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Yes, they’re bad, but the Jurassic World movies are fun too

Jurassic World Dominion remained atop the box office during its second weekend, mainly because Lightyear severely underperformed. Despite Dominion‘s negative critical reception, it’s undeniable that the film is a hit with audiences; it has an A- on CinemaScore and a 78% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Sure, those two aren’t exactly badges of honor when talking about quality, but they sure as hell are indicators of a film’s potential success at the box office and longevity in streaming services.

We look down at most modern blockbusters because they offer us nothing beyond the cheap thrills of their basic premises. And although recent examples — Dune, The Batman, Top Gun: Maverick — have proven there is space for depth and nuance in major motion pictures, most modern blockbusters remain firmly set on the repetitive and by-the-numbers approach spearheaded by the superhero genre and championed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, there is something noteworthy — dare we say, admirable — in a film that knows what it is, who it’s for, and what its ultimate goal is. After all, a blockbuster’s purpose is to entertain. More than any other type of film, a blockbuster should keep audiences happy for the required two hours. While it can have a deeper meaning, an extra layer of sentimentality, or a thought-provoking message, at its core, the blockbuster exists to entertain its spectacle-hungry audience.

And make no mistake, Jurassic World Dominion does the job well. It is mindless, empty entertainment, meant to be consumed and forgotten as quickly as one can finish a large bag of popcorn. But, as it turns out and contrary to popular belief, the Jurassic Park/World saga has never been about “quality” as much as it has been about the “oohhs” and “ahhhs” that come out while watching dinosaurs wreak havoc across a given setting.

Dinostalgia

T-Rex attack in Jurassic Park
Universal

Jurassic Park came out in 1993 to almost universal critical and commercial acclaim. The film wowed audiences with never-before-seen visual effects that redefined what cinema could accomplish. Steven Spielberg’s firm hand was present in every shot and sequence. Industrial Light & Magic may have created the dinosaurs, but Spielberg brought them to life. Jurassic Park was a triumph in nearly every way. A masterclass in tension and suspense, the film cemented Spielberg as the creative mind of a lifetime and opened the door for future and equally visually dazzling and daring films like Titanic and the Star Wars prequels.

The 1997 sequel, however, was the beginning of the end, but in Jurassic‘s case, the end was the beginning. The Lost World had more of the dino-menace that would eventually become Jurassic‘s bread and butter, but it also began the series’ bizarre need to needlessly include other sub-genres of the creature feature by turning the franchise’s star, the T-Rex, into a Godzilla stand-in rampaging across San Diego. Spielberg has been open about his disappointment with The Lost World, claiming in his autobiography he became “disenchanted” with the film during production. Still, the film was fun; Jeff Goldblum and Julianne Moore gave it their all, bless their hearts, and the plot fully gave into the idiocy of its premise.

The third film brought back Sam Neill for a ludicrous plot about a rich family looking for their kid, who got lost in dino-island. Like its predecessor, Jurassic Park III featured some genuinely funny/ridiculous moments — the phone ringing inside the Spinosaurus remains peak Jurassic madness, and the Pteranodons sequence is especially thrilling. Above all, the film confirmed that The Lost World wasn’t the exception but the rule. The franchise wasn’t some thought-provoking, science-defying exploration of humanity’s relationship with the past. On the contrary, it was a loud and dumb cinematic indulgence, a giant set piece extended to two-and-a-half hours.

Still, The Lost World and Jurassic Park III underperformed at the box office, leading Hollywood to doubt itself. Were the films not “serious” enough? Was the franchise too dependent on a Spielberg at the top of his game? Were dinosaurs no longer enough? Or, even more terrifying, had the first film grossly overestimated what the franchise could be? Was the first Jurassic Park not that good? Perish the thought.

Dawn of the Jurassic World

Owen protecting Claire, Zach, and Gray in Jurassic World.

It would take Hollywood 14 years (!) to come up with another Jurassic film, but this time, they knew just what to do. Jurassic World abandoned any attempt to turn the series into some thought-provoking and critical takedown of humanity’s morality and shameless ambitions. Instead, it offered a mindless, over-the-top, over-indulgent adventure at a fully functional dino park. Fresh off his star-making Guardians of the Galaxy role, Chris Pratt became the franchise’s new hunky leading man, paired up with the strict and high-heeled Bryce Dallas Howard, playing the ultimate ’90s couple.

