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Jurassic World: Dominion (2022) - A Colinoscopy of the American condition and somewhat-related climate debate

By Emad El-Din Aysha, PhD

I’m not a particularly big fan of the Jurassic World series, and not a big fan of franchises in general, but they were bringing back the original cast of heroes from the beloved classic Jurassic Park (1993) so I decided to watch Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World: Dominion just for the fun of it. Well, what can I say? It’s okay. Not great, not terrible, but okay. The sense of magic and ‘wonder’ that you got in the original 1993 movie isn’t there, something they only just barely captured with the first JW movie. Not surprisingly then you went out of it more or less the same person you went into it. No more mature but no less either.

In terms of pacing and awe you felt like you were watching Godzilla vs. Kong (2021). There are good moments mind you and some noble themes, here and there, but the story is just too convoluted and unconvincing and there are many, many gaffs along the way. The three heroes from the original – Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie (Laura Dern), Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) – are also underperforming here despite their still evident talent, which is a real shame. The new trio – Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) – shine even less brightly and inexcusably so. Ironically it’s the side characters like Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise) and Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie) that make more of a splash, as one-dimensional as they are. And don’t even get me started on the so-called badguy, Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott). It seems to be era of the mediocre megalomaniac nerd, with Jared Leto as Niader Wallace in Blade Runner: 2049 (2017) being the prime example. Do we have Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg to thank for this? Just ask Zack Snyder’s version of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, known for doing Zuckerberg).

That being said it’s a fun movie with a new range of dinosaurs, a director who is an enthusiast and a fan doing his best to pull together desperate threads and give you a cinematic treat with its heart in the right place. I want to take time out to thank him for his efforts and wish him the best of luck for the future, especially in light of his initial plans for the last installment of the Star Wars series that got shafted resulting in an even more convoluted ending that wasn’t nearly as satisfying as this. Being overenthusiastic is better than being under-enthusiastic!!

Teen vs. the World

The story begins more or less where it left off in the previous Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) with Maisie being kept under the watchful eye of her so-called parents, Owen and Claire, as the dinosaurs released in the previous movie continue to wreak havoc on an ecosystem not designed for their epoch. It’s actually worse than that. There is a whole underground trade in dinosaurs, introducing new and more lethal breeds up against humanity and the existing stock of animals, and the international community has handed over the responsibility for taming this menace to the aforementioned Dodgson, head of Biosyn Genetics, who wants to harvest the relics for their genetic properties. Meanwhile Claire tries to raid Biosyn facilities to find proof of animal abuse while Owen plays at being a cowboy, trying to capture renegade dinosaurs as if they were horses or cattle. (It’s lame but one of the cooler scenes in the movie is when Owen is doing this). Maisie lives with them in a cabin in the woods, in the freezing cold, but can’t help but to go into town every once in a while, like the tempestuous teenager that she is, showing herself to save a wayward dinosaur while trying to figure out who she is, as a clone of Charlotte Lockwood. That’s when fate strikes. A shifty eyed poacher, Rainn Delacourt (Scott Haze), cunningly disguised as a tattooed redneck, sees her and kidnaps both her and the daughter of the Velociraptor Blue, Owen’s friend from the previous movies; Maisie calls the kid ‘Beta’.

LOCK AND KEY: Isabella Sermon stuck between being a girl and becoming a woman, a highly destructive age. Global warming did result from hair spray!

I know this isn’t terribly convincing but at least there is some hinting and foreshadowing. The problem is that while the buildup is good the payoff isn’t. What particularly gets in the way, apart from the multiple strands on display, are the repeated mistakes. I know that lots of dinosaurs are now believed to have been warm-blooded – I was predicting this all along since 1993 – but they stretch it here, with a brontosaurs out in the snow. The thing doesn’t have feathers to keep it warm, unlike other more evolved dinosaurs. And there isn’t nearly enough vegetation to keep something like that fit and fed. There’s also the cold itself. The trio of Owen, Maisie and Claire never seem to shiver in the cold and also have unbuttoned collars. (Maisie’s face also seems permanently pink, as if sweat never flusters her makeup). Contrast that to Grant and Ellie who meet up in the desert but nonetheless seem to be well-dressed and dress up even more when they venture up north. Hence, another plotline and complicated set of goals. One of the new prehistoric additions to this world are giant locusts, tearing crops to shreds and threatening the entire food chain of man and beast alike, while curiously never even touching Biosyn’s genetically altered crops. Ellie contacts Grant and tells him their mutual friend Malcolm is working for Biosyn and has invited them to the headquarters of the diabolical Dodgson in the Italian alps to get evidence of who is designing these killer locusts and why. (Obviously to force the world to heel to his demands so he can make people pay him for his newly designed food, much like real-world multinational corporations, although they never follow through on this blatant conclusion by the end). To make matters even more complicated Owen and Claire meet up with the team from the second movie and this leads them to Malta, the capitol of underground dino trading, where you find that Beta and Maisie are both headed to Dodgson’s place, but on separate flights. That’s when they encounter a smuggler pilot, Kayla Watts, who got the baby dino into the country illegally and spies Maisie from a distance.

