“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” may be a box office success, but it’s also a film that has provided no shortage of frustration, from not nearly enough Jeff Goldblum to some unnecessarily cruel dinosaur deaths. However, its greatest crime could be this: the typecasting of Justice Smith.
As IndieWire’s Kate Erbland pointed out last week, the “Fallen Kingdom” supporting cast is stacked with talent, from James Cromwell to Geraldine Chaplin — but while Smith might be one of the lesser-known actors in the film, he fully commits to the role of systems analyst Franklin Webb, one of the team members Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) brings with her to Isla Nublar to help rescue the dinosaurs which remain there.
To the film’s credit, Franklin’s ultimate purpose in the film is not to serve as dino bait (always a bad look, especially when you consider that he’s the only significant black character in the film) — in fact, he even gets a minor moment of heroism. However, that only comes after nearly two hours of Franklin freaking out anytime he sees any sort of dinosaur, or lava, or anything remotely dangerous.
It’s just not that Smith is being forced to play an effeminate cliche of a nerd (though boy, it’d be nice if the computer geek played by a person of color wasn’t the character being used to prove just how brave the white lead actors of the movie are), but that he’s capable of so much more.
Courtesy of Netflix
Smith definitely sinks into the part, doing quite a bit with the nuances of Franklin’s edgy nervousness, and his chemistry with Howard and Daniella Pineda is solid in their scenes together. However, it’s ultimately a rather thankless part, and deeply frustrating to anyone who previously knew of him thanks to the cult favorite Baz Luhrmann drama “The Get Down.”
In the Netflix series about a group of young people striving for musical glory in 1970s New York City, Smith played Zeke, a brilliant wordsmith who used his talents for rhyme to lead the Get Down Brothers crew and woo his dream girl Mylene (Herizen F. Guardiola). It’s a coming-of-age story, a romance, and a vibrant musical experience all in one, and Smith proves to be brilliant at conquering every aspect of the character, with the range and gravitas needed to give voice to his character’s inner rage, such as in the scene below:
Just watch the way he never breaks eye contact, never blinks. Smith can sing, he can dance, he can smolder, and he can break your heart — and he’s only 22. It’s almost unfair, for one person to have that much talent.
Tragically, Netflix chose not to greenlight another (admittedly quite expensive) season, so for many viewers, “Fallen Kingdom” may be their first exposure to Smith’s abilities… to the degree that the film allows him to use them. While typecasting isn’t quite the plague it used to be, one can only hope that the success of “Fallen Kingdom” translates to more opportunities for Smith — opportunities which don’t fall into the same tired tropes.
It is good news that Smith’s next big role is already in production, and is also another high-profile blockbuster film. The downside is that the film in question is 2019’s “Detective Pikachu,” in which he’ll be co-starring with a giant CGI Pokemon voiced by Ryan Reynolds. The upside? This is only the beginning of his career. And, fingers crossed, Pikachu will be a more generous scene partner than dinosaurs.