Thrill-a-minute 'Jurassic World: Dominion' also believes in the basic goodness of the common person
"Jurassic World: Dominion" -- ★ ★ ★
This thrill-a-minute, PG-13-rated, summer popcorn action/horror picture had me at "Wait ... you made a promise to a dinosaur?"
Professional raptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt reprising his dinosaur-whisperer hero from "Jurassic World" and "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom") promises one of his now-adult "students," Blue, that he will find and rescue her adorable baby clone, Beta, who has been dino-napped by some nasty poachers.
This serves as one of the outrageously fun plots in Colin Trevorrow's insanely suspenseful, breathlessly action-packed, Indiana-Jones-inspired sequel "Jurassic World: Dominion," a nostalgia-fueled, emotionally exhaustive capper for the "Jurassic World" trilogy that began in 2015.
Besides, any "Jurassic" sequel where Bryce Dallas Howard doesn't outrun a T-rex while dressed in high heels has to be a major improvement.
The dinosaurs created way back in Steven Spielberg's 1993 thriller "Jurassic Park" (based on Michael Crichton's best-seller) have long since left the island and integrated into the outside world, with comical and harrowing results.
The biggest concern stems from swarms of prehistoric locusts that devour crops at an alarming rate. So alarming that the world's food supply will soon be at risk.
But some crops seem to be immune to the pesky insects -- those that use seeds manufactured by Biosyn, a mysterious corporation supposedly dedicated to eradicating world hunger.
The company is run by Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott, channeling an evil Steve Jobs), last seen in "Jurassic Park" handing a trick Barbasol can to a smuggler of dinosaur embryos, so you know the corporation must be up to something.
Cue original 1993 paleontologists Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) to show up to investigate the top-secret Biosyn research facility in the Dolomite Mountains.
Neill, now sporting gray hair and a closely cropped beard, and Dern, eternally radiant, aren't the only ones celebrating a cast reunion. Jeff Goldblum returns as Dr. Ian Malcolm, still with his cool eyeglass frames and sardonic wit. But he now works for Biosyn, as does Dr. Henry Wu (original cast member BD Wong), a key figure in bringing dinosaurs to life.
In another intersecting plot line, Owen and Claire Dearing (Howard) have become protective parents to teenager Maisie Lockwood (a charismatic Isabella Sermon), who discovers that her scientist mother gave birth to her without any man being involved, making the teen a unique medical specimen for would-be kidnappers.
This is by far the most provocative plot element in "Dominion," yet it gets shoved aside in favor of constant visual and aural shocks, something like a monster funhouse where you never know where the next surprise -- or how many surprises -- may strike.
Accompanied by Michael Giacchino's John Williams-esque score, Trevorrow's movie narrowly avoids feeling as long as its almost 2.5-hour running time. Credit Mark Sanger's precision edits and Kevin Jenkins' eye-popping production designs for taking up the narrative slack.
Trevorrow's insistence that physical models be used with a minimum of digital effects contributes to the internal credibility of the creatures. (This marks the first "Jurassic" movie to show us a Dilophosaurus physically walk, with the help of more than 10 puppeteers.)
There's something else that makes "Dominion" unusually special.
Like a classic Frank Capra film, "Dominion" believes in the basic goodness of the common person, especially peripheral characters such as Dodgson's right-hand man Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie).
The screenplay (from Derek Connolly, Emily Carmichael and Trevorrow) revels in characters sporting good hearts and intensions, people who see their mistakes and make amends. They take responsibility for their actions.
"I'm a Spielberg kid," Trevorrow once said in an interview. This movie, with its ingratiating close shots of expressive faces, "Jaws"-like setups and well-defined characters, proves it.
Having Spielberg on board as an executive producer probably didn't hurt, either.
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Starring: Chris Pratt, Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Other: A Universal Pictures release in theaters. Rated PG-13 for language, violence. 146 minutes