(Getting a bit more Star Wars spoilery in this post, just FYI.)
I didn’t get to go out to too many movies this year. With my limited budget, going out to the movies can sometimes be an expensive prospect. In fact, two of the films I reviewed this past year I saw for free because of my work or because someone at work gave me a pass to see it. For the most part, a good chunk of the films I saw this year were underwhelming at best or just downright disappointing. Avengers: Age of Ultron, Pitch Perfect 2 (though the soundtrack is legit as hell), and Vacation were all ones that let me down in some way that I couldn’t muster the will to review them. At least I didn’t pay for that last one.
Still, there were three films this year I did really enjoy that gave me hope that there might be some sort of tide change in the portrayal of women in action movies in the next few years. Two of which I already reviewed in full.
The first though… Oh lord…
Okay, let’s be real, Jupiter Ascending is not a good movie. It’s basically a film with a lot of scenery and costume porn that has a plot that sounds like a round of Cards Against Humanity where cards like “an Oedipus Complex” and “Bees?” were in play. However, the film is just so amazing in its campiness that it seems to wrap around to great and there is a few reasons to that.The first is the major reason the movie appeals to 20 and 30-something nerd women and that’s the fact the basic plotline of the film sounds like the story we all wrote in composition books or on Microsoft Word when we were 13. It’s about a beautiful, but regular girl with an uneventful life (Mila Kunis as undocumented Russian immigrant maid Jupiter Jones) who finds out she has a special destiny (an exact genetic reincarnation of the Queen of the Galaxy), has the hots for a brooding but loyal man with a sad past and a heart of gold (a human wolf hybrid with space roller blades who is really sad about losing his cybernetic angel wings played by Channing Tatum), and goes on a journey to accept said special destiny (has to stop one of her “sons” played by a scenery chewing Eddie Redmayne from harvesting Earth for an eternal youth serum AND from killing her family).
Yes, the movie is ridiculous and I only got the tip of the iceberg about how ridiculous it truly is, but I’ve never seen a movie have so many women unite in laughing fondness over a movie. Partially because it is like that story we all wrote when we beginning writers, but also because it does represent something we haven’t seen that often in film: the female power fantasy.
Male power fantasies are something we see in fiction all the time. The dudes that can solve every problem with the right amount of smarts, money and/or guns. And they always, ALWAYS get the girl. There are some variations of it, of course, but it’s always built into this patriarchal standard of what masculinity should be. James Bond is a big example of this.For women though, the fantasy is rather different. I know there are nuances here that I am missing due to complexities of queer identities and variations of womanhood, but “special destiny” is a big part of it. You grow up with fairy tales of lost princesses long enough and you begin to place yourself in them. You write yourself to be just as capable as the prince, even if in contrived ways. Maybe it includes being rescued once or twice, but it ultimately boils down to less being the biggest badass in the world and more about being greater than what people think you are.
Jupiter Jones is a young woman who hates her life of waking up to scrub toilets, then finds out she’s basically queen of the galaxy and has to stop her “children” from trying to kill everyone on Earth so they can look young forever. And maybe be a little awkward while doing so. Did I mention that she nearly marries one of her “children” as part of a business deal and includes a plot point about bees being able to smell royalty? Multiple jokes about this were made when beehives were installed in my backyard during the summer.Daisy Ridley’s Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens feels similar to Jupiter in some ways and probably shows just how much The Wachowskis borrowed from Star Wars when writing Jupiter Ascending. People (mostly Max “The Ultimate Baby” Landis) were quick to label Rey as a “Mary Sue” due to how quickly she was getting a hang of The Force once she learned she was Force Adept. To this, I say a few things:
- You’re using the phrase “Mary Sue” wrong.
- Have you ever actually seen a Star Wars movie?
- Like seriously, Luke magically hit a small exhaust port in his X-Wing with his eyes closed in the first movie and he barely had any sort of Force training from Obi-Wan.
- And Han Solo is a smuggler who became a general in the Rebel Alliance AND ended up with a Princess.
- Like goddamn Max Landis, the only thing of real note you did this year was a Drunk History style retelling of Triple H’s career and you didn’t even mention The Authority by name. Chill the fuck out.
Star Wars deals a lot with its protagonists being power fantasies. Luke falls more into the “special destiny” line while Han is more of the traditional male one. Rey follows the Star Wars rules of being a child in the desert who is the most important person in the galaxy. No one can tell where her arc will go just yet, but it’s important for girls of the next generation to see themselves in that role and for boys to see women in that role. When Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber came to Rey like Excalibur from the stone, I cried. Not just for myself, wishing that I had her, but for my cousins nearly 13 and 10, who did their hair in buns and played with lightsabers on Christmas morning. They’re going to have something I didn’t have. They’re going to know the adventure is theirs too.Above all else this year though (and that includes a year with Katniss Everdeen) was Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. In a film that was basically about how toxic masculinity harms everyone with badass car chase scenes through the desert for good measure, the film featured so many interesting characters. The Wives, who wanted to escape to a better life with equal parts fear and courage in the face of death and assault and proudly declared “We are not things,” Nux, who starts the film off chasing something he has been told his whole life is about honor, but finds what that truly means along the way, The Vuvalini, who are badass old lady bikers who help our heroes fight for a better world in the climax of the film, and Max, who works through his own trauma to assist the heroes in their final fight, were all essential parts of this story. However, Furiosa is that beating heart in the wasteland.
Furiosa, whose calm exterior hides so much rage and sadness.
Furiosa, who learned the toxic masculinity of Immortan Joe’s kingdom to survive, but remembered the teachings of the Vuvalini in a second.
Furiosa, who saves the Wives from a life of sexual slavery and creates her own killswitch sequence so that no one but her can drive her rig.
Furiosa, who takes down Max with one arm and rips the jaw out of Immortan Joe with a quick and dirty motion and a hiss of “Remember me?”There is so much about Fury Road that made it my favorite movie this year, but Furiosa is so central to that. She is a badass without resorting to making her demean the Wives or Max. She’s a complicated woman who doesn’t fall victim to hubris. She works together with her traveling partners to find a new and better life. Her story is separate from Max’s as it intertwines with his, but their mutual trust of each other that develops over the film doesn’t grow into a shoehorned love story. It feels natural, even in the most over the top and fast paced of settings.
Here’s hoping that this trend carries over and grows more in 2016 and beyond. I mean, I do have some high hopes for Ghostbusters…