Saturday, June 4, 2016

Feminist Movie Reviews: All the Superhero(in)es

It's time for more feminist movie reviews! Tackling DC and Marvel.

Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice 

With the horrible reviews, I didn't have high expectations for BvS. I was pleasantly surprised.

Elements of character development existed, along with potentially compelling conflict here and there. It wasn't as much of a plot jumble as I anticipated, but rather too focused on theme instead of relatable characters. It's hard to empathize with an idea.

The characters were cast well (and the three JL founders were rather attractive). I liked Ben Affleck as Batman: he played the real Bruce, not Christopher Nolan's emotionless Dark Knight.*

It was an intense movie which showed real-world consequences. It could've hit the audience where we feel it, but poor writing and directing fumbled it.

BvS also failed with women. Just because you have a male protagonist (or two) doesn't mean you must have limp female characters.

Wonder Woman, a strong and complex character, wasn't explored despite many opportunities. Gal Gadot's talents weren't utilized: she looked good in fancy dresses and appeared when they needed her. She kicked ass in the climactic battle, but it was clear she was a sideshow, not a human being.

I expected chemistry between Diana and Bruce. I like their relationship in the DC cartoons. She's more powerful and psychologically whole than he is, and they build off of respect and friendship rather than need. This movie didn't tap into that.

Lois Lane was a device to garner sympathy, weaken Superman, and show us how cruel Lex is. She may be a "strong" damsel in distress, but do we need more of those?

Verdict: Lots of men and punching. Pretty. Not quite "there."

Captain America: Civil War

There were many things done well with this movie. Civil War had many threads, but unlike BvS it kept them all in hand. It captivated audience attention because it focused on character arcs at its heart.

Tony and Steve both want to protect their friends. From a feminist side, I loved that this wasn't just a superhero battle movie: it was about their psyches. It analyzed macho bromance feelings. When was the last time we saw a movie about that?

The women are strong and awesome. However, they don't have conversations with each other or other women. (Natasha says one line to Wanda in the beginning.) I understand they're side characters, but this would only happen in a world where men are the default human beings.

A token woman or two doesn't mean we have equality.

(Spoilers.) There's a chemistry-less, pretend romance with Cap and Sharon. Steve uses her throughout the movie to get intel and resources as he goes after the person most important to him: Bucky.

That's actually why I liked the "romance." Sharon's presence highlighted how Steve's priorities aren't to rescue a damsel or fall in love.

Steve is there for Bucky.

The two men have moments camaraderie throughout the movie. They reference their shared past and invite us into their easy friendship. These are the only times Steve truly smiles.

The queer subtext was in bold italics. The sorta-not-but-kinda-relationship delighted fans who've pictured a Steve-Bucky pairing before. Last week #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend trended on Twitter, and some of the actors spoke in favor of a bisexual Cap. The reality of an out-and-proud queer superhero in a popular movie could be in our future.**

If it is Cap, little would change. We might see a kiss or some small gesture of affection. This is a superhero flick, not a romance.

While this movie failed with women, it earns points for scrutinizing traditional male stereotypes.

Verdict: Intense character development. All-around awesome. Queer subtext but failed the Bechdel Test.

X-Men: Apocolypse

The latest X-Men film carries a larger cast than Civil War. (Certainly whiter.) They manage to give separate plot arcs and spotlight time to every character. Complicated relationships even made some of the characters feel three-dimensional.

X-Men set up oodles of potential tension with Magneto. But they didn't deliver: Magneto fell flat in the second half. Apocalypse was also flimsy, a plot device created for the X-men to fight.

Still, it's an enjoyable flick, with edge-of-your-seat moments and awesome powers.

Apocalypse and the two staple leads, Magneto and Professor Xavier, are all men: it doesn't surprise me, but does disappoint me. Nevertheless, there are a lot of female mutants in big roles.

The lone government agent is Moira MacTaggert. The two characters responsible for rallying people are Mystique and Jean Grey. Half of Apocalypse's minions are women (Psylocke and Storm).

(Spoilers.) Jean Grey, the Phoenix, is the most powerful mutant in the Marvel Universe. She's just a teen in the movie, much of her strength still locked up. But it's her power which finally turns the tide of the battle.

There still isn't equality, but X-Men got far closer than most sci-fi/nerd-culture films. Of these three superhero films, X-Men gets the most feminist points.

Verdict: Awesome women and adequate feminism. Typical exciting superhero film.

In the end, I'd say X-Men came closest to equality of the sexes in numbers and roles. Civil War gave me the most personal enjoyment. But all three were worth seeing at least once.

What are your thoughts and rankings? Any feminist critique?

Word count: 872.

* I should stress: I do enjoy the Dark Knight movies. But they don't feel like true Batman to me. I think of them as awesome dark action movies...which happen to use the names of favorite cartoon heroes and villains.
** I've heard Deadpool is pansexual. But that's the thing: someone had to tell me, because it's not in the movie. We never once see him flirt with a guy, notice a hot guy walking down the street, have a close relationship with guy -- anything. He's all about his girlfriend.