If you zone out until someone starts running, Jurassic World is the perfect action movie. If you actually pay attention to the plot, you may find yourself wondering why you are watching a retrograde family drama play out in between close-ups of Indominus Rex’s teeth. Ever since Joss Whedon called one of the movie’s promotional trailers out for being “ ’70s-era sexist,” some filmgoers and critics have wondered just how many bad action movie tropes we’ll have to overlook in the name of prehistoric thrills. Good news: The film does have a powerful, fascinating female character, treated with respect and subtlety. She just happens to be a velociraptor.
The human female star of the film is Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing, a career-obsessed executive whose family fears that she may have missed her window to have kids. She’s hyper-organized, goes on tequila-free diets, and doesn’t know how old her nephews are. Her nebbish of a sister sagely informs her that she’ll see some day, when she has kids, how meaningful the whole experience is. And although Dearing doesn’t seem any more motherhood-oriented at the end of the movie than she is in the beginning, she does of course hook up with rugged raptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt).
Dearing has her moments: She saves Grady from certain death by gunning down a dino that’s about to eat his face. And she’s the one who saves the day in the end—by miraculously outrunning a T. Rex while wearing stilettos. But overall, both Dearing and her sister are sad little stereotypes. When they’re not busy surviving dinosaur attacks or crying into the phone, they’re both preoccupied with old-school questions about whether women can Have It All. The male characters, by contrast, get to have philosophical arguments about morality and science, and hash out the future of American military weaponry.
But then we meet Blue. Our first encounter with her is in the training arena, where she and her raptor squad, Echo, Delta, and Charlie, are training with Grady. It would be inaccurate to say Grady is training them, because it’s clear from the start that these creatures won’t allow themselves to be fully controlled by anyone. Instead, the raptors and Grady have a carefully cultivated, close, long-standing relationship. Blue and her squad give Grady their respect, not their blind obedience. And Blue is the most developed of them all: As the beta to Grady’s alpha, she’s by far the sassiest of the bunch, and the one Grady consistently keeps a closer eye on. Of all the raptors, she’s the one whose reactions matter most—even the raptors themselves look to her at every turn. And in the end, she has a serious, high-stakes decision to make: Save humankind, or destroy it?
Like most great movie protagonists, Blue has a foil: Indominus Rex (also female). No one would ever mistake the Indominus, a super-dino created by splicing together some of the scariest attributes in the animal kingdom, for a subservient Golden Retriever. She was created and raised in captivity. And unlike Blue, who is a pretty sociable lass, Indominus ate her sibling. She’s not worried about having kids: She wants to break shit—right after she figures out how to get out of her dinosaur pen. But where Indominus hunts anything that moves for sport, Blue has a complicated, evolving relationship with humans. And when Indominus starts to seem like a genetically-engineered supervillain, Blue’s story takes off.
The men of Jurassic World spend a lot of time arguing about the fate of Blue and her crew: Should they be park attractions, or military weapons? When it’s time to go hunt some Indominus, though, the raptors gain some autonomy, with Blue as their feisty bandleader. Her story builds to a climactic final scene where she and the raptor posse must choose whose ally they want to be.
So while Claire makes googly eyes at Owen and flees from pterodactyls, Blue’s journey through Jurassic World is a lot more interesting, and has an actual arc. In two hours, she leaves the only home she’s known, must make quick decisions about who to trust, and ultimately puts her life on the line for the side of her choosing. And—unlike Claire—she’s practical enough not to wear heels.
Read more in Slate about the Jurassic Park movies.