I was a dinosaur kid. Well, part of me still feels like a dinosaur kid, a part of me that still feels something every time I see another movie from the “Jurassic Park” franchise. I was converted early in life when my dad showed me the original film, cementing it as one of my favorite movies if not the most terrifying film I’d seen at the time. From then on, I aspired to be a paleontologist, my favorite show was the 4Kids “Dinosaur King” anime, my favorite book was Magic Tree House’s “Dinosaurs Before Dark,” my room was filled with dinosaur books and I had a box of dinosaur toys that all further prodded my imagination about those “terrible lizards.” I also watched the “Jurassic Park” sequels — and even as an elementary schooler, I could tell that following up to the original film, they always fell short. This feeling continued decades later when the franchise rebooted with the “Jurassic World” series. So how does “Jurassic World: Dominion” compare?
This trilogy’s conclusion picks up a few years after the status quo-shattering ending of the last movie, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” where the clone child of a genetic scientist released the dinosaurs of Jurassic World into the wild, making the Earth a new Jurassic World. So, obviously, the sequel will tackle the immediate conflict of having dinosaurs fit into the modern world, right? No, actually, the conflict is bugs.
Massive locusts imbued with prehistoric DNA are ravaging the world’s crops and collapsing the food chain. What are the dinosaurs doing, you might ask? Mostly keeping to themselves, with the more destructive species captured and living in a valley sanctuary owned by the company BioSyn who wants to examine their ancient genetics for modern cures, possibly engineering a modern Biblical plague that suspiciously doesn’t target BioSyn-modified crops. This shared villain unites the protagonists of Jurassic World, including former velociraptor trainer and current dinosaur cowboy (dinoboy?) Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, “Guardians of the Galaxy”), former Jurassic World manager and current dinosaur rights vigilante Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, “Rocketman”) and her adopted clone daughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”), who is kidnapped at the order of BioSyn CEO and original Jurassic Park corporate villain Dr. Lewis Dodgson. It also brings back the original Jurassic Park protagonists: Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern, “Little Women”) discovers the locust problem and recruits Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill, “Thor: Ragnarok”) to help investigate BioSyn at the invitation of their resident chaotician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, “The Mountain”). Now, before I get into my perhaps-already-exposed disdain for the writing of this film, let’s discuss the fortunately ample positives.
The entirety of the movie looks and sounds fantastic. John Schwartzman’s (“The Amazing Spider-Man”) cinematography is genuinely stunning at some points. It juxtaposes the wide variety of the film’s settings beautifully with both its human and prehistoric characters. This process creates both still shots and action sequences that are a joy to behold. Likewise, Michael Giacchino’s (“The Batman”) score uplifts the movie’s moments of calm that contends with the majesty of these colossal creatures and enhances the feelings of suspense and action in its more tense, frenetic scenes. Additionally, Giacchino weaves in pieces of the original iconic “Jurassic Park” theme to tug at the nostalgic heartstrings. The ensemble cast is able to invoke much of the same.
Neill and Dern are reprising their roles as the paleontologist Grant and paleobotanist Sattler, respectively. Their performance feels like it picks up right after their last scenes with these characters, even though they were filmed decades prior. They still embody the scientific curiosity and capacity for wonder that defined their characters in “Jurassic Park”. They have a fervent drive to do the right thing and adorable chemistry that finds them pining for each other after all these years. As for the other reprising role, it feels like Goldblum wandered around the set saying and doing whatever the hell he wanted, which falls in line with Malcolm’s eccentric character. Still, some of his lines are delivered with the quiet fury of the mathematician that berated Jim Hammond decades ago.
Actors newer to the franchise do well, too: Sermon manages to play Maisie with the totaled angst of what I think a moody teenager combined with a constant existential crisis would produce. Campbell Scott (“The Chaperone”) gives a sometimes odd but still convincing villain, and BD Wong (“Mr. Robot”) gives a genuinely impactful performance geared towards redemption as the Jurassic scientist Dr. Henry Wu. The two leads, unfortunately, have the least interesting performances. At least Claire shows a bit of depth in her concern for her family and the plight of the dinosaurs. On the other hand, Owen has only three emotions in the entire movie: fear, dad mode and a vague smolder. Of course, there isn’t much room to explore the stories of these human characters because there are far more massive characters and subsequent issues — all because “Jurassic World” turned the franchise into horse girl movies.
