The word “dominion” is uttered once in Jurassic World Dominion, in an oblique, irreverent allusion to Genesis 1. “Not only do we lack dominion over nature, we are subordinate to it,” asserts Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) in one of his trademark, smugly iconoclastic epigrams. Later in the same speech, though, Malcolm turns with surprising optimism to the power of genetic science to shape the future.
Does he really believe this? Is this speech coherent? Is the film itself coherent?
It turns out that there’s a rationale for the speech, sort of, but it’s the kind of thing that merely pushes the incoherence back a step. Trying to explain Jurassic World Dominion is like pulling a loose thread that keeps getting longer until there’s nothing left to unravel. Even by the standards of prior Jurassic World movies, it’s a deeply stupid movie, full of inexplicably dumb choices not only by characters who are allegedly smart, but also by the filmmakers whose work must speak for itself. Granted, the original Jurassic Park dumbed down the brainy Michael Crichton novel, but it also knew the plot was there to serve the thrills and spectacle of the premise. Jurassic World Dominion has so many moving parts—so much plot, so many characters—that for long stretches it loses track of the dinosaurs altogether. And neither the plot nor the characters are worth our time.
For a while it seems Dominion wants to be the franchise’s Mission: Impossible. Instead, it’s the anti–Top Gun: Maverick.
The achievement of this summer’s extraordinary Tom Cruise legacyquel includes projecting the characters, themes, and trajectories of the original Top Gun more than three decades into the future, gracefully revisiting nearly everything fans loved about the 1986 blockbuster while also shrewdly patching up its issues and improving on it at every turn. Jurassic World Dominion can’t even manage to carry on the themes and trajectories of its immediate predecessor, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, let alone any of the prior Jurassic films. Maverick almost makes Top Gun a better movie retroactively. Jurassic World Dominion can’t touch the Jurassic Park trilogy, but, capping the Jurassic World trilogy, it makes its two predecessors retroactively worse.
Here is just one example. The entire plot of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is driven by a single force, one that’s been there from the first Jurassic Park movie: the enormous dollar value of dinosaur specimens to big-money black-market buyers, from private collectors to pharmaceutical or military industrial researchers. (Many have argued that the bids seen in Fallen Kingdom’s elite auction sequence, in the mere tens of millions, were absurdly low.) Dominion also features a black-market setting, located on the European island nation of Malta—but, far from catering to an ultrawealthy clientele, it’s a rough, sleazy joint with booths grilling dino meat and a dogfighting-style pit for, you know.
What conceivable sense does it make for dinosaur flesh to be counted so cheap? Granted that the last film ended, absurdly, with turning dinosaurs loose on the world, so that all sorts of people can now get their hands on them, the specimens at liberty are presumably fewer than the assets of the defunct Jurassic World theme park. (These are creatures genetically designed not to breed on their own. Life finds a way in at least one case, but that seems to be the exception.) If there were 10,000 dinosaurs of all species combined to start with, it would be a lot—and that’s before the predators started picking off the others and one another. Of those that survived, not all were smuggled off Isla Nublar; some were left to die. Of those who were turned loose, some have been recaptured, killed, or snapped up for private and corporate interests.
Who, then, would be roasting procompsognathus meat in a dodgy underground market when multibillionaire foodies would pay unthinkable sums for live specimens to be prepared fresh by their personal kitchen staff? Who would pit the rarest animals on Earth against one another in blood sports for mere betting-action money when there’s no limit to what industrial giants would pay for the same creatures? This is what the last movie was about, so the questions matter. Worse still, by the end the movie appears to lose track of the entire issue. The whole weight of the world’s industrial appetite for genetic power is laid on a single dirty corporation and a single unscrupulous CEO, as if the chaotic downfall of one more misbegotten enterprise could somehow usher in a new age of global peace and almost eschatological harmony—legit “lion lying down with the lamb” territory, as if taking us from Genesis to the Apocalypse in two and a half hours.
