Feminism in Star Wars: Rey Vs. Princess Leia

The new Star Wars film has a woman with a gun shooting people and committing other acts of violence. She also has various other skills. This has been described as feminist by some, in contrast to Princess Leia. If people want more characters (or worse, people) like Rey, then I’m afraid feminism still has a lot to accomplish.

If you praise Rey for her skills and ‘strength’, you’re probably uncomfortable with a female character being a human. This new obsession with resilience, with a power fantasy also leaked itself into discussions around Mad Max. I don’t know which is worse. A power fantasy about violence, or a fantasy about being weak and defined by how a man feels about you.

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Your average Fallout protagonist

Rey has no unique line of dialogue, no reactions that are specific to her that define her personality. Han Solo is a sarcastic, gritty smuggler. Chewbacca is his partner who growls and says whatever is on his mind. Finn is a moral hero who’s too afraid to be a hero. Kylo Ren is an angry teenager dying for a little bit of power. BB-8 is a childish, more energetic version of R2-D2.

What makes Rey unique?

People praised Rey for being strong, for being skilled and ‘surviving on her own’. If you played a Fallout game, you know that’s not much of an achievement. A character survives on a wasteland because the author wrote it so. A character can fix a spaceship because the author put skill points into that area.

Characters are not defined by skills. They are defined by their personalities, their desires and needs and flaws and inner conflicts. These are the qualities that drive stories. If skills were enough, then my Amazon in Diablo II would have been one of the best female characters ever.

The skills of the Amazon don’t move the story of Diablo. Why the Amazon would go chasing after Diablo could be an obsession with morality, or revenge, or desire for glory. Each of these traits would lead to a drastically different story with different themes.

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From one fantasy to the next, we still struggle to draw women as human beings

A hero concerned more with glory would interact differently with characters. They would boast and they would only take missions that will grant them fame. A hero that seeks revenge will have tunnel vision, won’t bother about anything but killing Diablo. In all of these stories the Amazon still has the skills. She can still throw javelins, yet they’re so different.

Princess Leia is more of a human than Rey. She might be a damsel in distress, but that’s her initial role. It’s not her personality. Throughout the film we learn who she is by how she speaks. She’s confident in her position of power. She’s so used to it she speaks to everyone in a bossy way. As soon as she’s rescued she takes command of the gang. Notice how, before they reach Leia they’re a bunch of weird buffons.

Rey doesn’t affect her surroundings like this. I often forgot she even existed. I cannot remember a scene that her personality contributed anything to. There is a bit of ‘tough girl’ persona going on, but it’s not well-developed. Rey screams here and there for Finn to stop holding her hand. Instead of sounding strong, she sounds like a grumpy tsundere. It’s shocking she also didn’t call him ‘baka’.

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Looks feminine, relies on a guy and still has more personality

The tough girl persona can work, of course. Furiosa was a cliche, but the creators (kind of) knew what makes the cliche work. Everything in her appearance pointed to a hero so rugged they have no existence outside of posing with shotguns. She has a distinct look that fits her archetype. Rey’s archetype is more vague. She’s tough, but not in a unique manner. Furiosa was tough in an 80’s action way. She’s inspired by Schwarznegger and Sylvester Stallone – the desexualized human who exists to kill people because it’s fun. Of course, they did tack the whole redemption thing but I already addressed Fury Road‘s failure at feminism.

It’s weird how Western cinema still struggles with female characters. You don’t have to explore anime too much to find diverse casts. Just look to Neon Genesis Evangelion or Attack on Titan. Even shows that rely on sexiness and fanservice, like Freezing, still have a cast that’s as diverse as their design. What’s better is that all of these characters can be developed without hiding their femininity. The characters of Freezing don’t need a tough exterior to fight the Novas.

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Leia isn’t satisfied with just getting rescued – she reacts.

The request for more women who ‘kick ass’ (basically, are violent) is odd. The obsession with power also makes me question whether these people even understand how fiction works. Fiction isn’t a fantasy to escape from reality to. Fiction, like any other art form, brings us closer to reality. It’s supposed to connect to it in some way. It can be anything from exploring pure visual beauty or themes of life and death. A character that is a wish fulfillment is boring.

