Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
“The only fully non-white character is Dr. Wu, who falls straight into the Asian American stereotype as a deferential doctor-scientist.”
Title: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
Director: J.A. Bayona 👨🏽🇪🇸
Writers: Screenplay by Derek Connolly 👨🏼🇺🇸 and Colin Trevorrow 👨🏼🇺🇸, based on the characters by Michael Crichton 👨🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Have you seen the original Jurassic Park from 1993? Or the latest crop of monster movies, such as Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island, or either Pacific Rim? If so, then you’ve already seen Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and there’s no reason to revisit.
This isn’t to knock mindless action flicks. Hell, I enjoyed Kong: Skull Island which had meh ratings from critics, and I fangirl over great fight choreography. But Fallen Kingdom doesn’t give you anything to sink your teeth into beyond familiar motions, empty muzzle flashes, and residual smoke. Yes, the production values are high and the special effects look cool. But cookie-cutter characters and a deeply trodden plot will have you wishing you hadn't wasted two hours on this knock-off sequel.
The women in Fallen Kingdom can fend for themselves. Sure, leading lady Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) plays the damsel in distress sometimes, but so does the leading man, Owen (Chris Pratt). In fact, the two heroes save each other continuously, playing a game of hot potato with life-giving 1UP mushrooms. Thankfully, this lifts Claire from the cesspool of useless heroines that have been written by men for decades. (See: the career Barbie archaeologist Jenny Halsey from last year’s The Mummy.)
On the downside, Claire hardly enters the lexicon of strong female leads, as her doe eyes remain ever dewy and her makeup: flawless. Her body language reads as deferential, and damningly, she generally looks to Owen to save the day while she hangs back, happy to let him lead until she's really needed for pinch hits.
In this way, we see how Claire comfortably fits gender norms. This is made ultra clear when she and Owen meet a terrified young girl, Maisie (Isabella Sermon). Claire is the one to reach out first with an empathetic entreaty. This would be fine on its own, as it’s true—if I was scared, I would see a nice lady as more trustworthy than a burly dude. But these gender roles becomes more pointed as the film goes on. Claire wordlessly slips into the maternal role, shielding Maisie with her body as Owen strikes ahead and forges a path for them both, or later chases after Maisie with a giant automatic rifle in classic, Avenging Father fashion. This instant assumption that women will take care of the young reverberates in a later scene, when Maisie is passed to the broader group of heroes and finds herself under the loose embrace of Zia (Daniella Pineda), an otherwise sassy, cocksure veterinarian. On personality alone, the timid, gentle soul of Franklin (Justice Smith) would have been a more natural fit as nurturer.
Speaking of young Maisie, she’s a lovely character, especially at first. I enjoyed her 90s-style intrepidness, as she sneaks around and eavesdrops on adults to learn what evil schemes are afoot. But by the latter third of the film she devolves a shriek machine, burdening everyone until the end, at which point she is turned into a mere symbol of morality, rather than a character in her own right.
At the end of the day, the women of Fallen Kingdom are fine to watch and they enjoy equal levels of complexity (well, simplicity) as their male counterparts. But the fact is, they receive way less screen time and pick up a fraction of the minor roles afforded male actors. In tracking voices with arementalkingtoomuch.com, I found that men speak or scream (because there is a lot of screaming in this movie) for more than three minutes to every one minute women are doing the same. By the numbers, mens’ voices took up over 30 minutes of airtime while women were heard for less than 10. A better ratio than some action movies, sure—but hardly approaching equality.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 18% of key cast and crew members were POC.
Jurassic World is an oddly white world. I say “odd”, because the films target an international audience. Fallen Kingdom opened in foreign markets like China or India earlier than it did in the United States or Australia, and the director himself, J. A. Bayona, hails from Barcelona. Yet the film’s protagonists of Owen, Claire, and Maisie are white. The villains, Eli and Mr. Eversoll (Rafe Spall and Toby Jones), are white. And among the supporting characters, Zia is white-passing (played by a Mexican American actor) while her colleague, Franklin, is biracial black and white. Background characters like the leaders of the underworld who assemble to bid on endangered dinosaurs are also overwhelmingly white (and male), save for the close-ups of an Asian face here or there.
While I do appreciate that the tech whiz Franklin defies traditional stereotypes of black men by being nerdy—while that itself has become a trend, it’s at least a positive one—the only notable character who is fully non-white is Dr. Wu played by Asian American BD Wong. Here, we see Dr. Wu fall straight into stereotype as a deferential doctor-scientist. BD Wong deserves better than this; he has a Tony Award, for crying out loud!
It’s disappointing that blockbusters patently made for international audiences continue to bankroll white male leads, and worse, succeed in spite of it (or depressingly, maybe because of its white faces.) In the meantime, I’ll take heart in knowing that regressive movies like last year's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales or Kingsman: The Golden Circle flopped in the United States, which remains the largest movie market in the world. (These two films did go on to make their money back, disproportionately from foreign markets than domestically. Their largest markets were in China, South Korea, and Japan. Judging your taste in film, East Asia.)
I can only hope that as Hollywood modernizes, it will carry the rest of the world with it. If the worldwide successes of Black Panther or Get Out are any indication, which went on to earn caboodles of money from China, South Korea, and the UK, I assume that worldwide markets are just as happy to check out diverse films, provided enough of a Hollywood sheen or hometown buzz.
Deduction for LGBTQ: -0.50
In an interview for Build Series, Pineda (who plays veterinarian Zia) describes a deleted scene that would have made her character’s LGBTQ status explicit:
“It’s me and Chris Pratt, and we are in a military vehicle with all of these mercenaries. I look at Chris and am like, ‘Yeah. Square jaw. Good bone structure. Tall. Muscles. I don’t date men, but if I did, it would be you. It would gross me out, but I would do it.’”
I’m so tired of movies "leaking" news of LGBTQ cutscenes, then holding out their hands for cookies they did not earn. Whether it’s Black Panther, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, or Thor: Ragnarok, I’m as fed up as writer Ben Pearson who calls this deletion of LGBTQ scenes at the editing stage “An Embarrassing Trend.” Just think of all the times you've seen a random scene in a movie, where a guy hits on a woman, or the camera leers at her with a slow pan up the legs (which, incidentally, is how Claire is introduced in Fallen Kingdom). It takes just as long—or longer—for that to take place it would for Zia to have delivered that snappy comeback. So why aren't those explicit admissions of heterosexuality cut from movies, in favor of narrative focus?
Honestly, people. Just include LGBTQ story arcs the same way you would straight ones. We’re not writing Zia a 20-minute backstory here, it’s one scene that would have provided a smidgen of complexity to a cast of characters sorely lacking it. I would have gladly taken this over the neverending carousel of mindless screaming that otherwise populates Fallen Kingdom.
Mediaversity Grade: D 2.25/5
Copycat blockbusters are such a bore. Swipe left.