‘Jurassic World: Dominion’: Where Fan Service Meets Slipshod Storytelling
This "epic conclusion" proves to be the best of the franchise's worst
Four months before this film’s release, I wrote the following: “In spite of my inherent skepticism, I can’t help but get excited about Grant, Sattler, and Malcom getting back together. This is either going to be a pleasant surprise that honors the spirit of the original film, or an unpleasant cash grab that further sours a narratively-bungled franchise.”
As it turns out, Jurassic World: Dominion is not as good as I had hoped and not as bad I had feared.1
As a reminder, I typically rate movies based on three criteria: objectionable Content (C), Artistic merit (A), and my personal Preference (P). (C-A-P. Get it?)
Content (C): 7 out of 10
There’s really not a whole lot to comment on here. It feels to me like Dominion has more profanity than the previous films do, but my memory may not be serving me accurately. Both love stories, in their own way, communicate (albeit, indirectly) a low opinion of the sanctity of marriage. Also, a female character makes a passing reference to liking redheads—which, based on critics’ reactions, can basically mean anything you want (or don’t want) it to.
Artistry (A): 4 out of 10
Its amazing feats of technological wizardry aside, the original Jurassic Park movie isn’t necessarily considered high art. Even so, most of the subsequent films in the series have dropped in quality, suffering from a deplorable excess of mediocrity. It seems almost as if the filmmakers in this franchise have been so preoccupied with whether or not they could get away with such mediocrity, they didn’t stop to think if they should.
The special effects in Dominion are mostly good, although parts of a parasaurolophus wrangling scene look fake, and some of the movements of the CGI characters (the raptor Blue in particular) come across as unnatural. The filmmakers definitely do their best work when using animatronics rather than CGI. But the effect of using animatronics is lessened to a degree by the fact that the dinosaurs act slow and lethargic at times, presumably because they’ve developed a fondness for people-watching that keeps them from attacking their victims right away (which, conveniently enough, gives their human prey enough time to turn the tables on them).
Most sequels in this franchise have been satisfied to merely stand on the shoulders of a storytelling genius: before they even knew what they had, they patented it and packaged it (and recycled it) and slapped it on movie screens all across the world.
Part of the frustration of these films is how little they seem to care about basic elements like logic and character motivations. And in the case of Dominion, even the musical score (which, overall, is a superb piece of work by Michael Giacchino) applies key themes from the original film to different characters and settings in this one. It’s a sloppy nostalgia grab that makes no narrative sense. (It may not be as jarring as Howard Shore’s use of the Nazgûl theme in The Hobbit, but it’s not much better.)
Speaking of narrative sense (or a lack thereof), I had trouble following and believing the development of certain characters. Without providing any major spoilers, some character traits and motivations simply don’t jive. That’s especially frustrating when, for example, you want to believe the villain is a lot more resourceful and intelligent than he actually is.
Heck, even the title of the film lacks coherence: depending on its usage, it sometimes has a colon and sometimes doesn’t. Is it Jurassic World: Dominion, or Jurassic World Dominion?
Preference (P): 5 out of 10
Admittedly, audiences typically go to a dinosaur movie to see dinos being dinos. A Shakespearean plot isn’t a necessary component. I get that.
What I don’t get is why most of the JP filmmakers have wielded the franchise like a kid who’s found his dad’s gun. Sure, it might be fun for the kid, but it’s dangerous to audience members like me who want something more than just dinos chasing and eating things.
The sequel trilogy in the JP franchise is inferior to the first three films in almost every way. Admittedly, that’s not the most popular opinion, but it’s one I take nonetheless. (I won’t die on this mountain, per se, but I’m also not moving from it.2) I found both Jurassic World and Fallen Kingdom to be uninteresting, and even annoying. With my hopes for an enjoyable second JP trilogy dashed, I went into the Dominion showing with low expectations.
I expected to hate the movie. As it turns out, my expectations were so low that I was mildly surprised by my mild enjoyment of a moderate amount of the movie.
Dominion includes numerous callbacks to the original film, some of which fell flat on their faces (with the accompanying metaphorical broken and bleeding noses), and some which effectively pulled at the heartstrings of my nostalgic dino-loving inner child. And character motivation issues aside, there’s some enjoyable humor, thanks mostly to Ian Malcom.
Perhaps it would be best to summarize my thoughts by listing and ranking all the entries in the JP franchise according to my personal tastes. Here they are, in order from favorite to least favorite:
Jurassic Park. No other sequel has quite captured the awe and wonder, as well as the sheer terror, of human engagement with dinosaurs. This is history-making sci-fi that still stands up well almost 30 years after its initial release.
Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous. This animated TV series does the best job of recapturing the spirit of the first movie. It’s narrative beats—especially in the first season—are far superior to any of the sequel movies in the franchise. (To date, I have seen the first three seasons of Camp Cretaceous, but not the fourth.)
Jurassic Park III: This is the only film (other than Jurassic Park) that I’ve watched numerous times, for the sheer pleasure of seeing Alan Grant navigate through a dinosaur-infested landscape. Structurally, it’s a bit of a mess, but I find it just plain fun.
The Lost World. Taken on its own, this is a competent movie. I have a personal grudge against it, though: it jettisons the superior plot of its source material (Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name) for a much less compelling story.
Jurassic World: Dominion. Better than I had hoped, but worse than I had wanted. This series finale (if that’s truly what it is) is the film we deserve, not the film we need.
Jurassic World. There are hints of potential in this film, but why it became such a blockbuster is beyond me. With a mostly bland cast of characters, and some outlandish developments, this is more miss than hit. Besides, the motorcycle-ride-through-the-jungle-alongside-a-raptor sequence from Michael Crichton’s The Lost World puts this film’s version to shame.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. To quote Ian Malcom, “That is one big pile of s***.” Asinine in both character development and plot, this film is the bottom of an already-crowded barrel. And the newest dinosaur hybrid is an “Indoraptor”? Because the Indominus Rex (which already had raptor components) wasn’t enough? To quote film critic Steven D. Greydanus, “Apparently velociraptor is the cowbell of dino design and the filmmakers are Christopher Walken. How is the imaginative scope so limited?”
There’s a place for cheap thrills. I found Jurassic World: Dominion to be the best source of cheap thrills this side of the original JP trilogy.
But that’s damning with faint praise.
CAP score: 53%
To be clear, I feared the worst. So…yay?