Jurassic World Dominion is the latest nostalgic reboot that will make a billion dollars, no matter what critics say.
It’s hard to know exactly when I first felt the space-time continuum warp under me during Jurassic World Dominion, but I’m sure it happened under the streets of Malta. The island nation has become a hot spot for the trafficking of dinosaurs — a big problem in this cinematic universe. Thanks to the missteps of a few overambitious scientists, all kinds of ancient reptiles have taken over the planet. But that’s not why Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Clare Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) have found themselves in a gritty Mediterranean sewer. The heroes are there to rescue their daughter: a young human clone.
Written out, all of that sounds fairly original and even compelling. But on the screen, it amounts to an uncanny collision of tropes pulled from the summer blockbuster franchises of the past few decades. A walk through the underground dinosaur market may as well be a visit to an outer world in a Star Wars movie, and then there’s a parkour-laden chase through sunburnt streets that feels distinctly similar to a certain chase scene in the James Bond film Quantum of Solace. This is followed by Chris Pratt somehow driving a motorcycle onto a moving plane in a stunt that I’m pretty sure I saw Tom Cruise do in one of the Mission: Impossible sequels. Meanwhile, kind of in the background, the stars of Jurassic Park are busy reliving the plot of the original movie.
Speaking of the stars, even if you haven’t seen the past few movies in the Jurassic universe, Dominion is worth a look if only to see Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum all on the same screen for the first time since the 1994 film. That’s the one directed by Steven Spielberg featuring a legendary soundtrack by John Williams, all based on Michael Crichton’s eponymous novel. Jurassic Park offered a look at a world in which we could use technology to create clones of extinct species for theme park purposes. The concept seemed absurd at the time, but with the arrival of the final movie in the second Jurassic trilogy, people are cloning their pets, and bringing back the woolly mammoth seems like it may be within reach.
So why not clone Jurassic Park? That’s not exactly what Jurassic World Dominion sets out to do. Rather, like The Matrix Resurrections and Scream before it, the movie creates a new chapter in a decades-old franchise by splicing together a new plot with a reimagined version of the original. This means finding a way to insert the old dinosaur enthusiasts (Dern, Neill, and Goldblum) into a story that revolves around the contemporary versions of their old characters (Howard, Pratt, and … well there’s no substitute for Jeff Goldblum in any world). Fans love this sort of thing, and it’s uniquely appropriate for this universe. After all, Michael Crichton had never written a sequel until the Jurassic Park movie was such a hit that fans demanded a sequel, and they got one. That dynamic is not so different from what we’re seeing with movies nowadays.
Welcome to the age of nostalgic reboots. The summer blockbuster as we once knew it — typically an action-packed, star-studded, roller-coaster ride on screen — has been replaced by a recycled version of all the action-packed, star-studded, roller-coaster rides from years past. In the case of Jurassic World Dominion, it’s not only intellectual property from 30 years ago but also a little dose of all the money-making ideas that have hit the big screen since then. The only thing that’s more likely than nostalgic reboots to get a big budget and huge distribution deals is superhero movies, because studios also already know the template and audiences know what they’re going to get if they spend $12 on a ticket. Good luck finding an indie drama at your local theater. Jurassic Park Dominion and Top Gun: Maverick are probably playing on all eight screens.
Reboots, though, can be fun. Jurassic World Dominion is a blast, especially if you want to remember how incredible the original was. The new film offers up parallel plotlines that eventually intersect. One picks up right where Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom left off and focuses on Grady and Dearing, whose adopted daughter Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) is abducted by dinosaur poachers early in the movie. The other follows Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) as she rescues captured dinosaurs, only to discover that a breed of giant, prehistoric locusts is multiplying and eating the world’s food supply. But, Sattler learns, the locusts aren’t eating the crops planted with seeds made by a company named Biosys, so she goes to visit fellow paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and talks him into taking a trip to Biosys headquarters, where their old friend Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is working as a philosopher in residence.
Did I mention that dinosaurs have taken over the planet? This surprised me, too. I did remember some dinosaurs escaping into the wild at the end of Fallen Kingdom, but what we see in Dominion is truly astounding. The movie opens with a news segment from Now This about how dinosaurs are wreaking havoc all over our built environment. There are pterosaurs nesting on top of the World Trade Center! (Now This and Vox share a parent company, Vox Media.)
