The ‘Jurassic World’ films aren’t stupid; they’re about greedy stupidity.
Note: This article contains spoilers from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Read at your discretion.
In the Fallen Kingdom, man creates dinosaur, man abuses dinosaur, dinosaur breaks loose, dinosaur eats man, man kind of has it coming.
Welcome to Jurassic World.
The fifth film in the series about the precarious relationship between man and his dino creations – some natural, others, uh, not so natural – has been fielding criticisms left and right. Though it’s a movie this writer found great merit and enjoyment in (ah, shucks, I loved it – right up my alley), most criticisms are always fair for any film. That’s how this gig works, and rarely is anyone categorically wrong with how a movie makes them feel, or how they perceive it.
But, there’s a criticism to this series that just doesn’t seem to click, at least with the fingers typing this column.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is not a dumb movie. It’s a terrifying movie about dumb, greedy people who do dumb, greedy things and are made to suffer for their misdeeds and stupidity.
From the time Dr. John Hammond opened the big stone doors to the gaggle of scientists (and that poor lawyer), stupidity reigned free. Jurassic Park (the actual park, not the movie) was a terrible, if earnestly misguided, idea for Hammond. To bring literal dinosaurs back from extinction, his actions, though coming from a good place, got people killed.
About 20 years later, Jurassic World took a lot of heat for, well, its existence. Most of the criticisms lobbied at the film came with the idea that mankind would be stupid enough to reopen the same park that literally killed people in the 90s, a park that, at its recreation, found success, and ran pretty shipshape until, duh, more stupid people did more stupid things with dinosaurs and spoiled the pot. That film wasn’t quite as cautionary as its successor about how dumb people with money and blind ambition in their eyes tend to ruin everything, but in the Fallen Kingdom, the message gets louder.
The Jurassic Park/World films thrive in the mysticism and awe that these creatures give us when we see them. What was so great about World’s perspective of this was the idea that we’d get bored by seeing a literal T-Rex in its natural habitat, so we’d need to genetically create a super killer dinosaur with classified DNA roots to get people back on board, complete with a sponsorship from Verizon.
Of course, that’s a stupid idea, but again, stupidity is kind of the point here.
For the grief that he gets about that film, Colin Trevorrow wanted to say something quite pertinent with these films not many have quite picked up on. When you call what these characters are doing “stupid,” you can almost picture Trevorrow waving his hands in the back of the room, as if to say “Yes! That’s the point! These people are idiots! This is a cautionary tale!”
His installment in 2015 in the series tried to flash the Aurora Borealis of nostalgia for the original film, and then hack it right out of your hands with the Indominous Rex. It’s all at once a lark and a lesson. Sure, it’s roughly the same lesson from the first film: playing God can have the lightening bolt fire right back in your face, but there’s another lesson in there, too. We are dumb enough to make the same mistakes as the people that come before us; stop being those kinds of people. The main takeaway from Jurassic World is that Jurassic World was a terrible idea that was eventually going to fail because the folks that ran it were always going to press the red button. People decried that film’s existence, which is what the film was trying to do to its own creation. It’s a bizarre case where the artist and the critic agreed on all the wrong reasons. But, then again, it also still polled positive on Rotten Tomatoes and set box office records, so, y’know, that film did just fine. It’s still immensely fun on a return viewing.
By first film’s end, nostalgia saves the day at the expense of something more gruesome, hackneyed, lifeless, which makes that film a spirited defense of sometimes returning to things we love in the face of things we create to try and enhance the existing model to satiate ever-ending demands for something new. If it ain’t broke, don’t genetically alter it. But, it’s also a film showing how sometimes, nature will hold on to our butts for us when we fly too close to the sun.
Fallen Kingdom does the exact opposite. This time, nature doesn’t throw us a rope. It chomps us up when we climb up the ladder, running from the disaster of our own making. Trevorrow and company brought in a master of horror to show us the other side of the coin.
J.A. Bayona (and by extension, Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, the returning scripters) anchors this new installment in the idea that mankind is still going to make the same, dumb mistakes whether we like it or not, sometimes in new dumb, greedy ways. Here, Isla Nublar is about to become toast thanks to an erupting volcano, and part of the citizenry wants the U.S. government to save the dinos before they return to the extinction list. A testimony from Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum with a quick hello to the role that spawned a thousand memes) cements it – we need to let nature run its course on the dinosaurs before we invite nature to run its course on us. The government listens, and says it’s going to let the dinosaur’s owners take care of the matter.
Claire Dearing has transitioned from being Jurassic World’s overseer to overseeing a campaign to save the dinosaurs from extinction through government intervention. We’re never given an exact idea what, uh, will happen with man-eating beasts from before the dawn of time when saved, but there’s an ethical responsibility driving the cause. We created these things; we’re responsible for them. It’s well-intentioned, if a bit naïve for how to fully resolve the conundrum. They get a solution from Eli Mills, the estate manager for Sir Benjamin Lockwood (Hammond’s old partner-in-crime), who offers to put the dinosaurs on a nice, little oasis to ensure they both survive the volcano and live in peace, away from persnickety humans.
Of course it’s all garbage. Even the nicest, most well-meaning people lunge for the carrot every now and again. That stick always strikes hard.
