We have a study in contrast at the multiplex right now. In one corner, Top Gun: Maverick is three weeks into its run and still racking up box office dollars with sensational word of mouth. In the other corner is Jurassic World: Dominion — a movie that only narrowly beat Maverick‘s opening weekend gross, and did so against a critical trouncing with rancid word of mouth. Yet both movies are legacy sequels made and marketed as the triumphant team-up of the 20th century original cast with the newer generation of franchise stars.

So why did Jurassic World: Dominion fail where Top Gun: Maverick succeeded? I think it comes down to the simple difference that Top Gun and its sequel are primarily defined by what they’re for, while the Jurassic Park films are primarily defined by what they’re against.

The Top Gun films are nakedly and aggressively works of jingoistic USA military propaganda. The films are all about gung-ho characters trying to prove themselves through awesome feats of aviation. Accordingly, both films are about contriving some means of getting our heroes into the air and actively dogfighting, with the understanding that it’s what the audience came to see.

By comparison, the Jurassic Park films are allegories of corporate greed and scientific hubris run amok. The film explores this by railing against the futile and self-destructive practice of trying to harness wild forces of nature to sell for merchandise and theme park attractions. All so we can buy the real-world merchandise and theme park attractions licensed around those same forces of nature.

Moreover, if the main characters of the Jurassic Park films ever somehow got their way and everybody listened to common sense, there would be no more dinosaurs and we’d have no more movies. Every film in the series is about how we shouldn’t be messing around with dinosaurs, all while using the dinosaurs and primal carnage as the franchise’s primary selling point. Even after thirty years, nobody in the franchise has ever figured out how to square that circle.

Speaking of which, we didn’t get a sequel to Top Gun until 35 years after the fact. And it worked to the sequel’s advantage because the filmmakers used that time to comment on the limits of human endurance, generational trauma, the obsolescence of people with the advancement of technology, and so on. Compare that to the six movies of Jurassic Park across three decades, each and every one built around some new wealthy mad scientist who has to learn the hard way that no, he isn’t smarter or better-prepared than the previous guy. With every movie aggressively preaching the lesson that our greed and hubris will destroy us, and with every sequel that disregards that lesson, the moral gets increasingly thin.

That’s especially true with life imitating art, as the filmmakers keep repeating the same premise and the same themes over and over again just to make more money, with the promise that this will finally be the sequel to recapture the nostalgic wonder of the groundbreaking original. I mean, say what you will about Top Gun and its questionable themes about American exceptionalism and military dominance, but at least nobody can say it’s hypocritical.

Anyway, what’s the story with Jurassic World: Dominion? Well, to start with, you’ll want to see this. When that thoroughly awesome clip dropped last year, it was billed as the opening five minutes of the film. It’s all gone. I don’t think there’s a single frame of that clip in the entire finished movie. All we get instead is an opening narration to tell us what’s been going on since dinosaurs were released to the four corners of the world at the end of Fallen Kingdom.

Long story short, the UN has appointed Biosyn Genetics (the same company that tried to commit corporate espionage all the way back in the first movie) to round up the dinosaurs for study and humane treatment at a remote habitat in the Dolomites Mountain Range of Italy. In the process, they hope to study dinosaur DNA to find new medical treatments and scientific wonders and so on and so forth.

(Side note: Speaking of callbacks to the first movie, we do finally follow-up on that damned Barbasol can. Kinda sorta. It’s rather vague, I’m sorry to say.)

In reality, Biosyn used Cretaceous DNA to engineer swarms of giant locusts. Yeah. This corporation of mad scientists isn’t engineering bigger and badder dinosaurs, they’re making goddamn locusts. What’s worse, they’re unleashing the locusts on farms all over the world, destroying any crops that weren’t grown from Biosyn’s proprietary GMO seeds. Thus Biosyn’s grand scheme is to cause worldwide famine and mass extinction of countless animal/insect species, all to boost their own bottom line, gain a monopoly on humanity’s food supply, right on through to taking over the world.

But wait, there’s more!

Enter Maisie Lockwood, played by a returning Isabella Sermon. She’s spent the past four years under the surrogate parenthood of Owen Grady and Claire Dearing (respectively Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard), both of whom are still crusading to save the dinos in whatever small way they can. Trouble is, Maisie is still the only known case of a human getting cloned with all the genetic tech running rampant, and rumors of her existence are circulating. Thus Maisie has to be kept isolated in an undisclosed location. Easier said than done, as she’s a 14-year-old girl.