The one thing Dominion has going for it is the mark of all true legacyquels, at least as the term was originally defined: beloved, aging stars reprising classic roles. With the return of Sam Neill as Alan Grant and Laura Dern as Ellie Sattler, Dominion reunites for the first time all three principals of the original Jurassic Park, along with one other original cast member, BD Wong, whose geneticist Henry Wu became a semi-villainous figure in the first two Jurassic World movies. Another character from the original film, bio-espionage agent Dr. Lewis Dodgson (as in “We’ve got Dodgson here!…See, no one cares”), is also back in a bigger role, albeit recast with Campbell Scott replacing convicted sex offender Cameron Thor. (Dodgson had only one scene in Jurassic Park, but he was a bigger deal in the two Crichton novels.)
Of course Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are back as, respectively, velociraptor trainer Owen Grady and former Jurassic World park manager Claire Dearing. I don’t even know where to start with them, so let me go back to the returning players for a moment. I said in my Top Gun: Maverick review that if a legacyquel “is pretty good, it will be like a reunion with old friends.” Dominion is not pretty good, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy catching up with Alan, Ellie, and Malcolm. Dern, especially, is a welcome presence, for several reasons: because she’s so good; because she only had a cameo in Jurassic Park III; and because women in older middle age just don’t get cast in action movies the way older men do.
Ellie also feels like a real character, which can’t be said for Claire. Claire started off as a corporate ice queen who was bad with kids and saw dinosaurs only as assets. By the second film, she was an environmental crusader for dinosaur rights. Now she’s a guerrilla zealot liberating dinosaurs from shady operators and also a mama bear living in the woods helping to raise a special teenaged girl named Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), whose genetic history makes her important to powerful people for mysterious reasons that turn out to be one of the stupidest conceits in this deeply stupid film. (But not the stupidest, because the same people also want a baby raptor for reasons that make even less sense. And all of this relates to a malicious corporate scheme that a 12-year-old would realize an 8-year-old would see through, and a ridiculously labyrinthine whistleblower plot to blow a whistle that could be more easily blown any number of ways.)
Two actors playing brand-new supporting characters make a bigger impression than any of the non-legacy characters. Mamoudou Athie plays Ramsay Cole, a slyly polished corporate functionary playing a much longer game than he ought to be. DeWanda Wise is Kayla Watts, a freelance ex-military pilot who sticks her neck out for nobody until, in the time-honored tradition, she does. If you aren’t paying attention to self-congratulatory publicity around the film, you could be excused for not realizing that Wise’s character is meant to be bisexual, an allegedly brave, important character choice reduced, so far as I can tell, to a fleeting remark about “liking redheads.”
Sometimes-energetic action sequences—at times verging on Jason Bourne or Ethan Hunt territory, but with raptors or larger predators—are undermined by cheap manipulation of variables empowering the dinosaurs to do exactly as much as the heroes can withstand, and no more. Owen’s restraining hand gesture, which we bought in the first Jurassic World because it invoked lifelong training and bonding with a particular set of raptors, is now a magical flourish that throws all dinosaurs for a loop. A lengthy, harrowing sequence with two pairs of military-trained raptors chasing Owen on a motorcycle and Claire and Kayla in a truck loses steam once it becomes clear that the raptors never will. (Lose steam, that is; unlike real predators, they run at top speed as long as the scene goes on, never tiring, never slowing down.) Conversely, a ridiculous sequence pitting all the heroes together against the franchise’s latest big bad—a more formidable cousin of the T-rex called Giganotosaurus—is almost comical in how poorly Giganotosaurus performs and how brazenly the humans thwart it. The 1993 film’s T-rex would have eaten them all halfway through the scene.
Dominion is directed by Colin Trevorrow, who also directed the 2015 Jurassic World and co-wrote all three films. The middle movie, Fallen Kingdom, was directed by J.A. Bayona, a proficient artist who at least invested his installment with striking images and evocations of Spielbergian tension and excitement: achievements Trevorrow can’t begin to touch. Even the better action sequences only remind us how firmly Ethan Hunt owns this territory now. I spent most of Dominion wishing I was watching other movies: the original Jurassic Park; Top Gun: Maverick; next year’s Mission: Impossible installment. The world of late 20th-century Hollywood action franchises may not be quite extinct, but, absent Cruise (who will be 60 in July) and perhaps George Miller (who will be nearly 80 if he completes his Mad Max: Fury Road prequel Furiosa on schedule), filmmakers capable of carrying on the tradition seem to be.
