*WARNING: Spoilers will abound in this post, especially concerning DC and Marvel movies. You have been warned.*
Dalrock’s recent post “The real problem with the Ghostbuster’s Reboot” covered a wide array of feminism related topics. Among the areas covered were movies and comics, including the recent Suicide Squad movie. I had touched on that movie briefly in my post You Don’t Own Me. That particular post featured this class Cane Caldo gem:
It looks like a film about the government hiring a porn starlet and her prison groupies to kill a rapper.
Sadly, that was not what the film was about. Speaking of what films are “about”, that brings me to this post. I want to examine the role and impact on feminism in recent comic movies.
Now, I haven’t seen the new Ghostbusters movie (and hope to keep it that way). But from what others have indicated, it seems to be a Wave 2 Feminist work. This is quite different from the Wave 3 feminism I have seen in most comic movies. So lets cover them.
There are several characters to cover here: Harley Quin, Katana, Enchantress and Amanda Waller. Lets start with the crazy woman.
Harley, as portrayed in the film, was the epitome of what Wave 3 Sex Positive Feminism is all about: Sexy, Strong, Smart. She uses her sex appeal as a weapon to get what she wants, and uses it to manipulate the men around her. She can hold her own in a fight. Oh, and did I mention funny too?
But here is the thing- that is a major shift from what her character was originally. In the beginning she was the poster child of DV- the Joker’s girlfriend whom he liked to abuse and hurt. Heck, the cartoon would show (sometimes off screen) her get struck by the Joker, and he once threw her out a window to her (intended) death.
If anything, she was a Wave 2 feminist icon at first- a sign of how evil and depraved men are. How women cannot trust them and need to be in charge. But as people have pointed out, Wave 2 feminism doesn’t sell nearly as well as Wave 3. After all, Wave 3 women are empowered and hot, and who doesn’t like that?
So over time Harley Quin has changed as a character. Originally the battered GF of the Joker, she has becoming something else. Over time she became smarter (in the cunning variety). She was always smart (she was a shrink), but was easily manipulated. Now she is the one doing the manipulating.
Her sex appeal was upped, and she became more physically capable. In the movie the Joker couldn’t resist her, and it is implied that Batman could be swayed by her. Instead of becoming a punchline (hehe), she became an actual villain. Heck, she rose to be the “Queen of Crime.” Major promotion there.
Of course, that wasn’t quite right- she shouldn’t be a pure villain. No, just misunderstood . So now she is an anti-villian as much as anything, at least as portrayed in the comics. And the movie moved her along those lines too.
Also, in the movie she was said to be crazier than the Joker, and more fearless. Talk about “Girl Power” there. And of course, since she is hot, she can totally get away with crazy. There is a message there- women can be crazy if they want to. It is their female prerogative- especially if they are hot. And Margot Robbie really sold the role, too. Expect to see her in a solo film, or maybe DC Girl Power film, in the future.
Again, we have an attractive female who is quite physically proficient. Also, kind of sort of crazy in that she talks to the soul of her dead husband trapped in a sword. But it is all ok, because after all she is a kick-ass hot female.
This character has two kinds of hot going on- the crazed, kinky, fetish kind, and the sweet girl-next-door kind. Also, she is absurdly powerful. In fact, her power plays a significant part in the film’s plot.
Finally we come to the @&%#* herself. Now Waller is not exactly what one might call a “hot” character. Her character is known for being large and in-charge. And I mean that literally- she is normally portrayed as quite overweight. Naturally enough, she was not portrayed that way in the movie. Instead they had Viola Davis play her, and quite ably too. But again we see feminism slipping in. Since she isn’t really supposed to be hot, they didn’t or couldn’t pull that off. But they did manage to at least ensure she wasn’t ugly. Because for Wave 3 feminism, ugly is damned near a sin if it is assigned to a woman.
