by Lindsey Young, CMRO Contributing Writer
It seems to be a problem with a lot of superhero movies–what do we do with the women? There’s usually a love interest in these types of films, and usually she ends up being rescued, but over time, it seems like we as moviegoers and storytellers have evolved past the damsel in distress stereotype. More and more, superhero’s girlfriends are expected to have some agency, some character beyond simply ‘Peter Parker’s girlfriend’ or ‘Captain America’s love interest.’ The damsel trope just seems tired and dated now, especially if your movie has only one female character and she inevitably falls into this role.
That’s not to say that damsel characters can’t also be fun and interesting, but I’m also encouraged by the seemingly conscious effort in the majority of Marvel movies to try giving their love interests a bit more agency, and to avoid the traditional “hero rescues the girl and saves the day” finale. Be warned: some spoilers abound.
Iron Man 2: Pepper Potts becomes CEO of Stark Industries. Tony swoops in and saves her at one point, but it’s only a brief moment, not an entire third act or action set piece. She also does not swoon. Not to mention: Black Widow, Black Widow, Black Widow. Sexualized? Yes, but so damn awesome!
Captain America: Peggy Carter has a position of authority in the military in the freaking 1940s, and while she experiences sexism as a result, it’s used more as a means for her to relate to puny little Steve than as a constant reminder that “LOOK! I’M A WOMAN DOING SOMETHING A MAN CAN DO!” (since movies that do nothing but make a big deal about the gender of their ass-kickers, pointing it out constantly, is obnoxious, clichéd, and usually not that empowering.)
Thor: Jane is a constant active participant in the entire movie, even if Thor does most of the heavy lifting, mostly for comedy and/or storytelling purposes. While her team does need to be protected at the end, I think I can give them a pass because A) It’s a freakin’ mech thing powered by a god and it’s okay that Jane is not a physical fighter, and B) it’s more about Thor’s noble sacrifice for his friends (which includes a dude) than rescuing Jane in the traditional sense. Besides, Sif, though sometimes Thor’s lover in mythology/the comics, is a badass warrior chick who participates in the action and there’s no mention of her gender after one sort of cringe-worthy line, which admittedly does have a funny comeback that seems to be a response to the whole “A WOMAN?!” thing, so I forgive it. (As a note, Thor also briefly lets the camera linger on Thor’s body in a way that is usually reserved for female characters in films, while simultaneously keeping the ladies clothed. Necessary? No, but definitely a nice change of pace for a female viewer like myself.) Thor also gets points for having more than one major female character, and all of them very different.
The Avengers: Black Widow. Need I say more? Also, Maria Hill. So the movie has more than one active female character, even though, unfortunately, to my memory they don’t get to speak to one another.
The Amazing Spiderman: Gwen Stacy is capable as HELL in this movie! Regardless of my issues with it, this girl works at a lab out of high school, gets the cure Peter sorely needs, responds sensibly to a monster attack and avoids getting kidnapped, and actually participates in the action of the story in ways that make sense for her character. Though they tease the idea of a rescue, it manages to avoid Gwen actually being put in the traditional sort of peril, mainly because she’s too damn smart to let herself be snatched up so easily.
It’s not that Marvel movies are perfect in this regard, and Black Widow has yet to get her own movie and give us an actual starring role for a female hero, but looking back, I have to say I’m pretty impressed that Marvel seems to be trying to move away from the–well, let’s face it, the final act to most superhero movies.