What proceeds is one of the more fun and colourful episodes in the movie, albeit marred by the usual mistakes. You have an underground slave pit where dinosaurs are bought and sold or forced to fight each other in front of the adoring fans as they place bets, and the poacher dude pops up with Owen and a friend from the previous movie hot on his trail. Claire’s on her own adventure and crosses paths with Kayla, showing her Maisie’s picture and telling her she’s her daughter, while also being chased by specially trained dinosaurs, with cool stunts jumping from balcony to balcony or trying to outrun a dino in a pickup truck.

The smuggler in charge of the dual operation, Soyona Santos (Dichen Lachman), is the no nonsense type and sends dinosaurs after Claire and Owen and their friends. Owen gets a motorbike and makes a wild dash for it in the streets with the scaly pursuers on his tail while two ‘big’ dinosaurs get released too and gobble people up in broad daylight. The action is cool and ridiculous but what’s even nicer is the kind of alternate world on display. You have dino kebabs and wrestling matches and gladiator pits and people selling exotic dinosaurs as pets and ornaments. You felt like you were watching Ridley Scott’s Gladiator with a fair amount of world-building flair. (Like I said, it’s a real shame Colin Trevorrow didn’t get to do the last Star Wars movie). There’s a good amount of morality play too with Kayla feeling guilty for not doing something to rescue Maisie, and not by pure coincidence she’s former military, a hero fallen on bad times or succumbing to the temptations of the mercenary life. She offers the services of her plane to Owen and Claire and they head off to Dodgson’s crib, only to be attacked by flying dinosaurs with the electronic restraints on them being released. The episode has an Indiana Jones vibe to it too and the action with Claire’s parachute antics and crash landing are pretty solid.

In the meantime, Grant and Ellie are given a hero’s welcome and shown around, Malcolm giving them a code key to get into the nether reaches of the facility where the locusts are. Maisie then meets the only scientist left over from the very first movie, Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), and he tells her about her mother Charlotte and how she cloned her own daughter and – more importantly – found a cure for a genetic defect she had passed down to her daughter. Dr. Wu needs her DNA, and Beta’s, to recreate this technique and use it to fix the problem he created with the locusts. Supposedly a ‘mistake’. Science as a double-edged sword anyone? Even so, the girl escapes, releasing Beta, while Grant and Ellie get into the locust compound and get harassed by the things on the way out, only to find their tour guide and the number two there – Ramsay Cole – to be the whistleblower. Owen and Claire meet up, with Kayla and they stumble onto Grant and Ellie and then Maisie and they all make a run for it, with Malcolm joining them, when a terrible mistake happens. Dodgson tries to terminate the locusts by burning them but they escape and cause a fire in the dinosaur forest and then a whole bunch of new problems and antagonists pop up, leading to a confrontation between the T-Rex and an even bigger apex predator (along with a giant herbivore covered in feathers) while Dodgson gets killed in a throwback to the original Jurassic Park movie, with the poison-spitting Dilophosaurus.

Dodgson, it turns out, is a character from Jurassic Park, the corporate guy trying to get the embryos from Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), all the way down to the shaving cream. A bloated plot, like I said, and while fun, there’s so much going on you can’t focus on a particular plotline with a particular antagonist – human or otherwise. Dodgson is feeble in that regard and the new apex predator, the giant allosaurus, is filmed at night time so you can’t see it clearly enough to be impressed by its size. I found the gene-spliced monster in the first JW movie much more convincing and more impressive in terms of size. The final battle with the T-Rex is a rehash of the one in the first JW but not nearly as impressive, or convincing. I had no idea T-Rex’s could play possum?!

