In the immortal words of Stefon, on paper, Jurassic World has everything. You can just picture a horde of cocaine-giddy studio suits huddled around a boardroom table volleying verbal handjobs back and forth and chattering their teeth with excitement.It has the hottest—and most likable—star in the galaxy in Chris Pratt, who will go as far as rapping “Forgot About Dre” in its entirety to ensure box-office supremacy. It has legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg on as a producer. It has freaking dinosaurs. And, last but certainly not least, it’s a cherished cinematic property that holds a special place in the hearts of millennials.
Because of all these dazzling should-be attributes, people—myself including—will enter the theater wanting to like it; craving a Proustian flashback to the childlike wonderment you felt seeing that giant, roaring T. rex stomping after bugged-out Jeff Goldblum in a Jeep for the first time.
But Jurassic World is not good. In fact, it’s aggressively bad.
Filmmaker Joss Whedon saw this coming. The Avengers maestro, reacting to a particularly chauvinistic promotional clip that debuted online ahead of the movie’s release, tweeted, “…and I’m too busy wishing this clip wasn’t ’70s-era sexist. She’s a stiff, he’s a life-force—really? Still?” A month later, in a cruel bit of irony, Whedon would delete his own Twitter account amid allegations that he’d shortchanged Black Widow in his supercharged sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron. But still, his point was a valid one. And it becomes even more prescient once you actually indulge in the carnival of chaos that is Jurassic World.
Yes, Jurassic World is not about corporate greed, anti-militarization, crass commerciality, disrupting the food chain, or dinos eating the shit out of people. No. It’s about a woman’s “evolution” from an icy-cold, selfish corporate shill into a considerate wife and mother.
The fourth installment in the creature feature franchise is set exactly 22 years after the events of the original Jurassic Park and Isla Nublar, that once-overrun island off Costa Rica, is now home to Jurassic World—a gaudy monstrosity of a dinosaur theme park. The powers that be have, somehow, decided it is responsible to erect this dinosaur haven even though these things have already committed mass murder on no less than three separate occasions. The place is owned by Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), CEO of the Masrani Corporation, who, like John Hammond before him, is a naïve dreamer who gets off on delivering smiles to the faces of children.
He’s also a slave to the almighty dollar and, to lure more customers to the park, green-lights the creation of a new, bigger dinosaur that is teethier than Michael Fassbender: Indominus Rex. The park’s crack team of God-playing geneticists, led by B.D. Wong (SVU), has spliced a bunch of other dino and animal genes with a T. rex’s to create the ultimate attraction (and, of course, killing machine). When the beast is accidentally released from its high-tech cage, all hell breaks loose.
Despite credits and promo materials that state otherwise, the main character of Jurassic World is not the swashbuckling, macho, ex-military Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady, played by Pratt. It is Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park operations manager. Claire is so careerist, unfeeling, and apparently “unmaternal” that she clacks her heels around barking orders in bangs and a white pantsuit, and when her two young nephews (Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins) arrive on the scene, she’s so buried in her work mobile that she shoos them away.
As expected, once all hell breaks loose, the two idiot kids—who decided to dabble in a bit of rebellious off-roading—are caught in the dino quagmire, and Claire recruits the hunky, virile Owen to help her whisk the two lil’ liabilities off to safety.
And here is where the film turns into a bizarre twist on George of the Jungle. As Claire and Owen travel through the dino-infested rainforests in search of the missing children, he begins to loosen her up through good ol’ fashioned sweet-talkin’. For God knows what reason, Claire is still sporting her work blouse and heels and is very much the distressed damsel, but what do you know, after a few witty barbs he convinces her to roll up her sleeves and tie her shirt in a bow. More sweaty forest shenanigans, and she loses the shirt. And then the heels. Once they’ve emerged from woods, and after avoiding certain death several times, she’s born again: a sweaty, humorous, maternal woman who’s severed her ties to her job and is only concerned with saving her two boys. Oh, and she’s got a man, too.
There is even more evidence of this strange narrative, although revealing more would ruin the ending, so we’ll spare the spoilers. Suffice it to say the climax and conclusion of the film really hammers home the unsettling “path to motherhood” journey.
Jurassic Park didn’t have any of this gendered nonsense—and it was made back in 1993. In Spielberg’s film, which holds up remarkably well, the two protagonists, played by Sam Neill and Laura Dern, are on equal footing. They’re both brilliant doctors who each evade and kick their fair share of scary dino ass. And its patchy sequel, The Lost World, had a kickass woman in the lead, played by Julianne Moore. This new entry is a big step back for a franchise that prided itself on featuring courageous, complex women.
There are a lot of other problems with Jurassic World, too. The first hour is deathly boring. Intimate scenes of suspense have been swapped for CGI-heavy sprawling sequences of dino-packs going to town on thousands of fleeing tourists (a lot of people die in this movie). While the original boasted fun supporting turns, e.g. a chain-smoking Samuel L. Jackson, that badass British hunter Bob “Clever Girl” Muldoon, and Jeff Goldblum, there’s only one minor standout outside of the mains—New Girl’s Jake Johnson as a hopelessly nerdy park programmer. And, unlike the first installment, there are absolutely zero quotable one-liners. In fact, the dialogue is clunky, and the humor level in general is in scarce supply, with Pratt playing his hero far straighter than his snickering Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Spielberg first announced Jurassic Park 4 in 2002, and since then, it’s passed through the hands of directors Joe Johnston and Alex Proyas, as well as screenwriters William Monahan and John Sayles. The task of directing ultimately fell to Colin Trevorrow, who’d only had one filmmaking credit, the impressive indie Safety Not Guaranteed, to his name.
When asked about Whedon’s criticism of the Jurassic World clip, Trevorrow gave an interesting—and puzzling—response: “I wasn’t bothered by what he said about the movie and, to be honest, I don’t totally disagree with him.” Trevorrow then went on to say that the film “starts with characters that are almost archetypes, stereotypes that are deconstructed as the story progresses,” adding, “The real protagonist of the movie is Claire, and we embrace her femininity in the story’s progression.”
Femininity is, by and large, a social construct. And in 2015, to “embrace” one’s “femininity” doesn’t have to mean choosing motherhood and a man over a successful career. We’ve moved past that. We’ve evolved.