June 9, 2022

“Jurassic World: Dominion” Could Kill the Franchise for Good (Review)

The Jurassic Park series has been more of a rollercoaster than most franchises. From one of the greatest films of all time came two lackluster follow-ups, a soft reboot with a critically-panned but financially successful sequel, and finally, Jurassic World: Dominion, which intends to wrap up the second trilogy while providing closure to arcs dating all the way back to the 1993 original.

It’s an admirable goal. Dominion attempts to provide a satisfying answer to the question posed by its predecessor, Fallen Kingdom, about what would happen if dinosaurs were living among us on planet Earth. That could have been a fascinating premise, but frustratingly, Dominion chooses to go in a completely different direction, spitting in the face of what the first two Jurassic World films set up.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Nearly every lead actor from previous Jurassic films makes a reappearance, including Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, BD Wong and Isabella Sermon from Jurassic World, and the original three: Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum are back as Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler and Ian Malcolm respectively. Their return is inarguably the sequel’s biggest draw (the trailers confirmed as such), so why is the reunion the opposite of spectacular when it actually happens?

Dominion’s biggest issue isn’t its excruciating dialogue or its meandering nature — though those are both prominent problems — it’s that so little of its plot actually hinges on the dinosaurs that should be the selling point. Instead, we’re split between dual storylines that eventually converge: first, Ellie Sattler recruits her old friends to investigate Biosyn Genetics, a company that she suspects is engineering locusts to destroy all non-Biosyn crops. At the same time, Owen Grady (Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Howard) globetrot in an effort to find their adoptive daughter, Maisie Lockwood (Sermon), who has been kidnapped by poachers alongside a baby raptor due to both of their statuses as valuable biological clones.

Sound complicated? I’m not sure the movie knows it, because it never slows down or stops to take a breather. And why should it? It’s nearly two and a half hours long, and with so much ground to cover I suppose it feels like it doesn’t have time to explain any of its nonsensical decisions.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

The nerd in me definitely should have been happy during Dominion. The main antagonist, Dr. Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott), Biosyn’s CEO, is a recurring character, going all the way back to the conspiracy involving Dennis Nedry from the very first Jurassic Park. In that way, Dominion brings the franchise full circle, but the hints and small references are really where the tributes stop. As a true “franchise ender,” Dominion would have been far better if it had leaned into what made the series great in the first place: the dinosaurs.

We don’t come to Jurassic Park for an investigative drama about a potential ecological disaster. At least, not when it doesn’t involve dinosaurs. It’s really just disappointing that Dominion fails at even the most basic level. Fallen Kingdom promised us a future of dinosaurs living in the real world, and its sequel begins with most of them contained, safe and sound, yet again. It throws away everything that could have made Dominion unique, instead apparently intent on retreading what every movie in this trilogy has done so far: our main characters attempt to stop a corrupt business interest and its scientists from experimenting with genetic mutations. Somehow, Dominion makes it even more dull than in its predecessors, making even dinosaur fights uninteresting. A week ago, I wouldn’t have believed that would even be possible.

The only people trying their best (aside from the ever-reliable Goldblum) are the actors who have never been in a Jurassic movie before. Campbell Scott is a standout, playing a perfectly evil corporate CEO, but DeWanda Wise is Dominion’s real MVP. She steals every scene she’s in, but when she’s sharing the screen with franchise legends, that makes me worried about the longevity of the series.

Perhaps the Jurassic Park franchise needs to rest. We don’t need more badly-written entries that have somehow relegated dinosaurs to background players in a story that should focus on them. It’s good to have the original cast back, and they’re actually given a storyline instead of a random cameo moment, but it’s just so exhausting that the franchise feels the need to intertwine everything it possibly can as it races itself towards extinction.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

With Jurassic World, producer Steven Spielberg and director Colin Trevorrow set out to make a complete story that felt like more of an arc than the original three films (released from 1993-2001), and instead it turned out like the Star Wars sequel trilogy. It feels like there was no inter-studio continuity communication on each of the three films, which results in a different tone, inconsistent characters and a complete lack of follow-through.

Despite what the critics say about Jurassic World: Dominion, it will make enough to justify another soft reboot sometime in this decade or the next. Let’s just hope that the creative energy that should be sustaining the franchise can be found again, and that dinosaurs will prove to be integral instead of disposable narrative tools.

Jurassic World: Dominion is in theaters now.

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