My brother-in-law summed up "Jurassic World: Dominion" the best. As we stumbled into the sunlight of the movie theater parking lot after seeing the film, he said: "That was a terrible movie. And I enjoyed every minute of it."
You don't go to see a summer blockbuster expecting great art. It is what it is, a popcorn delivery system, a way to hopefully forget the increasingly troubled real world as you sit in some air conditioning (which, of course, is contributing to the problems of the real world – but that's another story). But you do expect a movie. And "Jurassic World: Dominion" ain't that.
It's a scrapbook with a two-hour, 27-minute runtime, a collection of homages that together add up not to a plot, but to a museum piece – one that, like popcorn, makes you feel full with empty calories, yet never sated. It's also the latest in our era of deep nostalgia: terrible, totally forgettable, shallow and a blast (from the past). Despite being a kids' movie, it's for aging parents and taps into our longing to go back.
"Jurassic World: Dominion" is so forgettable, it's hard to describe the plot. It's the third and allegedly final installment in the "World" trilogy, which started in 2015 with Chris Pratt as animal behavior specialist Owen, who has a way with the raptors — they love how he holds up his hand! — and Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire, Jurassic World operations manager, who has the distinction of wearing high heels while being chased by dinosaurs (an Ellie Sattler she is not) and is aunt to some nephews who get lost, as nephews do.
We get museum pieces. Dioramas of old faces.
The second film, which "Dominion" is a direct sequel to, "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," (2018) sees Owen and Claire return to that pesky Isla Nublar to rescue some now-feral dinos from the ruined remains before a volcano erupts. The idea is that the creatures will be relocated to a sanctuary, but due to some double-crossing and murder, the dinosaurs come up for sale at an underground auction of creepy millionaires and well-funded mercenaries. Aided by young girl Maisie (Isabella Sermon), the granddaughter of dino visionary John Hammond's former partner, Sir Benjamin Lockwood, a child who happens to be a clone of her late mother scientist, the dinosaurs get out. They always do. But this time, they get out in Northern California.
That film has the distinction of making me feel really bad about a fictional brachiosaurus. I'm still not over it, but "Fallen Kingdom" is my favorite of the trilogy, and the long-awaited (and long-plagued) "Dominion" starts with this promising premise: dinosaurs are everywhere. In daily life. In America, like starlings brought over by a Shakespeare fan.
And like those birds, the dinos are invasive. They do serious damage to crops (so do some prehistoric-esque locusts in this film), animal and human life.
So many references pepper the soup of "Dominion" that it is less soup, more pepper.
Not enough, though. One complaint about "Dominion" is that weirdly, it doesn't have a lot of dinosaurs. There are long stretches without them, especially when Owen and Claire go on an "Indiana Jones" adventure (don't ask). The opportunity for dinos to destroy the world, a la aliens in "Independence Day," is high, but the film doesn't take near enough advantage of this. (My audience did cheer when a man on a city scooter was chomped.)
Instead, we get museum pieces. Dioramas of old faces. As in Season 4 of "Stranger Things," our cast of characters have been separated. Exhibit: Owen, Claire and Maisie in a found family, holing it up, Unabomber-style, in a cabin in the snowy Northern California woods. Pratt is weirdly tan for the snowy winter. Maisie is wanted by evil scientists for "research," similar to Charlie in "Firestarter" and the kids of "Escape to Witch Mountain" before her, so her adoptive parents (Pratt and Howard — good luck with those therapy bills) try to keep her hidden.
Exhibit: Ellie (Laura Dern) comes to the dig site of Alan Grant (Sam Neill) to ask for his help in some Earth-friendly espionage. Exhibit: Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is giving lectures at the Google-like campus of corporation Biosyn where the Hammond/Elon Musk self-appointed visionary of this film (Campbell Scott in a cool jacket) plots under the guise of altruism.
Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) and Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise) in "Jurassic World: Dominion" (Universal Pictures / Amblin Entertainment)Our characters will be further separated when Maisie gets kidnapped and Owen and Claire go after her, but they get separated too. At one point, I had to leave the theater to take a child to the bathroom. When I returned, not only was it completely seamless to fall back into the film, but later, my adult movie-going companions could not tell me what I had missed. "Nothing?" they said.
