Some thoughts in why female comic book characters don’t make for good comic book movies.
A couple days ago Jason posted something about Scarlett Johansson wanting to do a stand alone Black Widow movie and why that is generally a bad idea. His base statement is more or less correct: there has never been a female super hero movie that has done well, and in most cases they seem to spell career death for the actress involved. Some of the notable failures include Catwoman and Electra, but if you dig deeper you find all kinds of other ones that did nothing but suck and die. Red Sonya, Tank Girl, My Super Ex Girlfriend (actually I kind of like that one, but really it was less about the super hero and more about every ex girlfriend I have ever had), Sheena, and Barb Wire to name a few. Duds all. Some may argue that Hit Girl from Kick Ass was great (she was IMO), but she did not have her own movie. There has yet to be a distaff Spider Man or Iron Man.
What is the problem here? It’s not like we don’t have great female comic book characters to draw from. Every year someone talks about doing a Wonder Woman movie, but honestly I predict even that will fail to meet expectations. Jason’s theory was that most comic book movie fans are male and want to pretend to be the hero. A female hero is just harder to identify with and pretend to be. I think there may be some validity to this theory, but don’t see it as the overriding issue. For the most part fans identify with the super powers, not the super hero. I could easily see someone imagining having the telekinetic powers of Phoenix or the weather control of Storm. Also, I think in this day and age the line of gender identification is a little blurrier that it has ever been in the past. (Wonder Woman image courtesy of the DC Comic T Shirt category).
I think the issue is much more primal. The problem is that in order for a super hero movie to be great, the hero has to get his or her ass handed to him (or her). If you look at the first Spider Man movie, Peter Parker gets completely trounced by the Green Goblin (blown up, really). In the last Superman the managed to find a way to have the normally invulnerable Superman on deaths doorstep. In order for a super hero to be super he or she has to overcome serious mortal danger and pain. We root for the hero who comes to the brink of destruction but still triumphs. Without that it just sucks. The reason this doesn’t work for super heroines is the fact that the vast majority of men are hard wired on a genetic level to not like to see a woman getting beaten.
Seriously, this is an issue. In my movie reviews if I see a woman getting punched in the face it usually earns the movie a black hole. I find it incredibly disturbing. There is nothing more upsetting to a man (a real man) than seeing a woman’s face with a black eye or bruises. I know, I am supposed to be more open minded and equality and all that feminist stuff, but even guys who say that it seeing men beaten bothers them equally with women are lying. There is a genetic imperative in men to protect women from harm (kids too, but you don’t see a lot of that in movies). There is nothing that will get me to intervene in a situation faster than seeing a man hit a woman, yet I would be OK watching two guys beat the hell out of each other.
This, unfortunately, leaves Hollywood with a bad choice to make. Either they go with letting the heroine get her ass kicked, making the movie really disturbing to the bulk of the viewing audience, or they make her invulnerable and impervious to harm, making the movie really boring and unreal. The thing that comic movie fans demand these days is some level of realism (ironic, given that we are talking about people with super powers) and seeing a 105lb girl get punched in the face and kick the crap out of a 200lb thug just isn’t realistic (one of the many reasons Catwoman really sucked).
What is the answer? I don’t know. Maybe more movies of women who don’t necessarily have to duke it out with guys. Angelina Jolie was great in Wanted and for the most part shot people. This might actually make for a decent film for Black Widow, but I predict they will feel the need to get her to go toe to toe with someone, ironically lessening the action.
That’s pretty much it on the matter. I’d like to thank my best friend Dave for first suggesting this theory and helping me flesh out out. If you want to comment or suggest a different theory free to post something here. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. If you have specific questions or suggestions feel free to email me at email@example.com.
By the way, before I get going I wanted to mention something interesting I found on the Intertube. I was looking for info on the upcoming Men in Black 3 and came across this kid Bugeyes126 doing some kind of investigation video series trying to prove that the Men in Black are real. I can’t tell if this is for real, for fun, or just a really creative marketing campaign. It’s like some kind of reality TV show scavenger hunt. I’ll link Bugeyes126 most recent video as it flashes me back to my childhood days of dumpster diving. However, I can tell him from painful personal experience jumping straight into a dumpster like he does is a good recipe for getting a rusty length of jagged metal jammed six inches into your calf. I’d also like to add that tetanus shots in 1982 were a whole lot less fun than they are now.
No movie tonight as I have to paint new models for the tournament this weekend. However, I have tickets for a midnight screening of the Avengers at the fabulous Kabuki Cinema in San Francisco Thursday so look for that review Friday morning. Thanks as always for reading. Talk to you soon.