7/10 “The end of the Jurassic era,” woah! The Jurassic Park series is an “era” now, OK, that’s certainly a word. And Jurassic World: Dominion is the end of that era! Don’t get sick of it now, we’ve only got one more ticket to sell you! We swear!
Very few marketing campaigns these days are comfortable selling viewers on an individual film. The pitch is always to raise the stakes, convince viewers that the new movie is an extension of what they’ve already invested time and energy into, and not going to see it would turn their enjoyment of a beloved older film into some kind of sunk cost. Little energy is spent on the question of whether or not this individual movie is good and worth seeing, but for the first time in a long time with this “era,” yeah, Jurassic World: Dominion is pretty all right.
Apparently several years after the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, dinosaurs roam the planet unchecked, turning ecosystems upside down. Poaching and illegal breeding are rampant in service of a thriving worldwide black market as governments do little. In the midst of this global ecological catastrophe, a clear threat emerges – a plague of locusts, engorged and fortified with DNA from the Cretaceous Period, sweeps across the Midwest, meticulously and quite conspicuously obliterating every crop that wasn’t designed by Biosyn Genetics, the genetic engineering company that collected most of the scraps of InGen. At least a short-term famine is already certain.
Biosyn’s resident chaotitian Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) summons paleontologists Ellie Sattler and Alan Grant (Laura Dern and Sam Neill) to headquarters in the Italian Dolemites overlooking the company’s prehistoric wildlife sanctuary, the largest in the world, to collect a sample locust and prove what everyone already knows, hoping Biosyn will face legal consequences before it can consolidate power.
I was dreading Jurassic World: Dominion’s special effects based on its trailers, but Dominion has some of the best effects in the franchise. The Jurassic World series had switched to leaning heavily on CGI to create its dinosaurs, but writer/director Colin Trevorrow recommitted to mostly using animatronic models, and the improvement is palpable. There are tons of identifiable puppets, and the torso-sized dino-locusts are obviously physical models. There’s even a return to analog 35mm and 65mm film in some scenes.
Everything is obviously based around a rigid skeleton. Jaws hinge open at the joint, running looks physical, you don’t have any of the wobbly looking Roger Rabbit cartoons where it looks like there’s nothing solid underneath. There’s special attention to making sure the dinosaurs always disrupt their environment, always leaving footprints and disrupting water.
We’ve slipped into an era of terrible special effects, but there’s something particularly appalling about a Jurassic Park movie looking as bad as Dominion’s predecessors have. This is the series that, in 1993, was so advanced it basically ended special effects progression – almost everything that’s come out since has been using techniques perfected for Jurassic Park to cut corners, to degenerative effect.
The best part of Jurassic World: Dominion is it’s about something. This movie is firmly rooted in 2022 when the climate and a new plague have made it clear that Earth has fully turned against humanity, and most realize the world we remember is gone forever. At its best, it’s a National Geographic documentary about dinosaurs in new places, a Mosasaur among blue whales, an Apatasaur wandering onto a construction site, raptors in the snow.
The broken story world and the thematic weight of the entire series is in these images. All of these movies center on the dramatic question, “what if dinosaurs walked among us?” and the inevitable answer, one, it would be really, really cool, but two, all of Earth’s remarkably delicate ecosystems would roil and shatter – who are we to wield evolution like a hammer, to mine it like a profitable metal, when we can’t even begin to project the consequences of such meddling? What do our lives mean when chance can pull us under the wheel of the grotesque and violent process of life? In six movies across almost 30 years, these short sequences of Jurassic World: Dominion expose the heart of the series most plainly.
Sequel series heroes Owen Grady and Clair Dearing (Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard) create meaning in this doomed world with guerilla acts of preservation, capturing ranging dinosaurs for transport to sanctuaries and raiding underground breeding facilities. Grant keeps digging and Malcolm keeps collecting fat paychecks in exchange for his general presence around Biosyn headquarters, but the fact that the process of human extinction is likely already in motion looms heavily over the film.
For Biosyn CEO Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott), another big tech bad guy conspicuously modeled on late Apple founder Steve Jobs, instead of a humbling stare-down with mortality, the ruined world represents opportunity. The image of him late in the picture crawling around his burning facility holding the rusted-over can of Barbasol from the original film with which he thinks he can rebuild, a moment he imagines as the pinnacle of his legacy as the hardest-working entrepreneur in reality one of him desperately clutching a twice-stolen secret recipe as he tries to survive a disaster of his own making, is one of the series’ most powerful. In an era of reboots and retreads that often fetishize props of the original films, it’s also the most meaningful use of a legacy prop I’ve seen, though Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom gets a lot of great miles out of John Hammond’s necromantic amber staff.
I’d love an entire movie that’s just a National Geographic-esque exploration of this in-process evolutionary disaster, but Jurassic World: Dominion isn’t really about its own big ideas. The film is at its worst when it’s trying to have a plot about all these people introduced in all these sequels I barely remember, and that’s where it spends most of its time. There’s a human clone of one of the original scientists now, there’s something going on with the CIA – I don’t know, I don’t really remember Fallen Kingdom, and I instinctively tune out of Dominion when they start talking about her.
But it isn’t all locusts and new series characters. There’s plenty of Grant and Sattler sleuthing around and Malcolm being generally present, and there’s a ton of dinosaur action in a ton of different settings. You’ll come out of it with your adventure movie itch satisfied.
Jurassic Park was less of a movie and more of a multimedia sensation from the outset, and you can really feel it now at the end, especially during the big Malta sequence, a theme park ride through city streets overrun with dinosaurs. Dominion is the first Jurassic sequel to bring back the original lead cast, their drum-tight sexual tension untouched by time, but it’s also the first that displays that warm-and-fuzzy dedication to having something to do for every surviving character. There’s a definite interest in being perceived as nostalgic, even as it introduces new characters and imagery that are more interesting than what came before.
Is it a good finale? It’s one of those pop-cultural questions that make me roll my eyes, but Jurassic World: Dominion was billed as “the end of the Jurassic era” three years after both Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker graced the same screens. “Megaseries finale” is a hot sales pitch right now, especially for media that everyone knows will never ever ever cease production on spinoff material. Film has become so serialized that we’re looking down the barrel of conventions and standard tropes for film series finales, even if they haven’t really formed yet.
If this were the only sequel to Jurassic Park, if there weren’t four movies’ worth of ups and downs in between and it didn’t feel like such an oversight that this is the first time Malcolm, Sattler and Grant are reunited onscreen, it’d be a sensation – and they’d probably have a bigger share of screentime – but instead it’s trying to be the Wizard of Oz, harnessing that nostalgia while hoping viewers ignore the mediocrity show behind the curtain.
Jurassic World: Dominion lacks the MCU’s almost prophetic organization or the Star Wars sequel series’ catastrophic disorganization, so it’s hard to put in terms of either of those series, and I don’t want to. You can’t buy a ticket for the entire “Jurassic era,” just Dominion, it has to be a good movie on its own, and it’s not exactly what I wanted or even the best version of itself, but it’s good enough for me.