I promise this will make sense. Horse Girl scholar and compiler of the “Horse Girl canon” Simone de Rochfert states that horse girl media centers itself around “… a desire for stories about these huge, magical, speed-machines — and more often than not, the special kids that befriend them.” Now, herbivores and their peaceful behavior don’t largely apply, but the carnivores of “Jurassic Park” were rendered as giant, uncontrollable and inescapable forces of nature, barely outsmarted by the bravest of dinosaur experts. “Jurassic World” transformed them into somewhat tameable creatures by the powers of Pratt. Now, as a dinosaur kid, I’m not pointing out the horse girlification as an outright criticism. This change could speak to humans’ increasing dominion over the Earth or to research illuminating what we once considered unknowable. The concepts are there, they just need the writing to back them up.
However, the writing is just weird in this movie, something indicative of nearly every “Jurassic Park” sequel’s misunderstanding that the original film’s elements of sci-fi philosophy are just as necessary as its action and horror elements. Like its predecessors, “Dominion” does little to evolve the central questions of “Jurassic Park” or even the cynicism of “Jurassic World.” It instead puts its time into the dinosaurs, which are admittedly still amazing to behold. However, the saturation of these animals still highlights the same issue — more and more dinosaurs and action sequences are added for spectacle, while rarely adding substance.
Nearly every dinosaur in the original film had clear symbolism and was described in detail. For example, Grant monologues at the beginning of “Jurassic Park” about the hunting patterns of velociraptors that are then clearly exhibited through action sequences and, on a thematic level, their intelligence is presented as potentially more dangerous than the brutality of a T-Rex, the same intelligence that gave humans the power to create Jurassic Park. Meanwhile, the dinosaurs of “Dominion” feel like they were tossed in because it’s been five minutes without action, and “Oh look, this one has feathers.”
The moralization of the dinosaurs from the past “Jurassic World” movies — with some characterized as comically nightmarish killers and others as protagonist-aligned — thankfully feels less present here. This is an improvement especially since it was clear that higher-ups made the decision to make the dinosaurs “good” or “bad” to drive up toy sales: hero dinosaurs should sell better than intrinsically amoral dinosaurs. Instead, in this movie, the dinosaurs act much more like wild animals, which plays into the now-relatable themes of adjusting to a radically new modernity — whether it’s a world filled with dinosaurs or other world crises. However, the lack of any evolution of concept beyond this is especially disappointing when the potential was there.
A lot of this movie banks on nostalgia, that much is clear. “Jurassic World” had a certain cynicism toward this nostalgia, but this movie embraces sentimentality with its ensemble cast and callbacks galore. Some of these moments do feel organic, while some feel unearned. Piggybacking off of the novel concept of “Jurassic Park” without actually tackling the core concept is this movie and the trilogy’s largest fault, however much it feels like they tried. “Jurassic Park” explicitly references ideas of playing God and the uncontrollable chaos of nature. “Dominion” begins with a Biblical plague of locusts and a new protagonist named Ramses working alongside the new villain attempting to play God. Characters reference the Titan Prometheus, who interfered in humans’ evolution by giving them fire — later, those characters wield fire. Shots of fire falling from the sky and floods opening up feel like even more sprinklings of Old Testament wrath. Piecing together these details raised my expectations that the movie would somehow deliver a conclusion worthy of Spielberg’s original masterpiece. As you can probably already tell, it didn’t — especially when I found out that the character’s name is actually Ramsay.
In sum: God creates dinosaurs, God destroys dinosaurs, God creates man, man destroys God, man creates dinosaurs, man haphazardly references God in yet another mediocre dinosaur movie, better films inherit the Earth.
My dinosaur toy collection left me at a garage sale a decade ago, along with old science books. I concluded long ago I didn’t want a career that would keep me dusting off dirt for several hours of the day. Still, my inner child feels a pang in his heart at these movies — simultaneous feelings of continuing disappointment and persistent wonder. The “Jurassic World” trilogy — and, really, all the “Jurassic Park” sequels — perhaps ignore and simultaneously exemplify the message of the original film: that the giants that have run their course should stay at rest, with any avaricious desire to resurrect them doomed to end in failure — but a spectacular failure nonetheless. That wonder still remained on Father’s Day when I saw this film — my dad bringing me to a place where my favorite giants come back to life on the screen.
Daily Arts Writer Saarthak Johri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.