If you recall, a few weeks ago I did a review of a few summer movies, all of them with the common thread of having only one major female character. Perhaps things are looking up, for this installment features three recent movies that feature not one but TWO important female characters. (Possibly even three!) Good work, Hollywood. Keep reaching.
Once again, fairly serious spoilers lie herein. I assume no responsibility for the ensuing bitching and whining should you fail to heed my warning and ruin an ending for yourself.
In order from the sublime to the ridiculous:
What is it about?: One of the summer’s few original movies, Elysium is a sci-fi action flick that makes bold statements about the future of health care and immigration. Set in the future, there is controversy over the exclusivity of Elysium, a space-station-esque “habitat” for the 1% who have the funds and the power to leave an Earth that has been torn apart by violence and poverty. Wait, what the hell am I doing? You have eyes. You can read Wikipedia.
Who is in it?: Alice Braga plays Frey, Matt Damon’s childhood friend, with whom he reconnects when he is injured and shows up at the hospital where she works. And let me tell you, if you think your local ER is rich with the stench of human misery, the one in Elysium will make yours look like a unicorn garden party. Also, Jodie Foster plays Jessica Delacourt, Elysium’s second-in-command and a ruthless enforcer of immigration laws that prevent Earth’s citizens from infiltrating the borders in search of a better life.
What do they do?: Frey is a complex and mostly identifiable character, as far as science-fiction characters can be identifiable. She saves Matt Damon’s life early on the in the movie with her courage, skill, and quick thinking. However, she then spends the rest of the time BEING saved rather than DOING the saving, although her determination to protect her young daughter is admirable.
Delacourt, on the other hand, is in a position of power for most of the movie. She overthrows the president of Elysium with the help of her cronies, and takes political matters into her own hands. Unfortunately, while she is a powerful character, it is not a positive portrayal of a female in power. She oozes pure, demented evil out of Jodie Foster’s angelic blue eyes. (Seriously, have you gazed into them lately? It’s like being blown by an angel.) It seems that our paranoia of having a woman come into power has stretched to our science-fiction films.
These characters are realistic, but not necessarily feminist-friendly. Elysium is a well-acted, interesting movie with a lot of plot holes and character failings.
2) The Conjuring
What is it about?: Supposedly based off of real events (You know, like Anastasia… or Troy), The Conjuring is the story of the Perron family, who consist of the parents and their five beautiful daughters. Yes, the movie is positively swimming with feminine wiles. The family moves into a new house – but, as in all horror movies, the house is only new to them, and is haunted by the spirit of a Satan-worshipping woman who lived there many years ago.
Who is in it?: Lili Taylor plays the mother, Carolyn. Vera Farmiga also has a leading role as Lorraine Warren, the medium and supernatural investigator who the family begs to come and help them with their little problem.
What do they do?: The Conjuring is not a creative movie. The themes of witches, demonic presences, ghosts, and haunted houses where something terrible happened in the basement, are about as unique in horror movies as explosions are in action flicks. But unlike most horror movies, The Conjuring actually manages to show a female character with her goodies covered. Both of the female leads are past their “blonde running through the forest, bosoms jiggling sensuously” years, and thank goodness. The result is a character with a certain degree of actual depth. Instead of spending the whole movie finding ways for their clothing to get torn, revealing a hint of lacy lingerie, director James Wan explores Carolyn’s connection with her children and Lorraine’s devotion to her job.
However, certain horror cliches do make it into the movie, like the concept of the Monstrous Feminine. Writer Barbara Creed posits that fear of the female reproductive system is a popular trope in horror movies because it is compliant with the fear of the unknown: who knows what evil might slither its way out of that dark abyss we call a vagina? (To give them credit, it horrifies me monthly.) Women have the power to create life, and therefore we have the power to bring evil into the world, which is why so many antagonists from horror movies (think Alien, The Brood, Jennifer’s Body, etc.) are female or have female traits. Plus –
*SPOILER ALERT, MOTHERFUCKERS, DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU*
– there is the ever-popular “possession” sequence, during which the entrance of a demonic spirit into the woman’s body functions symbolically as a rape. Interestingly, though, Carolyn manages to fight off the violating spirit through her own willpower and triumphs over it. Overall, The Conjuring was actually fairly refreshing in a lot of ways, but still not worth my $11.50. Seriously, I think I could have someone killed for the price of a Saturday night movie these days, and it might be more entertaining.
