Let’s step in a time machine for a moment. 1993. Eight year old Bernard’s mind is absolutely blown by a little movie called Jurassic Park. I saw it 8 times in theaters that summer, including hitting up relatives who’d yet to see the movie to make an extra trip. I later wore a VHS tape to dust while watching and re-watching the film. I read the book numerous times, and everything else Crichton had written. I was dinosaur obsessed. The Jurassic Park theme was part of my wedding ceremony. It means as much to me as any film.
So, needless to say, I was excited to see Drs. Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm reunite on the big screen for the first time. On the basic sentimental level, Jurassic World Dominion satisfied me simply by giving me the chance to see them together again. But I’m an easy lay when it comes to nostalgia porn.
Let me lead with the good. The little kid in me still hasn’t lost the simple joy of raptors and other long extinct beasties chasing and consuming people. There’s an awful lot of random bystander death here in which one might find some simple joy. Want to watch a Mosasaurus sink a fishing boat? Dominion has got you. Want to see a Carnotaurus eat an illegal dinosaur smuggler? That’s in here. Want a Questzalcoatlus to take out a transport plane? I’ve got a treat for you! Want to see an Atrociraptor do the Jason Bourne The Bourne Ultimatum parkour jump across a roof through a window while the camera follows through the air? Colin Trevorrow has got you covered. For my four year old son? That was more than enough. But for the more discerning consumer…
Here’s the problem: this movie is dumb.
And not “oh hey you’ve got to ignore some plot holes” dumb like the usual blockbuster. The best I can come up with is an analogy. A fully grown Stegosaurus was between 20 and 30 feet long. They had brains roughly the size of limes, tiny relative to their overall size and far smaller than a human brain. A human is less than a 5th the size of a Stegosaurus. Accordingly, in raw brain size, the cerebral equivalent to the Late Jurassic herbivore would be (very roughly) a human man with a brain the size of a pea. I can only conclude this was Jurassic World Dominion‘s intended audience.
The marketing has omitted something very key, and very concerning. The villain of this film dear reader – and this is not a spoiler because it’s revealed in the first few minutes – is not dinosaurs. It’s not even really evil humans. It’s a plague of giant genetically modified locusts that are eating the world’s crops. Why is this the choice they made? I have absolutely no idea. That these locusts have pretty close to equal screen time with the actual dinosaurs is a genuinely shocking and awful choice.
An evil corporation named Biosyn, created by Dodgson (the provider of the first film’s shaving cream dinosaur embryo stealing device left behind when Nedry “befriended” a Dilophosaurus), has created these locusts for… vague reasons about money. The elder generation of Jurassic performers spends far too much of the film trapped in this hellscape of a plot meandering around a lazily designed underground lair. I’d be down for a movie about giant locusts destroying the world – that could be fun! This however is supposed to be a Jurassic Park movie.
The younger generation of protagonists is stuck in some sort of poorly designed Indiana Jones ripoff that sees Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) trying to track the location of their two children: the stolen clone child from Fallen Kingdom’s woeful second act and the parthenogenetic baby of anthropomorphic Velociraptor pet/best friend Blue. I don’t even have the energy or fight in me to tee off on the Maisie Lockwood character. I’m loathe to blame the actress – nobody could make this shit work. But it really really doesn’t work. When the emotional core of your movie is an actively repulsive plot point, it’s hard to generate empathy. There are moments of little inspiration on the periphery of the Grady/Dearing plot like an underground dinosaur fight club and trading ground that feel sort of inspired by the old “Dinotopia” stories, but largely the good is subsumed by painful dialogue and baffling story choices.
Even the simple dinosaur murder fun feels off here. I’ve complained regularly that CGI seems to be broken in the COVID era, but this might be a new low. It’s not just that the practical effects looked better nearly thirty years ago in the original Jurassic Park (that goes without saying at this point), it’s that somehow many of the effects look far worse that they did just two films ago. Blue, a dinosaur character who has been the focus of three films now, appears weightless and poorly animated. Her jaw is overemphasized – it appears to open too wide for her body – while any sense of physicality is lost by her overwhelming unreality. Her skin looks like a rendering from a prior generation video game. I’m here for trashy B movie effects in the right context – a $200 million Jurassic film is not that context. The dinosaurs are emphasized, and Blue in particular is supposed to emote, in such a way that the effects need to be called into question.
The story has a major “plot armor” issue as well. There’s simply no threat left to any of our characters. We know they won’t kill a child, and these are not the sort of films that would leave Owen or Claire as a single parent so they’re safe. There’s never even a hint of a real threat to the original triumvirate. Perhaps the film’s greatest threat is to the original film’s Tyrannosaurus from a new alpha predator called a Giganotosaurus, but real stakes these are not. And as I mention the Tyrannosaurus I just really can’t let go of the fact that even in the most obviously CGI moments of the original film, she still looked better three decades ago. There’s a scene here that sees the Giganotosaurus attack the entire cast around an overturned SUV. It’s an obvious reference to the original film, but everything here just feels so devoid of stakes. The dinosaur never feels like a threat as the characters meander around the vehicle.
I’m not sure I have the energy to pick at many of the other ghastly decisions. Did Trevorrow even bother to rewatch the prior World movies before coming up with Dr. Wu’s arc here? Did anyone even care how embarrassed Sam Neill looks every single time he’s left to say the word “Biosyn.” Biological Sin – get it? GET IT? Most of all, you have fucking dinosaurs. Why are these movies obsessed with making new bizarro genetic hybrids? Or militarized raptors? Or underground dinosaur auctions? Or human clones? Or – kill me – locusts? You have dinosaurs vs. humans. Please PLEASE just make that the story.
Instead… I’d rather focus on a few little positives. Movies don’t work retroactively. The relative badness of this film, and Fallen Kingdom too for that matter, don’t actually diminish my love for the original at all. Frankly, if they diminished your love for the original I’d question how much you actually love it. And there are little moments here that absolutely do work. When rancher Owen Grady wrangles a Parasaurolophus and slowly touches its head as he calms it? It’s sort of lovely. All of the new species added are fun and give some new visual texture to the dinosaur palette. The Dimetrodon in particular, something of a finned proto-dinosaur that moves like a Harryhausen creation, is super fun. The scene where Dern and Neill first reunite and appear to disregard the script for something more improvisational and intimate is quite pleasant. DeWanda Wise is the film’s stealth MVP. Despite a backstory distilled down to about two sentences of exposition and no real plot arc to speak of, Wise makes a meal out of the movie’s bad dialogue. She has charisma to spare and just seems to be the only one who gets how to have fun despite the words her character is forced to say.
Put simply, this is a terribly stupid movie. I enjoyed it because I’m a child of Jurassic Park and Michael Crichton and all manner of B movie creature features so “dinosaurs eating people” and Neill/Dern/Goldblum is enough for me. Enjoyment, however, does not always bespeak quality. This franchise deserves better and, most frustratingly, this franchise could easily be so much better. IP never dies anymore so I’m sure we’ll have Jurassic Universe in a few years. My solemn hope for that film is that they embrace two things (1) practical effects and (2) the actual dinosaurs.
Jurassic World Dominion is out in theaters today, June 10.