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Action Movies, Patriarchy, & Dragons: "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" (2018)

Spoilers, obviously.

The horror story is driven by an intersection of heroism and victimhood; roles alternate, and the characters find themselves either perpetual victims or hopeless heroes facing the supernatural or at least the scientifically fantastical. Most of the science fiction films of the 1980s and 1990s follow this pattern—it was rather neatly summed up, in fact, in Jurassic World (2015) by the amoral Asian genius who runs the genetic labs—“to a canary, a cat is a monster; we’re just used to being the cat”. The thrill of being the canary for a change is the driving force behind most horror, especially monster movies. In the end, though, the best stories—the most ageless, driven by tropes that originate with the first storytellers among the pre-Western barbarians of Northern Europe—are about a single man transforming himself back into the cat, and engaging that power in the defense of another—or many others—who, through some innate quality, can only be canaries. These stories reaffirm humanity’s unique place in the world, a fact taken for granted even in most pre-Christian mythology. The archetype is the knight slaying the monster story—the likes of which we see in Beowulf, the stories of Perseus, and, of course, S. George and the Dragon.

As the Jurassic Park franchise moves off the reservation of ‘90s monster movies into the realm of gripping action blockbusters for foreign markets, it has encountered a real problem for the Hollywood narrative makers. In spite their best efforts to flood the latest instalment with as much leftist #TheResistance tropes as possible, the entire storyline still hinges on the rugged square-jawed American S. George slaying a Dragon created by modern science and transnational business to protect a strongindependentwomyn who discovers she makes a better Andromeda than Susan B. Anthony (as demonstrated in both Jurassic World films). This, however, is largely in spite of, not a result of, the writers, directors, actors, and studio executives involved—it is, rather, the inescapable reality of what makes a film marketable outside the insulated islands of rootless cosmopolitan power in the West.

The franchise, of course, has a long and established history of inundating its stories with leftist talking points—The Lost World (1997), with Ian Malcolm’s mulatto daughter, the eco-terrorist good guys, evil Great White Hunter trope (including Peter Stormare typecast into his sadistic German monster role as Dieter Stark), and, lest we forget, Julianne Moore in the strongindependentwomyn role, is only saved from being the worst instalment of the franchise by the horrific writing and low budget of the third film. (To give you a sense of how bad the third film is, if you haven’t seen it, the enviro-terrorist in the second film is played by Vince Vaughan). It has gotten worse at hiding the prejudices of the writers, though. Themes of capitalist exploitation and animal rights, as well as human greed and arrogance—favourite mantras of the PETA crowd—are the driving force behind the franchise, but among the most compelling characters in the first two films are the Great White Hunters Robert Muldoon (a phenotypically Nordic Aussie) and Roland Tembo (strongly hinted to be Rhodesian). In fact, Tembo might be the most admirable and compelling character in the franchise prior to the arrival of Owen Grady in the new films. In the first film, Michael Crichton’s alcoholic former big-game guide Muldoon is turned into the level-headed voice of reason who explicitly warns Hammond against the Velociraptor species; in the second, Tembo is the honourable 19th-century archetype disgusted by the cruelty and incompetence of his German second-in-command and disdainful of the coastal executive that has hired him. By the time we get to the Current Year +3, however, is impossible to repeat the mistakes of those halcyon days and our Great White Hunter archetype (conveniently and explicitly named as such by Grady so the audience can boo and hiss on command) is all Stark and no Tembo. Indeed, just to make sure the point really gets driven home, the actor chosen to play Wheatley, Ted Levine, has a muted baritone that will be unmistakable to audiences for his debut role as the psychopath Buffalo Bill in 1991’s Silence of the Lambs. Wheatley is written as both stupid and cowardly, ripping teeth out of tranquilized dinosaurs as trophies and clearly ignorant of the animals he is hunting (a stark contrast to Tembo, who not only understands but sympathises with his game, like a real hunter). He is, in short, the anti-gun/anti-hunting lobby’s caricature of a big game hunter. He’s also a condescending misogynist, characteristics added to his personality so that he can provide the Sassy Latinx character with some (verbose and poorly delivered) lines to please the #ImwithHer crowd: demonstrating the subtlety and originality of the writing staff, he even refers to her as a “nasty woman” at one point.

