Insert Extinction Joke Here — Jurassic World Dominion
Despite my inordinate amount of snark and cynicism, I’m being completely honest when I say that I want to see the positive in just about everything. Even for a film like Jurassic World Dominion, the teaser of which I named as “ The Worst Trailer in the World… This Month,” one that I knew based on precedent and available information was going to be terrible, I do try to find the good in it. Can I enjoy it ironically? Can I lower my expectations and grade on a curve? Will it be so bad it’s good? I swear I want to be… not pissed off, even for a follow-up to the worst film of 2018.
So in that spirt, I want to say this upfront. Jurassic World Dominion is objectively better than Fallen Kingdom, in the way I assume malaria is better than full-blown AIDS. This movie is genuinely awful on just about every level. It’s completely unnecessary, the filmmakers and studio outright lied to the audience AGAIN, many elements of the plot double down on the idiocy of the last one, some of the most moronic fan service is meant to substitute for an actual story, and for a movie about killer dinosaurs there is a disturbing lack of stakes.
But as I said, it is better than Fallen Kingdom, so I feel it’s only fair to give the film what little credit it does deserve. I’ll shit all over the rest of it in a minute, but let’s at least acknowledge the minor things it got right.
First, while the reunion of the surviving original cast members is utterly shameless, they do at least get some half-decent dialogue a good portion of the time. Laura Dern, returning as Ellie Sattler, gets just a touch more agency than she had in the first movie. Further, Jeff Goldblum gets an actual role to play as Ian Malcolm this time, rather than just being a bookend sound bite like he was in the last outing, and the character’s sardonic sense of humor is allowed to show through. It doesn’t always work, for example when he meets Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) and learns that they worked at the physical Jurassic World park, his response is, “Jurassic World, huh? Not a fan.” That sounds like a cute in-joke at first, until you remember that he literally ended the last movie by saying, “Welcome to Jurassic World.” So yeah, there are misfires, but the dialogue isn’t a total loss, at least for the old guard.
Second, unlike the previous two films in this trilogy, you can actually tell that the effects team used a combination of CGI and animatronics this time. The expert rendering of this is what made the original Jurassic Park feel so realistic, and those effects still hold up nearly three decades later. Here, while the attempt is probably noble (I’ll give the benefit of the doubt), the execution is subpar. Instead of a grand illusion through melding the two disciplines, it’s fairly easy to tell when writer/director Colin Trevorrow opted for one over the other. Take for instance a scene where a dilophosaurus approaches Claire, preparing to strike. It’s very clearly CGI as the animal moves and walks towards her, and when the side flaps pop out from her head. Then the shot cuts to the full-face roar shown in the trailer, and it just looks like someone left a fan blowing behind a Muppet.
Third, Franklin and Zia are barely in this. Played by Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda, who are both fine actors, they were among the most annoying characters in the last movie. One was a coward with one of the most punchable faces I’ve ever seen, and the other was a self-righteous social justice warrior who only existed to make bad feminism jokes. Thankfully, their role is minimal here, with the pair of them aiding Claire in an early scene, only to subsequently bow out when it’s done. I would have preferred that both characters get eaten for as much of my life as they robbed last time out, but I’ll take what I can get.
Fourth, and this will likely sound like the most backhanded of compliments, the first half of the film, for the most part, actually TRIES SOMETHING NEW! While the opening hour-plus is filled to the brim with the tired clichés of this franchise (I’ll get to those shortly), for the overall story, Trevorrow does at least attempt a new angle, something no Jurassic Park sequel has dared to do over the last 25 years. That said, it still sucks, and serves as a final notice that Trevorrow just isn’t that good of a screenwriter. I mean, if you didn’t already know that by the fact that he penned the entire World trilogy and co-wrote The Rise of Skywalker, which is only one percentage point higher on Rotten Tomatoes than The Phantom Menace (I gave it a B+ on gut reaction, but acknowledged I’d grow to hate a LOT of the cheesier bits), I don’t know what else to tell you. He’s good at following studio demands and focus group charts, but not at telling stories.
