I love good action movies because they blend in-your-face spectacle with whisper-quiet subtext in between all the explosions. Good action movies call back to Western culture’s urtext action movie, Homer’s Iliad; they perform a similar balancing act between subtlety and a spear literally breaking a guy’s head apart from the inside out. It’s the subtlety that sticks with me because it takes longer to sink in and then lingers much longer.
Enter Jurassic World and its lack of feminism in that overt Katniss-branded sense. (Never mind that Bryce Dallas Howard did everything Chris Pratt did while wearing ivory pumps that he deemed impractical.) Jurassic Park had Laura Dern and Hacker Girl while Jurassic World had four speaking roles for women (Howard, Judy Greer, Control Room Girl, and Morgana from Merlin) compared to three times as many speaking roles for men. That’s not reflective of the world I live in, but the world I live in also doesn’t have a dinosaur theme park.
Those gendered choices represent the reality of Jurassic World. Bryce Dallas Howard doesn’t use a rocket launcher against Indominus Rex (THE UNTAMED KING!!! NOTHING IS CHILL ABOUT THIS MOVIE!!!), but there’s more to feminism than portraying women as ultra-violent monsters at the same rate that men are portrayed ultra-violent monsters. That’s the subtext of Jurassic World: a disaster movie that predominantly features men messing up and served with Action Movie Justice. We can use feminism as a lens on Jurassic World that allows us to identify toxic masculinity for what it is and call it out.
So, in order of appearance, here’s an incomplete list that examines the men in Jurassic World and their experience in this culture of toxic masculinity. All movie-canon errors are my own because, at the time of writing, I saw the movie less than 48 hours ago and IMDb can only supply so much. SPOILERS BELOW, OBVIOUSLY.
Ty (aka Younger Brother aka Boy from Iron Man 3)
He’s fine, and by he’s fine, I mean fine for now. He’s the foil to his older brother, and still young and baby-faced enough that he can get away with “unmanly” behavior like showing fear, crying, being kissed by his mother. He can acknowledge, with the accompanying sadness and uncertainty, what Must Remain Unspoken, like their parents’ divorce aka why they’re on this trip to HELL’S OWN THEME PARK. (I would go in a second.) Ty expresses his excitement about the park, as well as his fears and uncertainty, to his brother, and for the first hour+ his brother meets every outburst with a speedy denial of those feelings and experiences: Stop being so weird and excited. No, they’re not getting divorced. No one’s abandoned us, we’re fine. His brother finally stops denying the danger near the end of the movie, when every minute brings a new life-or-death challenge. It’s only a matter of time before Ty learns, through this repeated denial, that feelings should be kept to himself until he reaches a breaking point.
Zach (aka Older Brother)
When we first see Zach, he and his family are getting ready to leave for their flight to Jurassic World. He’s standing to the side of the family car while his girlfriend tells him how much she’ll miss him. Zach in this scene had his head bowed, eyes averted from his girlfriend’s, and a careful space between them that ensured they weren’t touching. If Zach says something to her that isn’t a grunt, I didn’t catch it. As Zach shows total restraint towards someone who cares for him, his dad yells at him to get in the car—sorry, my mistake. His father doesn’t yell, “Get in the car,” rather he yells, “You’re not going off to war, you know!”
WHICH IS A FUNNY LINE. I LAUGHED. IT IS FUNNY. It was funny and it was devastating because Zach immediately jumped away and left his girlfriend, the girlfriend he restrained from looking at or touching, but whose mere presence standing near him deserved an undermining, critical comment from his father.
That isn’t Zach’s only issue in the movie. Zach mimics his father’s behavior and polices his younger brother’s every emotional outburst, but he policies his aunt Claire as well: she isn’t present enough for his liking, she’s talking to a man he doesn’t know, and she hasn’t identified whether that man is her boyfriend (i.e., someone she’s sleeping with). What really caught my attention were two or three moments in the “yay, a dinosaur theme park!” half of the movie, when Zach stares at girls his own age as they explore the park. He gives them long, lingering glances, and his brother plays this off like Zach is too awkward to talk to them. We, the audience, are supposed to laugh at Zach the Normal Male Teenager sexually sizing up girls while he’s away from his girlfriend, but it doesn’t seem overtly sexual. He stares and restrains himself from acting or communicating, with an expression that’s more Crushing Loneliness and less Hey, Cormac McLaggen.
Their Dad (aka David Wallace from The Office)
His wife, Judy Greer, does all the talking at the airport, and kisses both her sons goodbye. He briefly hugs them both and sends them off. At the end of the movie, he welcomes them back with hugs and a kiss, because they almost died and that outweighs the pure embarrassment of expressing physical affection with his sons.
Simon Masrani (aka Claire’s Boss with the Helicopter)
Oh my god, dude, do you know what’s a perfect example of toxic when discussing toxic masculinity? BEING TOO MANFULLY STUBBORN TO ADMIT YOU CAN’T FLY A HELICOPTER WELL-ENOUGH FOR A SEARCH-AND-DESTROY MISSION FEATURING A 50-FOOT-LONG CAMOUFLAGED DINOSAUR RUNNING 40 MPH THROUGH A RAINFOREST. HOW DOES AN ISLAND ONLY ACCESSIBLE BY BOAT AND HELICOPTER HAVE NO HELICOPTER PILOTS NEAR THE HELIPAD?
