Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Raises Ethical Questions about Technology and Life
The newest addition to the Jurassic World film dominion is Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom, a commercial juggernaut that is boosting 2018’s prospects for a record year in ticket sales despite mixed reviews. Fallen Kingdom, however, offers up more than action, first-rate special effects, and digitized dinosaurs. The movie takes a surprisingly complex dive into the question of species preservation and the value of life.
Movie critics (and many moviegoers) are right in one respect: Fallen Kingdom does not add much to the action film genre or the Jurassic World series. The plot is a linear continuation of the previous films, the second in a planned Jurassic World trilogy. Fallen Kingdom’s plot is not driven so much by conflict among characters as an existential threat—an erupting volcano—to a resource created by a mix of science, vision, and profit. Animal rights and species preservationist Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World, The Help, Twilight Saga series) is a bit more pragmatic at the end of the movie. Dinosaur behavioralist Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World, Passengers, Guardians of the Galaxy series) is the same compassionate realist as in Jurassic World. Brilliant dinosaur geneticist Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, The Space Between Us) remains unapologetic in his drive to perfect dinosaur cloning. Most of the movie is really a survival film, first on the island of Isla Nublar and then on land as Dearing and Grady try to protect the surviving dinosaurs.
The ethical dilemma in the story focuses on two central questions: to what extent are species worth saving for their own sake as living organisms, and can humans control the outcomes of their science experiments? Those who have seen the previous movies can guess at the answer to the second question. The first question, however, is far more intriguing and grounds the human conflict. When combined, Fallen Kingdom transcends its immediate commercial objective of creating a crowd-pleasing action-adventure capable of generating big dollars at the box office.
The movie does its share of painting a dark cloud over business, but it’s not as heavy-handed as movies have been in the past. Dearing and Grady are recruited by Eli Mills (Rafe Spall, The Big Short, The BFG, X+Y), the ambitious assistant to Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell, Marshall, W, Babe), to rescue the dinosaurs under the pretense of relocating the cloned animals to a new island and wildlife preserve. Lockwood is the former partner of InGen and Jurassic Park founder John Hammond. In poor health and retired, Lockwood is also attempting to raise his orphaned granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon).
Lockwood is interested in preserving the dinosaurs, but Eli’s ambitions are tied to what has become an action-film trope—the shadowy underworld of international weapons dealers. The international arms trade is salivating over the prospects of selling the genetically modified dinosaurs as weapons to various countries. The movie’s story could have easily descended into a simplistic, “businessmen are greedy and corrupt” parable. To the screenwriter and director’s credit, it doesn’t. The plot does not demonize businessmen per se. John Hammond, we learn, ended his business partnership with Lockwood because of a moral objection to continued experimentation with cloning. (This is consistent with the more nuanced approach to businessmen in Jurassic World and, as I discuss in Chapter 3 in Contemporary Film and Economics, an apparent trend in more modern movies.) This becomes a critical plot point at the end of the movie when several characters have to make life-altering decisions about the dinosaurs and the value of human life. (These decisions also set up the third movie in the trilogy, which is scheduled for release in 2020.)
Overall, Fallen Kingdom will likely please fans of the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World franchise. While the newest installment doesn’t offer up much that is new, the special effects and action sequences will keep most audiences engaged throughout the movie. The twist toward the end will keep some thinking about ethics, the substance of environmental justice, and the moral dilemmas of cloning well after they leave the theater.
Sam Staley is a Research Fellow and film critic at the Independent Institute, and a contributing author to the Independent books, Property Rights: Eminent Domain and Regulatory Takings Re-Examined and Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis.