What is the appeal of the Jurassic Park franchise?
Is it the dinosaurs? If it is the dinosaurs, is it the action scenes of people being terrorized by these prehistoric beasts? Or is the appeal learning to sympathize with the dinosaurs, seeing them akin to wild animals or even pets, with specific species brought to life on the big screen?
Is the appeal nostalgia? A franchise built around a beloved movie from 1993 from one of our greatest directors and his signature style? Is it about trying to imitate that film’s original uniqueness and technological achievements?
Is the appeal the cast, either the original trio or the new, bloated World cast of familiar and unfamiliar faces, trying to find a new breakout star? And is Chris Pratt still the star and box-office draw he once was?
Or is the appeal the ethical and philosophical quandaries Jurassic Park offers? Questions of, is it ethical to resurrect an extinct species, and for profit? What about cloning? How should humans interact with these powerful, deadly creatures? What is our responsibility to them after bringing them back to life?
Jurassic World Dominion doesn’t know how to answer the question of what is most appealing, either. But it’s going to throw everything at the wall and surely, somewhere in the mess, there will be something that sticks.
Dominion picks up four years after the events of Fallen Kingdom. After being evacuated off the Jurassic World island and oops, let out into the wild, dinosaurs are now living amongst humans and doing what they do best: killing people, and causing a lot of property damage. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt), former workers of Jurassic World, are helping rescue and relocate dinosaurs, and are raising Maisie (Isabella Sermon), a human clone (just go with it). When Maisie is kidnapped by evil tech company Biosyn, Owen, Claire, and new assorted characters go to rescue her (DeWanda Wise and Mamoudou Athie do admirable jobs in their underserved, underwritten roles). At the same time, Alan Grant (Sam Neil), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) are back to help figure out what Biosyn is up to. As the first Jurassic Park taught us, when you mess with mother nature, your biosins will find you out.
I’m in the minority that actually liked the last film, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and its turn into very self-serious absurdity. I particularly enjoyed how the film (directed by J.A Bayona) made use of horror elements, and I was excited to see this movie’s payoff of Fallen Kingdom’s premise of dinosaurs interacting with us in the modern world. However, despite the promise of this movie being “the dinosaurs are out of the park and in society!”, the majority of the film still takes place in a park–or, excuse me, an enclosed wildlife sanctuary. While disappointing, the parts that take place out in the world are likewise absurd and goofy, like the Mission Impossible/Indiana Jones-esque chase sequence in Malta with dinos. That sequence, which takes place about an hour in, is when things really get going. The first act is bogged down by exposition and various character groups being in separate locations. In the second act, high-energy action sequences (particularly that scene and a solo dino-chase scene with Howard in the jungle) finally get all the characters together, and in the third act, things are very fun as our united fellowship makes a big escape from the park.
As for this fellowship, Dallas Bryce Howard continues to be the Jurassic World’s franchise MVP and, to me, has deservedly overtaken Chris Pratt (who seems stilted here) as the star of this trilogy. She makes her character’s arc way more compelling than it probably meant to be, and she does a great job in the action sequences. But since she’s the only interesting Jurassic World character, she gets a major assist here from the OG Jurassic Park stars for a part nostalgia play, part desperately-needed bolt of energy. While I enjoy and respect the first Jurassic Park movie, I don’t personally feel any nostalgia for that film or these characters, so it’s more of just the pleasant delight to have some charismatic actors who look like they’re having a blast, and the three of them sell it, particularly Dern. In the final showdown, the original Park characters and new World characters get paired off various times together, leading to some fun little team-ups and interactions.
In the end, I don’t care what cynical intentions may have been behind this film, I had a good time. It’s a popcorn summer blockbuster in the best way. Is this movie only doing, as Matt Zoller Seitz writes, the bare minimum? Sure. And if the appeal of this franchise to you is philosophical musings, groundbreaking effects, or inspired directing, you won’t be satisfied here. But to me, the appeal of Jurassic Park is the adrenaline rush of the dinosaurs and humans interacting and how the dinosaurs inhabit space, and Dominion does that well.