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I must confess that I got only as far as “it’s a deeply stupid movie”, which is a phrase I admire – it rolls off the tongue nicely.
Further than that I could not go. Did I miss anything?
Well…I did call it “deeply stupid” more than once, Terence, but I wouldn’t recommend reading the whole review just for that!
Should you happen to venture into theaters to see Top Gun: Maverick — which, for what it’s worth, I recommend that you do, even if you didn’t care for the original Top Gun — you might possibly enjoy the paragraph after the one where you stopped, which contrasts that movie’s achievements with this movie’s failures.
To me ‘Top Gun’ the 1st was a few hours of escapist entertainment and that’s all. I don’t take Tom Cruise seriously as an actor now and I never did – he’s a lightweight and no more. His membership in Scientology admittedly has something to do with my opinion, but there it is. Val Kilmer as a 4-star Admiral is also quite ridiculous – one laughs and moves on.
I didn’t read a word except the author’s name. My lids blinked and I fell asleep. I awoke to find myself typing this note. Have I missed anything?
No, you have missed nothing. I don’t know why CWR publishes these stupid movie reviews. Neither the films nor the analyses have any redeeming value, from a Catholic standpoint. Any time spent with either is wasted.
Hate to break it to you, but people still like movies. Yes, even Catholics. And it can be helpful to have folks like the deacon here, who is at least as good a film critic as as he is a Catholic, give us some pointers about what we’re considering.
There can be other benefits to a long review for a movie you don’t intend to see too. For example I’ve gotten enough read-between-the-lines information here to know how the plot turns out in relation to the other films, at least two of which were worth watching.
It makes me wonder when a critic has to keep interjecting in his readers’ reflections on his critique.
Maybe it is just healthy dialogue. Maybe.
I think it’s wonderful that Steven provided and has provided his film review service. It’s helped me in my analysis of films and to avoid wasting time and money. The reviews are from a Catholic perspective rather than secular and therefore edifying. I think his willingness to respond to comments really says a lot about him and his fidelity to what he has written. Give the guy a break.
I appreciate your kind comments, Michael.
My hope is that in all my reviews, positive or negative, interested readers (a self-selecting set of readers, to be sure) may find not just perspective on whether a particular film is worth watching or not, but insight on how to watch and evaluate movies in general — on the various ways in which movies can be good or bad.
The great critic Richard Corliss had a stock answer to the question “What’s worth watching?” He liked to say, “Everything is worth watching.” That may not be quite literally true, but a sufficiently engaged viewer can find at least some value in watching almost anything — even if in some cases it’s only insights into what a movie could have achieved, and didn’t.
C.S. Lewis expresses a not unrelated point when he debunks the idea of trying to “prove the width of my literary taste by being able to enjoy all the books in my own study…The truly wide taste in reading is that which enables a man to find something for his needs on the sixpenny tray outside any secondhand bookshop.”
Sorry but I have resolved not to read any more reviews by this critic.
Anyone who gives me multiple page views and comments on the same review has my gratitude, Gilberta!
I enjoyed Jurassic World. Fallen Kingdom was disappointing. Not surprised Dominion continued the deteriorating standards. There is only so much entertainment thT can be milked out of CG dinosaurs.
Mr. Greydanus, thank you for very much this review. It was reassuring to read your brief appraisals of the previous Jurassic World movies, as a context for the newly released Dominion. I loved the original three Jurassic Park movies, and so I was deeply disappointed in the subsequent World films. I was greatly annoyed at the many and various absurdities in both World films. One trivial example that quickly comes to mind: Claire running from one of the dinosaurs ( I cannot remember which film), in spiked heels through the jungle brush–and she escapes! I think that she removed the heels much later…but this small example caused me to laugh out loud, which greatly displeased my immediate family, who were excited to watch the World films with me. They were adults by the way! As an aside, I liked very much the original Top Gun, and have not seen Maverick, but, based on your review, I plan to see it. Please completely ignore some of the ridiculously snarky comments in here. It is disappointing that, even in a faithful Catholic forum, the nastiness of the Internet pervades even this space, which should be a respite from such uncharitable attacks. Nasty people seem to be everywhere online; but, as you are aware, this perception is false, as they are a definite minority. Most people would never behave in such a manner. I very much appreciate and value movie reviews from a Catholic perspective. It is increasingly difficult, and rare, to find anything current from Hollywood that is not deeply offensive, absurd, and/or pushing immorality. As one previous commenter put it, these reviews are helpful in not wasting my time or money. But I really enjoyed the review, nonetheless.
