Jurassic World Dominion is being billed as the “Conclusion of the Jurassic Era” and that will undoubtedly be the case. Mostly because it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that this once-beloved franchise should become extinct.
Let’s run it down. The first Jurassic Park is about a theme park on an island. Its sequel, The Lost World, is about characters going back to an island. The third one, Jurassic Park III, is also about going back to an island. The franchise then rebooted with 2015’s Jurassic World which was, you guessed it, about a theme park on an island. The sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was, at least partially, about going back to the island—and now we have Dominion. The good news is, no one goes back to an island in this one. Instead, all the characters end up in a secluded Italian mountain range. A mountain range filled with dinosaurs, invisible borders, and scientists carefully monitoring it all. Eventually, something goes wrong, and… wait a minute, it’s just the damned island again!
That’s the first of many, many stale, boring choices made in the new film, written by Emily Carmichael and Colin Trevorrow, the latter of whom also directed. Another one is this: if you were expecting a film about dinosaurs, think again. Jurassic World Dominion has dinosaurs in it, a lot of them in fact, but it’s actually about locusts. And a clone, sort of. There are dinosaurs in basically every scene but they act as a mere distraction from the plot. That plot is comprised of two seemingly separate stories which are awkwardly shoved together as a way to get the cast of the original film (Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum) to meet the cast of the new films (Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard), which happens with about 30-40 minutes to spare in a two-and-a-half-hour movie.
In Jurassic World Dominion, several years have passed since the events of Fallen Kingdom when a cloned child named Maisie (Isabella Sermon) released the surviving dinosaurs from Jurassic World into Northern California. What happened next? That story of dino-integration into society is awkwardly explained in a NowThis video news video that opens the movie. From there a ton of (admittedly not bad) set-up is required to establish where all of the characters are, but very little of that has to do with dinosaurs or their place in modern society. The dinosaurs are just there and any interesting conflict feels like it took place off-screen.
What happens on screen is Ellie Sattler (Dern) is alerted to a swarm of mutant locusts that, if not controlled, will consume and doom the planet. She believes one of the companies who has helped with the dinosaurs, BioSyn, may have created the locust in an overly elaborate plot to control the world’s food supply. So she recruits her old pal Alan Grant (Neill) to travel to BioSyn headquarters in Italy and get evidence to support that assumption, with the help of Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) of course.
Meanwhile, Owen Grady (Pratt), Claire Dearing (Howard), and Maisie are living a secluded mountain life for Maisie’s protection. Apparently, many people are after her, and though at first it seems the film might be about her teen rebellion, that also isn’t the case. Instead, Maisie is kidnapped, along with the baby of the raptor named Blue (here relegated to cameo status), and Grady and Claire go globetrotting to find their would-be daughter. It’s a story that involves nefarious poachers, smugglers, the CIA, and more.
What does any of this have to do with dinosaurs? Not too much. Basically at each turn, the cast’s search for info on locusts or the whereabouts of a clone child keeps intersecting with a world that’s been semi-integrated with dinosaurs, mostly through the black market sale of them. As a result, there are multiple, massive set pieces where dinosaurs chase people through cities, caves, and so on, but each time the scenes only work to slow down the story. Are those scenes, on their own, impressive and entertaining? Sure. Do they add anything significant to the narrative to justify their existence? Not really.
Both stories are crafted to make sure it takes as long as possible for each set of characters to end up at BioSyn, which is in the middle of the aforementioned remote dino-sanctuary. The company says it’s studying dinosaurs for the greater good, which is partially true, but there’s also that whole “locusts are going to destroy the world” thing. BioSyn’s true intentions are never quite clear, and since this is a new company being explored fully for the first time in this movie, there’s not a lot of time to dig into them. As a result, the big bad of the film comes off as oddly ambiguous and makes things even less compelling. (Campbell Scott plays the head of BioSyn—Lewis Dodgson, the suspicious character Dennis Nedry meets up with in the original Jurassic Park—so this company is part of the mythology, but that’s not important to the plot at all.)