Still, he does at least make a slight effort at a divergent thought, essentially turning the first act into a Mission: Impossible movie, filled with espionage, rooftop and motorcycle chases, and an underground dinosaur black market that involves dino cockfighting and tiny dinosaur barbecue (not to be confused with Dinosaur Bar-B-Que back in upstate NY, which to this day has the best ribs I’ve ever tasted). The film even tickles my anti-hipster bias, as one of the few civilians who gets chomped is some loser on an e-scooter. Unfortunately, the idea is a half-baked ripoff, and it’s never paid off in any significant way. You could have easily cut out the entire sequence in Malta where the chase happens and not missed anything. Hell, for two of the plot device characters, it’s literally just a layover point on their flights. Minor cosmetic changes to other characters or plot beats renders the entire thing pointless, along with the rest of the movie.
So yeah, that’s all the good stuff I have to say about this cinematic extinction-level event. So now let’s get to the real reason you’ve read down so far. I’ve got about three Taco Bell Mexican Pizzas rumbling down there. It’s time for, as Ian Malcolm would say, “one big pile of shit.”
Okay, first and foremost, the movie blatantly lied to us through the trailer for the second time in a row. Just like the last film sold us the visual of dinosaurs roaming free in the rest of the world and causing chaos for humanity before the actual movie revealed that as its closing montage and nothing else, so too does this movie play the same con. The only selling point this movie could have had was the idea of dinosaurs and man attempting to coexist. Does that happen? Fuck and no, it does not. Instead, we get an opening montage of some random scenes like triceratops crossing the street on a branded video news service (I won’t say which one, because they’re not paying me) before going back to our patently boring human characters from the last movie. Even the Twister ripoff scene of the T-rex at a drive-in was apparently from the prologue short they put on YouTube a couple of years ago, and it’s not even part of this movie. It’s one thing to include a scene in the trailer that doesn’t make the final cut of the film, but it’s a whole different breed of bullshit to take footage from a previous work and sell it as if it’s part of this movie. Those who saw that short are instantly confused as to why you’re recycling footage, and those who didn’t are given a completely false impression of what’s to come. The T-rex itself doesn’t even show up until the last hour, mostly as an afterthought until she has to fight (because every sequel has to have some kind of T-rex fight), and her absence is waved off with a pithy line of dialogue about how she was captured offscreen. Can you feel the excitement?
Even the mosasaur gets the same short shrift. She was one of the few truly cool things about Jurassic World, and yet she’s only truly involved in one scene, the opening scene, where of course we have to begin with a dinosaur attacking someone. She literally pops out of the water to eat a cage being hauled up by a crabber ship in order to capsize it for the sake of what I can only assume is a Deadliest Catch joke before once again disappearing until a cameo at the end.
Anyway, we then go to Nevada (this film alone puts in more location title cards than all the other entries combined), where Claire and Owen are living in secret with Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), who they sort of adopted after the events of the last film. You remember that, right? She’s the clone kid who doomed mankind by hitting a button because all the dinosaurs, especially the killer ones, were “alive, like me,” literally the dumbest part about that movie, and there were a LOT of contenders.
You might ask yourself, how could she be any worse of a character? Well now she’s a huffy teenager. Yay. Yeah, because of the incident at Lockwood’s mansion and the evidence discovered that she was a clone — from who? Everyone who would’ve exploited her secret is dead — she has to live in isolation in a cabin in the woods (THAT would have made for a much more satisfying plot twist), forbidden by her adoptive parents from going too far into the outside world, lest she be taken and experimented on. So of course she goes too far into the outside world and is taken so she can be experimented on. Seriously, I should have pulled out a stopwatch to measure the time from when kidnapping is mentioned as a possibility to the moment she gets kidnapped. It couldn’t have been more than five minutes.
