Comic Book Movies: So Close, Yet So Far Off About Women

My brother and I went to see The Avengers today, and while it was super awesome, there was something that kept bothering me throughout the film–the madonna/whore complex placed on the two main female characters, Natasha Romanoff/The Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) and Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders.)
When we first see Maria Hill, almost every inch of her is covered, her hair is neat, and she works with the agency that assembles the Avengers. When we see The Black Widow, she is near undressed, and has loose, red curly hair. hmmmm. Can you tell who is supposed to be the brainy one and who is supposed to be the sexy one? Now, to be fair, both of them get to have awesome fight scenes and aren’t always running away in peril–in fact, the Black Widow has a major part in the film’s resolution, but it’s like, come on, filmmakers, really? The marketing is good at not making this a thing, so why can’t the actual film?

Comic book movies have had an interesting relationship with women. There are plenty that have civilian damsels in distress that need to be rescued by the male heroes–Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes/Maggie Gyllenhaal, who even admitted that the character was a damsel in distress) in the Christopher Nolan Batman series (2005-08)  Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) in the Spider-manfranchise (2002-07); there are some that place their own female superheroes in danger, including Rogue (Anna Paquin) in the first X-Men (2000,) who is kidnapped by Magneto (Sir Ian McKellen) and rescued by Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Cyclops (James Marsden.) But while this is a problem, there are some positives–Many of the women have awesome careers–In Thor (2011,) the mighty Asgardian falls in love with an astrophysicist, Jane (Natalie Portman.) Iron Man II (2010,) Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow) is promoted from Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.’s) assistant to CEO of Stark Industries. There’s also the nice touch of not expecting the women who play the heroines to look like their buxom counterparts on ink and paper. Instead, the women look toned, look healthy.
Sadly, there is still a long way to go. Most comic book films with a female lead don’t do very well at the box office. Supergirl was a massive disaster in 1984, and most people consider Elektra (2005) to be a joke. The only successful female superhero movie I can think of is The Powerpuff Girls Movie (2002), which is a bit of a cheat as it’s based on a cartoon meant for children rather than teens and adults. I find that perhaps the reason that Supergirl and Elektra failed was because the writers didn’t believe in it. They didn’t believe these films could do well without their male counterparts (Superman and Daredevil) in a major role, they just wanted to take the money and run (Seriously, look up the plot summary of Supergirl. It’s beyond ridiculous.) It’s a bit sad, as I know fans have been campaigning for a Wonder Woman film for years, but studios always find an excuse–they can’t find the right actress, budget problems, the script isn’t good enough. I really think it’s because studios still believe women can’t carry films unless it’s a romantic comedy.

Let’s be honest, the comic books that set up these films are targeted at a specific audience: men who read them as boys. (My brother, who is twenty-nine, reverts to the age of twelve when he hears of a comic book movie being released.) The studios tend to (mostly) stick with the original source material, which is often from the time between the forties and the sixties, where women didn’t have as many career/life options as they do today. Superhero comics were considered to be for boys; romance/Archie comics were for girls and younger kids. The women are ornamental, even the ones who kick the most ass. Scarlett Johansson has expressed interest in starring in a soloBlack Widow movie. Why not, it would make sense–the men of The Avengers (except Hawkeye) have had their own movies, so why not the lone female? The fanboys either don’t want it (as she’s “not important enough,”) or they want it to be two hours of ScarJo running around half naked with guns. Boring.

There really isn’t a solution to this–for now. Perhaps in the coming years, female comic book writers and artists will start fighting harder to their characters on screen on their terms, that will hopefully make as much, if not more than The Avengers and such. Maybe with enough petitioning and chatter, the Wonder Woman movie will get made, and will not be as goofy as Supergirl. The studios seem to be on track with strong supporting female characters, and will hopefully keep it that way. We just need to keep on them!

So, LivLunatics, which awesome superheroine do you want to see on screen? Who would you want to play her? Do you think I’m asking too much out movies meant to be marketing tools? Shout it out in the comments!

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