I wonder how long it will take until this trend will die. Trends come and go, anyway. We now have an obsession with toughness and grimdarkness. We used to have an obsession with escapist brightness. Someday we’ll look at it all and laugh at how stupid we are.

Further reading: Keely’s series of posts on Strong Female Characters

The End of Evangelion

Let’s get rid of the obvious first. The End of Evangelion is inaccessible to anyone who didn’t watch the series. This shouldn’t be a point against the movie, though. There are enough great sequels who needed the first film. The fact this is two episodes smashed together to form a movie has no bearings on its quality.

There are far worse problems here. Evangelion was a brilliant series with a disappointing ending. Instead of using intelligence to lift up its story of saving the world, it went full retard. The deviation is only impressive if you haven’t been to the edge of weird storytelling. It contributed nothing to the series but was just a scattered essay with moving pictures.

The film was supposed to fix that, but sadly it doesn’t. Evangelion was never as deep as people say it is. It attempted subversions, but it lacked a theme to unite it all together. Religious symbolism and psychological portraits do not necessarily mean there’s a grand theme. They are ways to express ideas.

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The problems are already apparent in the beginning. It kicks off into a huge action sequence that lives little room for character development. It also perfectly replicates the intensity that made the TV show so fun.

Nobody talks about how fun the TV show us. The drama was engrossing and the action scenes were beautifully animated. Every metal bending, every hit, every explosion is full of power. The enemies have the unique, Angel-esque design and the scene is clean. The environment is bare, making it easy to follow exactly what’s happening. Michael Bay has a lot to learn from this film.

The film attempts the same psychological-monologue-slideshow thing, and it’s just as unnecessary and messy as in the series. It’s a little better, but the core problem remains.

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Moving to such territory is unnecessary. The story isn’t made for such experimental methods. At its heart, it’s a simple story about saving the world from the Unknown Enemy while realizing that humanity can be its own enemy, too. All you need for this story are characters who are convincing enough.

The monologues just go in circles, bouncing from one subject into another with no ideas concluding or connecting. This technique works in novels, but not so for films. You read novels in your own pace, so you take your own time to digest the word salad.

Movies set their own pace, so Anno is throwing at you images and words in machine-gun velocity. This could still have a chance of being entertaining, but experimental films often have a plot that works well with the method. You couldn’t tell the story of Pi without going full retard. It’s an abstract story at heart that happens only in Max Cohen’s head.

There is something about loneliness and the desire to connect. I heard this before and searched for it in this film. While the conclusion does touch that in a symbolic way that works, everything else was over the place like I remembered. Shinji is a neurotic and angsty teen, but his type of angst isn’t focused on enough. Is he a person who gave up on connecting to people like Mirai Nikki‘s Yukki? Is he an obsessive person who sees everything in absolutes like Max Cohen?

Perhaps I missed something in the series, but nothing here connected to a single theme. It starts to look like Digimon Tamers is an attempt to remake Evangelion with coherency. At least Tamers has a theme and symbols that point to it.

I once read that Anno said Evangelion could mean anything the viewer wants to. If so, then the show is about nothing. This isn’t how vagueness works. A story should not give simple answers, but it still needs to ask questions. Asking questions means it confronts a subject, and it’s not just about anything. Medabots asks whether weapons only lead to destruction, or whether they can be used for fun. The vagueness is in how the series makes strong cases for both viewpoints.

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The film still gets by because of its visuals. Despite the attempts at philosophy, the second part works in the same way the first part. Its epicness is exciting. It’s not as meaningful as before. We get monologues, instead of seeing characters in action but the visuals are still beautiful, and there’s a sense of self-importance that actually makes it fun. It stretches itself so far so just seeing how crazy it will go is entertaining. Despite the philosophizing, the film never forgets it’s a visual medium and that it should take advantage of it.

It’s an interesting addition to the Evangelion canon, but it supports the haters more than the fans. Instead of giving Evangelion a coherent ending, it shows how the series never had a grand theme to begin with. Knowing your limitations is important. If Evangelion stuck to its story of saving the world, it would’ve been fantastic. Still, a scattered but creative mind still has plenty of worthwhile ideas.