Charles, one thing I would have liked to admit in this review, though I couldn’t make it fit, is that, upon revisiting Jurassic World and Fallen Kingdom a couple of weeks ago in preparation for Dominion, I realized that I had significantly overrated Jurassic World.
That early scene in the raptor pen with Chris Pratt holding back the raptors with steady nerves and that restraining gesture of his while a man who had fallen into the pit escaped so struck me that I gave the movie too much of a pass for the next hour, and by the time the excessively brutal death of the assistant woman snapped me out of it, I had missed too much. I had previously thought that Fallen Kingdom was a step down, but I now think that while neither movie is good, Fallen Kingdom is a bit of a step up.
Even so, Dominion makes them both worse in retrospect. This is a thing that can happen when two or more movies are closely woven together, the same way that the second half of a movie (or a novel) can change how you think about the first half. Sometimes a movie writes checks that you accept in good faith, expecting the sequel to cash it. When it doesn’t, your disappointment ripples backward to the previous film, and you no longer give it the benefit of the doubt.
Speaking solely for my ‘ridiculously snarky’ self – I criticize Mr. Greydanus’ reviews of movies such as Top Gun and what seems to be an unending string of Jurassic park movies for one primary reason – to me and to they are nothing more than silly movies, a few hours of escapist entertainment at best. IMO they are not really deserving of notice, aside from the fact that they are very profitable & very visible summer blockbusters, which probably demands that they be reviewed.
I restate my admiration of his description of this Jurassic Park opus as “deeply stupid”. I would have used the adjective ‘profoundly’, but Mr. Greydanus’ choice of adjectives was quite good.
Terence McManus: I am genuinely puzzled by what seems your very strange idea that “silly movies” or “a few hours of escapist entertainment at best” are “not really deserving of notice.” Do you really think that? Where on earth did you get such an idea?
Silliness can be deeply, even profoundly human, as Chesterton well appreciated, among others. Escapism can be a noble pursuit; as Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, among others, have noted, it is jailers who are hostile to escapism.
Pope Pius XII, in a pair of notable 1955 addresses on the potential of cinema, offers significant insights into the value of even “shallow,” escapist fare:
“Man has shallows as well as depths”! I love that line (and I’m reminded of the same Pope Pius’s affection for a rather shallow example of Hollywood piety, the Big Crosby clerical melodrama Going My Way). Of course the Holy Father quite rightly cautions against the potential deformations of otherwise salutary shallow escapism (“vulgarity or unseemly sensationalism”) as well as the dangers of unrelieved shallowness (“Dull, however, is the man who is entirely superficial, and is unable to add depth to his thoughts and feelings”). But this says nothing against the silly, shallow, or escapist in itself.
To be fair, Top Gun: Maverick — though a marked improvement over the 1986 original in every way, including with respect to “vulgarity or unseemly sensationalism,” etc. — is not beyond critique. (There is a reason I gave it an A-, not an A.) But a thing that is not perfect can still be valuable, and can enrich our lives, if we are not too gravely highbrow or stuffily long-faced to enjoy a good time watching a silly, escapist movie of a very high caliber.
How did Pope Pius XII, Chesterton and Bing Crosby find their way into this discussion? You brought them in.
Top Gun in 1986 was a few hours of escapist entertainment, the sequel 36 years later seems to be more of the same. The original Jurassic park was quite entertaining, the 1st sequel was ok, after that I lost interest.
Reply #2 – I yield to no one in my appreciation of silly – I am profoundly aware of the importance of silly in this increasingly perilous world we share, nevertheless I do appreciate your deigning to inform me of its importance.
