Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Action heroines

Last night while channel surfing I stopped on Aliens. Don't you just love Aliens?

It got me thinking, which is a hobby I picked up. Remember that flap about how Warner Brothers (it was WB, wasn't it?) wasn't going to make anymore films with female action leads because nobody watched them? Well the facts in the case were correct but the reasoning was wrong. Nobody watched those movies because they weren't good, not because they starred women.

You could learn a lot about it by watching Terminators 1 and 2 and then Alien and Aliens. Their heroins have very similar arcs.

In Terminator and Alien, both Ripley and Sarah Connor are not prepared for the danger. Ripley's pretty tough, but not nearly tough enough to take on an alien and poor Sarah is just trying to be a regular old '80s chick. Then a monster invades both of their worlds, and through the help of an attractive man they run. And eventually the attractive man becomes a sacrifice to the monster and the women must learn to fend for themselves.

So a female heroine can work if she has to learn to fight to protect herself. But what happens if she's already a badass?

In Terminator 2 and Aliens, experience has made the woman a big old badass. She's not emotionally cut off, she's terrified of what she's seen and this terror gives her strength because becoming strong is the only way she's been able to overcome her fear. And then she gets a kid to take care of so we remember that she is, in the end, a woman.

Now look at a movie like Ultraviolet or Aeon Flux or any one of those shitty female lead action movies. They have this cold-hearted heroin who starts the story already cutoff from the world, unable to be hurt emotionally or physically. There's no vulnerability. This badass persona is foreign to us so we reject it. Sure, most of those movies toss in a kid or a love interest in danger, but it never feels real because our heroin is so full of anger at what was done to her or just trying to make a buck.

Look at Catwoman. Her motivation is rage. If a woman's enraged, we like it to be because someone hurt her child or put someone she loved in danger. But Catwoman is angry because people tried to kill her and she wants revenge. Blech.

Think about the most iconic scene in Aliens. Are you thinking about it? It's the end, right? That scene where Ripley gets in the machine thingee and yells "Get away from her, you bitch!" She's protecting someone else. Someone who is completely discounted in the third movie which really fucking pisses me off but whatever.

Why does Sarah Connor bust into Myles Dyson's house and put his family in danger? She wants to save the world. You feel the weight of that on her shoulders every step of that story. Of course if she actually does save the world she will create a time paradox, but whatever.

Anyway, this isn't totally a woman thing, either. One of the reasons we love John McClane so much is because he gets completely fucked up in the process of trying to save all those people. He's worried about his wife, but he's also physically vulnerable, as is demonstrated when his feet get all mangled on the broken glass.

So I guess my conclusion after doing all this thinking is that your heroin can be a badass all she wants, but she needs a reason outside herself. She needs to have someone to protect and love, someone who drives her to hurt herself in order to get the job done. And maybe guys can learn a lesson from that, too.


  1. that was a great analysis, I haven't thought about Catwoman in that way. Although to be fair, Catwoman was horribly written and directed with a terrible actress. No offense to Halle Berry, but please, that woman always ruins superhero roles (I hated her as Storm so much).

    Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley are MY WOMEN. I also like that scene where she broke into Dyson's house. She's so full of rage, ready to blow his brains out, but she also senses that he's a good man who has no idea what happens with Skynet. She sees how the little kid and the wife are shielding Dyson from being shot, it makes her think of her own son and Kyle Reese, so she breaks down into tears. I like that. She's such a badass, a real woman who takes care of herself and of her kid, but also keeps up a badass attitude.

    I also like the relationship she has with her son. She sort of resents him, but she also loves him. A few times, she pushes him away.

    Are you a fan of Resident Evil? That franchise is enjoyable, but I really don't see much emotion from Milla Jovovich... I think? I've only seen all 3 movies once, though.

  2. I think the first Resident Evil movie is okay. In that one Alice is trying to figure out what's going on and she doesn't know her own strength.

    The other two are pretty bad. The third one is unwatchable.

  3. Women.Must.Love.Babies.

    ...or we can't love them.

  4. "Nobody watched those movies because they weren't good, not because they starred women."

    Well it's not like the most successful movies of the year are also the most critically lauded. Plenty of crappy movies that do well. But I agree that those movies didn't open because they starred women, they didn't open because the marketing just didn't work. Good scripts don't open movies, good marketing opens movies. (Yeah, wom kicks in after that, but still). What that says to me is that WB just doesn't know what to do with and how to market non-romcoms starring women. If you look at their track record, that observation is right on.

    So, Ripley and Sarah Connor, I guess we should just leave the badass women to James Cameron.

  5. Totally agree. The heroine is much more than a "not a man" or "how much of a man can I be" role that Hollywood seems too prone to shove them into.

    I also agree with you on Catwoman, but don't short change the revenge genre. The Bride in KILL BILL works well within her given genre.

  6. Alex F., If all it took was good marketing, then why did Terminator Salvation's take drop off so much after its first Friday? Why didn't Land of the Lost clean up? That movie was advertised all over the place. Yet UP, which by comparison was barely advertised at all, has kicked ass.

    Marketing is part of it, but not at all the main story. Word of mouth is a very valuable advertising tool.

    And James, Good point. And look - she also lost her baby. And she's emotionally wrecked, not stoic and angry.

  7. People laugh, but "The Long Kiss Goodnight' was a fun ride. What if the tough chick doesn't know she's tough?

  8. There you go. She had a kid and a husband to protect.


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