3.5 Angels out of 5

 

Vacation (2015)

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The film opens with a series of photos from a family vacation. Something wrong goes in most of them, something that is supposed to be funny. ‘Going wrong’ here means things like a horse urinating, or a child seeing animals having sex.

I don’t go to movies to look at hot women. If I wanted hot women, there’s plenty of places to see them without distractions. In fact, whenever a film tries to dazzle me with how beautiful the actress is, I get the urge to message a philosophical question to a friend so he’ll entertain me. When I find myself enjoying the presence of a hot woman in a film, it’s clear it has nothing else to offer.

Vacation also has Chris Hemsworth showing off his muscles and lack of fat. I appreciate this stab at equality, but I’m not sure it’s worth sitting through an hour and a half of terrible jokes for. Couldn’t they just shot a short video of him flexing and put it on his Facebook page?

There’s an attempt here to make a dark comedy, only it’s not really dark. Like a lot of shitty comedians who use ‘shocking’ content, they’re afraid of going all the way. They gross you out, but it’s just unpleasant.

There are two ways to go about it. You can either go complete light and pretend it’s not dark. That’s hard to pull off, but it worked brilliantly in Borderlands. You can also confront the darkness. Use the jokes not as a way to cheapen the darkness but to magnify it. Make it both dark and funny. That’s why Catch-22 and the anime series WataMote are funny.

The creators put the characters through a lot of hardships, but none of it is meaningful or interesting. They bath in raw sewage, which goes on for 3 minutes. Someone actually thought that extending that scene to 3 minutes was a good idea. It was kind of funny at first when they didn’t realize it, but the scene goes on and on. We see them rubbing shit over themselves for a few minutes, which feel like they’ll never end. How does that extra length contribute to anything? Even splatter films don’t linger so much on the ugly details.

Some people die in this film, which is supposed to be funny. I’m not sure where the joke is in the scene with the suicidal guide tour. He kills himself after his fiance breaks up with him which is pretty sad, but where’s the joke? Wikipedia has a list of unusual death which is both hilarious and terrifying. What’s funny is not that these people died, but that their circumstances are so absurd.

No situation here even tries to be absurd. Things just go wrong. They want to go to hot springs, and they end up in raw sewage. Debbie tries to prove she’s wild at heart but she vomits pitcher of beer she just downed. The older brother finds a pretty girl and along comes the dad to make things awkward.

What defines absurdity is that it’s unpredictible. How funny can you be when every joke is so obvious? It would be easier to stomach if it wasn’t so cruel, though. When your jokes are cruel but lack wit, you just come off as a sadistic bully. Vacation is no different from the Saw films in that aspect. You see characters having a hard time and trying desperately to get out of it.

There’s no joy in here, no pain. They can’t even rely on joyful/depressing contrast to make jokes. The creators are so cruel they don’t allow the characters even a small victory. At least the Saw film have a unique visual style and a killer soundtrack. Vacation can’t justify all the pain it inflicts on its characters.

Ed Helms tries hard to make something good out of the material. Maybe that’s the joke. Maybe I was supposed to laugh at him trying to be funny with such weak material, but at this point I’m sad. The guy stayed for three Hangover films. Can the Coen Brothers take him to one of their movies now? There’s an almost effective scene where his characters break down. Helms tries to inject a little darkness to that scene. Seeing a character breaking down would’ve been truly shocking, but you can hear one of the executives telling him to stop. We’re here to gross out the audience, the executive says. Then Helms walks away like he should’ve done long ago and the car blows up. That’s a clever metaphore for his career.

There’s no reason for this film to exist. The kid behind me laughed a lot, but I also used to find shit and sex funny when I was younger. Now, I found life to be much more crazier and weirder than just these two subjects. Sex and shit can be funny. I have a personal anecdote involving shit, but it’s not just the shit that itself is funny. Mainstream comedy is just as terrible as it always was.

I can’t believe my friends chose this over Inside Out.

