggering stupidity and the film doesn’t offer any surprises (the dinosaurs have clearly read the script when planning their meals). Yes it’s derivative and unoriginal. But I still rather enjoyed it. It’s lacking in any inspiration or (you feel) the sort of genuine affection Colin Trevorrow brought to it, but you know it’s good enough. Whether good enough is good enough is of course another question.

Jurassic World (2015)

Chris Pratt rides into action with a pack of velociraptors – it could only be Jurassic World

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Cast: Chris Pratt (Owen Grady), Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire Dearing), Vincent D’Onofrio (Vic Hoskins), Ty Simpkins (Gray Mitchell), Nick Robinson (Zach Mitchell). Omar Sy (Barry), BD Wong (Dr Henry Wu), Irrfan Khan (Simon Masrani), Jake Johnson (Lowery Cruthers), Lauren Lapkus (Vivian), Katie McGrath (Zara), Judy Greer (Karen Mitchell), Andy Buckley (Scott Mitchell)

When I was younger, the most exciting film ever was Jurassic Park. Imagine the thrill of a 12-year-old who loved dinosaurs, seeing these mighty beasts on the big screen. I collected all the stickers, and read the books (not the same as the movie – boo) and everything. In this (but nothing else) I seem to be quite similar to Chris Pratt, who described Jurassic Park as “his Star Wars”. So it’s nice to think I have a kindred spirit in this hugely entertaining, exciting and fun spin-off.

Set in the modern day, the old site of Jurassic Park has been turned into a hugely successful theme park, entertaining hundreds of thousands of guests a year. Two brothers, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson) visit the park, where their aunt Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is the operations manager. The park has plans to launch its new attraction – a genetically engineered super dinosaur called Indominus Rex. Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a former Navy Seal who has been working on training the park’s velociraptors to obey commands, is called in to consult on the animal – only for it to escape and to begin to unleash bloody havoc on the island.

The sheer joy of Jurassic World is its familiarity and its freshness. The escape of the Indominus – and the rampage of chaos that follows – is of course completely expected, but the film tells all this with enough wit and wry tongue-in-cheekness that it completely works. It’s a film that wants to entertain and to give you a fun night out in the cinema, but is also happy to present its action and thrills with an honest, old-fashioned joy. It’s even willing to show a bit of restraint – the opening 20-30 minutes of the film largely set out what an amazing place to visit Jurassic World would be.

That’s the trick to the film – it reintroduces that sense of wonder. The film manages to feel very Spielbergian – the slow-build, the clash between the big corporations and the individualist who knows best, the kids as POV characters, the soaring visuals and delight in seeing these marvellous things brought to life – it’s all there. Trevorrow even thows in moments of genuine sadness (helped by the Williamesque score that riffs on the original theme) as the characters look out on a field of slaughtered dinosaurs from the Indominus. The film sets out to remind you why millions of people loved the first film, by letting the film-makers’ own love of that film shine through.

It’s also got quite a neat meta-twist on blockbuster films. The first 20 minutes has several conversations from the park’s suits about how just creating dinosaurs “isn’t exciting enough anymore” – the Indominus being created to make a dinosaur bigger, better, fiercer than ever before. Could this be any more blatant a comment on the arms race of blockbuster films? It’s also a neat continuation of ideas from the very first film: they were so pleased about being able to make something, they didn’t stop to think if they should.

But all this meta commentary (the park itself is an explosion of product placement, including actual Jurassic Park merchandise) doesn’t get in the way of a darn good yarn. And turning the Indominus into a deluxe killing machine – it’s so twisted by years in solitude it basically kills everything it sees – makes it the best villain the series may have had. Of course not only the Indominus chalks up kills – plenty of other dinos get a look in, and one character in particular gets a death scene so completely over-the-top you can’t help but laugh a little (if rather guiltily).

So you can see why rent-a-baddie Vic Hoskins from corporateville wants Owen Grady to send in his velociraptors to take it out. The series’ longstanding terror figures are reimagined here as hazy allies – and seeing Chris Pratt (respectfully) give them commands and pet them immediately establishes his cool credentials. Grady takes on the role of the man humble before nature – he stresses he doesn’t control the raptors, it’s a relationship of mutual respect – as well as being the sort of kick-ass alpha male that Harrison Ford would have played in his prime.

Pratt is pretty damn good in the film – the perfect guy to root for – and the velociraptor action is undeniably cool. Bryce Dallas Howard has a rather thankless part as his uptight love interest (and yes she wears those shoes for the whole film) but she does play the part with a certain wit. Simpkins and Robinson are very good as kids you end up rooting for rather than hating. Most of the rest of the cast fit neatly into deserving dino-fodder or otherwise (and by-and-large meet the expected fates), but Wong is good as a sinister Dr Wu, and Johnson and Lapkus give some good comic relief (including one laugh out loud moment) as technicians.

Jurassic World is such great fun from start to finish I can more or less overlook its flaws. Sure its dialogue is sometimes clunky. Sure logic often goes out of the window. Sure Iffran Khan’s character fluctuates so wildly (one minute he’s a “let’s just have fun” guy the next he’s a “bottom dollar is God” CEO) that you can tell it was probably changed in reshoots after feedback. D’Onofrio’s villain is so straight forward you’ve seen him dozens of times. The film is, at heart, an episodic series of clashes between Indominusand a range of adversaries.

But it doesn’t matter because it is a film that understands – and can speak – the language of movie magic. That can mix thrills with awe. That knows the key to your heart is not offering you bigger bangs, but in working hard to give you characters you care about. It’s a film made by people who loved the first movie but – and this is so rare – also understood what made the first film so good. And who can resist cheering the final few moments as a half-team of dinosaurs and humans take on the Indominus for final showdown? It’s a perfect Spielbergian rollercoaster ride and I’ve seen it dozens of times and I love it. It’s one of my ultimate guilty pleasures.