I cannot leave this movie without covering the Joker. His character was quite different from The Dark Knight version. Frankly, I wasn’t impressed. Although from what I have heard they left much of his stuff on the cutting room floor. So perhaps the character would have been better with superior editing.
All the same, this Joker was very different from the normal way Joker is portrayed. How so? Simple- he actually loves Harley. Traditionally the Joker never loved Harley. She was a just a tool to him- one that he would use and abuse at whim. He never tried to rescue her unless there was something in it for him. However, the new Joker actually goes into an active hostile zone to rescue her. He risks his own life for her. Even more, there is nothing in it for him.
Not really a fan of that. Frankly, it weakens the Joker as a character. Now he has a redeeming quality, when his character is not supposed to have any redeeming qualities. A “soft” Joker just doesn’t have quite the right edge.
And that ends that movie.
Man of Steel
This movie was all about Lois Lane. And oh boy, where to begin. Lois Lane begins as a confident, powerful and respected/feared reporter who is herself fearless. No real character flaws that I could find anywhere. She, more than anyone, drives the plot in the movie. Now, I like Amy Adams as an actress, but she was a poor fit for Lois. Too old, wrong hair and wrong… flair.
Here is the thing- for the most part she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. Only when Superman screws up does he have to rescue her. The thing is, I would argue that Lois, as originally envisioned, might have been a subtle swipe at earlier editions of feminism. If you look at the earlier works, she constantly got herself in trouble. And it was Superman who always got her out of trouble. The confident, fearless and competent reporter Lois Lane only existed because Superman allowed her to exist as such. Without him she would have been dead many times over.
Here is a link to some of the old cartoons:
Watching through them it is pretty clear to me that Superman/Clarke Kent the force behind reporter Lois Lane. To me, that seems to be a subtle attack on Feminism. Namely, that women can only be strong and empowered if men enable that. Of course, I encourage my readers to offer their thoughts.
Batman v Superman
The same general pattern with Lois in this movie. But in addition we get Wonder Woman. If anyone is the stereotype of the strong, empowered and sexy woman, it is her. She basically runs circles around Batman/Bruce Wayne using her smarts. Then she does the same with her martial prowess. Basically, she leaves him in the dust.
Despite having only a small part in the movie, she played a significant role in the advertising- both before and after release. Why? Because what she represents – Smart, Strong, Sexy- sells.
Finally, we come to the Marvel movies. There have actually been a fair number of complaints against Marvel for their lack of strong female characters. Certainly, for the most part, they haven’t let women steal the show like DC has. Of course, that will change over time. Captain Marvel will provide their counterpart to Wonder Woman. And expect other female characters to start to provide that same, much desired mojo.
Mind you, they do have some that fit the profile.
Black Widow certainly does. Very capable, quite smart, and of course lots and lots of sex appeal. I mean black leather, right? All the same, she doesn’t have her own movie, and probably won’t. But they did get her into a number of other movies instead.
Ironman 3 saw the rise of a strong Pepper Potts. She basically got superpowers towards the end of the film and in a way that pushed hot in an almost literal fashion. Her character was already smart, and she ended up running roughshod over the male antagonist. All the same, she hasn’t shown up lately.
This post has run on long enough. Time to wrap things up.
Marvel has done much better than DC for a number of reasons. One of them, I believe, is because they for the most part haven’t let female characters push male characters out of the limelight. I suspect they will take a hit at the box office if this starts to change. Not necessarily immediately, but over time the audience will react. While Wave 3 feminism sells better than Wave 2, that doesn’t mean that audiences want to be overloaded with it. Certainly not at the expense of emasculating male comic heroes. [Which I suppose I will cover in my next comic related post.]
Studios are in something of a tough spot. On the one hand, they need to stick to the narrative or face a backlash. On the other hand, they risk losing money if they cater to feminist demands too much. It will be interesting to see how they handle these conflicting demands. My money is that Marvel will pull it off, while DC won’t.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments.