AUTHOR'S NOTE: I quite enjoyed this movie, but seriously Jack needed some actual character development. It was great to see Wes Bentley play a hero with a normal beard after Seneca Crane, but Jack had literally no scenes focusing on him alone. I had to go to Wikipedia to find out the character was a widower.
Why wasn't there anything exploring his engagement to Grace after his wife's death? Did he have any guilt about moving on and marrying again? When and how exactly did his first wife die? What even was her name? What did Natalie think of having Grace as her stepmom?
Wes Bentley could have pulled off that storyline, but he got almost no material, so I'm here to fix that. This is half an expansion of the "breaking open the back window of the truck" scene, and half a missing scene to actually explore Jack and Grace's bond. Because let's be honest, the movie didn't pay any attention to their relationship really at all.
Jack is more worried about the fact that Grace is about to die than concerned about his own impending death.
The truck is hanging off the edge of a collapsing bridge, and there's a dragon literally breathing fire at them. Grace is inside the burning car with Jack, while Gavin is at the tailgate trying to singlehandedly keep the truck from plunging to the river below. Jack can't see Natalie or Pete, but he'd caught a glimpse of the kids in the logging truck with Mr. Meacham earlier. The lumber mill owner has never been religious, but he prays his daughter and the boy are safe with Jack's future father-in-law.
Jack and Grace throw open their car doors, desperate to escape the searing heat. But they see the bridge actively crumbling beneath them, and slam their doors shut. "We need a Plan B!" Jack says, heart pounding so hard he thinks it will fly out of his chest.
Grace pushes her red hair out of her face. "How do we get out here?"
"Break the window!" Gavin yells from the back of the truck, forcing the vehicle level with his body weight.
As Jack and Grace scramble to unbuckle their seatbelts, he looks frantically for something, anything to break the glass with. But as the heat becomes unbearable, there's nothing to use. So he hits the window with his right elbow as the flames lick at the car. The glass cracks like a spiderweb, but doesn't shatter, and his arm throbs.
"Jack, don't!" Grace cries.
He rams his elbow against the glass again, ignoring the pain it causes.
"Stop! You'll cut your arm open!"
If it's a choice between severing a tendon and saving the woman beside him, he'll choose her every time. The window finally shatters at his next attempt. Pain explodes in his elbow and shoots up his arm, thick blood blooms on his sleeve, and the glass breaks over them. But all that matters is getting Grace out.
"Come on!" Gavin shouts.
"Go!" Jack yells to his fiancé. "Gavin, get Grace out!"
"I'm not abandoning-" she starts to protest.
"I'm not losing you too!" Jack cries, voice hoarse with emotion, and reaches for her. If he has to literally shove her out of the truck to save her life, then that's what he will do.
Yet before either Grace and Jack can crawl through the open window, the car tilts even further. His brother screams Jack's name and tries to hold on as the vehicle slides with a deafening screech of metal. But Gavin is forced to let go as the burning truck falls towards the river, taking Grace and Jack with it.
As the car hurtles through the air, Jack and Grace cling to each other.
"I love you!" she shouts over the rushing wind. There's no time to say anything else.
His response is halfway between a shout and a sob. "I love you too!" He failed to protect the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, but at least she'll be the last thing he sees before his life ends.
He buries his face in her red hair and holds her tight as she wraps her arms around his neck. The pain in his elbow has nothing on his heart, which is breaking because he again failed to save the woman he loves. Jack thinks of Grace, Natalie, his father, Gavin, and his first wife Anne, and prepares to die on impact-
And then something grabs the truck in mid-air.
Without seatbelts on, Grace and Jack slam into the dashboard and windshield so hard he's sure it gave them both concussions. But somehow the car is moving up, not down, and they're being lifted away from the river.
"Elliot!" Grace cries, and Jack looks up to see huge green claws holding the roof of the truck.
The dragon carries them to the riverbank, and sets down the vehicle that's still in flames. Grace and Jack dive out of the car just before the truck is consumed by a fireball. Coughing, they stumble across the pebble beach away from the inferno, and fall to their knees before each other at a safe distance.
"You're alive, Grace," he gasps, ignoring his elbow screaming in protest in order to cradle her face in his hands and convince himself that his fiancé isn't dead. "You're alive."
"We're alive." Tears stream down her face as she lets out an airy laugh that's almost hysterical with relief. "Elliot saved us."
Jack kisses Grace, hard, and she responds just as passionately. They hear the dragon huff at them, and only then do the humans break apart.