1.5 suicidal guide tours out of 5

Terminator Genisys

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Genisys is far from a return to the glory days of Judgment Day. Expecting any film to live up to it is silly. It’s one of those great films where the people involved probably had no idea how good their stuff is. That’s why James Cameron left the building. He knew he couldn’t handle something this good. Nobody after him understood, either. At least the guys who made Genisys show an understanding of the first films, if not of how to make one.

Although it’s easy to miss because stuff gets blown up, Judgment Day is filled with ideas about the nature of men, machine and weaponry. It’s a one-dimensional story about Raging Against the Machine on the surface, but some people think Fight Club is encouraging rebellion. The films always hinted Skynet wasn’t the real enemy. Skynet isn’t a faceless villain to shoot up. Skynet learns to destroy from the people who created it.

Men are the ones who got obsessed with weapons and violence. They are the ones who solve conflicts with shooting the enemy. There is irony in destroying Skynet with the same methods that made Skynet want to destroy us. In a way, Skynet is the physical embodiment of man’s violent nature.

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The new Fear Factory album shares a title

This is why the machine in these films is almost always represented as weaponry. The actual purpose of the characters in Genisys is to reverse the world to a time before war, so humans would not be born into weaponry and violence (using weaponry and violence). Of course, we cannot truly exist without violence or technology. That’s why we get Terminators on either side. One side thinks the solution to all these problems is to be done away with the world, and one thinks that letting everyone live is the better idea.

This is what Kyle Reese means by ‘because we’re humans’. It sounds a bit cheesy, but the series was always about searching for the alternative to the violent nature of man. The whole ‘challenging fate’ comes into play, too. A deeper discussion of the themes is for another time. What all these paragraphs lead to is the film’s biggest strength and its reason for existance.

It’s not a generic action film with Terminator on the poster to attract audience. All the themes in previous paragraphs surface here. It’s actually far more concerned with the Terminator mythology than its reputation for great action scenes. This means this is the first sequel that understands the greatness of the previous films. It acts like the previous two never existed and goes straight back to talking about fate, weaponry, machines, violence and other deep stuff.

Theoritical knowledge doesn’t always translate to creative skills. The right pieces are all here. Emalia Clark looks exactly like how a military young Sarah Connor would look like and the film has the same color schemes. It may the creators were too busy replicating the atmosphere and feel, they forgot about action scenes.

Slow motion makes a cameo apperance a few times, which is great. Other than that, the action scenes have no intensity to them. A bus flips over and that’s cool. Cars exploding remains beautiful, but the violence doesn’t feel unstoppable or dangerous. People tend to shoot each other and this is where it ends. There is no unique camera movements, or a memorable set piece. There is nothing like the final battle of Judgment Day, which felt like a visualization of a Fear Factory song. It could be the PG-13 rating.

It’s also more plot-heavy. The first films had their moments of humanity because of how straightforward they are. People come from the future to blow stuff up, and then it’s one long chase scene that gives the characters moment to think philosophically. In Genisys, thinks are always happening. There is a tangled web of timelines and people traveling across timelines and robots who can copy others so you’re sure who is who.

Worry not if this sounds like Homestuck. It never reaches that level of bullshit, but it’s unnecessary. Everyone in the film knows technobabble is just cool words, so why use them so much? It was cool the first time, but then people can remember a life they could have lead or things along these lines.

It does connect to the whole ‘challening fate’ thing, but it’s still pointless complicating. The sudden appearance of Skynet at the end also came off as an asspull. The creators missed an opportunity for an alternative climax. Skynet sat somewhere between pure evil and a villain with a drive. By letting him speak, they could develop the opposing worldview. They do it a little, but the climax is concerned with replicating Cameron’s climaxes. Since they don’t have Cameron’s visual skill (or his love for Industrial music which he doesn’t reveal), it’s just two huge guys fighting. Centering the climax around a debate between the heroes and Skynet would have contributed much more to the film’s themes. Showing that Skynet can be defeated with intelligence and not violence would strengthen the film’s conclusion that we don’t have to be this violent. It did work for Vault Dweller in the first Fallout game.

