Token chicks and superheroes: Thor 2 and the Bechdel Test

Thanks to the world’s best roomie giving us a date night, M and I went to see Thor: The Dark World last night. Not only did I enjoy it more than I expected to (it was also much funnier than I expected), I was also very pleasantly surprised to see so many prominent female characters in this, and a lot of Bechdel-Test passing. Jane and Darcy’s friendship and working relationship got a lot of chance to shine, Sif easily held her own, and even Frigga had a moment where she was far more than just Thor and Loki’s mom (though her refrigerator status did irk me.) Not that the film is not without its flaws, of course–almost everything Superhero/SFF has fail along those lines–but in context, there was just a lot more attention to women characters than I’ve come to expect from this franchise, and I was truly delighted.

I won’t say I’m a proper comic geek, but there were a couple of years in my teens when I bought a lot of the X* titles. I started with the Fallen Angels, and from there went to Excalibur, New Mutants, X-Men proper, etc. (I stopped when Rob Liefield started drawing. Bleh.) I had all the other usual Gen-X-childhood superhero exposure: Justice League, the Wonder Woman TV series, Shazam and Isis, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, etc.–but the mutants were my primary actual comic reading. For that reason, I’ve always had a soft spot for the X-Men as a team, and was never really into the Avengers.

Truly, though, there were other reasons that team appealed to me, and a lot of it came down to just how many prominent women there were compared to other superhero titles. I could spend a paragraph listing all the well-rounded female characters (though my favorite has always been Kitty), and that’s something I just never got from anything else. I think perhaps the ensemble-oriented aspect of this is why it works so well. The Avengers have always seemed to me more like D.C.’s characters: largely a bunch of solo male heroes who team up only as necessary. The women in them are almost always just one-dimensional love interests or token chicks, which both bores and annoys me.

The Avengers movie franchise has tried to remedy this somewhat. Black Widow is definitely considered one of the team, and the love interests for the boys (Pepper, Peggy, Jane) have been fleshed out considerably. (I’m also looking forward to the addition of the Scarlet Witch in Avengers 2.) Yet out of all these movies so far, only Thor’s solo ones have had more than just a couple of women. For all his (overrated, in my opinion) feminism, Joss Whedon didn’t manage to make the first Avengers movie pass the Bechdel Test. Natasha was great, but the only other woman in the entire thing with more than a line or two was Maria Hill, and those two never spoke. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that when you see movie-based team merchandise, Black Widow is nowhere to be found. In contrast, X-Men swag that’s more than just Wolvie almost always includes at least Storm, Jean Grey, and/or Rogue.

When you extend the Avengers universe to include Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., there are more women, of course–that team is a 50/50 split–but as they’re so far only clichés, I’m not yet willing to give it a lot of credit. There’s also the Peggy Carter series possibly in development. However, in any case, they’re not making it to the big screen, so I’m not sure they count all that much. Even D.C.’s managed to give its women some due on TV–Arrow in particular is doing spectacularly on that count–but movies tend to be a boys’ club, so breaking into it means a lot more. (One rumor I do hope is true: a cameo from Katee Sackhoff as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, with the possibility of eventually giving her a solo film. I would kill for that.)

So, yes. I love me some X-Men movies–yay, Bryan Singer–but have been disappointed with the Avengers in this respect, so when this particular film was comparatively wall-to-wall fantastic women, I couldn’t help but be delighted. It’s not a lot, but it is a step in the right direction, and I hope they keep going.

Of course, then there’s always the severe lack of people of color and queer folk, but that’s another post. …

About Shawna (A Mediated Life)

Writer, singer, parent, fan, media maven, and general ne'er-do-well. Fierce protector of the rights of the disadvantaged and endless pontificator on subjects both ridiculous and sublime.
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Feminism, Geekery, Movies, TV and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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