Abstracts for Hire

Now for some more negatives. The scene where Barry Sembène (Omar Sy) is up against one of those trained dinosaurs. He’s trapped and trying to bash his way through a locked car door, and it only dawns on him afterwards to use his gun to shoot the lock off. And for some reason before that neither him nor his team used their guns against these beasts. When the grownup Charlotte injects her baby with a syringe with the genetic cure, you never hear the baby screaming in pain either from the needle or the treatment. I’d said above the problems concerning the cold weather and alternating clothes. I’m afraid I’m going to have to agree with Georg Rockall-Schmidt that the movie, probably at the behest of the studio, isn’t respecting the intelligence of the viewers at all.[1]

The movie is a thematic mess too. The locusts are a clear allusion to global climate change, man playing God and nature suffering consequently. That’s good in itself but what’s it got to do with everything else? You have a convergence of two plotlines with two sets of heroes, but it seems forced and distracting, not allowing you to focus your affection and intellectual energies on a single plotline and set of protagonists and antagonists. More things happen along the way that seem unnecessary. When Dodgson finds out Ramsay has betrayed him, nothing comes of it and it seems unnecessary and inexplicable. No fork in the road develops, no major plot twist. It doesn’t contribute to the story except maybe to highlight a black and white contrast, since Malcolm isn’t the ultimate whistler blower but Ramsay. Ramsay gave him the key code and told him where the locusts were. You feel, watching the movie, that white people are vacating the premises for minority types. The scene where the locusts attack the crops and terrify two cutesy little kids, the children by pure coincidence are Mexican. (I don’t have a problem with that as such but they handled it in a too jovial manner, with the mother – no father evident – smiling and relaxed and filling in Ellie on the gory details). The two useful members of the heroes from the previous movie that pop up here, Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) and Barry Sembène, are both black, in marked contrast to the very overweigh CIA desk jockey (Caleb Hearon).[2]

DOUBLE TROUBLE: DeWanda Wise and Chris Pratt in the not so subtle race politics of today's Hollywood.

Even the evil smuggleress Soyona Santos, while Asian, is white and considerably blonde, and don’t even get me started on the poacher dude Rainn Delacourt. I ‘should’ pick on Kayla Watts, the black LGTB character, but I won’t. She was actually very likeable, had some depth and wasn’t ridiculously overpowered. She gets scared like everybody else, has the training to be resourceful and use her brain to get out of situations, and she was actually physically fit, unlike most actresses these days who are expected to be powerful role-models but look like a gust of wind could knock them over. Kayla also made a good team with Claire, and with Owen, and didn’t slag off straight white men or traditional families. She had a photograph of her mum and dad on the steering wheel of her plane and regretted losing the plane because it was all that’s left of her mother, a pilot herself – her own hero and role-model. Wouldn’t you know it but the main consistently handled theme in the movie, and this is to its considerable credit, is family. Owen and Claire are (technically) Maisie’s parents and have earned the right to be called parents because they are willing to sacrifice for their offspring. There is Charlotte (Elva Trill) who bequeathed Maisie and Blue that gave birth to Beta, teaching her how to hunt (hapless mammals). Maisie is the independent type, even chopping logs for the fire, something you’d normally associate with men, but you feel that Owen taught her that (very responsibly as an alpha male) and her rebellious streak is what gets her into trouble at the end of the day. Even when she escapes it’s with the help of Beta. There’s no doing without other people, provided those people respect that you’re growing and becoming responsible and lead by example. So there’s clear praise of the family, in marked contrast to the first JW movie where everybody is divorce happy and the nanny dies horribly for actually doing her job. Malcolm, as per custom, mentions how he has five kids and even Grant and Ellie finally get together, as we’ve always dreamed. (Ellie’s husband dumps her from the third Jurassic Park movie and Grant finally wakes up to being lonely and not liking the bachelor lifestyle, and their ‘scenes’ together have a nice intimacy and subdued heat to them). And diverse families are worked into this; same-sex or single-mom families like Charlotte and her baby and Blue and Beta. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion and as long as a movie is respectful of the other side, albeit the mainstream, I have nothing to complain about.

[[TO BE CONTINUED!!]]

NOTES:

[1] Please also see otherwise mild mannered captainmidnight for a list of blatant mistakes in the movie: “Jurassic World Dominion is a Trainwreck”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGvFpJTLdjo&t=4s.

[2] It’s good to see the CIA doing something other than overthrowing Third World regimes. Is this a hint from the director that environment needs as much help as it can get and from the powers that be? Let’s hope so!

 
Written by Emad Aysha