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The album is referenced often in the film

At least Schwarznegger is as good as always. The film will let you know that he’s old, but he also became a fan of Fear Factory. At least I’d like to believe that it was a reference to their album. He still looks great packing a shotgun. He still delivers his line with zero emotion, and that makes him both hilarious and realistic. Any time he’s off-screen everyone looks a bit lost. Actually, even in the old films everyone looks lost while Schwarznegger isn’t on screen. No one could play the Terminator character like he does – just look at all the other Terminators. The Terminator may be his only meaningful performance, but it’s a great. Hopefully he’ll bless with a few films like Commando before he retires.

The film is messy and clumsy, but not lazy. There is a genuine attempt to revive with the myth, using the same themes that defined it. The creators don’t have Cameron’s skill and the soundtrack contains no songs from that fanboy band I kept mentioning in my review. It’s still worth a watch if the myth does anything to you. Some have said the franchise has been played out and they do have points, but Genisys lays ground for someone to pick it up and improve on it. That said, the franchise probably won’t get a second chance if anything after this won’t work.

3 Fear Factory songs out of 5

Of Feminism and Mad Max: Fury Road

While I spent a few paragraphs in my review of Fury Road discussing feminism, I want to delve deeper into it. It’s been a huge talking point, and it’s a beautiful flaw. The misinterpartation of feminism is so gross and overdone in this film, we have a lot to learn from it.

Feminism is the promotion of women’s equal rights so they’ll be equal to men. The key words here are ‘equality’ and ‘women’. While feminism is concerned only with women, it doesn’t mean it’s automatically against equality. It just highlights how females experience discrimination. There are people who say feminism is another word for female supremacy. While this is an obvious straw men, Fury Road would make you think it’s right. It’s ironic that Sarkeesian, the feminist you love to hate also saw the film as not feminist at all.

In Fury Road, all the female characters are on the good side. There is not a single female character among the bad guys. There plenty of faceless mooks, and none of them are female. It’s not a co-incidence. There are around 7 females around this film, so this is not just a case of a few characters slipping through. There are only two male good guys. One of them is a bad guy who does a 180. The other one, Max, who remains morally gray until he fully joins the girls.

Already, we have a very unequal representation of the genders. One gender represents goodness and badassary. The other one represents vileness, cruelty and tyranny. The film makes sure you’ll know gender has a lot to do with it.

The bad guys are defined by masculinity and represent the patriarchy. One of the bad guys is called Rictus Erectus. Immortan Joe’s most terrible crime is keeping these breeders and forcing them to bear him children. We see that male children are valued much more (Erectus being sad that he lost a baby brother). There are only war boys, and they deserve to get to Valhalla.

There isn’t an attempt to explore the patriarchy, to ask maybe they’re right. We do not get an oppurtunity to see things from the bad guys’ point of view, or a chance to see whether they did some good. We just see how vile they are. They wear skulls. They’re all mascular. They’re obsessed with violence. They view women as things. Even Gizmo makes an appearance as the fat, rich patriarch.

It is not a coherent system that just happens to be terrible. It’s just showing us how terrible a system is. There plenty of questionable ideologies out there, but that’s not because Hitler wanted to be ‘evil’. ‘Evil people’ just act out of a different system of values. The film doesn’t show this.

There is not even an attempt to make them charismatic in the villainous way. George Miller’s previous villains were odd, and pretty funny in their unique way. Even when they were cruel, they had a certain style that made them fun to see on screen. In Fury Road, Miller wants you to hate them so much you’d tatto “If I had a hammer I’d smash the patiarchy”.

Yet what is the alternative to this cartoon misogyny? Furiosa does not have a character. She’s an action heroine. She wants to do some good because it drives the plot, but that’s it. She asks for redemption, but the why is never made clear. It’s just a piece dialogue that was tacked on. She’s a pretty good action heroine – charismatic, devoid of sexuality and looks great with guns – but she’s not an engaging characters.

The wives tend to sit in the back and they all talk the same. They do help around the car a bit, but they don’t have an individual personality. The closest they come to showing some humanity is the kind-of-love relationship the redhead has with Nux, and the one who wants go back to the safety. None of these things are explored, but the format of the story won’t let them anyway.

