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Stop Relying on Jeff Goldblum to Save Movie Franchises That Are Already Ruined

Goldblum will reprise his role as chaos theorist Ian Malcolm in the next instalment of the franchise. But his track record with sequels is sketchy.

by Becky Ferreira
Apr 27 2017, 10:00am

“Ian Malcolm: From Chaos.” Image: John Larriva

Jeff Goldblum will reprise his role as the chaotician Ian Malcolm in Jurassic World 2, set for release in the summer of 2018, confirmed The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday.

Known for his witty quips, bold swagger, and growl-like chuckles, Ian Malcolm has become a major cinematic touchstone since Goldblum first played the character in the original Jurassic Park, released in 1993.

Some of his most quotable lines are still tenacious memes. The film's oddly lingering shot of a bare-chested Goldblum, mere hours after a brutal tyrannosaur attack, has likewise lived on in internet infamy, as has his fist-pounding diatribe against the reckless commercialization of genetic science represented by the dinosaur theme park.

Thanks to my lifelong obsession with Jurassic Park, Ian Malcolm has also been my Twitter avatar since I joined in 2009. I originally chose his image in an attempt to incept John Williams' "Welcome to Jurassic Park" theme into everyone's heads whenever I posted. Nearly a decade on, it has come to seem natural and inevitable that Ian Malcolm is my public face to the world. Even verified tyrannosaurs agree.

So, when greeted with the news that we will be treated to a new incarnation of the iconic chaos theorist, of course, I was initially delighted. Jeff Goldblum has only become more quirky and endearing since he first starred as Malcolm, and he could bring a lot of personality to Jurassic World 2, a quality that, in my opinion, was starkly absent from Jurassic World, the 2015 revival of the franchise.

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However, upon further reflection, I realized that Goldblum's return could herald a cinematic catastrophe in the making. Jurassic World was well-received both critically and commercially, so I recognize that I'm an outlier in thinking it was a soulless sack of garbage, and by far the worst film in the franchise. Yes, I'm including The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001) in that assessment. Let that sink in.

With much of the same cast and crew returning for Jurassic World 2, I don't feel much reason to be optimistic here. But could an older Jeff Goldblum, with a new take on Ian Malcolm, save this sequel-to-a-sequel?

Far be it from me, of all people, to doubt the legendary prowess of the Goldblum. However, I must present the historical precedents that indicate Jeff's star power can't always compensate for a sequel's shortcomings. Exhibit A: Independence Day: Resurgence, perhaps the most boring alien invasion movie in history, which even Goldblum could not pull back from the brink of crappiness.

Even more significant is Goldblum's last performance as Ian Malcolm, 20 years ago, in The Lost World: Jurassic Park. While there are plenty of trademark Malcolm lines in the film, the reprisal of the role saw a more family-friendly, toned-down version that shaved away his characteristic edginess. In particular, a scene in which Malcolm marvels at his daughter's dual gymnastic and raptor-kicking abilities has earned mockery from fans.

The problem with these movies was not wholly Goldblum's performance, but the characters—or lack thereof—that surrounded him. What set Ian Malcolm apart in Jurassic Park was his "deplorable excess of personality," in the words of park owner John Hammond, played by Richard Attenborough. But this archetype of the controversial genius plays best within an ensemble of strongly defined personalities that can act as dramatic foils.

Malcolm's crackling dialogue was prompted by challenges to his strictly mathematical perspective. Empiricists like Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and commercialists like Hammond and the ill-fated lawyer Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero), spurred him to assert his idiosyncratic viewpoints, which Goldblum used to flesh out the character.

Indeed, Malcolm never would have even uttered his most famous catchphrase if BD Wong, as geneticist Henry Wu, hadn't condescendingly pushed him with the question: "You're implying that a group composed entirely of female animals will [pregnant pause] breed?"

"Life finds a way." Video: Movieclips Coming Soon/YouTube

This challenge prompts Malcolm up to lay out the thesis statement of the film: Statistically, "life...uh...finds a way."

The same is true for Goldblum's role in the Independence Day franchise, which relies on Will Smith for development (and vice versa). The Smith-Goldblum chemistry is what saved Earth from obliteration the first time around, and without it, the Independence Day cinematic universe is doomed.

My point here is that Goldblum thrives as an actor when he is put in a position to respond to diverse ideas and attitudes. As I've said at length, this is why the original Jurassic Park remains far-and-away the best film in the franchise. It's more than a dinosaur thriller, because it embraces and expands upon the scientific and philosophical themes that run through Michael Crichton's novel, and channels those themes to define the arcs of its characters.

The characters in Jurassic World, by contrast, are as poorly rendered as their CGI dinosaur counterparts. I don't blame the cast, and indeed, it is a feat that the film managed to make the delightful Chris Pratt somehow utterly uninspiring as a raptor whisperer. If the 2018 sequel continues in the same dull vein, Goldblum may be put in another position where he is creatively starved and delivers a pale shadow of the Malcolm we all know and love.

I hope that I am way off-base, and that the movie returns the franchise to the heights of its hallowed origins. But if I'm not, you can bet I will channel vintage Ian Malcolm by shaking my head and saying: "Boy, do I hate being right all the time."

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