I didn’t think this brat could be any more useless and annoying, but Trevorrow found a way. I don’t even blame Isabella Sermon for the terrible performance, because she was given nothing but braindead material to work with. Her entire arc is based on her having angst about being a clone and doesn’t think it’s fair that she can’t be a normal kid. Well, Maisie, there was one simple way to avoid all this. DON’T PUSH THE BUTTON AND RELEASE KILLER DINOSAURS INTO THE OUTSIDE WORLD! Seriously, all she had to do was NOT push that button, and she basically has no real problems. Yes, she still has to cope with her status as a clone, but at least she doesn’t have to live in hiding and can have something resembling a normal life with a supportive family. This movie still happens (sadly) due to some other bullshit, so all of her misery is 100% on her for compounding the issue and creating the immediate threat to herself and others. I have no sympathy, and will never have any, despite the movie’s unceasing attempts to manipulate me.
Oh, but here’s the real thing we’re supposed to weep for, Blue the Raptor lives in the woods near them, and has in the intervening four years had a baby, who Maisie dubs Beta. Aww, so cute and deadly. Where can I buy one? How Blue was able to spontaneously and asexually reproduce is explained later through retconned nonsense (told in tandem with other retconned nonsense about Maisie’s biology), but she represents one of the biggest problems with this entire trilogy. She’s gotten more character development than any human character in the whole series, especially the last three films. Seriously, think really hard. What do you know about Owen? Or Claire? Or Franklin? Now contrast that with what you know about Blue. It’s staggering. We’re meant to care more for the potential instrument of our agonizing death than our supposed heroes. It’s one thing to emphasize the personality of the dinosaurs, but there has to be a balance with reality. The original raptors and the first T-rex had distinct character traits, but they were born from the exposition given by the humans, and even then, the animals were simply acting in compelling ways relative to their nature. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) even commented in the first movie that, scary as the predators were, they were simply doing what they do.
Here, on the other hand, Blue might as well have an Oscar campaign for Supporting Actress. When Beta is kidnapped along with Maisie, the raptor goes running to Owen, face animated in distress. She even screams and wails to what she believes is her mother, practically shrieking “DINGO ATE MY BABY!” like Meryl Streep in A Cry in the Dark. Meanwhile Claire is still a block of wood and Owen is a block that occasionally holds his hand up in a raptor’s face. What the fuck is even going on here?
Meanwhile, in what feels like an unholy hybrid of a reunion tour and a Scooby-Doo episode, we need a reason to get the OG crew back into the mix. As such, a plague of prehistoric locusts have begun destroying crops all over the heartland. In case you didn’t get the metaphor, there’s a later scene with a young actor who I think was only cast because he resembles a young Dennis Nedry (but still, why?) who makes the biblical reference as a sarcastic joke. One of the giant bugs is captured and delivered to Ellie Satler, who has somehow changed her field of study from paleobotany to renewable agriculture or something. She then recruits Alan Grant for help (and conveniently mentions that she’s divorced so we can ham-handedly correct one of the worst parts of Jurassic Park III), because the only crops the locusts haven’t destroyed are planted with seeds from a company called Biosyn (because clearly the name of the game here is subtlety), where Ian Malcolm works as a sort of in-house guru and philosopher. The company is run by Lewis Dodgson, played by Campbell Scott (because the original actor, Cameron Thor, went on to become a sex offender), and it just so happens to be the same outfit that kidnapped Maisie and Beta.
Now, there are two very obvious issues here, not the least of which is the fact that Dodgson is an extreme reach for a villain (cue up your “WE GOT DODGSON HERE!” jokes at your convenience). And yes, I can already hear the fanboys going, “Durr, bUt He WaS dA bAd GuY iN dA lOsT wOrLd BoOk!” So what. This series has clearly taken liberties before, and having him as a living reference to the books doesn’t change the fact that he’s still the same generic greedy corporate villain that nearly every sequel has had and that he’ll get eaten in the end in a way that feels like obligation rather than a satisfying comeuppance.
