Wednesday, 8 July 2015

We Don't Need Another Shero

Shrieking weak-willed women are a Hollywood cliché of ancient tradition. But with the bold introduction of the domineering Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, summer blockbusters may finally be listening to their critics and presenting characters that both sexes can be inspired by.

Depictions of supporting female characters have noticeably changed in popcorn flicks since Kate Capshaw screamed her way through Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Over the thirty years since the blonde love interest bemoaned chipping a nail in the aftermath of another daring escape, whilst being wooed by Harrison Ford’s irresistible charms in the process, scripts have slowly improved by diverging from ridiculous feminine stereotypes.

This revolution in celluloid gender roles has reached a recent landmark wave with Charlize Theron’s performance as Furiosa in the relaunched Mad Max series. As a former supermodel, the South African actress could have so easily been a piece of eye candy casting. However, George Miller’s movie toughens her to the point of being an equal brawler with the eponymous dystopian drifter. Not only that, but as an obvious amputee, her character could quite easily qualify for a disabled sticker to go on her machinegun-toting tanker. Yet she is always shown to be strong, determined and –most outrageously – not interested in her male counterpart sexually whatsoever.

Ignore such hackneyed codswallop as Theron making herself ‘ugly’ for the role. In truth, whatever preparation the Oscar-winner did prior to shooting in order to get in better physical shape, the end goal was to heighten the sense of reality, not denying her any genuine gender qualities. Much is the same for Emily Blunt in last year’s Edge of Tomorrow.

Within Furiosa’s DNA lies a strong hint of Alien’s Ellen Ripley, who alongside Sarah Connor from the Terminator series, were the forerunners of women’s liberation on screen. All of these femme fighters have exhibited their ability to fight superior enemies (a fair few muscle-crunching men numbered among them) and generally shirked the inhibiting strictures of a conventional love interest. Younger fans may recognise this phenomenon as the ‘Katniss Everdeen effect’.
Audiences as diverse as casual female viewers and die-hard nerds have called for more of such spirited characters. Joss Whedon, a key member of the latter fraternity, gave the baying crowd another heroine in the form of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Although she had her fair share of doomed romances, the fierce teenage schoolgirl personified the trend for ‘girl power’ sweeping nineties pop culture.

More recently, this decade is seeing a return to the original women action stars with rebooted franchises arriving at our cinema screens where Ripley and Connor are synonymous. Prometheus once again sees the alien critters being bested by a female lead whilst the otherwise disappointing Terminator Genisys pits Emilia Clarke (AKA Daenerys Targaryen) against a killer cyborg.

A sterner test of women in mega-budget productions will be the new Star Wars instalment. While George Lucas kept his actresses constrained in medieval narratives as helpless princesses, the released trailers indicate that J.J. Abrams may be brewing a more significant part for the fairer sex in the galaxy far far away.

Either way, Hollywood now has its fair share of sheroes, so much so that the feeble and victimised damsel in distress may be a thing of the past. Let’s hope so.