by Alex Jacobs
This is the conclusion of Alex’s insightful rant about remakes of superhero films. In Part 2, he turns his jaundiced but discerning eye to the treatment of the other half of humanity in Hollywood reboots. I added a comment of my own at the end.
When I sent “No More Gritty Reboots,” it was intended as a stand-alone piece, but Athena did something rather irritating: she made me think. She pointed out that my examples only included male superheroes and asked if I’d care to see reboots of female superheroes.
I hadn’t realized I’d left such a gaping hole in my rant, but there it was. I had originally written it in a very stream-of-consciousness manner, which meant that female superheroes hadn’t even entered my train of thought. Why was that? It took me some time to figure it out, but the answers I came up with disturbed me a great deal.
I’ve no interest in seeing remakes of female superhero movies because the few that have been made have been so atrociously bad that I’d rather they scrap everything and start over completely. Most female superheroes work within groups (i.e. X-Men, Fantastic 4). While they may occasionally be given a worthwhile scene or two in films, such as Anna Paquin’s wonderful portrayal of Rogue’s fear at her growing mutant abilities in X-Men, the stories are still about the male characters. The only time a female hero has really been given equality within a group has been Elastigirl in The Incredibles.
To date, the overwhelming majority of female action heroes fall into two categories: ridiculously sexualized male fantasies (Catwoman) and male action heroes who happen to have breasts (Elektra). In very few instances are female heroes given the opportunity to explore what it means to be a female hero.
Catwoman had the potential to be a phenomenal character, as the comic books and the excellent animated series have shown. Yet I have little confidence that Hollywood will move beyond the BDSM trappings and explore the reasons Selina Kyle has remained so compelling for over fifty years. While I would dearly love to be proven wrong, I suspect that Hollywood will see Catwoman only as a lithe young woman who wears a tight-fitting costume and carries a whip. While Tim Burton’s Batman Returns did much to explore the effects of trying to live a morally neutral life, even Burton failed to show Kyle as anything more than a freak avenger. Halle Berry did not improve matters and I see little purpose in rehashing that travesty.
I have even less confidence in Elektra. Her character was interesting in Daredevil because she was trying to balance her love for her family, a relationship, the risk of exposing herself emotionally, physically, and sexually, the danger of betrayal, and a drive for justice, all set against a world that systematically attempted to deny her agency in either a legal venue or as a vigilante. Is it any wonder she got a spin-off while Daredevil was quietly forgotten? However, Elektra completely ignored the character’s identity in order to prance her out in a ridiculously revealing costume to overly-sexualized, violent choreography (see these articles on the impracticalities of female superhero costumes). Not even the fifteen year-old fanboy target audience was interested.
Jean Grey and Mystique do better in the first two X-Men movies, but the best female superhero in film remains Elastigirl from The Incredibles. As far as power and screen time goes, she is on par with the male characters. Her character integrates classically feminine roles (the caregiver) with classically masculine ones (the protector). Most importantly, she does not let herself be defined by either the superhero group or her family but chooses her own relation to both roles. To me, that is the ideal embodiment of feminism and gender equality: not a rejection of any given role because it is associated with one’s gender, but the power to choose one’s role. Our place in the world should not be defined by our birth, whether that means race, sexual orientation, class, or gender. In superhero movies, only Elastigirl truly gets it right.
Rather than remake these movies, I’d like to see completely different female superheroes get the full Hollywood treatment. I would hope that this would avoid female knock-offs (Superwoman, Batgirl, She-Hulk, etc). Rather, I’d love to see:
- Wonder Woman: Forget the powers. I’m interested in this movie because Wonder Woman isn’t just a powerhouse, like Superman, but a leader; not a soldier but a general. A Wonder Woman movie could not only serve as a positive feminist tale, but also expand our definition of heroism.
- Scarlet Witch: While lesser known than many other heroes, Scarlet Witch is one of the most fascinating. Her legacy is that of villainy but she often strives to be a hero. If we define feminism not as the championing of femininity against masculinity but as the attempt to rise above prescribed roles, I can think of no greater champion than Scarlet Witch. A Scarlet Witch movie would have more to say about individuality, family, and freedom than near anything else I can think of. That she’s a woman is part of her character, but not her defining trait.
- Stephanie Brown: If you’re not familiar with Stephanie Brown, please see Project Girl Wonder. Brown was the daughter of a super villain and, for a time, served as Robin, eventually dying in service in an incredibly disturbing and sexualized manner. The lack of acknowledgment of her death is a source of controversy within the comics community. I would love to see a Robin movie that featured Stephanie Brown rather than any of the rotating boys. Such a movie would include Batman but would focus on what it means to voluntarily work with such a disturbed individual for a choice you believe in. Whether Brown lives or dies in the film – and I believe the latter could be included in a respectful and appropriately literary manner – either conclusion would make it a tale well worth telling.
What are the chances of these movies being made? Pretty high, actually. Hollywood is motivated by money, and right now a super hero’s name in the title is the most overwhelming factor in whether a movie makes money. Will they be made well? That’s more debatable. Hollywood has shown that it can do superheroes well — even that it can do female superheroes well — but consistency is the big problem. Joss Whedon has shown he can deliver most consistently. He’s currently doing Captain America and The Avengers, which despite its historical lineup has no female heroes in the rumored cast, but maybe afterward?
I choose to hope.
Athena’s coda: Catwoman has been an incredible missed opportunity indeed, given the allure of Trickster figures. Additionally, she illustrates how differently women and men are judged for identical behavior. Both Catwoman and Batman are trauma-driven vigilantes; yet whereas he’s viewed as a hero and has the Establishment’s resources at his disposal, she’s often portrayed as a villain and operates without any external support. As for Elastigirl (girl?!), my take is less optimistic. Although she gets to exercise her powers, they are still strictly in service of her family — protecting her kids, cleaning up her husband’s messes — rather than the “larger” goals vouchsafed to male superheroes.
Superheroes who crack moulds: Xena Warrior Princess (Lucy Lawless); Catwoman (Eartha Kitt); Hiyao Miyazaki’s Mononoke Hime; Aeon and Sithandra (Charlize Theron, Sophie Okonedo).