Owen (aka Chris Pratt)
Owen had a couple of moments of Han Solo Lite Chauvinism, like when he teases Claire for being too uptight, too controlling, too impractically dressed for their hunt through the jungle for the Murdersaurus. I didn’t put too much stock in that because at the outset I saw Owen veer too close to desperate loneliness, rather than charm:
It’s not an exaggeration! Owen sits in front of his bungalow on a secluded part of the island, fixing up his motorcycle, with only a lake for company. He has a giant sheathed knife tucked into the back of his pants, just to make it clear that he lives in The Wild. As soon as Claire arrives, he leaves his motorcycle, so pleased that he’s talking to someone and it’s not about the raptors—oh wait it’s about raptors, it’s always about raptors here on Isla Dinosaurio.
Owen sees a chance to engage with another adult human on something that might not be related to work, but RED ALERT, ‘TIS A LADY. Rather than engage with Claire as a person (how about: Hey, how are you doing?) he jumps straight into, ARE YOU HERE TO HAVE SEX WITH ME????? HAHA I’M NOT LONELY, BUT SOMEONE ELSE MIGHT BE!!!! I MEAN MY PENIS!!!!! If it wasn’t Chris Pratt with his Parks and Rec goodwill lurking behind his new jawline, it would have been grosser. Jk it was pretty gross.
Dr. Henry Wu (aka B.D. WONG!!!!)
B.D. Wong gets a pass because it wasn’t a misplaced need to dominate all wildlife in the park that created the Indominus and killed a bunch of people—it was capitalism! B.D. Wong lives forever.
Hoskins (aka Vincent D’Onofrio)
The entire Jurassic Park universe explores our very human anxiety to control Nature. I mean Nature with a capital N, the force that has successfully kept itself in check with mass extinctions several times in Earth’s 6 billion year history. It explores this theme in the book and first movie by presenting the raptors as the sort-of villains in the dinosaur theme park scenario. I qualify the term “villains” because the raptors in their quest for dominance systematically destroy the humans running the park in exactly the same way that humans in their quest for dominance have systematically destroyed the natural world around them. It’s terrifying to realize you have so greatly underestimated someone that turns out not only to have an intelligence comparative to yours, but also to have your own deliberate ruthlessness turned against you.
That’s the general baseline anxiety in both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, but Hoskins specifically acts on the anxieties surrounding our national PTSD, a theme also explored in Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Hoskins brought our War on Terror anxieties to the dinosaur theme park, specifically to the raptor enclosure: Will we be attacked again? How can we prevent another attack? How can we keep soldiers alive? How can we make sure no one ever hurts us again? “Weaponize the raptors,” Hoskins decides, and he follows up this declaration with a little speech about how beautifully/brutally the raptors will murder nameless brown people all over the world. You know, in the name of security and freedom! The weaponized raptors turn against him and I was only surprised in the fact that they took so long to do so.
Owen’s Co-Trainer Who is Named Barry According to IMDb but Whose Name I Didn’t Actually Hear Spoken During the Movie (aka Omar Sy)
The movie seemed ambiguous on whether he was on Owen’s side or Hoskins’s w/r/t the raptors, or whether he was on the side of WHOEVER WOULD KEEP HIM ALIVE TO THE END OF THE MOVIE. He lived and I was genuinely surprised that something resembling ethical ambiguity and the only black person with a speaking role resulted in his surviving to the end of the movie!!!
Control Room Guy (aka the Guy from The New Girl)
We’re at the end, so let me reiterate what I mean by Action Movie Justice. Action movies follow the very basic Homeric formula when doling out justice: act shitty, die terribly. The theme of acknowledging one’s mortality runs strong throughout ancient Greek texts and one of the only ways to mitigate that existential terror was to focus on the way of one’s departure—we’re all going to die, so die well. Options include: die having served others; die in an act of sacrifice for others; or die brutally and alone with no one to mourn you. Hoskins dies at the claws of one of the raptors he attempted to weaponize; Masrani dies flying his stupid helicopter in a high-stakes situation that his pride couldn’t let him hand off to someone else. The other characters live because, in the way of Action Movie Justice, they learned something from Jurassic World and experienced significant positive change.
And that includes Control Room Guy!!!! Control Room Guy lives!!!
See, the film afforded Control Room Guy a prime opportunity to be a complete shitheel in his scene near the end of the movie when he volunteers to stay in the control room while everyone else evacuates. His co-worker, Control Room Girl, asks him if he’s sure/if he’ll be okay, and in a call-back to Owen and Claire’s impulsive life-or-death kiss during the pterosaur attack, Control Room Guy rushes in to kiss Control Room Girl, who immediately shuts him down: because she has a boyfriend, because she’s just a co-worker, because dude what are you doing.
Does Control Room Guy FREAK OUT and call Control Room Girl a tease and a slut? Does he demand some form of sexual reward because he might die and he deserves this before he does one good thing? NO. HE DOESN’T. He stammers for a moment, apologizes, admits he misread the situation, and goes back to monitoring the park, and so concluded the biggest surprise during all of Jurassic World.
No, wait: the biggest surprise was that the narrative rewarded Control Room Guy with surviving to the end of the movie. No punishment to Control Room Guy for not forcing himself on his co-worker because we’re gonna die, don’t be such a prude; no backhanded punishment to Control Room Girl for rejecting someone interested in her. Nope: Control Room Guy didn’t treat a woman like garbage and he survived to the end of the movie. Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, especially because my expectations were low after the Mosasaur devoured Katie McGrath for using her cellphone and allowing the two child-shaped plot devices to escape.
So I’m walking away from Jurassic World having enjoyed it an enormous amount, both for the spectacle it provided and for its view of toxic masculinity. It isn’t enough to consume media and check off the Y/N box next to IS THIS FEMINIST. That’s not how it works. Feminism is a lens through which we can mark the continued growth and evolution of gender roles, and that learning process should never be as easy as a Yes or No question.