Having seen two out of the three abysmally bad Fantastic Four movies already, I figured that by now I was probably jaded enough to tackle the original 1994 version without risking my sanity. After all, the 2015 version was absolute rock bottom: so bad that it derailed before looping back around to “hilariously bad” and ended up in a fiery heap somewhere between terrifying and boring. Much to my relief, while the 1994 version is indisputably terrible, it’s the sort of terrible you can watch in relative comfort and have a giggle at. Some charming aspects are that it’s mercifully short, comically overblown, and features (genuinely) the best movie version of Dr. Doom we have. Some terrible aspects are that it feels like a high school kid did the final editing, it treats women like garbage, and while it’s technically fairly accurate to the comics, it chose specifically the worst faults of the comics to stay faithful to.
A few weeks ago, vice president-elect Mike Pence went to see Hamilton and the internet got into big fights over it. No surprise there. While there is no need to retread the controversy itself, or get into political debate, Pence and his party’s politics are well known. This event got me thinking, though, why would he want to see that musical? Was Pence unaware of the racial and social issues inherent in the musical? Maybe. Surprisingly enough, this made me think of many online multiplayer games in which we can see the same phenomenon happening. In games like Overwatch, people sometimes behave in a racist or sexist manner even while playing with a very diverse cast of characters. But I started to notice that this behavior is more prevalent when characters’ identities aren’t reflected in stories.
Recently I began watching all the movies from the Nightmare on Elm Street series with one of our former authors, Fiyero, who has written a whole series of fantastic posts on these movies. While watching the final movie of the series, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, I noticed that director Wes Craven seemed to be pointing out one issue with the series: fan obsession with the villain Freddy Krueger over female protagonists who have fought Freddy, especially Nancy, who is arguably the heroine of the whole series. This favoritism of a monstrous child killer over a strong, well-rounded female protagonist says a lot about both our antipathy toward women and our glorification of violence toward women.
The Fifth Element is one of those movies that it often seems like everyone likes. From the comic book visual aesthetic to the ostentatious yet believable nature of the universe, there is a lot to love about this flick. It is also a film that plays with tropes and genre staples in almost every scene. It could be said to be the opposite of a film like Young Frankenstein, which is a parody film that loves its genre; Fifth Element is a genre film that loves its parody. But while he employs many tropes, director Luc Besson seems to be deconstructing and analyzing those very cliches in a way that often makes the result truly brilliant.
One of the things that gets dissected in this fashion is gender. The way that gender and heroism are intertwined in sci-fi is a constant presence in almost any scene in which there is significant development of the protagonists, Leeloo and Korben Dallas. While these moments sometimes play into expectations and brush with actual tropiness, they also make some crucial points in a way that resonates with an unusually diverse audience.
My primary focus will be three things: Bruce Willis as the “generic action hero”, The Supreme Being as a female archetype, and of course, Ruby Rhod.
Plenty has already been said about heroes and anti-heroes. Superman was created over seventy-five years ago, and yet America today prefers its heroes to have a bit more grit, like Tony Stark. What’s undeniable is that a dichotomy exists between light heroes and dark heroes. It’s a way of looking at protagonists that has ancient roots, but manifests differently in male and female characters.
The light and dark dichotomy is very old and very ingrained in our storytelling traditions. On the surface, “light” stereotypes give the character traits that are traditionally associated with positive ideas and symbolism. More often than not these characters will wear white or light colors, have light skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. “Dark” characters tend to have dark hair, skin, eyes, and clothing. This color dichotomy is associated with good and evil, for religious and historical reasons. If you don’t have electricity you can be more productive when the sun’s out, while it’s easier for robbers and rule-breakers to hide in the cover of night. White is associated with purity and goodness, especially in Christianity, while black is associated with evil and the consequences of evil (like sin and death).
While light heroes cling to a traditional morality, dark heroes have a more subversive attitude. There’s something bad or wrong or broken with a dark character, which is usually the source of their darkness. Men tend to be gallant, chivalrous heroes or troubled rogues, while women tend to be virginal maidens or seductive vamps. It’s taken generations to move beyond this rigid dichotomy, giving the light and dark new and interesting implications. But if we really care about smashing gender stereotypes, we need to move beyond the light and dark gender axis. Both Luke Cage and Jessica Jones from Marvel’s respective Netflix series take the light and dark dichotomies and smash them to bits.
Spoilers for all of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones below.
It’s almost Halloween! Every Halloween I look for witchy movies, but sadly, the vast majority of them portray witches as evil and very very few of them even attempt to portray Paganism, Wicca, or witchcraft correctly. So recently, I attempted to look up Pagan and Wiccan-friendly movies and one movie kept popping up everywhere: The Last Keepers. I was pleased to find that it was on Netflix and sat down to give it a watch. It didn’t have the strongest story, but I can certainly see why it is a well-reviewed movie within the Pagan, Wicca, and witchcraft communities—though it is still not without its issues.
Recently I was bored and decided to try something new on Netflix. Since Netflix is awesome, it suggested several things I might like, and to my delight, I soon found a fairytale with a female protagonist and Tim Curry as a supporting male character. That alone was enough to get me to watch, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much the movie subverted some typical sexist fairytale storytelling.
The Secret of Moonacre is the story of Maria Merryweather, a young girl whose mother died when she was young and whose father recently passed away. She discovers that her father lost all of his assets to gambling and she is being sent to live with her uncle in Moonacre Valley. The only thing her father was able to leave her was a book called The Ancient Chronicles of Moonacre Valley. Maria begins to read a story about a woman so pure and good that nature loved her and the moon blessed her with magical moon pearls, which is why people began to call her the moon princess. But when she reveals their powers to her father and fiance, they become greedy and each attempt to steal the pearls for themselves. The princess then places a curse on the valley using the power the moon gave her, declaring that the pearls must be returned to the sea or the valley would be cursed forever. When Maria goes to live with her uncle, she discovers that not only is this story true, but that she is the new moon princess and must break the curse on the valley.
This was a surprisingly feminist story featuring a young girl entering a dangerous and magical world who is able to take control of her own life and help others. Her magic comes from being good and pure, like the first moon princess, but this does not translate into the same sexist storytelling that many fairytales do when a woman’s strength is said to come from her goodness and purity. Nor is Maria a boring character with no faults: she is never put up on a pedestal, but rather her strength comes from the fact that she is able to use her virtues to overcome her faults.