Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom promises to be an epic step up from the previous film, but what it really needs to tackle is the way the franchise handles its female characters. The makers of 2015’s Jurassic World probably expected the film to be a big hit on some level. How could that formula fail? A new addition to a big name franchise for the 21st century with cutting-edge technology, Summer blockbuster excitement, and of course, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?
Still, it’s doubtful that even the most optimistic executives at Universal Pictures could have foreseen how gargantuan a hit it would become. The film grossed $1.67B, ending up as the 4th highest grossing film of all time, ahead of The Avengers. It launched director Colin Trevorrow into the ranks of megastar and landed him a short-lived gig in the Star Wars franchise, as well as helped secure leading man Chris Pratt’s status as an audience favorite.
A sequel was inevitable, and with the first trailer for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom having finally dropped, discussions have flared up once again over the legacy of its predecessor. For a film that’s only two years old and was a major hit with audiences and critics alike, Jurassic World casts a curious shadow. Indeed, it didn’t take long for people to dig further into some of the questionable choices the story made.
The “token chick” is nothing new, and we could be here all day listing the endless array of movies where the role of the female characters could easily be categorized as “bitch”, “shrew”, or “damsel in distress”. However, times are changing, slowly but surely. With films like this year’s Wonder Woman and the continuing success of the diverse ensemble of The Fast and the Furious series, audiences are finally being satisfied in their hunt for better gender representation. Now it’s time for Jurassic World to join them.
Jurassic World’s Very Peculiar Approach To Female Characters
Perhaps those developments are what makes the women problem of Jurassic World all the more glaring. Even by the standards of the blockbuster model, where character development frequently falls by the wayside in favor of spectacle, it was a film with incredibly retrograde attitudes towards its central female characters. There was Vivian (Lauren Lapkus), who had some funny moments but was shoved to the side in favour of her goofy male counterpart; Karen (Judy Greer), the mother of the two young boys who visit Jurassic World and who spends most of her screen-time crying down the phone or bugging her sister about having her own children; Zara (Katie McGrath), a poorly defined personal assistant who spends all her time on the phone before dying horribly.
And of course, there was Claire Dearing, played by Bryce Dallas Howard. Ostensibly the operations manager for the park and one of the senior authorities of a multi-billion dollar organization, she is constantly dismissed or sneered at by her male colleagues, even those whose rank is greatly below hers. She’s the ice queen whose dedication to her job is portrayed as a negative; the put together professional who is repeatedly talked over by men; the “bitch” who must be conquered by the mighty Chris Pratt, whose seduction technique seems to be to neg her into submission. At one point, she shoots down a pterodactyl with a military grade machine gun while her nephews watch, yet their response is to moon over Chris Pratt as the hero of the day, not her. Her brief opposition to the idea of having her own kids is shot down by her sister, who insists “not if but when“, and in a later scene where Claire sees a baby, the camera lingers longingly at it, as if to tell the audience “see, this is what she wants.”
And then, of course, there’s the high heels issues. Throughout the entire film, Claire wears a pair of professional heels – not very high ones, but still impractical for issues of running away from dinosaurs. Now, it wouldn’t be an issue if the camera didn’t keep going back to her shoes. This is partly to mock her as the film so often does, and partly to constantly reminds audiences that yes, the woman is wearing heels. Director Colin Trevorrow said Howard insisted on the heels, which would be fine if it wasn’t another notch on the post against the reductive ways Claire is depicted in a film that seems determined to knock her off her pedestal. It could have been truly awesome to see Claire take on a T-Rex while wearing full femme fatale shoes, but in the context of Jurassic World, where we’ve spent the previous two hours watching her be kicked down by men and reduced to a baby coveting ice queen, it’s just another reminder of women’s places in these films.
It also stands as a sharp contrast from the women of earlier Jurassic Park movies. For many a 90s girl, Laura Dern’s Dr. Ellie Satler is an all-time hero. She’s a highly intelligent woman who balances brains with adventure prowess, one who ends up doing a big chunk of the physical work in getting everyone out of the park, and someone who even gets in a sharp response to sexism when John Hammond begins to suggest a man do the work instead of her. All that and she isn’t grossly over-sexualized by the camera or the story. There’s no lingering shot of her midriff or random ass-angle filming; she’s just a woman doing her job and trying to get away from all these damn dinosaurs.
Fallen Kingdom Can Fix The Female Character Problem
There’s really no reason why Fallen Kingdom can’t fix the gender problems of its predecessors. Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly have returned for screenplay duties (directing falls to J.A. Bayona, the man behind A Monster Calls), so surely they can learn from the mistakes of their past.
This time around, the gender divide in the cast seems to be even greater (Wikipedia’s list of the main cast of 12 counts only three women), but perhaps that will mean greater focus on developing Howard’s character or giving some solid screen-time to Daniella Pineda and Geraldine Chaplin. The trailer does send up Howard and Pratt’s relationship from the first, with her hitting back at his sexist remarks, and she altogether comes across as strong, but it’s too soon to call.
It’s doubtful anyone really comes to a Jurassic World movie for the humans, but it’s those quieter moments that stick with you long after the movie’s finished. That’s why so much time post-Jurassic World has been spent thinking about the gender roles at play. We know better now, and audiences expect better from the films they consume. It’s hard to justify, in a post-Wonder Woman world, a story that consistently dismisses or rejects its own female characters, or reduces them to mere props to make examples of or dig into baby talk. It’s just good business to give women, who still make up the majority of North American movie-going audiences, someone to care about. Believe it or not, girls like dinosaurs too!
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