The thing that the museum of "Jurassic" leans hardest into is the homage. These references are Easter eggs hidden for the smallest of children, the ones who might not spot a brightly colored egg unless it is literally handed to them, the ones who need to be carried to the hunt. So many references pepper the soup of "Dominion" that it is less soup, more pepper.
A baby Nasutoceratops, Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) in "Jurassic World: Dominion" (Universal Pictures / Amblin Entertainment)Ellie is drawn to an ill triceratops. She wears a ring that looks like a copy of Hammond's amber-headed walking stick. A predator attacks in basically a scene-by-scene recreation of the first "Jurassic Park" and the T-Rex. The T-Rex here turns itself into a logo. You know it. You know it well.
Maybe we didn't need to know how Boba Fett escaped the Sarlacc either – only that he did.
Even the Barbasol can makes an appearance, as does the wildly fictionalized dilophosaurus who took Newman out. None of these are subtle appearances, either. These are "hit you over the head like an ankylosaurus tail" references. And the shaving cream can, like our hearts, is for sale.
This Jurassic film occupies a museum mile that also includes the new/old "Top Gun," "Stranger Things" and '80s and '90s novelists like Christopher Pike. That thriller king, whose books I had to hide from my parents when I was a child, is seeing an adaptation in Netflix's upcoming "The Midnight Club," perhaps riding on the success of the streaming service's R.L. Stine trilogy "Fear Street." And of course, Disney keeps mining "Star Wars" and Marvel like a robber baron.
On one hand, who doesn't like their beloved characters returning? On the other, it can tarnish the fiction a bit. Did we need to know how the wizards of the "Harry Potter" universe went to the bathroom? No. But maybe we didn't need to know how Boba Fett escaped the Sarlacc either – only that he did.
The danger of lifting the curtain on the man behind it again and again is that we know how the magic works. And it becomes less magic; it becomes less special or singular every time. When all the magic comes from the past, does it even still shine?
This is supposed to be goodbye for the franchise, and "Dominion" tries to quickly wrap up most of the storylines, including the romance of Ellie and Alan (who make more sense together now that they're both older and Ellie has had her children, which Alan didn't want). But tying everything up in neat knots leaves . . . a lot of knots. It also doesn't leave much for a younger generation to dream about, to wonder about. Although it tries to resolve them, "Dominion" doesn't expand the stories of the characters. It doesn't expand much at all.
Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) in "Jurassic World: Dominion" (Universal Pictures / Amblin Entertainment)I attended a screening of "Dominion" in the early evening the day the movie premiered. With the exception of a couple who brought their baby, my child was the only child there. A blockbuster summer film with only one child in the audience? Who is "Dominion" for? Adults.
Despite resembling a slideshow at an elementary school graduation, the movie smashed the box office like an apex predator, earning $143 million its first weekend, as reported by Variety. Look, whatever "Dominion" was, however bad the reviews were (and they are bad, my friends; "It's a spy movie! It's a Western! It's a mess!" reads the CNET review), I was going to see it. So were and are a lot of people my age and older. But will kids?
It's almost as if the last few years have been so terrible — from Trump to COVID to increasing mass shootings — we want to forget they ever happened. We want to go back.
We're into everything old right now, but not into innovating: instead, simply rehashing. This year's "Firestarter" is a pretty faithful remake, except somehow worse than the original. After the Disney+ "Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers" film trod with tiny feet on my heart, '80s and '90s fare slated for the remake machine include "Escape from New York," "Flight of the Navigator" (again with the Howard), "Night Court" and "Clue." Will they be graveyards to nostalgia, like "Jurassic World: Dominion"?
It's almost as if the last few years have been so terrible — from Trump to COVID to increasing mass shootings — we want to forget they ever happened. We want to go back. But you can never go back, not again, not home.
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Hollywood has always leaned heavily into remakes — easier than to write, pay for or to take a chance on than an original story — but "Jurassic World: Dominion" is supposed to be new. It's fun, it's cheesy. I enjoyed it (except for the weird and rampant ableism, including a knock on audiobooks), yet despite the valiant efforts of actors like Mamoudou Athie of "Archive 81" as Biosyn protégé Ramsay Cole, it's nothing original. Nothing new. And as such, it's forgettable, brittle as a fossil. If this is our goodbye, will we remember it?
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