The real problems are that one, if in fact the locusts are eating everything BUT Biosyn crops, you don’t need Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm to solve the case. The case is already solved. It is open-and-shut. Any competent law enforcement would have arrested Dodgson in a matter of days, even if he was holed up in Italy. The extradition order would have been placed immediately. And two, can we get a different model of villain besides Steve Jobs and/or Tim Scott? I hate Apple as much as the next right-thinking individual, but it’s getting really lame to see tech corporate bad guys just be parodies of the last two Apple CEOs, with the occasional hint of Mark Zuckerburg or Elon Musk thrown in. Original thought is not that difficult, people!
So anyway, the spy movie half of this outing is all about the kidnapping plot and getting everyone together, including a brief aside to Owen’s former partner in the raptor cages, Benny (Omar Sy), who was one of the few refreshing and new ideas of Jurassic World in that he was a black guy who didn’t die, and the addition of two new allies, Ramsey Cole (Mamoudou Athie), who works at Biosyn with Malcolm, and a pilot/mercenary played by DeWanda Wise named Kayla Watts.
You read that right, in a movie where the villain is Biological Sin, one of the heroes is a machinist basically named Kilowatts. Did I mention that Colin Trevorrow is a shit writer?
If you needed further proof — and how could you at this stage — once all the characters are introduced and the movie attempts to rehabilitate Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong) by making him look like your grandmother and having him regret stuff so that he’s kind of a good guy now, we’re back to the exact same formula we’ve had for all of these movies. We go to the jungle (this time a high-tech preserve within Biosyn). We escape dinosaurs in said jungle, even in situations where our protagonists are dead to rights but the predator decides to stalk rather than kill because… reasons. We see utterly laughable acts of heroism that somehow work. We see even BIGGER dinosaurs than before, this time the Giganotosaurus, which is always pronounced so awkwardly that they might as well just say “Gigant-O-Saurus” and be done with it. Danger ensues, with rain and nighttime elements (plus FIRE this time), there’s a T-rex fight (prefaced by an absolutely PAINFUL reference to the logo), bad guys die, and we learn nothing. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I don’t even feel like I’m spoiling anything by telling you this stuff, because deep down, you already know all of it. If you’ve seen one Jurassic Park sequel, you’ve seen them all, and that’s the core problem. This series is utterly afraid or incapable of trying anything new. The scares are the same, the effects are the same (while simultaneously feeling like they get worse with each outing), even Michael Giacchino’s score is so oppressively mediocre that you find yourself more relieved by the respite of a brief cue from John Williams’ original music rather than being enchanted by this latest incarnation. Even the espionage elements we get early on eventually just fizzle out, with an intriguing smuggler villain (Dichen Lachman) simply walking away once her plot purpose has been fulfilled. We still don’t even ASK questions about what it would be like for dinosaurs and humans to coexist, much less answer them, and plot hole after plot hole is only given token acknowledgment before it’s retconned in ways that aren’t remotely satisfying. When I’m sitting in the theatre clutching at straws to find anything resembling a course correction and the best I can come up with is, “Well, at least they admitted that Isla Sorna was a thing,” that shows the fundamental flaw with this entire endeavor. And just for good measure, the series is now at the point where it can check all of its franchise boxes without putting a single protagonist in any believable danger, meaning there are no stakes or suspense to ANY of this. It’s just visual noise.
Even when I know something’s going to be this bad, I try desperately to find something to recommend, but the pickings here be slim. Part of the reason I even bothered to see this was because AMC decided to do a double feature for the premiere, where you could watch the original Jurassic Park before Dominion. I leaped at the opportunity, as it allowed me to fix one of my true cinematic regrets (I’ll have more on that in an upcoming “Back Row Thoughts” post, so stay tuned for that), but from a marketing standpoint, it can’t have been a good idea. You’re literally telling people just how good things used to be, and just how far they’ve degraded in the near 30 years since.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Which movie franchises need to just die already? Are you already preparing for the next sequel with the SuperGiantMegaAwesomeKickAssasaurus? Let me know!
Originally published at http://actuallypaid.com on June 12, 2022.