What we’ve got here with Maisie is basically a genie that can’t be put back in the bottle. She’s something new, something the world has never seen before and doesn’t really know what to do with. Maisie herself doesn’t even know who or what she is. All that anyone knows is that she can’t spend the rest of her life in a gilded cage. She has to find her place in the world, and the rest of the world will have to find some way of dealing with her.

Basically put, Maisie is the human embodiment of the cloned dinos and the technology that brought them to life. It’s a fascinating angle, and she makes for a much more solid emotional hook than Blue the Raptor did in the previous film. So naturally, Maisie gets kidnapped for a contrived bullshit reason I won’t get into here. And the filmmakers still had to shoehorn Blue into the plot for no reason whatsoever, filling a redundant role that would’ve done as much good on the cutting room floor.

The bottom line is that Dr. Ellie Sattler recruits Drs. Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm (respectively played once again by Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum) to investigate the locust angle while Owen and Claire chase after Maisie (and Blue’s baby raptor, but that’s hardly worth mentioning). Both storylines are on track to converge on the Biosyn campus and we’re off to the races.

Oh, and B.D. Wong is back on hand, because of course he is.

I appreciate the effort at bringing back so many old hands and giving them so much to do. But with all due respect, I found the newer characters so much more compelling. I was genuinely fascinated by Maisie’s journey of self-discovery, and Sermon is a strong contender for the best child actor in the history of the franchise. We’ve also got DeWanda Wise on hand as a hotshot pilot, and she could easily power at least one film on her own. Mamoudou Athie is on hand as an Biosyn employee, tasked with delivering a 180-degree plot twist that would’ve broken the whole damn movie if Athie hadn’t sold it so hard.

On the villain side, I was positively delighted to see Dichen Lachman stop by to play a black market dinosaur broker. She’s always a pleasure to see onscreen, and it was so much fun to see her kick ass and chew scenery. Hell, even Lewis Dodgson (CEO of Biosyn, here played by Campbell Scott in place of Cameron Thor from the first movie) might have made for a nuanced and captivating Faustian character if anyone was the least bit interested in developing him in that way.

But no, all we get is another greedy eccentric in a black turtleneck, a paper-thin parody of Steve Jobs/Tim Cook/Elon Musk/Jeff Bezos whatever egomaniacal tech bro is fun to hate right now. It’s kind of sad that the cookie-cutter trope has become so prevalent in real life that the trope is now ubiquitous in our media. I digress.

The film was marketed as “the epic conclusion of the Jurassic era”, but this doesn’t really feel like the end of the franchise. It feels more like a soft reboot, setting the stage for another film to pick up with the established history of the first six movies. The torch could be passed to a new set of characters, and we could maybe hopefully FINALLY get some new themes in the bargain.

What’s more, there’s definitely a sense that the book has been closed where Ellie, Alan, Ian, Wu, Owen, and Claire are concerned. After all, these characters were only ever meant to be window dressing for the dinosaurs we all came to see, so none of them were ever really built to support an entire series of films and we’re all probably better off leaving them to their happily ever afters. On the other hand, I could easily see Athie or Wise coming back to revisit the franchise with powerful results. Hell, Sermon is still young enough that she could keep coming back to this role for decades to come.

But what about the action scenes we all came to see? Well… they’re okay. Trouble is, we’re six movies into this franchise and there are only so many variations on “dinosaurs chase humans”, “humans are trapped by dinosaurs”, and so on. It certainly doesn’t help that we’re dealing with a PG-13 rating, so we’re left with bloodless kills. We don’t even get anything funny or clever like the famous “lawyer on the toilet” kill from the first movie.

What’s worse, we’ve got a cast of eight or nine main characters to follow. In any other monster horror movie, that would be a victim pool and maybe two or three of them would be lucky to get out alive. But in this movie, every single one of them has plot armor. Right off the bat, we know there are at least six characters guaranteed to make it out of the film alive. (Seriously, can you even imagine if Jeff Goldblum or Laura Dern finally got eaten this time?) It sucks all the danger and tension right out of the film.

I’ve heard the complaint that the movie doesn’t have enough dinosaurs or dinosaur action, and I beg to differ. The dinosaurs are front and center throughout the plot, and they’re all brought to the screen with an impressive blend of CGI and practical effects. That said, even after 30 years, the filmmakers still haven’t found a way to make prehistoric reptiles into anything the audience can emotionally invest in. For all the filmmakers’ efforts to the contrary, not a single dinosaur in this picture registered as a flesh-and-blood living creature with thoughts and emotions swirling behind the eyes.

I know it’s a tall order asking for a reptilian creature that human beings can understand and empathize with, but don’t tell me it’s impossible. For all the movie’s faults, Adam Wingard did it with Godzilla vs. Kong, so why the hell can’t Colin Trevorrow do it with either of his Jurassic World movies?!

To recap, we’re watching this massive ensemble cast put in mortal danger with the absolute certainty that none of them will die. We’re watching a film in which the primary threat is getting eaten alive by dinosaurs, but we know the kills in this PG-13 movie won’t be the least bit gory. And the kills won’t be funny or creative either, because the filmmakers clearly don’t want to put in that kind of effort.

The problem isn’t that we don’t get enough dinosaur action in this picture. The problem is that the action we get is so hollow. We’ve got the biggest fucking carnivores the planet has ever seen, yet the action is utterly toothless.

Oh, and on a miscellaneous note, I want to know what in the nine hells Michael Giacchino thought he was doing with the score. The old iconic John Williams themes are pitifully misused here, and there’s nothing epic or grand enough to be worthy of what’s supposed to be a franchise capstone. I know for a fact that Giacchino is better than this, and I’m gravely disappointed.

Jurassic World: Dominion is nowhere near as bad as I had been led to believe, but it’s certainly not a good movie. It sucks that the franchise keeps getting stuck with a PG-13 rating when the premise so badly needs R-rated kills to stay relevant. It sucks that the film is a good half-hour longer than it needed to be. It sucks that so many cast members are indispensable, thus we know they can’t and won’t be killed, and the “monster horror” aspect thus loses all suspense. But most of all, it sucks that this franchise keeps undercutting itself, churning out endless sequels and merchandising and theme park attractions even as it rails against the follies and evils of capitalism.

You might come to this movie for the old returning faces, but it’s the newer and fresher actors who are the best reason to see this one. Even so, I can only wish those actors better luck moving forward because they all deserve better than this. I’m sorry, but I can only recommend this for the franchise completionists.

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2 thoughts on “Movie Curiosities — Jurassic World: Dominion

  1. I thought a small amount of blood was allowed in PG-13 movies, as long as it isn’t pervasive scenes of heads exploding, people being sliced-up onscreen, and so on. The rating came about due to scenes in Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom that were considered too gory for a plain PG rating.
    But yes, in the first Jurassic Park movie, we did see someone’s severed arm, but we didn’t see how that arm got severed in the first place. Much of the more overtly gory stuff was kept offscreen and left to what’s known as a Gory Discretion Shot. I’m not really expecting Jurassic Park: Dominion to be any different.
    Any suspense we might have or concern for the fates of longtime favorite characters comes from the fact that certain other legacy sequels (the Star Wars sequel trilogy, the recent Scream movie) did in fact kill off a few legacy characters (some of those more meaningful — and written better — than others). Personally, I’m not a fan of killing off established characters just for the sake of it. I feel that if you’re going to do it, it has to be earned. It has to be something that fits the character’s journey up to that point, and is important to the story as well.
    I haven’t seen this movie yet. It’s gotten mixed reviews. However, it sounds to me like it has something in common with Rise of Skywalker – it’s promoted as the big conclusion to a decades-long story, but doesn’t really feel like it.

    1. And now that I’ve finally seen this movie, I have to say I’m pretty underwhelmed by it. It has its moments, but it still doesn’t really feel like the ‘epic conclusion’ that Chris Pratt was hyping it as in interviews. It doesn’t feel like the conclusion of a decades-long story.
      A lot of things could have been done better. More could have been done with Dodgson and the references to the first movie (how did Dodgson get the Barbasol can when Nedry failed to bring it back to Dodgson in the first movie?), but instead it was just there to be an Easter egg. Dodgson himself could have been better developed.
      Maisie’s story arc was all right, and Wu’s redemption was handled well. The new characters were good, especially Ramsay and Kayla. But it got a little too crowded at the end with having to give the original trilogy legacy characters and the second trilogy characters enough to do to justify their being in the movie.
      All in all, I’d say the best move in the Jurassic World trilogy is probably the first one. This one is kind of all right. In any case, I find Netflix’s Camp Cretaceous series (set in between Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) to be a more more fun and interesting use of the Jurassic Park franchise. (It probably helps that there’s a lot more time to develop the characters and their relationships better).

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