When I need silly I go to P. G. Wodehouse, the late English author who created – among other characters – Jeeves the Butler, his employer Bertie Wooster and some of Bertie’s friends, among them such giants as Gussie Fink-Nottle, Pongo Twistleton-Twistleton, Tuppy Glossop, Aunt Dahlia, the cook Anatole, Madeline Bassett, the dog Bartholomew, etc. My father introduced me to Wodehouse’s work when I was a mere stripling of 13 – more years ago than I care to contemplate, and the best thing about Wodehouse is simple – the older I get the funnier he gets.
Recommended movies – A Hidden Life, Fatima, Risen, The Young Messiah, Midway, The Aristocats – The two English spinster sisters and their uncle Waldo are easily worth the price of admission.
This reply probably won’t get past the censors, but I’ll take my chances.
Oh good, glad we got that sorted.
Wherever you speak from experience, we seem to agree more than we disagree. You are right, in my view, to esteem the first Jurassic Park and to find the second “ok,” and your instincts guide you well in lacking interest in subsequent films. I entirely approve of your esteem for Wodehouse, and I agree, with varying levels of enthusiasm, with most your movie picks (A Hidden Life is among my top 5 Catholic movies of all time; Fatima is good; Risen is mostly good; The Young Messiah is quite significantly better than is generally appreciated; and, despite issues, I have a soft spot for The Aristocats; I have not seen Midway). However, Top Gun: Maverick is distinctly better than the original, and I continue to recommend it to you.
Among non-silly recent options, I heartily recommend Petite Maman (which I have reviewed for CWR) and A Hero (which I have written up but not yet run; I need to fix that).
Contrary to what many critics might have you believe, Terrence Malick has never made a non-masterpiece. Everything he’s directed is brilliant. And brilliantly evocative.
If you’re looking for a beautiful movie and aren’t inherently opposed to cinema about gay people, you should watch “Benediction.” The fact that it was made by a gay atheist doesn’t detract from its delicate spirituality.
“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
― C.S. Lewis
“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
― C.S. Lewis
The most stupid thing about dino movies is the notion that these creatures could be authentically recreated from likely defective DNA augmented by genetic material from contemporary species types and that they’d actually survive in our very different environment.
Big dinos morphed into smaller birds for a reason.
They can be scary fun though.
Overall, I felt that the review lacked depth and didn’t accurately or completely analyze or understand the piece it was examining. To start off, a reader of the review doesn’t fully get information on the human aspects of the film. The question of what does this film do to the soul is completely lacking. As this site is a uniquely Christian site, this was somewhat disappointing. The dignity of the human person isn’t really touched on in the film. This itself is an issue, the film contains scenes discussing human engineering and pride. I would be curious to see how the reviewer interpreted these ideas. At the very least, this should be discussed in a general sense. We are also never given information on the way the film discusses truth in it’s own context. Again, the film works towards ideas in this but the reviewer never explores them. Exploration into these truths would help the reader of this interview understand the mental and moral effects of this movie in a greater way. This contributed to a lack of balance in the review, it feels empty and incomplete. Still, there were some ideas that were well explored. The attitude of the director was brought up in the piece, and done so in an effective manner. A section of the last paragraph reads, “J.A. Bayona, a proficient artist who at least invested his installment with striking images and evocations of Spielbergian tension and excitement: achievements Trevorrow can’t begin to touch.” While perhaps overly snarky, the reviewer gives us a more concrete understanding of what the director was thinking and why the film failed to connect with audiences. The review is certainly correct in this regard, the film was dry at parts and failed to inspire it’s audience, seemingly due to a lack of depth and meaning. The issues that was best covered by the reviewer was the skillful, or lack of skillful development. One thing I thing could be added here is more information as to why the film failed. We are told multiple times in the review that the movie either is bad or doesn’t work; but we are never given exact reasons why. When a lack of imagination if briefly cited it would have been helpful to get an example of what could have been done better. Compared to the predecessors in the Jurassic Park series, Dominion failed to do anything special. The cinematography was as average as it was forgettable. The movie did fail to impress. More of an explanation into these ideas would help those trying to learn to make better movies and also help the audience understand how to take in better movies and enjoy the more artistic elements of the film industry.