Jurassic World Dominion makes a great case for franchise extinction
Jurassic World Dominion is all too concerned with unearthing the past that it forgets to capitalize on the present.
It took the dinosaurs millions of years to go extinct, but it only took 30 for Universal to doom Jurassic Park.
Jurassic World Dominion, the latest in a saga now spanning six films, is proof a room of executives can and will miss a movie’s central themes about the dangers of unchecked capitalism. Turgid, messy, and hilariously stupid, Dominion’s callous and empty reaches at nostalgia are painful reminders of how much better these movies used to be.
Effectively doing what Star Trek Generations and X-Men: Days of Future Past did for their respective series, Jurassic World Dominion, from director Colin Trevorrow (with Derek Connolly sharing story credit and Emily Carmichael sharing screenwriting duty), is the union of the Jurassic Park era with Jurassic World. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum return in their original roles and join Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Justice Smith, and Daniella Pineda. (BD Wong, quietly part of both trilogies, also returns as a woefully nebbish Dr. Wu.) There are newcomers too, namely DeWanda Wise as a capable pilot who swaggers as though she wandered in from her own different movie.
That’s a lot of names, many famous faces tragically playing caricatures of the characters they were. (Goldblum is Goldblum, for worse.) Dominion is crowded with people who live in a post-Fallen Kingdom world where dinosaurs live among us as a dangerous nuisance. We know this from Dominion’s laborious introduction, which takes the form of — I’m not kidding — a NowThis web documentary, resembling the same pivot-to-video filler you glaze over while doomscrolling.
Rounding up raptors in the wild isn’t the central conflict of Dominion. Instead, a swarm of giant bugs threatens the world’s food chain, and there’s one entity responsible for it: the ominously-named Biosyn, led by Dr. Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott, replacing actual felon Cameron Thor from Jurassic Park). In his takeover of the role, Scott plays Dodgson as if Tim Cook and Elon Musk were fused in a lab but lacking all of the dimensions that make either billionaire executive interesting.
And Biosyn is on the hunt for someone specifically: Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon, from 2018’s Fallen Kingdom), whose artificial DNA makes her, in the words of Dodgson, “the most valuable intellectual property alive.” If only Universal felt the same about the Jurassic franchise.
Bugs swarming the Midwest is a weird thing to care about when pterodactyls are ruining work commutes, but misplaced priorities are what ails Dominion. The collision of two eras, which should have been its main thrust, is not the primary narrative goal. The bugs are. And when the union finally does happen — after an excruciating wait — it has all the energy of a family reunion on Splash Mountain. It’s all empty pleasures with none of the danger.
I just wrote a lot of paragraphs explaining the clunky ways Dominion operates, but in truth, none of it matters. The main attraction of any Jurassic film is dinosaur action, both in the awe they inspire (the dinosaurs look better than ever, admittedly) and the terror they instill when instincts kick in. The series at large has long been an artistic hybrid in which slasher movies find company in kaiju disasters, pulp adventure, and sci-fi. Since the saga’s revival in 2015’s Jurassic World, also by Trevorrow, the series has been contorted into a set-piece-driven action blockbuster that apes the pizazz of Bourne and Bond as if it were contractually mandatory.
“It’s all empty pleasures with none of the danger.”
To watch Dominion is to bear witness to collapse, a buckling of 30 weighted years of cinematic inspirations and franchise expectations. This supposed final film barely ekes out modest monstrous moments. Only one piece, with Howard’s Claire quietly swimming in puke green swamp waters for safety, is remotely memorable. A climactic triple threat match between three mega-sized dinos is the only time Dominion comes close to coalescing as a complex science fiction piece in its own right, and even then, it’s maybe only because you didn’t bring ear plugs.
Jurassic World Dominion is an unholy miasma of the harvested dead that creates a viscous, lumpy, unworthy hybrid. Inert plotting and the failure to meaningfully celebrate any of its technical craftsmanship leave Dominion with the artistic ambition of a Jeep commercial. (I’m also not convinced Trevorrow’s canned Star Wars movie would have fared any better than Rise of Skywalker if his Jurassic film represents what he can do under tentpole parameters.)
For years, Universal Studios has insisted Jurassic Park could be an evergreen franchise. But just because it could keep it going forever doesn’t mean it should.
Jurassic World Dominion opens in theaters on June 10.