We learn rather quickly Mills has ulterior motives, motives to sell the animals on the black market and harness more DNA for genetically-engineered dinosaurs who attack on command, which can also be sold. What a dumb idea. Of course this was going to backfire. How could you be so silly? Again, that’s kind of the point. Is this really that foreign an idea?
We live in a world now where rich billionaires pump toxic materials into rivers, blast smokestacks into the ozone layer and torture animals to test the latest form of lipstick. America elected a president that has a list of horrid grievances that run as long as a line to ride the new attraction at Jurassic World. Fake news and media literacy have come into full focus. The world feels stupider. It’s time movies start, y’know, addressing that, and showing us, on the biggest scale possible, what happens when dumb, greedy people do dumb, greedy things. We’ve made our villains far too smart over the years. It’s time to dumb them down a little, so they’re more relatable, and more affecting.
In one scene, the new Indoraptor (this film’s hyper-intelligent killing machine, and a prototype who still has kinks) goes to town on an unsuspecting elevator of rich pricks who are privy to the black-market dealings that Mills runs at Lockwood’s estate. The scene is played for a laugh, and for horror in looking at Toby Jones’ frigid reaction to becoming the side item to an elevator supreme. But, it’s hard to be too sympathetic. They kind of have it coming. After all, these violent delights have violent ends. That monstersaurus is doing exactly what mankind designed it to. It’s a pawn in a grander game, run by dumb, greedy people, who make dumb, greedy decisions.
The Jurassic World films are not dumb, despite what you might hear. They’re about dumb people with dollar sign dallies. Every strange decision and seeming frustration with people never learning their lesson works both ways. We’re supposed to feel like this toward these morons, just like we’re supposed to feel this way to the morons we see in everyday life who are pulling us closer to midnight on the doomsday clock.
In this new film, nature is a bad, greedy mistake, taking its toll on those who wrought it into existence. It’s evening out the balance. Trevorrow isn’t making mistakes in writing his characters; he’s writing characters that make awful mistakes and do awful things. We’re not supposed to find most of these people appealing, or relatable. They remind us of the worst parts of our species – the parts that flood our Twitter feeds on a daily basis, ripping children from parents at the border, making crude noises at the plight of children with Down’s syndrome, running white supremacy rallies, destroying the Earth for a quick buck, driving us further and further to the mountain of madness.
In the Fallen Kingdom, audiences feel the weight of that cruelty in a moment where a lone brontosaurus is left to succumb to the lava. It’s a moment that shows nature’s inherent vice, but also, one that shows man’s decided vice. We brought that thing back; it didn’t want or expect to be here. Nature’s just doing what nature always does. Perhaps it’s taking grim retribution against what man did by bringing the dinosaur back in the first place. It’s still man’s fault that it’s happening, and in this moment, man’s left to rectify with its mistakes.
Later in Fallen Kingdom, nature, via the Indoraptor and other dangerous dino compatriots, take plenty of grim retribution against the dapper ne’er-de-dandies who come to bid on abused animals and use them for war profiteering. No innocents get taken out in this film at the Jurassic claw; only the rotten apples. Sure, the final scene indicates that an innocuous camp in the California Redwoods or your friendly pooch chilling in the backyard might be in for a rude awakening, but still, it’s dumb, greedy people who do us all in.
The Jurassic World films challenge us to be better than what we’re watching – their characters keep making mistakes so that we learn from them. Man keeps going back to the dinosaur because the dinosaur is representative of every bad decision man returns to every day. Put a “Make America Great Again” hat on the T-Rex if that helps these movies make more sense. It’s a larger-than-life example, but that should make it drive home all the more.
Fallen Kingdom ends on a darker note than most blockbusters do. No, Thanos doesn’t snap half the world out of existence, but a young girl changes the course of history in a well-meaning, if monstrously-dangerous move. It’s not a great move, to be honest, but you at least get why she does it. It feels predestined. Though, to be fair, that girl is not of us. She’s cut from the same cloth as the dinos she sets free. She’s representative of nature, in a way, who will act as nature sees fit.
Sometimes, you can’t put the dinosaur back in the cage. Sometimes, it breaks free, and we’re left to deal with the actions of dumb, greedy people, and the dumb, greedy thing they did.
It’s not dinosaurs for us, though (…so far). It might be the sea levels raising. It might be nuclear war. It might be a Twitter spat that sparks a deadly policy change. It might be this or that. You can imagine what it might be. We spend agonizing time imaging what it might be.
Critique the decisions with the dinos themselves if you wish; heck, I don’t exactly know what would happen if you came face-to-face with a dinosaur every waking second, I’d imagine if you raised one, and were friendly with it, it might be friendly with you back if it recognized you. Harp on why protagonist A did B to accomplish C. How the filmmakers choose to resolve their plot is subjective.
But, instead of chalking this film up to being inherently stupid, try to find the other avenue here. It’s not an inherently stupid film, not by a long shot. It takes fantastical ideas and weaves a dark parable out of them about the dangers of stupidity itself, and of money-chasing.
If we don’t push against the dumb, greedy people who do dumb, greedy things, one of these days, we’re going to find a T-Rex in our own backyard.
And he’ll be hungry.