This brings us to our heroes, as well as the changes between the first Jurassic World film and the latest. As with the first film, the hero team consists of leads Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a square-jawed rugged individual with a military background (the writers chose the Navy, a safe choice, allowing for the physical attributes of a soldier without the discipline of a Marine) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the strongindependentwomyn whose motto in the first film is “I am in control” until she is swept off her feet by Grady. Following them, just like the first film, we’ve got a pair of squints, one a soyivorous bugman and the other his foil female character. In Jurassic World, these were played by white characters—a virgin beta with problem glasses and dinosaur toys on his work station, who paid $300 for a vintage original Jurassic Park t-shirt who doesn’t know how to use a razor and a histrionic soulless Becky who can’t really deal emotionally with the disaster of the film but has the presence of mind to reject Bugman when he tries to kiss her at the climax of the film.

In Fallen Kingdom, though, we are no longer dealing with a soulless international corporation running a consumerist theme park that by necessity is staffed exclusively by Whites except for the imposing Black security guards (just as the Republican racists running corporate America want it). Now, instead, Claire Dearing is running an animal rights organisation lobbying Congress to save the dinosaurs, so out go the Whites and in come the Coalition of the Ascendant. Our soyboy in film 2 is a mulatto trying to overcome his natural place in the world as a NEET and our female is a loud-mouthed Sassy Latinx Goblina who wears cargo pants and a cropped haircut and pink problem glasses. The relationships here are very important to note—the squints play a much more minor role in the first film, being restricted to the control centre, but the Bugman is nevertheless clearly not masculine enough to master the environment he’s in. In the second film, this is turned up to 11, where Goblina never misses a chance to tear down or belittle the NEETish mulatto and establish her clear domination of the environment. This is contrasted in both films with the main characters of Claire and Owen, the latter of which refuses to be dominated by the former and far from the snarky NuMale heart-throb Hollywood is otherwise * ahem * grooming for audiences, he deploys his wise-cracking from a clear Alpha position, and in both films clearly dominates (and seduces) the female lead. Furthermore, the Coalition of the Ascendant prove to be impulsive and incompetent as heroes (though they are both highly specialised in their own fields—fictional-creature veterinarian and generic I.T. guy); when they show up a second time at Lockwood Mansion, they only succeed in the mulatto stabbing Henry Wu in the neck with a tranquilizer dart in a fit of rage (which did not kill him) and Goblina releasing the Velociraptor, which results in a major explosion and poison gas leak that almost kills all the dinosaurs by the end of the film. Before all this happens, Goblina gets in a shrill dig at Wu, triumphantly boasting of how she has corrupted the blood (!) of the Velociraptor that Wu is so proud of (and needs for his work) with a blood transfusion from another species. It’s hard not to imagine that someone else is addressing the audience through our Sassy Latinx, and speaking of a subject unrelated to dinosaurs.

Perhaps the writers were aware of the way their PoCs appear, because they flooded the film with self-referential shout-outs, Easter eggs, and thinly-veiled political commentary to bury the racist, patriarchal conclusions more aware audience members are going to draw. The very beginning of the film, after we get past the derivative dinosaur-kills-man-in-a-tropical-storm opening sequence, we see the United States Senate debating what to do about Isla Nublar, which is sovereign Costa Rican territory, and deciding not to recommend “legislative action” because it is “privately owned”, not because the US has absolutely no territorial rights or interests there. The “Save the Dinos” NGO never makes even a little effort to contact the UN on this—they are portrayed as a US-only lobby group of plucky leftists with no funding (the most unbelievable part of the film, by the way). The audience is supposed to assume that the US can just decide to go in and take the dinosaurs without reference to the Costa Ricans (who according to the canon of the original trilogy tried to bomb the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar out of existence back in the 1990s). Reporting on the whole affair, the BBC runs a banner across the bottom of the screen reporting that the US President “doubts the existence of dinosaurs”: draw your own conclusion, dear reader.

