Talking Movies

September 1, 2019

From the Archives: Movies Without Heroines

Another dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives finds this thinkpiece from the end of summer 2007.

With the postponement of the Wonder Woman film yet again Hollywood still believes that heroines can’t carry summer blockbusters no matter how super-powered. Fergal Casey looks at how this summer’s crop of blockbuster heroines have fared in the shadow of the action men.

It’s been a mixed summer at the cinema for actresses reduced to strong supporting roles and objectified love interests. The worst example of a leering camera was undoubtedly Michael Bay’s Transformers. Bay has always liked to drool over his brunettes and Megan Fox received this treatment to a degree which was quite farcical. Meanwhile Rachael Taylor, as Maggie the Aussie computer hacker, managed to avoid this (probably by being blonde) and impressed in a far more assertive if much smaller role. Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Lucy McClane in Die Hard 4 proved herself to truly be her father’s daughter. Kidnapped Lucy was handed the phone by the villain and whimpered “Daddy?” If this was 24 you know that her exact equivalent Kim Bauer would have been her usual maddeningly weak self begging for one man army Jack Bauer to come rescue her. But Lucy McClane coldly continued “Now there are only 5 of them left”. The indefinable quality of what makes a strong female character is best pinned down by contrasts.

Keira Knightley in Pirates 3 became a sword-fighting Pirate Queen and yet it still wasn’t enough to convince that her Elizabeth Swann was actually a strong character. Maybe it’s the uncomfortable tone of the Pirates sequels as the implicit threat of rape has hung over many of her scenes with strange pirate crews, especially in At World’s End. Spider-Man 3 meanwhile saw Kirsten Dunst subjected to endless humiliation. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing given how annoying Kirsten Dunst usually is it’s somewhat disturbing given that Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) was so noticeably underused and underwritten in the love triangle that Sam Raimi forgot to make. It also made the last minute decision not to kill MJ at the end utterly baffling.

Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music was the last actress who headlined the year’s top grossing film. It’s become conventional wisdom (despite the Alien films) that women can’t carry the action blockbusters which are the only films now capable of dominating the box-office. High-concept blockbusters travel very well owing to their visual storytelling which leads to a minimum of subtitles when compared to actress led chick-flicks which are heavily dependent on their witty dialogue. If you doubt this generalisation just think about how many shots in Spider-Man 3 eschewed dialogue to tell the story visually. Hitchcock would have been proud of such ‘pure cinema’.

It is thus outside the blockbusters that we must look to find meaty roles for actresses. One such tantalising prospect is Cate Blanchett reprising her role as Queen Elizabeth in The Golden Age (out in October) focusing on her relationship with adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh. Not quite a heroine but definitely a charismatic survivor…

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: