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Marvel So Far: The Incredible Hulk

incredible hulk

Despite being the movie that Marvel forgot, The Incredible Hulk has a lot of interesting elements. It’s a superhero movie set post origin story, and one that deals with the horrific side effects of supposed superpowers. The plot is built around the “superhero” searching for a cure. And for the first half, at least, it’s shot as a monster movie, where the monster also happens to be the protagonist — delaying the moment you see him, only offering the audience brief glimpses, showing the destruction and not the creature, and then having him emerge out of the fog for a big, dramatic reveal.

Unfortunately, “interesting” is pretty much the last word you could use to describe the movie’s female characters. Or its conclusion. Or… well. Maybe it was forgotten for a reason after all.

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Marvel So Far: Iron Man

ironman

I’ll give Iron Man this: it tries.

It tries to include female characters and overcome sexist tropes. It doesn’t try very hard, and it doesn’t do a very good job, but the signs of effort are there.

Disclaimer: I’m not a comic book fan. Although I have picked up some tidbits about comic book plots here and there, I’ve never read them, so I’m commenting solely on the movie. This is definitely a casual viewer/laywoman’s review.

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Thor: The Dark World

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Thor: The Dark World is a fun superhero movie. It’s certainly not the best Marvel movie to date, but it zips along at an enjoyable pace, with a good sense of humor, plenty of laughs, and a few genuine shock-worthy moments. It’s firmly in the Joss Whedon school of action, where no fight or chase scene can pass without quips a-plenty. Although some of those jokes fall flat, a lot of them work well, making the dance from action scene to action scene fun instead of just “oh look, another explosion.”

And, of course, Loki steals the show.

But then we come to the movie’s female characters. In some ways, Thor: The Dark World is a refreshing change from other superhero movies. It has four named, speaking female characters, all with distinct personalities. Genius physicist (and love interest) Jane works with her snarky intern Darcy on earth, while Thor is assisted in Asgard by stern (if stiffly acted and briefly appearing) warrior woman Sif, and his mother, Frigga, gets some pretty badass scenes as a regal queen, convincing trickster, and dab hand with a blade. The film also passes the Bechdel test at multiple points, as Jane has exchanges with all the other female characters about science and safety. It’s not deep musing about saving the world or complex sibling relationships, but it’s better than most superhero movies, and it deserves some credit for that.

Unfortunately, although Thor: The Dark World has a great cast of female characters, it fails miserably at utilizing them. Frigga gets some great scenes, but Sif barely appears, and Jane’s plotline quickly diminishes her scientific genius status and makes her a damsel in distress instead. It’s no wonder most viewers prefer her intern Darcy — while Darcy is making jokes and being awesome, Jane generally gets to make love-heart-eyes at Thor and lie around in a faint.

The potential for a great Jane plotline is there. At the start of the movie, Jane and Darcy are in London, investigating some anomalies that make the laws of physics fall apart. While Darcy has fun playing with portals, Jane goes off by herself to uncover more, and finds herself sucked in another hidden realm and faced with a rather mysterious, rather ancient and rather evil object.

And then it all falls apart. Jane rather sensibly does not touch the mysterious object, but its dark power possesses her anyway, and she faints. Thor comes to rescue her and whisks her away to Asgard to try and help her. Considering that Jane is now in the place of her dreams, we get a few amusing science fangirl exchanges, but very little exploration of her awe or sense of discovery while in Asgard. In fact, she spends most of the time hiding, in a faint, or sitting around waiting for other people to get things done. Admittedly, she’s a brainiac, not a trained fighter like most of the people around her, but she doesn’t get much chance to use that brain at moments when it matters, or even to speak much at all.

The dark-possessing-energy also explodes when anyone touches Jane in a threatening way, but if you think that means Jane will get to utilize that strength or play a part in any action scenes as something other than a damsel, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Jane’s possession means that she is literally reduced to an object in the plot, something to be protected, something to be carted around, and something that really doesn’t need to speak for itself.

To be fair, the movie’s big final battle, where physics is going haywire, requires both Thor’s strength and Jane’s brain. It’s something, but it’s not really enough to undo all the damsel-ing that Jane is reduced to in the bulk of the film.

Ultimately (and not unexpectedly), Thor: The Dark World is about Thor and Loki, and it’s an enjoyable (if fairly typical) superhero movie as a result. And hey, there are multiple female characters walking around, which is more than might be expected. But is it a feminist movie? No. Not by a long shot. And the missed potential is pretty sad to see.

 

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The Avengers Review

Avengers Assemble is fun and exciting movie that is bound to please the crowds, but it is held back by old superhero comic book cliches that prevent the girls from joining in the fun.

The movie has everything you might possible dream of in an action-adventure blockbuster: superheroes! Viking Gods! Aliens! Nuclear weapons! Car chases and gunfights and exploding helicopters! Invisible flying military bases! New York City landmarks! Samuel L. Jackson with an eyepatch! Throw in some pirates and ninjas, and it would tick every box on the list of requirements for the coolest movie ever. But, unfortunately, “coolest movie ever” also seems to mean “(almost) all guys, all the time.”

Understandable, perhaps, given the source material and people’s expectations of the superhero genre, but when Joss Whedon, self-declared dedicated feminist and promoter of kickass female characters, is at the story’s helm, it’s disappointing to see that old stereotypes aren’t tossed aside.

To be fair to the movie, there are a few strong, capable female characters in positions of power and influence. The Avengers do include one woman, Black Widow, and S.H.I.E.L.D has a prominent military-esque agent played by How I Met Your Mother‘s Cobie Smulders. Other women appear in the background of the military operation, and I think one of the Big Faces of Power On the Screen is a woman as well. But, apart from fleeing civilians, I think that sums it up.

My main problem with the movie was that the only female superhero, Black Widow, doesn’t fit in with the others. She isn’t really a superhero. She’s a cool character, a fighter with almost unbelievable flexibility and skill, but in the end, she’s only human, and she stands out as weak compared to her male allies, almost all of whom have super strength and other beyond-human powers. Although she has a highly developed skill set, and the movie gives her a few chances to show off her awesomeness, she, along with Hawk-Eye, is pretty much the weak link in the group. No man is as strong as Captain America or as green and psychotic as the Hulk, so why can’t a woman get in on that science-experiment-gone-awry action too?

In fact, Black Widow repeatedly finds herself in the “damsel in distress” role in the movie, despite supposedly being on equal Avengers footing with the others. She has scenes where she flees, terrified and helpless, from The Hulk. She is saved from falling debris by Captain America’s shield. Although she plays a big role in the whole “world saving” thing, pretty much every other Avenger (or even a non-Avenger character) could have done so instead.

Black Widow is badass, no denying it, but the abilities that she does have also play off negative stereotypes of women, fears men are jokingly supposed to have about the fairer sex. Her outfits are always tightly fitted and sexy. She’s sneaky and she’s manipulative. She puts on shows of emotion to trick her enemies into giving her information. Playing with their sexist expectations of women? Perhaps. But as she does so, she plays into another.

As a character in her own right, Black Widow has plenty of recommend her. But as the sole female protagonist in this movie, and one who definitely gets second footing to most of the men, she presents many problems. Perhaps the inclusion of more than one female Avenger, and ones that can hold their own around Iron Man and the Hulk, would help the situation. The Avengers, in this incarnation, had 6 members. There must be room for more than one woman in that group. Even though the source material didn’t give the writers a ton to work with, there surely must be some more female superheroes in the Marvel canon that could be pulled in to help. Regardless of the source material, when Joss Whedon is the writer and director, you expect a greater effort than this.

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