Jurassic World was ridiculously overblown, and audiences were living. The film’s two most (in)famous scenes — Zara’s needlessly elaborate and gruesome death and Claire running from the T-Rex in high heels — perfectly exemplify the franchise’s essence. They don’t make sense; in fact, they’re kind of stupid. But we are watching a film about dinosaurs fighting other dinosaurs. Do we care about logic at this point? The franchise pulled that old double whammy, dazed and dizzied us past our ability to understand. A devious little trick, for sure, but one that’s no less impressive.

The film’s other major strength is coming up with the franchise’s best antagonist since the original T-Rex — which by now is no longer the enemy but (surprise!) the hero. The Indominus Rex is genuinely frightening, the sole reminder that the original film intended to criticize and warn against humanity’s shamelessness and greed. The Indominus is aggressive, cunning, vicious, and dangerously human, and the saga probably made a big mistake by killing it off so quickly.

Fallen Kingdom is arguably the series’ worst film, but it at least makes us feel bad about killing the dinosaurs, and that’s all that matters, right? Feeling something. Indeed, like all the other new millennium franchises, the Jurassic World trilogy is all about feeling. So what if we don’t understand what’s happening or the plot doesn’t make sense? We are vibing with the story. Sure, the city is going for a ride for no apparent reason, but Pietro just died! Sure, dinosaurs co-existing with humans is absurd from every possible angle, but the dinos are dying! Cry, humans, cry!

Dominion brings the saga to a close in a suitably silly way. Nothing in the film makes sense, there’s no identifiable train of thought, and there might not even be any stakes. It’s all gloriously gratuitous and exaggerated, and we are here for it. The actors remain staunchly committed — Bryce Dallas Howard, in particular, has kept these films afloat almost single-handedly and receives arguably the film’s best sequence as a reward.

Beyond any intent, the film succeeds because there’s nothing for it to lose. Can anyone claim to remember what happened in Fallen Kingdom? Can we even remember the name of the clone girl who debuted there and surprisingly got a somewhat compelling story in the third entry? We are here for the dinosaurs, and we don’t even know their names, much less the girl who’s the clone of that other girl who’s the granddaughter of that other guy who helped create the dinosaurs in the first place.

But it doesn’t matter because dinosaurs and Chris Pratt is now basically a velociraptor-whisperer, and that’s cool. Dominion is the apotheosis of the Jurassic franchise, the point where it goes past the ridiculous and into the wholly mind-numbing, all in service of our mindless entertainment. This is where the franchise has always been heading, and to see it finally get there is… something. But the intensity is such, and the action is so fast-paced that we almost forget it all. How can we hear the truth above the roar?

Razzle-Dazzle them

Claire Dearing hides in swamp in Jurassic World Dominion

The Chicago song famously said, “Give them an act with lots of flash in it, and the reaction will be passionate.” Well, the Jurassic saga has given us flashes, roars, screams, shouts, laughs, tears, and everything in between. The Jurassic World trilogy upped the ante in every way possible, delivering three films that fulfill the blockbuster movie promise of leaving us satisfied without asking too much from us. In their way — an admittedly very safe and mediocre, yet still pleasingly satisfying way –, they are the perfect legacy sequels to an original trilogy whose main claim to fame relies on an original film that has been single-handedly carrying the franchise for nearly thirty years.

It is time for us to speak honestly and say the Jurassic saga has never been great. The original film remains a landmark of cinema, arguably the first modern blockbuster, but everything else that followed has been equally mild. And we don’t care. The saga now exists beyond Spielberg, Crichton, Neill, Goldblum, Dern, Pratt, and Howard. It is its own weird, misshapen, aimless thing, rising to glory in the back of the massive dinos that were, are, and will forever be the show’s true stars. Why are we still surprised by the negative reviews towards a franchise with four green splashes next to four of its six titles? The word Jurassic is not synonymous with quality; it never was.

And yet, it prevails, not only surviving but actually thriving. Jurassic World Dominion seemingly marks the end of the second trilogy, and it’s about time. In another five or 10 years, the franchise will return with another hunky actor and beautiful actress, with dinosaurs in spacesuits or something, and you know what? I can’t wait for it. Dinosaurs existing in the modern world is already a stupid-enough premise; what’s one extra layer of stupidity?

So hats off to you, Jurassic World, a pretty perfect legacy trilogy. As long as you keep us way off balance, how can we spot you’ve got no talents? You have razzled-dazzled us, and we’ve made you a star.

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