Jurassic World Has A Serious Woman Problem

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Dr. Ellie Sattler would be so disappointed.

The paleobotanist, played with fearlessness and wit by Laura Dern in the original Jurassic Park in 1993, was as much a role model as she was an action heroine. But her legacy is tarnished in Jurassic World, a grossly inferior sequel whose main female character (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) is little more than a stereotypical damsel in distress.

As someone who grew up wanting to be Dern’s no-nonsense Dr. Sattler — a woman who could take on velociraptors, deny the advances Jeff Goldblum, and pull off khaki shorts — I was excited by the idea that a new generation of female moviegoers would have their own dino-butt-kicking badass. But in Jurassic World, the “dinosaurs eat man; woman inherits the earth” school of thought is all but extinct.

Heads up: Jurassic World spoilers ahead!

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: None of this is the fault of Bryce Dallas Howard. An accomplished and appealing actress who is tragically ill-served by the material here, she plays Claire, the driven manager of the Jurassic World theme park where all the mayhem takes place. The script (which has five credited writers — rarely a good sign) depicts her as an uptight shrill more concerned with revenue streams than the welfare of dinos or humans. She spends much of the movie running around in high heels and a fancy cream-colored ensemble. (Yes, even her clothes are vanilla.) And she blushes at the mere mention of having a “cool” boyfriend like Owen, played by Chris Pratt. Pratt’s motorcycle-riding, dino-training dude is all swagger and macho heroism. He’s the enviable cool guy to Howard’s wet blanket in inappropriate footwear.

Claire is never much more than a punch line (the prim pumps are a running gag), stuck playing second fiddle to Pratt’s walking, talking G.I. Joe. At one point, her young nephews ask if they can stay by Owen’s side instead of hers while the menace looms. It’s disappointing.

And, it’s sexist.

Hell, even Joss Whedon, who knows a thing or two about writing formidable heroines, tweeted back in April that he found a clip featuring BDH’s Claire sparring with Pratt’s Owen “'70s-era sexist,” adding, “She’s a stiff, he’s a life-force — really? Still?” Yep, still.

Whedon eventually apologized for the tweet, but maybe he shouldn’t have. The power dynamic between Howard’s and Pratt’s characters is staler and more outdated than anything from the first Jurassic, which came out two decades ago. Think back to Sattler, who not only holds her own with the men, she outsmarts and even outlasts a few of them. When one of the male characters suggests that he go on a dangerous mission instead of her, because he’s a “you know,” and she’s a “you know,” she rolls her eyes and fires back, “We can discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back.”

In Jurassic World, meanwhile, men constantly bark orders at Claire. Worse, she tends to oblige them. The only man she “stands up to” is Jake Johnson’s harmless, nerdy control-room operator when she tells him to “be a man for once in his life” and open the T. rex gate. Does that even count?

In case that wasn’t enough to bum you out, there’s also a sequence in which Claire’s sister Karen (Judy Greer) assures her that despite being a successful manager of a thriving dinosaur amusement park, she’ll settle down and have children someday. What’s dinosaur speak for “Whhhhyyyy?” Oh, right, it’s this.

Now, it’s not as if Howard doesn’t get a few moments of empowerment. She gets to take down a pteranodon and baits a T. rex to come out and plaaaa-aaaaay. But overall, the entrance to Jurassic World might as well read “No Girls Allowed.” This would be a bummer at any time, but it’s all the more so in the middle of a summer movie season in which women are taking charge (see: Spy and Mad Max: Fury Road).

Claire isn’t just a wasted opportunity. She’s a character better suited for a couple million years ago.
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