The Internet has exploded post-Age of Ultron. Joss Whedon has fled Twitter. People are sending and receiving death threats over … a movie. We have critiqued the representation of Black Widow and celebrated it. Emily explored the religious themes in AoU, and Annie and Meredith really dug it. Also, Jamie did a sharp and thoughtful analysis of Black Widow from a mental health approach.
And while I certainly have my own soapbox to climb upon, frankly it’s not for anything nearly as complex as many of the above articles. What I have to say really isn’t that deep, because I just really want to see some chicks with agency blowing shit up.
*Pulls out soapbox and steps up on to it.*
I didn’t particularly enjoy the film for multiple reasons: the uncreative use of exposition, the inconsistent tone, throwing every big theme at the wall and seeing which sticks, the movie essentially being about the bromance between a bunch of white guys, and plot holes the size of supermassive black holes! But, really, when it comes to action flicks, I don’t have particularly high standards, because if you give me enough scenes like this:
Then, I am pretty pleased.
But the thing is, there were barely any of these kinds of scenes in the entire two and a half hour movie. This occurs because for one, there’s a huge cast of superheroes and super-powered characters who all need space to show off their capability for mass destruction, and of those characters, the women are outnumbered four to one.
I enjoyed seeing Iron Man’s hubris bite him in the ass. I loved the spectacle of Thor and his massive hammer and all the penis jokes I can make. I loved when Hawkeye just shoots arrow after arrow, and when Hulk smashed. But, it’s not enough. And it’s not enough, because of the continued dearth of female heroes and villains in our contemporary pop culture landscape.
We, men and women alike, are starved for female heroes and female villains. Four to one means we end up trying to make those lone female characters be everything to all of us all at once, because that is all we fucking have. No one wants to take on Wonder Woman for fear of fucking it up, because every contradictory expectation of what a female superhero should and shouldn’t be is loaded onto a single female character’s shoulders and the ambitious fan-creator who dares to take that on.
Take a look at the male-lead superhero flicks out there, and you’ve got a range of choices:
- Superman: The perpetual do-gooder
- Batman: The vigilante
- Ironman: The billionaire playboy philanthropist
- Hulk: The modern incarnation of Jekyll and Hyde
- Thor: The pretty blonde god with a magical hammer
- Captain America: The patriot
- Hawkeye: The “normal” dude on team of super-heroed folk (he doesn’t actually have his own movie … yet)
- Antman: I have no fucking clue, because he’s not as popular as the others, but he’s getting a movie anyway
Not only do we get the above characters, but for many of them, we get multiple iterations of that range from campy spandex to serious leather fetish. I’m not even talking complex characters or movies with solid plots, because frankly, Age of Ultron sure as hell didn’t fulfill those mandates, and superhero flicks don’t always need to:
“Genre—whether it’s action/adventure, romance, scifi, fantasy, or superheroes–largely differentiates itself from ‘mainstream literature’ by its heavy reliance on tropes.” G. Willow Wilson, Dr. Lepore’s Lament
The superhero genre provides escape and identification; metaphors of hope and aspiration in a way less intimidating than something “real.” We can explore religious themes through them. More than one scholar has looked at Superman as a Christ figure. It can be safer to deal with such a touchy issue through the genre of superhero.
Women need that, too. They need it reflected and represented in female heroes and villains (because if there’s not something less represented than the female hero, it’s the female villain). We are making strides with a Captain Marvel movie in the works, but we’ve still got a hell of way to go.
*Sets toy of with Captain America on Black Widow’s bike on fire. Climbs off soapbox.*