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[Article] – The Inaction of Female Heroes


Posted August 3, 2015 by

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Perhaps the combination of Ant-Man and a day full of reading articles prompted by this article has got me thinking about how our female heroes act on screen.

Yeah, I know, everyone’s all about female heroes, but seriously, if you think about it, our most beloved heroines do a lot less than expected when it comes to the actual storyline.

A trend apparently begun by the Matrix trilogy where the fierce warrior Trinity becomes nothing more than a damsel-in-distress, we’ve seen Hollywood’s ability to tout a character as a ‘Strong Female Character’, who then proceeds to… not be significant (or strong) in the film. The moment the audience is explicitly told that a female character is the best/strongest/fiercest fighter/pilot/hacker/whatever, you know you need to worry.

Here’s the thing – I actually really enjoyed Ant-Man. Though every ounce of me wanted to hate it, I ended up loving it a bit. Granted, my perception might change on a subsequent viewing, but, as of now, it’s a fun film. Where it loses points (and a lot of points at that) is its female characters. Or rather, female character. The entire film has just one lady recurring in its scenes (the only other woman seen is a cameo in the beginning, they don’t even have female extras!). Said lady is Hope Pym, who is introduced the same way 90% of Marvel’s female characters are – escorting some men from one room to another. Seriously. And she’s, supposedly the Chairman of the board of the company (we are told this) where she’s showing people in and out of conference rooms. Yeah… never mind.

A lot of articles have cropped up about how Hope was hard done by, and frankly, I have to agree. If you watch the film, there is no plausible reason she shouldn’t be heroing (I made that word up). But, without giving away any spoilers, Hope is molly-coddled into inaction. She can’t make a move because… script reasons. It got me thinking, would we ever see an adult male character sitting tight and letting someone else take on the hero mantle? Would they actually do nothing, at all?

This isn’t the first time Evangeline Lilly has taken on the mantle of sole-female-representative-and-badass-hero in a film, and not the first time her character has proceeded to be ineffectual. The unwatchable The Hobbit trilogy has a lot of issues, but some of them come down to writing in a female character ostensibly to balance out the testosterone, introducing her with skills that are then never seen to be used again. She becomes the damsel-in-distress and actively tries to be incompetent in the many battles that ensue. Poor Legolas has to fight off evil Orcs all on his own. Oh, and did I mention her most notable contribution is to be part of a love triangle that is neither convincing nor interesting.

I think back to Loki in the first Thor film, and there’s a point when he’s got nothing to do story-wise, but he’s seated regally on the throne in a commanding position, suggesting he’s being bossy off-screen, if not active on it. Same with Heimdall, criminally underused in the Thor films so far, but always exuding a sense of purpose, as his eyes watch the entire universe. Contrast this with Black Widow in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where she sits about doing twiddling her thumbs as she’s locked in a cage waiting for help to arrive (she does one thing to help herself, but you get the point). I can bet money on the fact that if this was a male hero, he would have engineered a way to at least unlock the cell before the cavalry arrived. And, yes, I used two different terms to describe the rescue on purpose – help, as opposed to the cavalry.

The so-called Trinity Syndrome (a new phenomenon for me, but it’s old hat in discussions apparently), was something I noticed for the first time in the Star Wars prequels. Anyone who knows me is aware that Star Wars is one of the most important aspects of my life. But even I’m not blind enough to forgive it all its sins. In the first prequel, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (man, that’s a long name), Queen Amidala is a 14-year-old queen of a planet under attack. She escapes with the Jedi with every intention of coming back to save her people. She gets an idea when she’s appealing to the Senate and strategizes an attack on the Federation invaders. She leads one party to capture the Federation leaders, while the two Jedi fight one bad guy, and the soon-to-be hero of the rest of the trilogy goes off into space and accidentally blows stuff up. Queen Amidala is commanding and sure of herself – a character who demands respect and gets it. When she’s playing the hand-maiden Padme she doesn’t get that much respect, but all throughout you know that she’s thinking of her planet.

Contrast this with her character in Star Wars: Episode II –Attack of the Clones (seriously George!), and even more so in the finale (no I’m not writing it), and you wonder who Natalie Portman p***ed off to have the character reduced to a whiny damsel-in-distress. In AOTC, set 10 years after Episode 1, she is Anakin’s love interest, and goes into a rescue mission sans ammunition (uh… speechless), luckily gets rescued by our friendly neighbourhood R2 unit (who just happens to be in the same place she’s in and sees she’s in distress). Granted she’s able to hold herself in a fight, and as the sole blaster-toter in the Geonosis arena, it’s a surprise she survived. At the fag-end of the film she’s somehow able to command the respect that Anakin’s puppy dog-eyed stares had snatched from her for the rest of the film. In the third film she does nothing; zilch.

I know from the above it seems like I secretly hate these films, but I love them, and I also love Natalie Portman for growing out of them and into an Oscar-winning actor (and into Jane Foster, for better or for worse).

If we turn towards YA adaptations that are always mentioned as the way forward, we can revel in the fact that they do indeed have female protagonists who are not defined by the men in their lives. In the Divergent series, Tris makes the daunting decision to join a different faction than the one she’s born to and then falls prey to bullying and failing in training. Eventually she gets mixed up in a rebellion where she defeats the big bad. In the second film the big bad still has her job and captures Tris anyway. Stuff happens; Tris unlocks a secret, on to part 3. Tris has no commanding power, just some supposed determination, which would get her nowhere if her boyfriend Four wasn’t perennially around to rescue (I’m not exaggerating).

In The Hunger Games series, Katniss is a hunter and a badass with a bow and arrow. She’s also clueless when a revolution is being engineered in her name and proceeds to wait around and make scripted speeches to rouse people to fight while she… doesn’t fight. Granted, neither of these franchises may be doing justice to their source materials, but if I think hard enough, I can’t recall any male protagonist being just a catalyst for over-turning the system – usually they’re the cause. Even if Luke Sykwalker happened to get swept up in the Rebellion, it’s not like he didn’t have the skills (irrespective of his Jedi traits) to pull off being a soldier and a pilot. He would have been part of the Battle of Yavin IV irrespective; it just depends on whose side.

In related news, a few months ago I sat down to watch Kick-Ass (for the first time) for reasons that had nothing to do with Quicksilver. I’d heard a lot about it, and it had all put me off the idea of watching it. Or so I thought.

KA and its sequel are both seriously problematic films. The second film is an egregious sin against humanity, but complaining about it two years after its release seems redundant.

When watching the first KA film, I couldn’t help but marvel at just how cool Hit-Girl actually was. It’s worrying that she’s barely a teen (and the actor playing her was also the same age) and that there’s a lot of swearing and violence caused by her and those around her. But, what I liked about her was that she was funny, and had a wonderful bond with her dad (yes, ok, the two of them are assassins, so he wasn’t getting the Father-of-the-Year award any time soon). She’s fierce and unstoppable in a fight and she’s able to, with her fighting skills and rousing words inspire the dorky loser who is our protagonist, Dave, into becoming a real superhero. But she still needs rescuing by said dork at the end of the film, which is a clear missed opportunity for all involved.

Which brings me to the sequel. The film has more female characters – by which I mean sexualised-female-characters-who-are-supposed-to-be-parodies-but-aren’t. Hit-Girl is 15 in this film. For some reason, Dave is still in school. He’s given up his Kick-Ass days, while she secretly continues her Hit-Girl efforts. But, in a contrived storyline, she promises her foster father that she will not take up superheroing any longer. And because she has given HER WORD, she cannot renege. The best (and only watchable) part of the film is the beginning scenes when Hit-Girl is busy training Dave to become the Robin to her Batman. Yeah, that lasts about ten minutes of the film.

I’d like to see a young boy hero who, the moment he hits 13, has to promise his god-mom that he’ll stay safe and suddenly gets so obsessed with fitting in at school that he bids goodbye to saving the world, because, hey, we got to defeat the bullies first. #Facedesk

The media claims we’re getting better representation every day, but what kind is still questionable. No point in adding female characters to your roster if their contribution to the storyline is akin to that lamp in the corner that gets busted in a fight; or if the majority of them are going to be prostitutes and porn stars (looking at you True Detective season 2). Better representation behind the scenes will definitely cover more landscape, but even with the writers and directors currently popular in Hollywood, writing relevant and diverse female characters cannot be that hard. Make it happen, people.


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Lestat de Lioncourt
Random Thoughts – Lestat’s Blog
Freelance Contributor

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