Perhaps the critical community has gone a little overboard in its praise of Top Gun: Maverick. Spend too much time in our company and you could get the sense a Nobel Prize is coming the way of Tom Cruise and his team.
A glance at the competition will, however, do something to explain away the enthusiasm. The second Top Gun film’s aims are no more lofty than those of the sixth Jurassic Park film. Both seek to stimulate nostalgia glands while reaching out to demographics unborn when the franchises began. Here’s the distinction. Whereas Maverick has been honed to run as smoothly as, well, a top-of-the-range fighter jet, Jurassic World Dominion (no colon, apparently) feels like the result of a last-minute trundle around the Blockbuster Mart.
We’ll bring back middle-aged characters from the first film. We’ll balance that with a plucky group of youngsters. We’ll engineer some racial diversity and allow in a little (just a teeny bit, mind) of polite LGBT action. Did you see how well James Bond still does? Why not accommodate the villain in a large lair — under-henchmen in white travelling on private railways — that reminds us of Blofeld’s hollowed-out volcanoes? And lots and lots of motorbike chases. And explosions.
One senses the filmmakers hurrying their shopping cart to the till as somebody remarks: “Hang on, aren’t we supposed to have some dinosaurs in there?” A few giant lizards are grabbed from the sweetie shelf and dumped randomly with the rest of the goods before the trolley is wheeled around the corner and emptied out in front of the GigantoPlex. The supermarket sweep approach to blockbuster filmmaking reaches its horrible apotheosis — Jurassic World: Fast and Furiosaurus. Never mind how thinly spread the appeal; just marvel at how many markets it covers throughout the planet.
There is a story of sorts. As you may recall from the not-utterly-terrible Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, dinosaurs now live among us. Somewhere out there in the wilderness, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), recovering Jurassic World employees, are caring for young Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), cloned by James Cromwell in some other film, and at least one offspring of a celebrity dinosaur. When Maisie and Dino get abducted, the couple embark on a pursuit that takes them to Malta and other accommodating locations. Elsewhere, Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), the original team, are brought together while investigating a plague of killer mutant locusts.
As ever these days, the studio has been cautious about allowing “spoilers” reach the public. The worry is, however, not really to do with plot — since nobody sane could care about what here passes for such — but about what we have come to call “Easter eggs”. It is more important for Dern to take off her sunglasses and look surprised (you remember that scene) than that the screenplay engineer anything like a satisfactory narrative chicane. Perhaps enough time has passed since Jurassic World for the sight of Pratt waving his hands before velociraptors to count as a nostalgia trigger. Such nudges and winks litter a film that never settles into a satisfactory rhythm.
The sense of Spielbergian wonder that set Jurassic Park apart in 1993 has completely vanished. True, the audience is now as familiar with the once-dazzling digital imagery as the characters are with the dinosaurs themselves. But no effort is made to recapture that emotional surge. The film is too busy hurtling Pratt across Maltese rooftops or dumping Howard in tropical swamps. The only noteworthy achievement of Jurassic Park Dominion is to render the dinosaurs mundane and superfluous.
Yet projections suggest the film will make even more than Top Gun: Maverick. Well, the Jurassic franchise has always paddled in Faustian waters.