It was the costuming choice heard ’round the world, a minor nitpick that soon become emblematic of the gender divide that still exists between the stars of our biggest blockbusters: those damn heels. In Colin Trevorrow’s 2015 smash hit “Jurassic World,” Bryce Dallas Howard’s impeccably dressed Claire Dearing telegraphs her Type A personality through her clothes, including a pristine white skirt suit and a pair of sky-high nude stilettos that already seemed out of place in a well-run dinosaur-centric theme park before it collapsed in blood, terror, and gaping dino maws.
With sequel “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” that theme park might be long gone, but Claire’s heels are as tall and ill-concieved as ever, and no one — not even the film’s director, franchise newbie J.A. Bayona — is willing to let them go. In fact, that’s how we are reintroduced to Claire: shoes first, as she makes her way up to her office, teetering on another skinny pair of heels that are the apparent holdovers from her previous incarnation as the operations manager of Jurassic World.
Much of Claire’s life has changed in the intervening years, but the shoes are the same. Bayona’s desire to linger on them doesn’t feel so much funny as it does a pointed way to remind people that, for Claire, it’s the shoes that make the woman. “Remember these stupid shoes and how much you hated them?,” the shot seems to say. “They’re still here. Get used to them.”
The costuming pick drew widespread criticism, and not just because they were a throwback to outdated gender stereotypes. Vulture’s Jada Yuan noted that the costuming failed its protagonist and proved to be “a crime of lazy filmmaking — a patronizing shorthand for her cluelessness and stubborn need for control.” Instead of using the heels as just one facet of Claire’s personality, they became one of her few defining characteristics, a stand-in for a richer backstory or a relationship with anyone that doesn’t entirely hinge on her perceived frigidity.
The choice to keep Claire in heels didn’t just rankle viewers who were annoyed to see a female protagonist trapped in uncomfortable footwear. It also proved to be wholly illogical: Are we supposed to believe that those stems never snapped? Or, that when Claire and Owen (Chris Pratt) find the old Jurassic Park welcome center of yore, still brimming with supplies, she doesn’t even bother to look for a pair of boots? There wasn’t even a single twisted ankle during the entire mad dash to battle the escaped dinosaurs?
Genevieve Koski at The Dissolve similarly argued that, as Claire goes through a number of sartorial and emotional changes in the film, the continued existence of her heels make less and less sense. “It’s one thing to completely ignore an aspect of your story that doesn’t make sense in the real world,” she wrote. “But it’s another matter to introduce a problem with your character’s wardrobe and then neglect to satisfactorily solve it.”
Despite the backlash, Howard herself defended the heels. In an interview with Yahoo! Movies, Howard offered up an even greater defense — and explanation — of the choice of footwear. Her argument focused on the specifics of the character:
This person does not belong in the jungle … From a logical standpoint, I don’t think she would take off her heels. I don’t think she would choose to be barefoot. I don’t think she would run faster barefoot in the jungle with vines and stones.
As for the possibility that Claire could have utilized an alternate pair of shoes, Howard shot that down, too. “I don’t think she would carry flats around with her. I think she’s somebody who could sprint a marathon in heels,” she said. “For me, it was actually logical for her to be in that very illogical situation because she doesn’t belong in the jungle and yet she finds herself there and has to adapt.”
And yet “Jurassic World” Claire does adapt, and so does her outfit. Just not her shoes. While Claire eventually lets loose (and gets far more practical) by shedding her jacket and belt, tying up her dress shirt around her waist, and allowing her stick-straight coiffure get appropriately frizzy and wavy after running for her life in a literal jungle, her heels stay firmly on. She can’t let them go, and neither can the film.
As much as she evolves and adapts to the situation at hand, proving her mettle and her intellect by the film’s end, it’s the shoes that keep Claire back in “Jurassic World.” Faced with horrific circumstances that still attempt to be amusing in a blustering, blockbuster-ish way, Claire never considers using her over-the-top shoes as a weapon or a tool. Sure, even the pointiest of heels might not break dino-skin, but they could keep a small predator at bay or break a piece of glass that’s in the way. “Jurassic World” lacked the intellect to see the shoes as anything but a literal accessory for Claire — and even once they were called out that way, the sequel failed to smarten up.
Three years later, “Fallen Kingdom” displays a strange interest in playing up the controversy — again, by choosing to reintroduce one of the film’s two leads via her maligned footwear, reducing her to just the shoes on her feet — instead of simply opting to embrace Claire’s evolution. This Claire is very different than the one audiences met in the first film, a crusader for dinosaur rights who has abandoned the corporate world that once defined her and who is eager to right the kind of wrongs she helped create in the first place (like designing a genetically modified dinosaur with seriously killer instincts). Yet the most important thing we know about Claire is her preferred heel height.
Later, Claire does change her shoes, opting for a pair of sensible boots (finally!) that are the complete opposite of her heels. They’re the kind of shoes one would wear on a dinosaur-infested island, the kind of shoes one could run in or jump over a seething pile of lava in or even battle an evil corporate entity bent on using dinosaurs for evil in. They’re the kind of shoes Claire should have put on in the first film, and by the time we get there, it’s an awfully heavy-handed twist.
The boots become a whole new gimmick unto themselves. Every lingering shot — Claire stomping back into Owen’s life, or Claire getting off a tiny aircraft, or even Claire delicately maneuvering around a sleepy dinosaur — reminds us what was wrong about this situation from the beginning. Yet more shots that seem to say, “Remember those stupid shoes and how much you hated them?” Yes, we do. Now stop asking.
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is in theaters Friday, June 22.