6:00am PT by Simon Abrams
The Persistent Problems of the 'Jurassic Park' Franchise
[This story contains spoilers for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom]
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is an ostentatious corrective to its messy, but mostly satisfying 2015 predecessor, Jurassic World. Where Jurassic World often feels like a macho, James Cameron-like protest against the privatization and militarization that can undermine scientific research and study, Fallen Kingdom feels more like a heart-on-its-sleeve, Spielbergian plea for empathetic co-existence. Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm tellingly begins and ends Fallen Kingdom with a warning: a future that fails to be inclusive enough to allow for unexpected changes is one that's doomed to fail.
Malcolm's talking specifically about the dinosaurs that have are now roaming around North America after they're tranquilized and imported from Isla Nublar's now-abandoned theme park. But Fallen Kingdom's spirit of inclusivity is most obvious in the way that screenwriters Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly treat Jurassic World's heels-and-flares-wielding park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) as an equal partner for beer-and-bikes-taming animal behaviorist Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). This is especially striking since the first Jurassic World's Claire is a conflicted, but often unbearable personification of a Cameronian suspicion of/attraction to bossy women.
Claire repeatedly proves that she's smart enough to know how Jurassic World is run, but she only really vindicates herself — from the filmmakers' chauvinist perspective — when she proves that she can keep up with Owen in the running and fighting department. Forget the Temple of Doom-level sexism of the scene where she hitches up her sleeves and ties up her top: she can drive an ambulance during a high-speed chase and lead a hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex out of its enclosure with a lit flare! This is Cameron's dream woman: she loses sight of her womanly/familiar instincts one minute (as in the scene where her sister cries to her, mid-divorce, to please look after her two sons), but is ultimately humanized by her feet-to-the-fire fightin' chops. You half expect Owen to speak for the filmmakers and sneer "I hate her! But I kinda love her!"
By contrast, the Claire of Fallen Kingdom leads a coffee-chugging, open-office-occupying band of multi-cultural Millennial misfits — represented by sassy paleoveterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and squeamish IT guy Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) — in rescuing Isla Nublar's dinosaur population, now imperiled by an active volcano. Owen still teases Claire — like when he brusquely tells her that she should write fortune cookies after she delivers a well-meaning pep talk — but she spends much of this new sequel climbing ladders, saving Franklin, swimming, running, jumping, and just getting things done. Compare that with Jurassic World's Claire, who wastes at least half of her screentime delegating and receiving information on her smartphone.
Fallen Kingdom's Claire is, as malicious rich guy Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) says, the "mother" of Jurassic World to Owen's "father." That thematic conceit is central to Fallen Kingdom, particularly in its insistence that viewers — and several main characters — not just see dinosaurs as assets or threats, but as wild animals who are as dangerous as they are, uh, likable? Here's where Fallen Kingdom starts to differ in unbelievable ways from Jurassic World: this new, and commendably ambitious sequel frequently posits that dinosaurs, like Jurassic World's Velociraptor protagonist Blue, deserve consideration because they are capable of forming emotional bonds with humans. Dinosaurs are therefore not just an immediate threat — though they predominantly have been in the previous four films — but rather a noble, preservation-worthy group of animals that the film's humans should save since we unnaturally resurrected them from the dead. Look at that brave Brontosaurus as he dies an admittedly affecting death: doesn't he deserve a second, erm, third chance at life?
I mean, yes and no. Remember in Jurassic World when Blue and her fellow Velociraptors were believably wary of Owen, and eventually turned on him because they formed an immediate bond with the genetically enhanced Indominus Rex? Why — in a sequel that mindlessly rehashes the usual Let's Sell the Dinosaurs for Military Development sub-plot — doesn't Blue's character-defining unpredictability recur when Blue encounters the Indoraptor, a dinosaur whose genes are spliced together from Blue and the Indominus Rex's genes? Oh, right, because empathy.
Fallen Kingdom's emphasis on human/dinosaur co-existence often feels forced, albeit in predictable ways given Jurassic World's cool-looking, but dumb T-Rex vs. Indominus Rex melee. That film's climactic battle is, like many gripping Fallen Kingdom set pieces, rock-stupid because, well, why am I rooting for the villain that I know against the one I don't given that the T-Rex — as even poor, gutless Franklin points out early on — has been long-established as a violent, selfish menace? The old Enemy of My Enemy cliche really doesn't work when you're preaching about wild animals' autonomy.