Appearing genuinely concerned and remorseful, Elliot lays down on the riverbank and angles his massive head towards his back. "Elliot wants us to ride him," Grace says, striding towards the dragon without fear.
Jack blinks. "What?"
She climbs onto Elliot's back as if it's the most natural thing in the world. "Come on, babe."
Jack almost refuses, but acknowledges that the dragon did just save them from certain death. Actually riding said dragon is just the cherry on the top of an insane few days. And regardless, he would follow Grace to the ends of the earth if she asked him to.
He climbs awkwardly up the creature's side, grasping handfuls of green fur until he's sitting behind Grace. "Aren't dragons supposed to have scales? In movies, they-"
Jack is interrupted by Elliot suddenly taking off, the dragon's huge wings beating mightily to lift them into the air. Unable to ignore the agony in his elbow any longer, Jack lets his right arm hang limp and wraps his left arm around Grace's waist. As they soar, he thinks of how fitting it is that she is his anchor once again.
They land safely on the road beyond the destroyed bridge.
When Jack and Grace dismount the dragon, Natalie tackles her father. "Daddy!"
"Natalie," he gasps, voice cracking. Over her shoulder, he sees Grace throw her arms around her father, and Pete runs to Elliot. Only when Jack sees everyone safe and alive, including the wildling boy he has started to think of as a son, does the lumber mill owner finally breathe easily. He holds Natalie as tight as he can with his left arm, hardly able to believe that they all survived.
Gavin sprints forward, and Jack lets go of Natalie. But as Gavin embraces his brother in a crushing hug, the younger sibling unintentionally twists the elder's arm, and Jack hisses in pain. With the adrenaline wearing off, the agony in his elbow is intense.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" Gavin says. "I didn't mean-"
"It's fine," Jack lies in a strained voice, even though he's seeing spots in his vision. His legs are going weak from a heady cocktail of fear, adrenaline, and relief. And, despite his best efforts, he starts to shake. A near death experience is a powerful, overwhelming thing.
Grace wordlessly takes his left arm, and he leans against her. Just like the sturdy pine trees covering the Pacific Northwest, he knows he can always depend on her.
The painkillers are just starting to take the edge off when Grace comes to Jack's hospital room door.
They had been separated upon arrival by the medical staff - he to have his elbow stitched up, and she to be examined for less obvious injuries. But now she is in his room in the recovery ward, and he drinks in the sight of her. She has bruises, burnt patches of skin, and singed hair, but his future wife has never looked more beautiful. All that matters is that she is alive and breathing.
"What's your diagnosis?" she asks as she enters and sits on the edge of his gurney.
"Twenty stiches in my elbow, but I don't need a cast," he replies, trying not to move his right arm now it is encased in a sling and bandages. "Some smoke inhalation, plenty of bruising, and a concussion. You?"
"I have everything but the elbow injury. The worst for me is the concussion. Thanks for breaking the window. Really."
"I wasn't going to just let you die," he replies honestly.
She hesitates. "I don't know if I have a right to ask this. But just before we fell off the bridge, you said 'I'm not losing you too,' and I wanted to know what you meant by that."
He can't answer for a moment. "You already know my first wife Anne died of breast cancer. I did everything I could to save her, paid for every treatment available, but it wasn't enough."
Grace's eyes, green as the forests around them, meet his. "I never met her, but it wasn't your fault she died. It was the cancer's fault."
"But the fact is, I did everything I could, and she still died." His throat closes up. "I couldn't lose you as well."
Jack and Grace's eyes both well with tears as he continues. "You put me back together after Anne- My world collapsed a second time when my dad died, and I had to take over the mill decades before I ever thought I would. I had to run a small empire, while every minute of every day felt like my heart had been ripped open all over again. And you've been such an incredible surrogate mom for Natalie. She adores you. Through all that, you were and are the roots of a tree, anchoring me when nothing else can."
Tears slide down the redhead's pale cheeks. "You made me feel whole again too, Jack. I always felt like there was a part of me missing after my mom died. Yeah, I had my dad, but when I met you, I… I felt complete again. I don't really have the words to say just how much I love you," she adds in a watery voice, "so let me show you."
She kisses him. This time, it isn't a searing kiss of survival; now it's softer as their tears mingle. With his uninjured left arm, he reaches for her waist as her hands grasp his shirt, and the lumber mill owner never wants to let her go.
This red-haired forest ranger truly has been his saving grace in every sense of the word.