I noticed something odd about this summer’s blockbuster releases. It’s not a new trend that arrived from nowhere, nor is it so bad it’s destroying the fabric of our society, but this summer, for the first time, I seemed to notice the blockbusters were all about the guys. In a summer filled to the brim with novel and superhero adaptations, the story-required female supporting characters played less and less of a role to the point of being near pointless.
Whether there’s anything to take from this trend in movie posters is to be debated, so I thought I would look back at this summer’s major releases and see if it’s my mind playing tricks on me. For me, I’ve always enjoyed the battle sequence more then the romantic subplot, so perhaps my reflections are exaggerated. In this two-part analysis, we’ll start with those films all-but-devoid of female importance.
Thor – Seeing this is where the trend first caught my attention. It was sort of a big deal when Natalie Portman signed on, especially after becoming an Oscar winner, but I felt as if her character was essentially useless. Some people criticized her performance, but I thought she did what was expected of her, which was very little. Jane Foster does rescue Thor from SHIELD prison, but in the end it’s the Asgardians who fight the battles and defeat Loki and save Odin and Earth. Foster is just the scientist that falls for the hunky superhero. Typical.
Green Lantern/Captain America – Both of these fall into the same problem Thor had: they’re about the male superhero and thus render the female supporting a third wheel. Blake Lively shows up in Lantern for about three scenes total, including the obligatory save the girl sequence. In America, Haylee Atwell’s Peggy Carter character is semi-important for Steve Rogers’ development, but the audience knows from the start this story is only a World War II setup for the real stuff in the Avengers. Thus, we know Peggy is a one-shot who probably won’t show back up, and care little for her and the romance between them as a result.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Surprisingly good movie, but did you know there’s a female supporting? Perhaps not, since the trailers only show Caesar, Franco, Lithgow, and the bad black corporation guy. Now, this film is about the apes to start with, so the humans are really only there to further the story, but Freida Pinto’s love interest to Franco is especially irrelevant. She delivers around ten lines total, and all are as a way to give the movie a female star. If Pinto’s character wasn’t there, there would not be a single talking female in the film, be they human or ape, yet you hardly notice she’s there anyway.
Transformers 3 – Rosie Huntington-Whitely did scores better then Megan Fox, but that’s a pretty easy thing to accomplish. Her character, however, serves the wonderful role of damsel in distress. She flirts with Sam for a third of the movie, flirts with Patrick Dempsey for another third, and then finally, at the very end, serves story purpose by giving Megatron a life lesson. Which may be the weirdest pairing of advice seen on screen in recent years. This film is much like the others in that the point is robots fighting, just like the point is Jack Sparrow or Asgard gods or motion-captured apes. The female supporting, meanwhile, is forced into plot lines only there to appease demographics.
Fast Five/Hangover 2/Horrible Bosses – I’ve yet to see the first two, but they are stereotypically made for the male audience, so the presence of substantive female characters that do anything beyond wearing tight jeans is probably a losing bet. Horrible Bosses is slightly different in that Jennifer Aniston’s slutty dentist character plays a large role in the film, but personally I thought the other characters to be funnier. There’s no actual romantic subplot here; it’s more the allusions of flings and work-related abuse. Funny movie, but not necessarily the strong female character we’re looking for.
Pirates of the Caribbean 4 – Johnny Depp brings people to the theater. Jack Sparrow markets these films, and there’s nothing wrong with that because he is a really awesome character. Keira Knightley, though annoying, did bring something to the story, though. I once read the writers considered the first three films to really be a trilogy based around Knightley, with Sparrow along for the ride, and I can see where they’re coming from. Penelope Cruz does not bring these things. Playing Angelica, she does serve a purpose to the development of antagonist Blackbeard, but at the same time her character is very forced, as if the writers had to find a way to make her important when it was really the Sparrow scenes they cared about. I liked this movie, but I wasn’t the biggest fan of Cruz. Still, in terms of her important, Angelica falls somewhere in the middle.
Cowboys & Aliens – Olivia Wilde’s character serves two roles here. First, she’s the beautiful dame, too often the main point in the female character. To their credit, the writers attempted to make the mysterious Ella meaningful, foiling her against Daniel Craig’s amnesia-ridden cowboy and acting both as a gatekeeper to his past as well as the “everything in my life has come down to this moment” sacrifice to defeats the evil aliens. These are both important roles required for the story to push forward, but they don’t work for Wilde. Perhaps it partly because of her performance combined with the writing, but this is exactly the type of character that we don’t want. Ella is there for the looks, and her character is forced into importance to justify her casting. It isn’t natural; it’s very cliche. Thus, even though Ella is important to the story, it doesn’t make you feel anything for the character. In the end, it’s still Harrison Ford and Craig and Sam Rockwell who steal the scenes.
So far, we’ve looked at several of the major blockbusters of the summer, most notably the comic book adaptations, prequels, and sequel set-ups, that all but ignored the female casting. It’s a bad trend that could get even worse, but next time we’ll look at those films on the opposite end of the spectrum, where the female actors either carried the films or were so awesome you sometimes wished they had.
(TO BE CONTINUED…)