The most iconic scenes of the original Jurassic Park involve velociraptors. There’s the moment when the newly escaped raptors catch the park’s game warden, Robert Muldoon, off-guard and tear him apart—better known as the “clever girl” scene. There’s also the moment when the raptors, as if they weren’t fearsome enough already, learn how to open doors, as the film briefly turns into a twisted game of cat and mouse between two dinosaurs and John Hammond’s grandchildren. Then, of course, there’s the T. rex Machina that stops the two raptors from finishing off our protagonists—followed by a “Welcome to Jurassic Park” banner floating harmlessly to the ground, my favorite piece of overt imagery in the movie.
I loved the first Jurassic Park, which, combined with The Land Before Time—a movie more aimed at kids but no less traumatizing—spurred an irrational childhood love of dinosaurs. When I was 6 years old, I pretended to be a dinosaur in a public library and, in my dino-fueled delirium, got completely lost. My name was eventually announced over the intercom, and then my mom slapped me (deservedly) so hard across the head that I never wanted to be a dinosaur again.
However, while I did pretend to be most dinosaurs, I never pretended to be a raptor. Raptors were the bad guys.
What Jurassic Park and its two underwhelming sequels made clear was that the raptors were the last dinosaurs on the island you’d want to be stuck with. The T. rex obviously killed its fair share of people, but it did—for some reason—save our heroes in the first movie. The T. rex was also a little easier to hypothetically escape from, given its terrible eyesight. The Lost World further humanized the T. rex by introducing a baby T. rex that was injured by poachers and needed to be nursed back to health by paleontologist Julianne Moore. The baby rex’s only kill was the human antagonist, The Lost World’s stand-in for capitalism, and the kind of person nobody was going to mourn. The raptors’ signature moment in The Lost World, meanwhile, was when they viciously picked apart humans in an open field and got owned by gymnastics. Then, in Jurassic Park III, the raptors were given a bit more screen time, but it was dedicated to their sound communication skills, intelligence, and how they apparently haunted Dr. Alan Grant’s nightmares. (That one raptor shouting “Alan!” at Dr. Grant in a dream is truly the nadir of this franchise.)
Raptor-demonizing isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it’s logical. The raptors embodied the worst fears of this genetic breakthrough, their inevitable escape a biblical punishment for scientists trying to play god—a familiar theme in Michael Crichton’s work, which you can also see going down on HBO’s Westworld. These are creatures that are faster, smarter, and more menacing than any living animal—imagine a wolf mixed with a swole bird mixed with a katana. Raptors are scary, because of course they are.
But the revitalization of the Jurassic Park franchise in the form of the Jurassic World movies has also come with a dynamic PR makeover for the raptors. The franchise’s focus shifted to Chris Pratt’s Owen, a trainer at the new park who’s developed a special rapport with the raptors. They weren’t exactly domesticated pets, but there was an unmistakable bond between Owen and the raptors—particularly the group’s alpha, Blue—that even inspired zookeepers to make memes. While the Jurassic World raptors did kill some humans, they eventually protected Owen and Co. from the park’s genetically modified Indominus rex. There was also a scene where Chris Pratt rode a motorcycle through the jungle alongside the raptors, and it’s hard to express how simultaneously cool and stupid this was.
Which brings us to this weekend’s release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, a movie that blows up the dino-island with an active volcano—THE PARK IS GONE—and brings the action to a gothic mansion and a world where auctioneers are selling dinosaurs as weapons on the black market. While all the other raptors have died, Blue is still alive, and it doesn’t take much convincing to get Owen to rescue Blue from the island before the volcano erupts; such is their bond. Fallen Kingdom takes the raptor love even further, though, by turning Blue into a straight-up hero.
The film shows archival footage of Owen with the baby raptors he’s training—taking cues from The Lost World’s baby T. rex, an apex predator is a little less frightening when you see what they looked like when they were teething. Of particular note is Blue’s initial bond with Owen: While one raptor tries to attack Owen when he feigns weakness, Blue reacts with empathy by snuggling next to his face. It’s a genuinely touching moment, and as someone prone to crying over animal videos, it nearly brought me to tears. Blue really does love Owen! Not since James Franco and Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes has a blockbuster conveyed the affinity between man and animal so humanely.
There was a clear impetus from director J.A. Bayona to give Blue more anthropomorphic qualities, like E.T. with a disconcerting bite radius. Even when Blue does her human-killing thing, it’s only against the evil auctioneers’ armed henchmen—there is a scene, which you see briefly in the trailer, where Blue kills two goons and jumps out a window before a gas tank explodes. Even in the context of this supremely silly movie, I nearly jumped out of my seat to applaud Blue the Action Star.
Blue also comes through in the clutch against the Indoraptor, the franchise’s latest genetic monstrosity that begins terrorizing the mansion when it—shocker!—escapes. Blue protects Owen and an adorable little girl—the latest in Jurassic Park’s long line of kids getting pulled into traumatizing dinosaur situations—and eventually faces off with the new big bad in absurdly epic fashion. It’s excessive. Your entire theater will be roaring for Blue the way Iceland does viking chants for its soccer team. A velociraptor is the best action hero of the summer blockbuster season so far—let that sink in.
The single greatest piece of cinematic dialogue in 2018 comes when Owen turns to his raptor BFF at the end of the movie: “Blue, come with me,” he implores. (And go where, exactly?!) Blue instead prefers to roam free, along with a plethora of dinosaurs that escape the mansion. This sets up an intriguing possibility for the third entry of the Jurassic World movies, a world where dinosaurs exist among us—a paradigm shift for our entire species that could, if the franchise were so bold, lead to our own extinction.
The final image of Fallen Kingdom is, fittingly, fixated on Blue, who’s overlooking a suburb. If this were the footnote of an O.G. Jurassic Park movie, the sight of a raptor presiding over an unsuspecting community would be absolutely horrifying. But after spending an entire movie humanizing the franchise’s most established and iconic menace, her newfound freedom feels cathartic. The Jurassic World movies are far from perfect, but with Blue, they’ve completely changed the audience’s perception of raptors. Man’s biggest dino-nightmare is suddenly man’s best dino-friend.