To wit: is Blue the cuddly/scaley baby who comforts Owen in old video research footage (shown exclusively during Fallen Kingdom), or is she the adult animal who snaps at her trainer, then betrays him, then defends him, and finally abandons him at the end of Jurassic World? These animals don't owe us anything, so having a dinosaur like Blue save the day — and even risk her life by jumping on the Indominus Rex, just so she can impale him on the horns of a Triceratops skull — is a bit much.
Fallen Kingdom's dino-related action scenes may be more thoughtfully choreographed than Jurassic World's set pieces, but this new film isn't significantly smarter in its depiction of violence. Jurassic World is, like parts of Jurassic Park before it, sometimes didactically sadistic. There's a questionable moral imperative to some of the kill scenes in both of those earlier films, as if the dinosaurs were only doing what we should expect them to do by lashing out at fat, greedy human exploiteers and/or tourists. Jurassic Park's Dilophosaurus spits acid in the face of Wayne Knight's dino DNA smuggler and Jurassic World's Indominus Rex plays with one of its fat, and seemingly incompetent guards...before biting him in half.
There's also a distractingly cruel death scene part-way through Jurassic World: a whale-like Mosasaur devours a tourist after she's picked up and pecked at by a bunch of Pterodactyls. This death would have made a lot more sense if there were other seemingly normalizing deaths that show that it's not just the bad guys who die because of their negligence and/or incompetence. Even poor Irrfan Khan, who plays clueless park owner Simon Masrani, seems to die simply because his good intentions don't match his skills as a helicopter pilot. Sure, he's proud enough to personally pilot the soldiers around in his shiny helicopter, but did he deserve to die for that mistake?
After all, Ted Levine's cruel, teeth-plucking Fallen Kingdom mercenary Ken Wheatley seems to die an appropriately drawn-out death, as does Spall's Eli, and Toby Jones' prissy auctioneer Mr. Eversol. These deaths make it impossible to lament the tragically random murder of various unimportant tourists.
For comparison's sake, look at Jaws or even a superior Jaws clone, like the original 1978 Piranha. In these films, wild animals strike and hurt people regardless of whether they're good, bad, or just extras. The same can't be said of the dinosaurs attacks in Jurassic Park and its four sequels, so maybe Fallen Kingdom's tendency of romanticizing dinosaurs is just a logical devolution of Spielberg's life-affirming monster movies. And make no mistake: the dinosaurs in Spielberg's films are monsters, though monsters are usually more pitiable, if not outright sympathetic. If these films teach you anything, it's that you should not try to bond with a carnivorous dinosaur (Note that Owen hasn't bonded with any herbivores).
Fallen Kingdom also continues Jurassic World's involving, but ultimately brainless Cameron-like (or maybe just Crichtonian) delineation between the sympathetic scientists/soldiers/other blue-collar workers and their mean-spirited, out-of-touch supervisors. Vincent D'Onofrio's Hoskins dies in Jurassic World for the same reason that Simon does: he presumes to know more than he does. But Hoskins's death is more sadistic — look at his blood splatter across the glass! — because he also defies Owen's recommendation and tries turn Blue and her Velociraptor friends into weapons. The makers of Fallen Kingdom pick up, but add nothing to this line of theoretically sympathetic anti-authoritarian thought: Eli, like Hoskins before him, accuses Owen of being willfully naive for thinking that his research would not be used to weaponize the park's dinosaurs. Owen doesn't really deserve that sort of accusation in Fallen Kingdom given that he follows Claire's good example and tries to right his past wrongs.
But the same can't be said of BD Wong's Dr. Henry Wu, a defiantly slow-to-learn geneticist who inexplicably helps Eli to splice Blue and the Indominus Rex's DNA. How is Henry not wary of being burnt again after the events of Jurassic World? This is no mere plot hole — it's a gaping logic chasm. It's also annoying to hear this completely incomprehensible decision rationalized by Malcolm, who blathers on about how man has, time and again, proven himself to be too immature to wield great scientific power. Malcom’s not excusing Henry’s actions, but if he’s right, and Henry’s actions speak to humanity’s general trend towards irresponsibility, then Henry can just repeat his mistakes without any sign of character development or continuity. Henry’s lack of introspection is not a product of his flawed character—it’s a result of lazy writing. Henry is ultimately punished for his hubris when he tries to draw Blue's blood, and the P.O.ed dino runs roughshod over him. But shouldn't everybody involved in this enterprise know better by now? If death and empathy are only awarded to the people who deserve it in the Jurassic Park sequels, then why pretend that right still necessarily makes might?