The writers also produce an outmoded rich WASP to be their main villain—though Mills has his moments as a real Satan character, playing on others’ sense of guilt and offering temptations in a style reminiscent of the villains of That Hideous Strength. He even attempts to emotionally break the little girl Maisie Lockwood by revealing that she is a clone of Lockwood’s dead daughter—strongly hinted to have dino DNA in the mix. In the end, however, he remains ultimately motivated by a desire for money, which at this point is a fairly cheap and hollow villainous motivation. As David Hines has already pointed out, Wu, the Mad Scientist Chinaman archetype pulled right out of the 1990s, is a far more compelling villain if he were given more attention. Wu has already displayed some very homosexual body language (not surprising—B.D. Wong is as queer as a 3 Yuan note), which could even make for a Hollywood-friendly backstory. Aside from the Quasimodo look-alike auctioneer, the only other human villain of note is the very insistent buyer of the sociopathic hybrid Indoraptor, a Russian (of course!) named Orlov. The “repeating mistakes” moral these characters are meant to further, though, is as tired and uninteresting as the villains themselves often are.

The most gripping part of the movie takes place in the third act, and is the primary selling point of the film in all the official trailers. The two main hooks used to advertise say everything one needs to know about the audience the film is meant to attract—the idea of Owen and Claire going back to the island, and the monster-in-the-closet dinosaur hybrid at Lockwood’s mansion. The hybrid itself is a very engaging villain—when Wheatley gets killed, it happens because the Indoraptor is playing dead after he hit it with a few tranquilizers, and right before it kills him, it smiles knowingly at the audience. Even as it makes its way up the evil food chain in a predictable fashion, it reveals a deadly combination of cunning and sadism that brings together the best of a movie monster and the best of a suspense-film psychopath. It is quite literally playing the role of a dragon: cunning, vicious, and deadly. When it is released into the mansion, it immediately seeks out the princess of the castle—Maisie Lockwood—and Grady must save her with the help of his animal sidekick. In the end, he comes close to making a heroic sacrifice, baiting the Indoraptor onto a glass roof (the dragon gives him an “are you serious?” look that threatens the Fourth Wall) so his Velociraptor Blue can send it through the glass to be impaled on a triceratops skull. In the entire sequence, Grady is completely in control of the situation, improvising and adapting, but always the lead role protecting the two princesses—his own, who he saved in the last movie, and the one native to the castle he’s in. He employs the adult princess by directing her in order to keep her alive.

The take-away from this film is really supposed to be a bit of “what has science done!?” and a bit of “tempora mutantur et mutamur nos in illis”. Little Maisie, feeling sympathy for the dinosaurs dying of the poison gas leak in the lab, releases them, doing what both Claire and Owen refuse to do because they understand the consequences of releasing the creatures on the North American continent. Ian Malcolm, who in the beginning of the film is shown arguing that the dinosaurs need to die out as a matter of survival for mankind, is now seen at the end delivering his famous character-line “life will find a way” and the needless “welcome to Jurassic World” delivered as only Jeff Goldblum can. The epilogues show the T-Rex in the San Diego Zoo confronting a lion, the Pterosaurs nesting in Las Vegas, and Blue running across the plains—as well as the escaped Mosasaur getting ready to eat a group of surfers. The little girl, who made her decision on the basis of “they’re just like me”, has made North America into the deadliest continent in the world—showing clearly how much childish appeals to emotions and diversity-training slogans are purely destructive. There’s probably an immigration fable hiding in there somewhere.

This also happens in the first film: the intended lesson is not properly conveyed due to the actions taken by the characters prior to the end. The intended lesson in the first film is that Claire needs to learn that she cannot control outcomes, and needs to allow life to take her where it will (in as alienated a way as possible). This is not, of course, the real lesson—the real lesson is that the more controlling and domineering a woman acts, the more she needs (and, indeed, desires) a strong male force in her life. By writing Grady in this way—a compelling action-hero archetype—the writers have forced themselves into making him the image of old-style American masculinity who must play the traditional role of a hero or he serves no purpose. As long as there is an Owen Grady character, the Claire character can only be a damsel in distress by the end of the film—which, ultimately, makes for a good movie. In Fallen Kingdom, it just takes much longer to get us to that point.

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