Thursday, April 28, 2011

Days 231 to 236 - Thor romance fail - or why feminism equals better romance.

The Man With No Shirt FTW
There aren't enough superlatives in the universe to describe how much I loved Chris Hemsworth as the golden-haired God of Thunder. I even did that girly giggle thing every time he came on screen.

How could you take someone with THAT much raw appeal, throw him in with Natalie Portman, and end up with less chemistry than Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte?

The answer is characterisation. Natalie Portman's character Jane Foster was bland to the extreme. There's almost nothing there - just a bunch of "traits" thrown together with some sidelong glances and an interest in hearing about the world beyond ours. It's not enough to say "Look at my whacky character! They have to shave every three minutes or they go crazy!" Why do we care if they go crazy? Why is it shaving that calms the beast within?

And why do we care about this research she's doing? Why does SHE care about what she's doing? What does she see in Thor beyond killer abs and blue, blue eyes? By the end of the film, all I really knew about her was that she didn't like men in black suits stealing her life's work and she had a crush on Thor.

If men in black suits came and took my computer and equipment, I wouldn't be annoyed. I would be FURIOUS. If I were a character in a book, I would MAKE them give it back.

Jane Foster decides to take a buff but possibly crazy man she almost ran over to the centre of the desert and hope he does it for her. She is never the protagonist, she never makes anything happen. She is a hazy marker that reads "Love Interest Goes Here".

So why bother putting her in? After all, Jaimie Alexander as Sif was loads more interesting. Heck, even Kat Dennings as the kooky, uber-cute hanger-on was a better character. It all comes down to what Hollywood thinks we want, and what we want our women to be. It all comes down to Hollywood relegating female leads to the status of "Love Interests" in traditionally male-dominated genres.

Hollywood thinks Love Interests should never express a blatant sexual interest in the hero. It's left to Kat Denning's character to point out the blindingly obvious point that Thor is hot. Jane Foster just gives another side-glance and looks away.The Love Interest must control herself, keep her emotions in check until the male has declared his hand. What's wrong with our women having strong sexual emotions and proactively expressing them?

Hollywood thinks Love Interests should leave the heavy lifting to the male protagonist. She can be moderately angry, but heaven forbid she cry or scream with rage, or lash out in fury. Even when the male protagonist is injured, she must content herself to running over and exclaiming. What's wrong with our women having powerful rage and grief, and what's wrong with showing it overwhelm them to the point where they lose control?

It's a problem that's endemic in modern superhero and action films. Too many awesome battles with Frost Giants that won't impress "the ladies"? Throw in a love interest and you double the market! We're seeing too many cynical attempts to cover all market segments without any concern for quality or what adding those elements does to the overall balance of the film. And the female characters they're throwing in are restrained to the point of blandness, devoid of any strong emotion or will to act.

I'm certainly NOT arguing that Thor should not have been the driving force in the film, or that Jane Foster should have stolen the show. I'm saying that strong, awesome male protagonists need strong, awesome women to fall in love with. Like Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious. 

Word count - 1 504


  1. Sigh . . . we've come a long way, baby, except when we haven't . . .

    I'm still going to go see the movie because of the abs and blue eyes thing -- how's that for proactive? -- but I was hoping Jane Foster would be as strong as Pepper Potts . . .

  2. Woot for proactive! Seriously, the shirtless scene made my jaw drop.

    I really enjoyed Pepper, though when I heard "Gwyneth Paltrow" I'll admit I was highly skeptical!

  3. I couldn't disagree more. Firstly, Sif had no personality beyond loyalty and liking a fight. We could ask the same questions of her you do as Jane. Why does she want to be a warrior so badly? Why is she so desparate to impress people? You can't just put a sword in a woman's hand and call her a feminist, she needs to have a character. Sif barely registered. Her function was to show that people in Asgard were on Thor's side and to throw a few punches.

    In contrast Jane was a much more nuanced character. Her dismissal yet clear interest in Thor's physicality shows her maturity. She's not frigid but she's not overruled by her instincts. Yet at the same time she shows weakness by giggling at Thor's actions. In her office she is working, later she is just Jane in the street with a guy that is kissing her hand. Yet, in the end it is Jane that shows sexual urgency in a subversion of the big kiss. The hero doesn't 'get the girl', the girl gets him. She is the one that kisses him. Compare this to Sif's pining look at the end of the movie. Sif is stronger physically, Jane has a stronger will. When Thor does something 'forbidden' Sif relents. When Thor does something Jane doesn't like she stands tall and he learns from her and respects her for it.

    She lives in a trailer for her work, she's on the fringes of science but she does it because she loves it. See her laugh when she's videoing the storm. She enjoys her job so she is dedicated to it. Its Jane's love of her work that will get Thor back. She is looking for him. Thor is the damsel in distress trapped away from his beloved and she will find him and all he can do is smile.