Monday, August 31, 2009

“Alright, ladies, mount up!” (Get it? It’s funny because they’re men and he’s calling them ladies! Get it?!)

Or: Why GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra Made Me Sad; a Spoilerly Look at Gender in GI Joe

Spoiler Warning!

At first glance The Baroness seems like a pretty badass villain. She ruthlessly fights and kills for a real bad guy, but also seemingly because she enjoys it. Sure The Baroness’ greatest weapon was her body. And, admittedly, in her only big hand-to-hand fight, she fights Scarlett in a scene definitely intended as hot girl on girl action. But isn’t there something undeniably powerful and sexy about someone who can use all the weapons (cough cough) at her disposal? It could have been a little woohoo moment for all of us to enjoy a “bad girl” who is actually bad.

Unfortunately, as the movie unfolds we find that her badassery can only take place when she is possessed by evil nano-mites. The Baroness is nothing more than a weapon used by her brother to sexually satisfy and manipulate a powerful man, who in turn uses her to sexually satisfy and manipulate yet another powerful man, until she is rescued by her ex-fiancé, a super soldier. Even as a possessed evil vixen, The Baroness is stalked and sexually controlled by Storm Shadow at the behest of her boyfriend/unknowing rapist(?). She has absolutely no control over either her sexuality or over her violence.
Why can’t The Baroness just be a greedy asshole or evil sadist like other villains? Furthermore, why does the Baroness have to be a pawn?

Because otherwise she’d be a slut and would need to be punished? I guess. Because all women are inherently good, quiet, and sweet by nature? I know I am.

The other female lead is Scarlett, a purported genius who, despite being credited as an intelligence officer, was not shown doing anything other than tagging along, providing unskilled medical assistance, and dodging Rip Cord’s clownish advances. What we do know about Scarlett is that she looks good in catsuits, doesn’t understand male/female relations ships and fires an extremely loud and very slow crossbow (Scarlett’s traditional weapon).

Scarlett is set to contrast the Baroness by being unclear as to the value of her sexuality and body (though seems worried about scarring after a battle that almost left her dead). Naturally a hot lady super soldier/genius, surrounded by the best (predominantly male, predominantly hot) soldiers pulled from military forces from around the world would not have any experience with men. The trope of the gorgeous woman, ignorant of her own attractiveness and innocent in the advances of men is simultaneously creepy and tired. Needing women to be persuaded (oh say for half of the movie) to have sex with you is an ugly idea to continue to propagate, particularly in an armed services environment. A woman like Scarlet can’t have interest in men or sex because then she would have to be possessed by nano-mites or be a bad guy, because nice girls can’t like sex. Just as we learned from The Baroness, you can only be interested in using your body for personal gain whilst a “bad guy”, whose only redemption could be that she didn’t want to have sex with all those powerful and attractive men, neither for her physical or for pecuniary desires.

The thing I liked about GI Joe figures as a kid was having female dolls that didn’t have to be teachers or veterinarians. For me, GI Joe has always represented a future when men and women or all races could be good guys and fight evil together. All GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra said to me was “no girls allowed, unless you want to fight in leather catsuits.”

Friday, August 7, 2009

Movie Review: Terminator Salvation

Terminator 1 & 2 were treasured movies of my youth and have greatly influenced me, possibly to an absurd degree. So even though I found T3 disappointing (don't get me started) I had been all aflutter for years awaiting for T4, and I did enjoy it.

I will admit that my favorite part of watching the movie was adding new factoids to my mental Terminator timeline and then arguing about them afterwards with Steve. But maybe that is part of the magic of the Terminator franchise, the inherent mindf**k of adding new elements to the timeline and trying to figure out where everything fits.

While everyone else seemed to hate T4, I found it interesting and pretty well made. I think that the backlash against T4 was actually a reaction to Christian Bale's onset behavior and a mix of Bale-overload and normal fanboy curmudgeonry.

That being said, I came up with 2 not too spoilery complaints:

1. This movie was not Terminatory enough. Take the opening scenes; Terminator films are formulaic and should be. THere is a contrast between the pleasent and familiar normalcy of how we live now and the deadly future with the signature Dadum Dum ddum theme. This is not how T4 starts. There is so much material available in the franchise and I wish that the makers would have used more of this. It is a time travel franchise, utilize that further. Can John save himself from the death foretold in T3? Can the future for John even be changed? We know that some things can be changed, but can time right itself? They could handle these ideas in the movies if they didn't include 3,000 characters and all the nifty robots you can stuff in future California, which leads me to #2...

2. Like Spiderman 3 and Dark Knight, T4 had too many characters and attempted to do too much. Like many things in life, it is better to do a few things very well than 16 things ok.
Here is what should have happened in T4: Marcus escapes with important information and meets other survivors including Kyle and, inspired by John via radio transmition, they set off on a rugged trek across the destroyed country with narrow escapes and crazy robots in hot pursuit. Eventually they are captured, but at the last minute John shows up (with Common, because he's hot) to rescue them and says, "Come with me if you want to live." Dadum dum ddum. End credits. Doing this gives time to really develop the few characters, allowing for a tragic death or two, and sustains the mystery of Marcus' existance to use it in the next film where the resistance develops, tests and uses the secret weapon, discovers Marcus' true identity, and explores the confusing relationship John has as a father figure to his own father and emotional torment of knowing he must send his friend/father/son to certain death.

However, even in spite of my complaints, my final assessment of T4 is that if this had not been a Terminator movie, it would have been ridonculously popular. Like so many M. Night Shyamalan movies, T4 is punished for being a Terminator movie, just as The Village was punished for being a Shyamalan movie.

Do me a favor and watch Terminator Salvation and let yourself enjoy it.

Enoying things > not enjoying things.