Tuesday, 10 May 2011

May Contain Some Mild Peril

I watched Thor last week and thoroughly enjoyed it, and not only because Chris Hemsworth got his kit off. It trod the fine line between tipping a hat to the inherant silliness of the concept and treating the story like a Shakespearean epic, and as such avoided both poe-faced seriousness and OTT campery.

It's also notable for being just about the only superhero film I've seen in which the heroine/love interest doesn't get imperilled. Not even once. Never does Thor think that maybe he should keep his superheroics secret from Natalie Portman's Jane Foster just in case a villain dangles her off a roof. The character poster for Jane says it all, really:

She's not a love interest, she's a scientist. Thor is something of a superhero oddity. Not only does the lead female actually have better things to do than moon after the hero (although she's not adverse to the odd ogle - and frankly who can blame her), but the film also boasts a warrior woman in the shape of Jaimie Alexander's Sif and the brilliant Kat Dennings just about stealing the film as taser-happy Darcy.

Let's hope that this is a sign of things to come because, let's face it, superhero love interests haven't had much success in the book-to-screen transition. Mary-Jane Watson, a fiesty, tough gal in the comics, was reduced to screaming and delivering nonsensical lines in the films (were you 'always standing in his doorway' when you were shagging his best mate?). Elektra was relegated from Daredevil's conflicted, fascinating foe/lover to a grieving daughter with a love of emo rock. Batman's lovers are so bland on screen that I can never remember which was which (Nicole Kidman was Vicki Vale, right?) and Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman is more iconic for her costume than for her performance (which was enjoyable enough, but not in any way representative of the intelligent, crusading, morally flexible heroine of the comics).

And then there's Halle Berry, out in a league of her own, managing to ruin both Marvel and DC heroines with her turns as Storm in the X-Men franchise and Catwoman. (I'll never forgive her for her delivery of the infamous "do you know what happens to a toad when it's struck by lightning?" line. Joss Whedon wrote it as a flippant aside. She delivered it like a freakin' revelation.)

But they're not all bad. So here's a run down of my favourite female comic book characters on screen.

Lois Lane - Superman

The original and possibly the best superhero love interest. Margot Kidder's Lois was a shameless throwback to the sort of screwball lady reporters made famous by the likes of Rosalind Russell. Scatty at times, so caught up in her latest story that real life falls by the wayside, annoyed at herself for being so besotted with Superman. Crucially, she's also allowed to figure out for herself that Clark Kent is Superman (even if he does eventually come clean by choice).

By comparison, Kate Bosworth's Lois in Superman Returns is just about the worst screen love interest ever. I expect great things, however, from Amy Adams in Zac Snyder's forthcoming Superman: Man of Steel. She's a woman who, even when playing Disney Princess levels of naivety, is still incapable of seeming unintelligent.

Jean Grey and Rogue - X-Men

Okay, so neither of these characters are flawless in their film transitions. Rogue was a walking victim in the original film and both were served terribly in Brett Ratner's deservedly-maligned X-Men 3: The Last Stand. Jean Grey became a psycho with little to no emotional conflict and Ratner completely abandoned the 'accept your differences' theme in favour of Rogue giving up her powers without even getting her flight and super-strength abilities.

But in X2, at least, these two are brilliant. Famke Janssen breaks your heart as the self-sacrificing Jean, fearing the power inside her while still owning it. Anna Paquin, meanwhile, is so good as the growing-in-confidence Rogue that it's a travesty we never got to see her as the powerful superheroine she is in the comics. Although, admittedly, this might be a case of actors outstripping the on-paper limitations of the film characters. In fact, the X-Men films have a long history of missing opportunities with their female characters. Ellen Page was perfect casting for Kitty Pryde and they still cocked it up.

Liz - Hellboy

Selma Blair's downplayed Liz is by no means the most eye-catching aspect of Hellboy. After all, she has fish men and a career-best Ron Perlman to contend with. But she's a perfectly judged character, the level-headed partner to the impetuous Hellboy, slowly coming to terms with a power that, like Rogue's, has left her untouchable. But unlike Rogue, she gets over it. Yes, she gets imperilled quite a bit in the first film, and even gets resurrected by the Magical Kiss of Love, but in Hellboy 2: The Golden Army she is wall-to-wall awesome, and returns the favour by saving Big Red's life.

Hit Girl - Kick-Ass

Yes, an 11 year old girl is one of the best ever on-screen female comic book characters. Chloe Moritz imbues her with just the right amount of childishness to undercut the OTT bad assery of the character and manages to turn it back around just as we're on the verge of forgetting that she is, in fact, 11 years old. Maybe it's horribly inappropriate to see a child lopping off limbs and spouting profanities, but the knowing performance of Moritz keeps it just the right side of wrong.

This year sees a new spate of comic book adaptations and it's looking good for the female characters. X-Men: First Class is debuting one of the comic's best female characters, Emma Frost - although the lack of dialogue from her in the trailers may not bode well. The hugely talented Hayley Atwell is on love interest duty in Captain America, all pistols and red lipstick. She looks like she's having a whale of a time. Blake Lively, on the other hand, doesn't fill me with optimism in her role as Green Lantern's Carol Ferris, but Angela Bassett should be good value as Amanda Waller (one of my favourite DC characters). Looking ahead to The Dark Knight Rises, the prospect of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle and Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate (cough Talia Al Ghul cough) is very exciting.

So, things are picking up. Now let's just hope someone one day figures out how to do Wonder Woman.

1 comment:

  1. Personally, I think someone already figured out how to do Wonder Woman. They just called her "Sif" by mistake.