The greatest sin of Jurassic World Dominion, besides just being generally uninteresting and boring, is that the story is so painfully familiar: a group of people fighting to stop the end of the world. Seeing as how this is the sixth film in the franchise, you would think the Jurassic realm could offer more than that. Plus, at least in the previous films, that threat was about dinosaurs. Here it’s these newly introduced locusts (with dino DNA of course), and while there’s certainly some subtext to be discerned about the locusts as a stand-in for humanity’s mass consumption, it’s never quite explored.
The locust thing might even be okay if the whole movie was about it. But the film opens, and closes, with hints of what a unified world blending dinosaurs and humans could be. In fact, the last few shots of Jurassic World Dominion are excellent and make the previous two-plus hours seem small by comparison. By shoving these ideas awkwardly into the film’s bookends, Trevorrow seems to be admitting he knows that’s the movie this could have been. But instead, he tricks you into thinking it’s about that by starting and ending there. The whole structure feels awkwardly slapped together.
It also doesn’t help that the dinosaurs peppered throughout the film are largely species we haven’t seen in this franchise before. Every Jurassic movie introduces some new dinosaurs, but here, seemingly most of them are new, and while many resemble the traditional raptors or T-Rexs, the slight disconnect makes the threat somehow feel more manageable. We don’t know what these dinosaurs are capable of. Not that we want to just keep seeing the same five dinosaurs again and again, but velociraptors with feathers or even bigger T-Rexs just don’t capture our imaginations in the same way and instantly work against expectations. Even the Mosasaurs, the awesome underwater dinosaur from the first Jurassic World film, is relegated to bookend status, showing up twice for no real reason other than obligation.
Okay, at this point I’m going to force myself to say some good things about Jurassic World Dominion. [Stares at blank computer screen for an hour.] The first things that come to mind are the visual effects. At no point did I ever get taken out of the movie by the film’s visual effects. Every second a dinosaur was on screen, I believed it was a dinosaur, so that’s a plus.
The cast also does their best with the paper-thin material. Pratt and Howard try their damnedest to act like loving, concerned parents, even though the opportunities are minimal, and Neill, Dern, and Goldblum each fall into their memorable roles with charisma to spare. It’s excellent to see the legacy characters together again, and once the groups are merged the film gets significantly more interesting, mainly because there’s fun energy when you put so many talented people and stories on screen together. By that point, though, it’s too little too late. The film has gone on too long and spun its wheels so much that even a slight hint of enjoyment is washed away by the rest of it.
Some of the film’s newcomers, such as a pilot named Kayla played by DeWanda Wise, and a BioSyn executive named Ramsey played by Mamoudou Athie, are also bright spots. You can tell each actor is really, really excited to be in a Jurassic Park movie and they fully buy into their roles, making each compelling and equal to the task of standing beside all the others. There are also a handful of fun little nostalgic winks to the original which are sporadic enough that they don’t overwhelm anything, like the rest of the film can.
But ultimately, in a Jurassic movie, you’re looking for awe, excitement, and fun, and Jurassic World Dominion provides very little of that. If any. There are moments very obviously designed to elicit those emotions, such as the motorcycle ride through Malta or the underground cave sequence, but without a story you’re invested in, it’s all for naught. Instead by the end you can’t help but feel like you’ve been bludgeoned for two and a half hours with random asides and action scenes all hoping to cover up the fact the story and character arcs are non-existent.
I’m sorry to keep coming back to this but it’s just beyond incredible that this film, the “conclusion of the Jurassic Era,” the big culmination, the film coming after the huge cliffhanger of dinosaurs roaming the Earth in Fallen Kingdom, is about none of that. It feels less like a climax and more like a tangent. Nothing is truly resolved by the end of the film. There’s no grand feeling of accomplishment, either with the franchise or the character journeys. And while you should always judge a movie by what it is, not what it isn’t, when you’re the sixth film in a franchise coming after a very specific setup that’s all but ignored, and then the story you choose is super dumb, it’s more than a problem. It’s cataclysmic.
The first Jurassic Park worked because it was simple, relatable, and smart. You wanted to be in that place, with those characters, and everything made sense. Now, five sequels later, there hasn’t been one film that comes close to capturing that magic. They’re all either too complicated or too similar. Jurassic World Dominion is both of those things, as well as being a narrative cesspool, making it, without a doubt, the worst Jurassic movie yet.
Jurassic World Dominion opens Friday.
Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel and Star Wars releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.