movie reviews

‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ review: The poor ‘Star Wars-ification’ of big franchises

Ryan Oquiza
‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ review: The poor ‘Star Wars-ification’ of big franchises
'The Jurassic World franchise falls into the same trap as Star Wars and other legacy sequels: accomplishing absolutely nothing new'

Colin Trevorrow, the director of this new incarnation of dinosaur action figures going up against evil greedy scientists, recounted his experience with the infamously scrapped Star Wars Episode IX production in the lead-up to Jurassic World: Dominion.

“What I appreciate about having worked on Star Wars is that I really got a practice run at making a new version of something we loved when we were kids and bringing it to a satisfying conclusion,” he shared in an interview. “I felt like I got a master’s degree in that.”

While it would be unwise to doubt the valuable experience gained in working with one of the biggest intellectual properties in the world, I’d question the quality of that so-called master’s degree. Because if Jurassic World: Dominion is any indication, Trevorrow didn’t gain a degree in crafting satisfying conclusions; it was a degree in incompetency.

The best idea of the first Jurassic Park film was to showcase revolutionary and never-before-seen dinosaur wizardry coupled with the wonder, awe, and subsequent dread felt by its young and old characters. The problem with its successors isn’t that they didn’t use more practical effects or that we’ve been too desensitized to CGI-sludgefests. The real problem is that Jurassic Park never needed a sequel in the first place.

The almost 30-year-old franchise has exhausted just about every corner imaginable from a storytelling perspective. The premise always boils down to either “We will RETURN to the park,” “We will make a BIGGER park,” or “We will set the dinosaurs loose OUTSIDE the park.” No matter how talented Trevorrow is, which I’m sure he is, there’s only so much you can do when your studio sees your work of art as a sacred “brand,” so he resorts to the one thing that can easily be marketed: nostalgia.   

Nostalgia isn’t just the defining feature of this infantilized mess; it’s the film’s hook, line, and sinker. It sucks, but it’s a patented kind of sucking. A product wherein they leave enough references, a unique action setpiece, or an establishing shot of geriatric heroes while the iconic John Williams score crescendos to shield itself from criticism. At this point, studios like Universal and Disney are so painfully predictable with their franchise plot points that they might as well copyright these legacy-sequel hallmarks.

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To summarize the plot would be like wriggling through recycled materials in a garbage bin. Another corrupt corporation, now known as “Biosyn,” seeks to exploit the breakthrough genetic modification associated with the clone Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), who is now a teenager going through an angsty phase under the care of Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). Concurrent with that is the swarm of extinct giant locusts suddenly appearing and threatening the world’s food supply. This provides a pretext for Ellie (Laura Dern) and Alan (Sam Neill) to team up in confronting Biosyn, not before enlisting the support of fan favorite Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) on the inside.

If something felt off about that summary, it’s because it was missing the word “dinosaur” in it. That’s because Jurassic World: Dominion rarely engages with the “dinosaurs in the actual world” aspect of its story. It’s a corporate espionage film that just so happened to have dinosaurs. There are literal dinosaurs interacting and invading the natural habitats of countless species, and the film wants to direct its attention to a secluded forest monitored by the evil scientists…again? Even the return of the velociraptor Blue and her newly conceived daughter amount to a mild inconvenience in the grand scheme of things.

The dinosaurs out in the world don’t feel like active threats aside from the occasional clips of dinosaur-to-man violence shown on the news. It’s lazy and uninspired, particularly because there is a missed opportunity to create genuine tension surrounding characters the audience has grown to care about. Instead, the film presents the equivalent of doomscrolling dinosaur-related news affecting random people immaterial to the plot. The standout dinosaur scenes (which, let’s be honest, is the reason you came to this film in the first place) involve Bryce Dallas Howard, and it’s no surprise given how talented the actress is as a director herself.

We meet new characters like Kayla (DeWanda Wise), the pilot who aids Owen and Claire in their rescue effort, and Ramsay (Mamoudou Athie), the Biosyn employee who aids Ellie and Alan in their rescue effort. It’s important to note that these characters have never been introduced in the previous films, and the two who were, Franklin (Justice Smith) and Zia (Daniella Pineda), get the Rose Tico from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker treatment of getting relegated into the peripheries as if they never existed.

In this new climate, so often do the fans get to demand what they want to see and will refuse to shut up until they get it. Some characters didn’t do well in the social media analytics game? Well then, reduce their minutes and kick them out of the sequel in the first five minutes. The current cast is not generating enough buzz? Time to dust off some legacy characters and hope for the best. In some cases, these reactionary changes work. Other times, you get painfully average callbacks that do nothing to move the needle (I didn’t need to see another evil villain comeuppance at the hands of a Dilophosaurus).

Pratt and Howard, as the two main leads, have been stretched way too thin by the Jurassic franchise. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how the two have managed to do so many things yet also do nothing at the same time. Trevorrow is unable to extract any charm from them aside from now-extinct notions of cowboy-ism and unimaginative maternal care. It also doesn’t help that they share the screen with the original trio, who surprisingly still have the chemistry and worthwhile banter that sustained the first film. Putting them side by side just makes it look like Pratt and Howard are out of place holding white flags. 

For a franchise that has repeatedly harnessed the “capitalist overlord” villain who prioritizes numbers and profit over safety and Darwinism, it doesn’t feel like they’ve learned anything from what they preach. We keep getting the same stories and archetypes over and over that it seems almost comical that nobody has thought about putting this series of films to rest. According to studies, land-based animal extinctions occur every 27 million years, give or take. In the case of the Jurassic franchise, they occur every sequel. – Rappler.com

Jurassic World: Dominion is now showing in Philippine cinemas.

Ryan Oquiza

Ryan Oquiza is the chief film critic of SINEGANG.ph and one of the hosts of the film podcast Sine Simplified. He studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman.