The sixth and final instalment in the Jurassic World franchise has landed, bringing with it one unlikely new hero. Christobel Hastings explains why DeWanda Wise’s character, Kayla Watts, is the unquestionable star of Jurassic World: Dominion.
I’ve been a Jurassic Park superfan for as long as I can remember. Ever since I was old enough to watch the T-Rex snap up the billy goat in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster, I’ve been fascinated by the premise of prehistoric beasts roaming the modern world. I’m the kind of person who will watch every Jurassic Park rerun any time they come on TV, no matter how many times I’ve seen them before – I cannot and will not tire of toothy dinosaurs looking for their next snack. Recently, my nephew actually elected to go to bed early rather than face watching another repeat of Fallen Kingdom with me.
You can bet that I was first in line, then, to see the latest dinosaur extravaganza, Jurassic World Dominion. The sixth and final movie in the franchise takes place four years after Isla Nublar has been destroyed in a neo-Jurassic world where dinosaurs now live – and hunt – alongside humans. With a sinister tech company doing dodgy things with genetic power, the epic conclusion sees a bunch of Jurassic Park icons unite to determine once and for all whether human beings can coexist with history’s most fearsome creatures.
And audiences will certainly be delighted to see two generations together for the first time. Alongside the return of Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire Dearing), the sixth instalment has managed to bring iconic alums Laura Dern (Dr Ellie Sattler), Sam Neill (Dr Alan Grant) and Jeff Goldblum (Dr Ian Malcolm) back together on the big screen.
As much as I loved the chemistry between the legacy characters and spotting all the callbacks to previous films in the final chapter, I can’t deny that the most memorable star of Jurassic World: Dominion wasn’t a returning star but a new face entirely: DeWanda Wise.
Best known for her roles in the reimagined series of Spike Lee’s cult classic She’s Gotta Have It and the Netflix romcom Someone Great, Wise appears in the latest film as Kayla Watts, a high-flying former Air Force pilot who now works as a contractor for Biosyn, the dodgy tech company that’s been rounding up dinosaurs since they disappeared into the wild in 2018’s Fallen Kingdom.
Kayla is a smart woman who recognises that allegiances are fickle in a Jurassic world. And despite her tough exterior and dabblings in the black dinosaur market, she’s also got a heart of gold – so when Claire and Owen’s adopted daughter, Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), is kidnapped, she wastes no time in teaming up with the pair to launch a rescue mission.
Wise’s performance in Jurassic World Dominion is so seamless and compelling that it’s easy to forget she’s a newcomer to the franchise. Amid the schmaltz of Claire and Owen’s relationship, the nostalgic patter between Ellie and Alan, the rebellious spirit of Maisie and the nefarious dealings of the many different villains in the movie, Kayla brings a level of dynamism and humour that feels so essential in the mix that you forget it wasn’t there before.
In one scene, after rescuing both Owen and Claire from the jaws of dinosaurs running amok in the streets of Malta, Kayla flies off with the pair to rescue Maisie from the clutches of Biosyn.
As they enter the airspace of the Biosyn facility in the Dolomites in Italy, the dinosaurs who roam in the company’s surrounding sanctuary begin to make a reappearance. Like Indiana Jones with a pilot license, the thrilling action sequence sees Kayla steering the plane as a monstrous bird descends to cause chaos.
“Late Cretaceous, shoulda stayed there” she quips as a Quetzalcoatlus rips into her plane.
Soon after her plane crashes on a frozen lake, Kayla and Owen find themselves in the line of sight of a terrifying dinosaur that also had the freakish ability to swim. After Owen falls into the lake, Kayla keeps her cool and pulls Owen from the water before escaping to safety and tasering the dinosaur with a defiant jab. Impressively, Wise told Entertainment Weekly that she really did pull a six-foot-three Chris Pratt from the water.
“I wanted that to be believable,” she explained. “I’ve been watching these movies for years, and I just wanted to rep a Serena Williams-type body in this space – someone who was capable and ready.”
There are plenty of other moments where Wise steals the show with a barbed line, a raised eyebrow or her effortless swagger. She embodies her character so well that every time she appears on screen you can sit back and relax in the knowledge that she’s completely in control, whether she’s soaring the skies in the cockpit or fighting prehistoric beasts in the jungle. “You really get the sense that once you enter into her world, you’re in her world,” Wise told The Hollywood Reporter. “She’s a woman who can get up and go at any moment.”
It’s also not insignificant that Kayla is the first canonically queer LGBTQ+ character in the Jurassic world. Speaking to Comicbook about about the importance of LGBTQ+ representation in major franchises, Wise explained that Kayla’s bisexuality is “in her DNA”.
“It’s important, and it’s also important to me that we continue to expand the conversation beyond looking for the kiss,” she explained.
“If you’re queer, you’re queer… I said what I said. All the time. You don’t turn it off. It doesn’t matter if your partner’s in the cockpit with you. It just is a statement of being… So that was one of the things just in her DNA, in her dino DNA, ensuring that she is who she is. Kayla is bi, and that’s just, it is what it is.”
Quite simply, DeWanda Wise has got star presence. And it says something that fans of a beloved franchise already established in the hearts and minds of audiences are already calling for her to get her own spin-off. I can’t say I disagree. Not only has Wise left her footprint on Jurassic World, but she’s emerged as everyone’s new favourite action hero. I can’t wait to see where she jets off to next.
Images: Universal Studios/Amblin Entertainment
Christobel Hastings is Stylist's Entertainment Editor whose specialist interests include pop culture, LGBTQ+ identity and lore.