So unlike all previous Jurassic Park movies, there is no island from which the main characters will ultimately need to escape. After all, there are now dinosaurs all over the world, there’s no point in trying to outrun them. The place where the two plotlines intersect, Biosys HQ, is a different sort of island. It’s where the company is doing all of its experiments on the dinosaurs, which are all contained in this massive compound somewhere in northern Italy’s Dolomite mountains.
If the name Biosys sounds familiar, by the way, congratulations: you’re a Jurassic Park superfan. Biosys is the company responsible for the inciting incident in the 1994 film, the one that involved Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) attempting to steal the embryos of 15 dinosaur species so that Biosys could breed its own. The main villain in Jurassic Park Dominion is Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott), the character who very briefly appeared in the original movie (played by Cameron Thor that time) — he was on screen just long enough to give Nedry a can of Barbasol that had been modified to store dinosaur embryos. Dodgson’s chief scientist, you’ll learn, is Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), the same guy who developed the DNA-splicing technique that made it possible to bring dinosaurs back to life back in the 1994 film. Don’t worry, these details will come in handy.
Once everybody’s at the Biosys compound, things heat up. The legacy cast goes about its mission to save the world from the giant locusts, while Grady and Dearing from the Jurassic World crew try to find their adopted clone daughter. We even get to meet a couple of new characters: reformed poacher Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise) and Biosys handler Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie), who bring some diversity to what has historically been an almost all-white cast. The last hour of the film is otherwise dedicated to bringing down big bad Dodgson, who bears a striking resemblance to Tim Cook, and packing in references to the classic Jurassic Park. It’s got it all: Malcolm distracting a T. rex with a torch, an escape from an upside-down SUV with a T. rex on top, more than one battle between a T. rex and a dinosaur that’s supposed to be bigger and meaner than the T. rex. Everyone knows, though, this is Jurassic Park: The T. rex will win, and she will roar at the lightning-filled sky.
All of this points to the central theme the Jurassic Park universe has always explored: the tension between man, technology, and nature. And while earlier installments lean heavily on a message about humans’ habit of tinkering with biodiversity, director Colin Trevorrow clearly wants you to think that Dominion is a climate change story. The prehistoric locust plague started with Dr. Wu manipulating the insect’s DNA, setting off a chain reaction that threatens to leave the planet barren, and at one point, the locusts literally rain down fire from above. If Drs. Sattler, Grant, and Malcolm don’t intervene, the world might burn, too.
But when you’re sitting in the audience, you’re probably not going to be thinking about climate change or biodiversity much at all. You’ll be too busy thinking about how much you love Jurassic Park. But you might not be able to reconcile your love of the original with the struggle to make the new trilogy, which was never quite as powerful as the original. Steven Spielberg has an executive producer credit on Dominion, but the most we really see of his work are references to other Spielberg movies.
You could almost separate Jurassic Park Dominion’s two competing storylines into their own movies, but neither plot is all that interesting. The primary one, starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, is derivative and inevitably sort of dull, as it amounts to a couple of parents trying to find a lost child. The nostalgic one, starring the original Jurassic Park cast, feels like a cheap but extremely familiar trick: take an old fan favorite, mix up some details, hire the same actors, and make it into a new movie that lots of people will buy tickets to go see. It’s the same thing you’ll see in Top Gun: Maverick, and we saw a version of it last year in Spider-Man: No Way Home. The formula works. The Top Gun reboot made over $250 million in its first two weekends. The Spider-Man that features all of the old cinematic Spider-Mans made nearly $2 billion at the box office. Industry insiders are already saying Jurassic Park Dominion will be the next billion-dollar hit.
There’s nothing wrong with a good nostalgic reboot. Reboots and remakes have been around as long as movies themselves. Heck, there have been at least four versions of A Star Is Born made over the course of a century! What’s a bit worrisome, however, is that if the only movies Hollywood wants to make are reboots of dependably successful franchises — and superhero movies, of course — that’s a lot of talent and money that’s not going into making entirely new features for theaters. As my colleague Peter Kafka recently argued, the future of movies looks pretty bleak in a world where studios only want guaranteed success at the box office and everything else gets relegated to streaming services.
Industry trends aside, Jurassic World Dominion is an awe-inspiring mess of a movie. It’s full of plot holes masquerading as scientific miracles. It feels like a pastiche of Steven Spielberg’s biggest hits — seriously, there are several scenes that may as well be in the next Indiana Jones sequel — and it’s hilarious. It’s 150-minutes of dinosaurs, both CGI and animatronic, that will thrill the kids. It’s loud.
I’ll probably see it again next weekend. I’ve already seen Top Gun: Maverick, and there’s not much else playing.