Saturday, 17 October 2015

Ladies in Blockbusters

Funny how when you take your (work) laptop on vacation, you imagine yourself engaging in all sorts of productivity, but then it mysteriously never materializes. Before I left for London I thought I'd do some writing, do some blogging, etc etc, but no, I should have been a tad more realistic.

The upshot, then, is that I've got a bunch of stuff to go over, which I'll do in a number of posts. It's all been simmering in my brain for about a month now, so hopefully it'll all make sense.

As you can maybe tell from the title, I've been thinking about women in summer tentpole action movies. This is because I used my flight time wisely and watched a number of summer tentpole action movies that I'd missed when they were in theaters. On the flight to London I caught Terminator: Genisys, and on the flight back I caught Jurassic World, Ant Man and part of Furious 7. I also watched Inside Out, though maybe that's a little less relevant?

Anyway, the point is, some of the movies tried to have good roles for women (but failed), some didn't try and some acknowledged that they didn't but faced up to it. SPOILERS, btw.

The one that tried but failed was Terminator, funnily enough. You'd expect, after T2 and this installment's return to basics (ie, Sarah Conner), that it'd be full of badass ladies blowing shit up - especially when we learn that the timeline's been messed up even further and now Sarah's the one saving Kyle Reese and telling him "Come with me if you want to live".

Part of that is because they cast Emilia Clarke as Sarah Conner. Emilia Clarke is a fine actress, but I don't think she sells the "hard-as-nails lady" character as well as Linda Hamilton did - and it didn't help that the filmmakers further undermined her turn as that character by having her show up all cute and delicate and small in the mugshots when she, Reese and Arnie are arrested by the SFPD. There were probably producers' notes insisting on stuff like that, and on nude scenes for her and Jai Courtney (Reese), but it's a shame that they ruined that part of the character for me, as otherwise I thought the film was pretty good - a fitting follow-up to T2, even.

The one that didn't bother trying was Jurassic World. Another fine movie (as these things go, I suppose. I mean, I'm not reviewing My Dinner with Andre here), and they didn't undermine any of the character archetypes: Chris Pratt plays the two-fisted hero, Bryce Dallas Howard plays the emotionless woman who learns how to love, etc, but they also don't deviate from these archetypes at any point. It might as well have been an action movie from the 80s. In fact, amid enjoying all the dinosaur-based carnage, I kept imagining what the movie would have been like if they'd switched the two characters around: had the badass dino-wrangler be played by a woman (say, Gina Carano) and the spineless administrator played by a man (Thomas Lennon). That would have been pretty clever, right?

Ant Man also didn't really make much of its female roles, but at least had the good grace to look a little embarrassed about it (oddly, like Jurassic World it also had Judy Greer playing The Only Other Female of Note). I suppose I get that the original character's called Ant Man, rather than Ant Woman, and the American film industry in the 21st century still relies on straight white men to carry films, but there was actually not much good reason for why they had to put Paul Rudd in the costume, rather than Evangeline Lilly. At least she gets her own shrinking armor at the end.

Oddly enough, possibly the only one of these action flicks that came close was Furious 7, because of Michelle Rodriguez's badass character, and the fact that the hacker being rescued by Vin Diesel et al turns out to be a woman. Although I didn't get to see if it passed the Bechdel test, because my flight was coming to an end.

The point is, it's a shame that we're stuck with these kinda regressive gender depictions in films, and even more of a shame that we seem to be going backwards. I mean, Linda Hamilton was blowing shit up and looking tough back in 1991 - it's hard to imagine her taking selfies, as Emilia Clarke was doing.

For shame, Hollywood! Get your act together.