Archive for July, 2016

Ah, comic books. I’ve spoken numerous times previously about my love of comic books, something that stretches right back to childhood. Someone asked me recently what it is about them that I like so much. It was a surprisingly difficult question to answer, but ultimately boiled down to artwork and storylines.

I’ll admit, I’m one of the harshest critics when it comes to comic book films, not because I hate them all (though it’s fair to say a lot of them are garbage) but simply because I don’t feel a lot of them live up to the quality of the comics that inspired them. I love the first Iron Man film, but I felt the ending lacked the same emotional punch the comics had, therefore reducing the climactic battle to ‘generic good guy vs bad guy battle 1’. I loved Civil War, but felt the reasoning behind the decisions for the chaos lacked the depth and weight of the comic storyline and, indeed, the size of the teams meant it felt a little small scale for a ‘war’. Of course, comics have the advantage of decades worth of storylines to choose from and the films do well with what they have, but I’ve never left a cinema thinking that what I’d seen was truly better than its counterpart comic storyline.

That said, there are lots of comic book films that are based on comics I’ve never read or am a casual fan of: Deadpool, Blade, The Crow, most DC stuff, etc. Those kind of films are the ones I can go in with low expectations and come out really pleased with. Not because I think they’ll automatically be shit, just because I have no ties to the characters so am much more open minded.

A good example of that is Dredd, the 2012 version of the 2000AD character starring Karl Urban. I’ve never read a Dredd comic so I only had the 95 Stallone film to go on. That was crap but I’d heard the new version wasn’t so I gave it a go.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. Dredd kind of reminds me of the Punisher (my favourite comic book character) in that he’s brutal and pretty unswayed in his convictions. Of course, Dredd follows a system that acts this way while the Punisher is simply one man’s morals but still, unrelenting violence, graphic deaths and stoic heroes are my cup of tea!
So, imagine my surprise when I read an article recently that said Dredd was a super-duper amazing feminist film!
I mean, I’ve read articles in the past that lament the fact comic book films, Avengers 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy in particular, are not comic book films but I’ve not seen one desperate to try and claim a comic book film is feminist. That’s kinda strange.

I mean, first of all, it’s not a feminist film. The justifications given in the article are bogus. Not that they aren’t fact, I mean it is true that there are 2 female leaders, just that that doesn’t make this film feminist. In fact, if we look at some of the reasons why this is supposedly a feminist film it actually contradicts the reasons why the other 2 aren’t feminist films. If anything, it exposes an inherent hypocrisy within the feminist movement when it comes to films – if it’s something they like, it’s feminist; if it’s something they dislike it’s not feminist. Pretty standard as far as feminism’s reach into comic books go.

I’m not gonna dwell too much on each point, just enough to explain why, while they may be valid points, they’re not something I would consider to be ‘feminist’, not when compared to criticisms of other films. Now, of course, this article isn’t written by the same woman as the other two (and in fact they were by two different authors) it’s more to highlight the idea that even feminists within the feminist movement can’t decide what’s a feminist film or not.

5. Lena Heady Is Strong, Scary, And Not That Sexy For Once.
4. The Uniform Is Actually Not Stupid
3. The Lady Actress Does Not Have The Hots For The Dude Actor And Vice Versa
2. Dredd’s Boss Is This Woman And It’s Not A Big Deal
1. Anderson Has A Character Arc

Those are the 5 reasons. Like I said, they’re all pretty valid points for this film, just that I don’t see how it makes the film inherently feminist when compared to other comic book films. Not only that, but there are also some traits in this film that are decidedly not feminist. At all.
These are all the positive points about the film and the role women play. But, I think a lot of what’s above is down to the comic itself and not necessarily because the film was aiming at a comic universe. The uniforms, for example, were toned down a little from the comics but are still pretty accurate. There’s not a great deal you can do the uniforms without raising the ire of die-hard fans of the character. It’s not so much that the filmmakers wanted to show Anderson as an equal, more that the uniform design was iconic and to mess with it was probably a step too far.

Lena Headey being an unsexy, badass villain is fair enough. But, from a feminist perspective, why is she the only female villain (aside from one corrupt judge)? Literally all of her henchmen are just that, men. All of her victims, and indeed all of Dredd and Anderson’s victims, are men. The only graphic female death we see in the entire film is Headey’s. Before that we’ve had men skinned and thrown off balconies, had hot ammunition fired into their mouths, had their bodies burned, been ripped to shreds by gunfire, had their faces literally shot through with a bullet, had their hands blown off and numerous more. In fact, here’s a video of every death in the film at the hands of Dredd himself. Notice something funny? Yep, 100% men. There were 4 corrupt judges and Dredd kills 2 male ones. The corrupt female judge is killed by Anderson in what is possibly the least graphic and quickest of all. The last corrupt judge, a male, is also killed by Anderson. So, even in a feminist film with a super amazing female baddy, man-on-woman violence (except for said head baddy) is still seen as a no-no. Interesting.

In fact, any female character introduced that isn’t either a head villain or a head hero is seen as a helpless, innocent victim. How very feminist.
Whilst it’s great that Headey plays a cold, calculating villain it’s not feminist that literally every other villain, every nameless, faceless, disposable ‘soldier’ who acts as cannon fodder is a man. At what point is feminism going to start demanding we kill off women in the same staggeringly high numbers as men?

