Finishing up my analysis of the importance of female characters in this past summer’s slate of releases, we’ll look at the opposite end of the spectrum, where they were crucial, if not the crux, of the story.
X-Men: First Class – Not all films suffered from female characters put there because there has to be a female character. January Jones as Emma Frost was chilling and made you want more. Jennifer Lawrence, meanwhile, serves as an important thematic development as Raven. First Class is not just about superhero action but also these characters coming to terms with their mutations and learning to accept them, and in turn themselves. This idea manifests itself most strongly in Raven. Her character is a crucial pendulum in the relationship of Charles and Erik, as here she sides with Charles but by the end has joined Erik. Both Jones and Lawrence perform strongly in their respective roles.
Harry Potter 7.2 – Hermione Granger is one of the strongest female leads we’ve seen lately, and Emma Watson does a fantastic job of bringing that personality to the screen. She’s the brains behind the often dumbfounded, idiotic decisions made by the oh-so-typical boys, and in more cases than not is the pillar of reason and logic in the trio. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are perhaps one of the greatest protagonists teams to ever hit the pages or screen, with each of them being just as important as the other. Harry may be the Chosen One, but were it not for his two best friends in the world he would never have made it past Year One. Granger’s strength as a character is shown most strongly in Deathly Hallows Part 1, after Ron has abandoned them and Hermione and Harry are left alone to try to find their way to the horocrux.
Super 8 – The ensemble teenage cast of this film is all around fantastic, but one would not find it hard to think that among the band of boyhood friends Elle Fanning’s character would fall into the background. Abrams does just the opposite, giving us an emotionally scarred character who, along with the rest of the teens, grows tremendously throughout the film. Her character’s relationship to her father and then protagonist Joe Lamb are the crux of the human story, with the monster really being more of an extended metaphor of everything internal. It’s fantastic, and her story is perhaps only exceeded by Lamb’s growth around the death of his mother, which is the be expected as he’s the main character. This is a strong female character, and at the tender age of thirteen, too.
The Help/Bridesmaids – Then you have films such as these, where it’s all about the women. The second is the chick flick of the summer, though I think nearly any guy who saw the film would equally attest to how funny and well done it is. Still, Bridesmaids, in conception, is almost the foil to guy-flicks like The Hangover (both based around weddings, even), and it does an excellent job of showing the strength of the actors to carry comedy without having to constantly resort to the sort of sexual innuendos that Aniston gave in Horrible Bosses. The Help, meanwhile, is the lowbrow character drama of the summer, and inevitable there’s always one that takes peoples’ hearts. This isn’t meant to demean the impact that the female actors’ characters have, however. It seems there is barely one or two males in the entire film, and while I haven’t seen it both seem to play minor roles like boyfriend or husband.
Is Zoe Saldana featured in Columbiana because of her acting ability or her sex appeal? Too often it seems that these types of films are the only ones with a female lead. And yet, next summer Pixar will release Brave, it’s first animated film with a female lead, so it will be interesting to see how Princess Merida compares to not only Pixar’s cast of strong films but, what is more important, Disney’s ensemble of princesses (all of which are hallmarks for female strength). Next summer will also give us The Avengers, with its fair share of female characters, but also The Dark Knight Rises, where it is still unknown how large the roles of actors like Marion Cotillard will be. Rachel Dawes was an important but not forcible huge character in the first two films, and Christopher Nolan shares a motif in his career of killing the female love interest to further develop the male lead.
What say we, then, as to the state of the female supporting in film these days? Cinema has always stereotypically been headlined by white males, but this has never stopped the strong female counterpart from carrying the message in the classics of the 50s and 60s. There are obvious exceptions this past summer, like The Help, where it was the females who carried the story. It seems to me, at least, that among all the superhero/action-packed blockbusters (and this summer was filled with them), that it was all about the men. It’s hard to tell, because you have to ask yourself whether a strong female character was wanted (like in Cowboys & Aliens) or needed (as in Pirates). Should Hollywood work harder to balance things like Potter or simply make more films like The Help? I don’t know, but this balance of characters’ prominence and importance to the story is certainly a trend to keep an eye on.