Tuesday, May 08, 2012
I am woman, feel me avenge
As an avowed Joss Whedon fangirl, I couldn’t be more proud and pleased with the movie or its reception. It was everything you want from your big-time, big-name, big-hero super films. Exciting. Epic. Funny. Fierce. Cohesive. Contextual. Geeky. Gripping. And fun, man, was it ever fun. Sometimes event movies forget that they’re supposed to be fun. And while I like shit blowing up as much as the next gal, that doesn’t make it fun. Nor does taking oneself super seriously. But “The Avengers,” now that was fun. It earned my $11. And I plan to give it another $11 very soon.
But, and fuck if there isn’t always a but, it also underscored one of the continuing and institutional problems with the big summer blockbuster. And that is they almost never pass the Bechdel Test, “The Avengers” sadly included. While the movie passes the first crucial test: Yes there are more than two named female characters. “The Avengers” has three: Black Widow, Agent Maria Hill and Pepper Potts. But then it fails the last two tests. They never talk to each other, about a man or anything else for that matter.
Of course, this isn’t to say that female representation is terrible in “The Avengers.” Quite the opposite, really. None of them are damsels in distress. One could argue that Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper is a standard-issue superhero girlfriend, but given her backstory in two previous solo “Iron Man” films makes her more than mere arm candy. Plus she’s about the only person who can cut cocksure Tony Stark down to size. Sure, Cobie Smulders’ Agent Hill mostly just looks stoic (also hot, so hot) in her SHIELD uniform while providing exposition. But she also battles her own brainwashed agents with heroism and flare. And then there’s Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow who is not only integral to the plot, she nicely turns some female tropes (she’s weakened by her apparent love for a man) on their head. All these women are strong and smart and so much more than action movie T&A. This is Joss, after all.
In fact, if anything is overtly sexualized in this movie, I’d say it was Captain America’s massive back. I swear, his upper body is like a stingray’s silhouette on steroids.
But, still, this is Joss after all, so we expect a lot – and more. This is in fact the only project Joss has written and directed (besides the shoe-string budget “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” which only had four named characters total) that has failed the Bechdel test. “Buffy,” “Angel,” “Firefly,” “Serenity,” “Dollhouse.” All these passed with flying colors. But “The Avengers,” which should be noted is also the only writing-directing project where Joss did not also create the universe in which it exists, does not.
So am I disappointed “The Avengers” fails the Bechdel Test? Of course. Would it have been that hard to give Agent Hill and Black Widow a moment together? Perhaps they could commiserate on the fit of zip-front jumpsuits. Am I disappointed with the women in the film? Hell no. They’re awesome – especially Black Widow and her thighs of fury. They’re superheroes, not just females in spandex. In fact one could argue that the female heroes in this film are in a way even more heroic than many of its male heroes. They stand up and fight without super powers or super armor or super God powers. They’re just humans, who are damn good at what they do.
But “The Avengers” is also a reminder than even when you’ve got a big-time feminist like Joss Whedon at the helm, who has built his reputation on being able to build strong female characters that break the Hollywood mold, it’s damn hard to break the Hollywood mold. The big boys of summer continue to rule, but us ladies won’t stop fighting to get in our licks, too.