Not only that, but what are Ma-Ma’s motivations for becoming who she is? That’s right, she is wronged by a man. She’s a former prostitute who was slashed in the face by her pimp. After that, she decides to get revenge. If she’s such a badass female villain, why did she only become said villain after she was wronged by a man? When are we going to get female villains who are just cunts for the sake of being cunts (A la The Dark Knight’ Joker) instead of females who are pushed to the edge by men and only then become evil?

The article I wrote on Guardians of the Galaxy lamented the fact that 2 named female characters, with speaking lines, were disposable. As I said with that film, it’s funny that disposable men are just accepted as part of the movie, yet the second we aren’t given full rounded, in depth female characters with story arcs it’s somehow not feminist? Yeah, makes sense.

As for point 3, neither character having the hots for each other – I actually agree. I fucking despise crowbarred romance angles. Sometimes they work well, sometimes they don’t. In Iron Man we had the whole ‘will they won’t they’ angle between Stark and Potts that was crap. In the Incredible Hulk we had the ‘will they won’t they’ angle between Banner and Ross and it worked. In 2004’s The Punisher, there was a hint of a romance between Castle and Joan and it was so out of place that it almost ruined the film for me. In this case, I’d say, again, it’s more an adherence to the original comic stylings than any major decision on the studio’s part.

Point 4 is interesting. I agree that it’s cool the fact Dredd’s boss is a woman is not a big deal. But, in my opinion, it’s only made a big deal out of in every other film because the writers intend it to be that way. Maybe it’s just my inherent white, cis-het privilege coming out, but I also despise it when gender politics are inserted into films that would be better off without it. Sometimes, the only time a female boss is a problem in a film is because the writers make it a problem. Why? I dunno, some lame attempt to try and make the conflict between characters really deep or something? Either way, it’s shit and doesn’t work. One of the things I loved about Jurassic World is that the two main characters, on male one female, simply worked together. They knew they had a task to do that was bigger than gender politics. There was none of the ‘god, if only they’d sent me a man!’, or ’what, you think I can’t do it because I’m a woman?! Genuinely, in real life situations I don’t know anyone that reacts in the moronic, childish way people do in films when they’re forced into a situation with a member of the opposite sex.
Again, I wouldn’t say this is necessarily a feminist aspect of the film, after all there are plenty of films with female bosses, it’s more an example of solid writing and a desire to actually let the characters be natural and not bogged down with unnecessary, nonsensical gender politics. Plus, it’s set in the future, it’s a rather sad indictment of humanity if we can’t learn to work together in a dystopia!

As for the final point, good character arcs are rare in comic book films overall so I agree that it’s nice to see a good one here. That said, to say Dredd ‘doesn’t need to develop’ is to ignore the fact that he does actually develop as a character. At the beginning of Anderson’s training he gives her a rundown of all the stuff that would result in her receiving a fail. She fails quite badly over the course of the film yet Dredd still passes her. That’s character development. It’s not a lot, but he’s gone from rigid enforcer of the law to somewhat more malleable when it comes to the carnage he’s just seen.

Now, I’m not saying that if you want to see this as a feminist film then you can’t, not at all, It’s not really my place to tell you what or what not to believe. However, what I do dislike is the idea that a few positive portrayals of women in a single film can make something feminist. This film, as far as I’m aware, fails the Bechdel test. There are only a couple of times 2 female characters talk to each other on screen. One is when Anderson and the Chief Judge are talking. Guess who they’re talking about? Yep, Dredd. The other is when Ma-Ma talks to Anderson about the Judges. That’s why the Bechdel test is shit. Dredd is supposedly a feminist film yet fails one of the most important feminist tests? That makes total sense.

This is the same Bechdel test that some feminists in Sweden wanted to make standard for all released films? Like, if the film didn’t pass the Bechdel test it wouldn’t be released. So, yeah, say goodbye to Dredd!

One of the things I dislike about this clamouring to declare Dredd as a feminist film is the fact that, despite feminists claims otherwise, this type of feminism only seems to care about women. Again, if that’s your definition of feminism then that’s fine, just don’t be surprised when I roll my eyes and say ‘if this film is feminist, why are men still the majority of the disposable bad guys?’ Dredd is a feminist film in as much as it has some positive female characters. The rest of it is pretty much comic book 101.
Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t a feminist film because it had 2 disposable female characters. Dredd has over 50 disposable male characters and somehow is a feminist film?

Avengers 2 wasn’t a feminist film because the characters were treated too differently and should have been the same. Dredd is a feminist film because Anderson has a story arc while Dredd did not?

Come back to me when feminism has at least a somewhat consistent idea of what it wants in its films.

You want to see more positive role models in films, you want to see more female villains that don’t rely on sex appeal? Awesome, then you must also be ok with seeing graphic male-on-female violence, female cannon fodder and graphic depictions of female deaths. I’m sick of films being declared feminist because they’re got a strong, positive hero character. I want to see 57 women gunned down, thrown off balconies, choked to death, stabbed, shot, torn apart by bullets, have limbs hacked off, have their eyes gouged out, have their necks broken and have their faces burnt through from the inside out.

Does that sound horrific to you? If it does, then maybe you aren’t actually ready for a truly feminist film after all.