I was in a toy store the other day, and I saw a toy for tiny tots: a cutesy dinosaur with a Jurassic Park sticker on it. It struck me that the kids the toy is aimed at probably weren't born when the last Jurassic World film was released, let alone when Steven Spielberg's original '90s classic came out. And that sums up-- a familiar logo slapped on a toy that makes no sense at all.
Released in theaters in June, Jurassic World Dominion is streaming onnow, having been released Sept. 2 with extra footage. It's the sixth and final film in the franchise (for now) and unites the stars of the original movies -- Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum -- with the stars of the more recent Jurassic World films: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and, er, some other people. It should be the culmination of a series that for decades has delighted fans and inspired people's interest in dinosaurs.
And sure, this hyperactive, overstuffed widescreen blockbuster is certainly a T. rex-size bucket of popcorn. But if you're emotionally invested in these characters, this world of dinosaurs and humans co-existing, then Dominion doesn't know what to do with you.
The last time we saw the Jurassic World crew was 2018.led to the biggest cliffhanger in the whole franchise, finally fulfilling the threat that's hovered over the series since the beginning: The dinosaurs are out! That promised a sixth and final Jurass-equel that would be the biggest and most bananas yet. Forget about reality, dinosaurs rule the Earth! The gloves are off! Look out, humans!
Except not really. Dominion boasts some cool opening images, like dinosaur cowboys and pterodactyl nests atop skyscrapers. But the film wimps out on that bonkers premise, rowing back the dino-plague to just a few isolated locations and a dark web of breeders, poachers and heavily tattooed cockfighters. Instead, a whole new and unexpected menace is introduced that gives the film a startlingly scary early image, but feels like kind of a sidestep from what should be the main peril. Which is that dinosaurs rule the frickin' Earth.
Co-writer Emily Carmichael cameos as an autograph hunter fangirling over Jeff Goldblum, and you can at least sense the giddy love for the Jurassic series in the whirlwind of action and jokes. But in the hands of co-writer and director Colin Trevorrow that giddiness pinballs all over the place in a script that can't seem to concentrate. It's a Western (with dinosaurs). It's a spy movie (with dinosaurs). It's a Westworld-esque corporate sci-fi conspiracy chiller (with... actually, that bit could've done with more dinosaurs). Dominion tries to be not just a climax to the Jurassic Park series, but also some kind of frenzied culmination of every blockbuster ever. Only with dinosaurs.
No time to dinosaur
The first half is afilm, with globe-trotting undercover agents and shady brokers and a Jason Bourne-esque Mediterranean motorcycle/rooftop chase. Dominion does eventually turns into an actual Jurassic Park movie, with stars dangling precariously in crashed vehicles while a Doyouthinkhesaurus sniffs them out. Bryce Dallas Howard in particular gets a couple of creepily tense scenes. But the whole thing suffers from genre whiplash, struggling to grasp onto the kind of nerve-shredding set pieces that made the original movie(s) so unforgettable. Watch the first Jurassic Park and tell me it would've been improved by a knife fight.
In the hands of director Steven Spielberg, the first Jurassic Park was a glossy blockbuster full of suspense and action, while underpinned by unforgettable characters. And it also had a sly B-movie sense of gallows humor, like that bit where the snivelly lawyer got eaten on the toilet. Dominion doesn't have either the characters or the sense of black comedy. By this point, the characters are all basically the same heroic good guy, with no selfish or untrustworthy or cowardly characters adding texture and suspense. When all the characters are people we know and supposedly love, the action scenes turn into an unwieldy scrum of a group of eight or nine people shuffling around together, with little sense that anyone can do anything unpredictable or that anything unexpected will happen to any of them. If only the film had the conviction to show the heroes being warped by their experiences, or even the courage to have the core cast get eaten. Anything to add some conflict, some unpredictability, anything.
The film also doesn't really know how to unite the two generations of Jurassic stars, shoving them into a room together and letting them awkwardly stare at each other. There's a lot of "I read your book!" and an eye-rollingly shoehorned "I knew your mother," but really only Goldblum sparks in these overpopulated scenes. The film just can't think of a compelling reason these people need to meet. Compare it with, another nostalgia play merging former generations of a long-running franchise. No Way Home at least came up with affecting emotional problems and cathartic payoffs for Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire. By comparison, even with Laura Dern gamely giving it her best shot, the encounter between Park and World stars is disappointingly inert.
One welcome addition is B.D. Wong, the scientist from the first film who's popped up in enough of these things to become a tragic figure, tortured by his mistakes. He's the closest thing to an actual human person, and carries the original film's themes of scientific folly and hubris on his shoulders. We don't see much of him, though: As if the cast wasn't padded enough with old faces, there's also a ton of new characters.
DeWanda Wise's swaggering Han Solo-esque rough diamond pilot is entertaining but never going to do anything unexpected, and oddly sidelines Chris Pratt during the action stuff. Meanwhile, there's no need for not one but two icy evil women villains, or a succession of nothing-y henchmen -- especially as they all have a habit of just disappearing from the story.
But then there are the real stars: the dinosaurs. Dinosaurs will never get old. Still, one of the strengths of the first film was the way it set up certain dinosaurs and their traits, leaving us watching through our fingers as we waited for those lethal traits to be employed against our heroes. Whether it was T. rexes seeing movement or velociraptors getting behind you (clever girl), each action sequence was given a nerve-shredding jolt of tension because we knew what the dinosaurs were capable of. In Dominion, dinos are just kind of there. Paleontology fans will no doubt get a kick out of the assorted creatures (especially the ones with feathers) but it's a missed opportunity to layer in suspense for the average viewer.
By this point, dinosaurs from all different paleontological eras are crashing about the place, with spinosauruses and giganotosauruses and tyrannosauruses going nuts at each other. If you learn anything from the Jurassic Park series, it's that mixing eras is madness. And yet Jurassic World Dominion splices nostalgic eras and movie genres and just about any other DNA it can lay its hands on. The result is a primordial soup of a few entertaining scares, but it's 65 million years away from making any sense.