3) Kick-Ass 2
What is it?: Based off the comic book series written by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., Kick-Ass is a real-life high-school superhero. With the help of his trusty sidekick Hit Girl (or is he her sidekick?…) he fights crime with the help of an increased pain threshhold due to a nerve-damaging accident. This, obviously, is the sequel to the first movie, in which Kick-Ass and Hit Girl’s relationship was established and which I fucking loved, so keep in mind that I am biased. Shit gets real in this sequel, where Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) amasses an army of supervillains in order to seek revenge for the death of his crime boss father.
Who is in it?: Chloe Grace Moretz stars as Hit Girl, a fifteen-year-old superhero who specializes in swearing like a sailor and killing full-grown bad guys in delightfully gruesome ways. There are several supporting roles, including Lindy Booth as Night Bitch, another superhero and Kick-Ass’ short-lived romance, and Olga Kurkulina as “Mother Russia.”
What do they do?: Hit Girl is really the main role of this film, all 103 minutes of which do an excellent job of developing her character from the 11-year-old child she was in the first movie to the high-school freshman she has grown into. They manage to avoid infantilizing her by refusing to shy away from issues like her first kiss, her first date and puberty. Yet they also manage to avoid gratuitous sexualization by keeping Hit Girl in a bigger version of her original superhero costume (which covers all but her eyes) and dressing her high-school alter ego in flattering yet age-appropriate garments. Hit Girl is the ultimate empowered woman, not only fighting crime but also dealing with real-life issues like peer pressure, honor, and self-esteem. Emotionally precocious and physically in control, Hit Girl is probably a better role-model for thousands of teenage girls than half of the vapid pop stars parading themselves around on the arm of some douchebag every day on the red carpet.
It should also be mentioned that the comic books contain a scene in which the villain, determined to destroy everything our noble hero has ever loved, breaks into Night Bitch’s house and rapes her with his evil cronies. In the movie, this scene goes does a little differently.
*FOR GOD’S SAKE SPOILER ALERT DON’T MAKE ME SAY IT AGAIN*
Our would-be rapist unzips his fly, only to realize that he can’t get hard, and spends several minute attempting to get an erection before giving up and leaving Night Bitch unviolated, while she looks at him in disgust. I actually thought this treatment of this situation was way more appropriate for his character. Chris is already a mockery of a villain, Tweeting about his conquests and wearing a gimp suit as a costume. This scene contributed to his comic portrayal. It took power away from his character and put Night Bitch in a superior position over him, which she maintains for the rest of the movie by being a total badass.
Most of the movie is quite aware of gender issues and actually functions as a celebration of sex and acceptance. For instance, one of the superheroes Kick-Ass teams up with is a recently out gay man, defending those who have been bullied like himself and wearing no mask to hide his face because “it was too much like being back in the closet.” Later on, when Kick-Ass begins hooking up with Night Bitch, their relationship is not under any pressure to become love. They don’t seem to spend any time together outside of fighting crime and fucking in bathroom stalls, and the movie doesn’t berate them for that. Night Bitch was coming on to him from the first day they met, but rather than punishing her for slutty behavior, the movie continues to portray her as an attractive, powerful woman with feelings.
Kick-Ass 2 was castigated by critics for “gratuitous violence,” but I personally have seen far more violent films this year. The violence is comical in nature and won’t give you nightmares, I promise. You should see this movie. You should see both movies. You’re not doing anything better this weekend. Don’t you lie to me.