Finally we have, among the female angels the old women. Their main role in the story is to tell our heroes to go back, and thus instigate the final scene. The final scene is great, so they do a great service to humanity. They also shove themselves in it. They have no charisma, no personality and we already have two action heroes that are good enough. Adding them is just adding more fighting women, but that’s it.

Immortan Joe is pure evil, so his alternative can only be goodness. Since the females are all on the good side, that’s their defining feature. This is not a clash of two ideologies. There isn’t even the cheap method of painting one philosophy as an evil straw men. Men are evil. Women are good.

This is not even a straw men of misogyny. There is no subversion of any norm. Misogyny was never about painting men as righteous with the moral high ground and women as evil demons. The ‘tempting women’ is a common trope, but it’s hardly the only color misogyny wears. Misogyny is often dismissing women as stupid, uncapable and thus inferior. More often than not, misogyny strips women of the ability to be good or evil. Women are just ‘things’ to fucked and then thrown away. Your average gangsta rap song will inform about how bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks.

There are red pillers who’ll try to paint women as evil conspirators, but if Fury Road is a respond to them, it’s just as pathetic. Swinging from one extreme to the next only brings you closer to the ones you hate. So you switched the genders of the Red Pill narrative, but the story is just as sexist.

As for the sexual object norm, it’s so insidious that even female heroines fall to it. Eve is a silly women that was easily conned by a snake. Black Widow’s main role is to be eye candy. There is no challenging this norm, with Furiosa being just a generic action hero and the old women completely unnecessary. Anita called this ‘cartoon misogyny’, but it’s not even that. ‘Shallow’ implies that there is minimal depth, but it’s as barren as the wasteland the film takes place in.

More importantly, the film doesn’t question the big premise misogyny relies on. Before dismissing women, misogyny assumes that sex is a factor that’s meaningful enough. Fury Road doesn’t question the importance of gender roles. It encourages it.

There is no meaningful difference between putting wome in the kitchen or in the factory. You’re still assigning them roles based on their gender and deny them their individuality. Men have been allowed to exist outside their gender for years. Even in characters where the sex is important, it’s not their whole character, like Bellow’s Herzog or Roth’s Portnoy. Get rid of the gender, and what do the wives, or the old women have?

Fury Road assigns a role to women and that is to be Jesus. That’s why there’s no room for them to develop. Developing them would mean they could be wrong, or be flawed, or think bad thoughts. These would make them seem less ‘good’. It would also make them more human and more realistic. I do not believe women are angels, and I find them to be equal to me in strength and in weakness. By turning them into angels, the film denies them the oppurtunity to be human.

Ironically, the two male characters that get some sort of character development are male. Mad Max is a fantastic hero. Despite being presented as a rugged action hero, there are plenty of moments where we see through the cracks. The distrust and paranoia he expresses at first, his jerky movements, his awkward way of speaking that points at an antisocial personality – these are small details that help establish who Max is. Max is a person who’s a family man at heart, but has been wrecked by the wasteland and turned into an antisocial animal who only cares about surviving and can’t even communicate. Nux gets a less interesting arc of waking up from the patriarchy and redeeming himself by joining the women.

George Miller was aware of this ‘feminism’ when he made the film. He says he’s now surrounded by wonderful women so he ‘can’t help being a feminist’. I wonder if in an alternative universe where Miller is not a director with groupies, he’s still a feminist. It’s easy to side with women when they’re attracted to you, but women deserve rights not because they give you sex or affection. You should be a feminist even if all women will find you so physically repulsive they will never get close to you. It seems as if Miller cares less about women as fellow people, and just rewards them for their affection. That’s nice of him, but next time he should reward them with a more honest portrayal.

So, we have another film where women are confined to a role and none of them are allowed to be fully human. It’s not even a unique role. It’s just an oversized Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Instead of rescuing a single man from his boring, they rescue a whole civilization thanks to their femininity. Maybe we overdid it. We spent so much time praising women, hoping it’ll make up for past mistakes but we kept refusing to let them share their experience. Women do need to be praised further. They need to be portrayed as the humans they are.

There are no angels and no demons, just people with different ideas.

Mad Max: Fury Road

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So, Anita Sarkeesian managed to piss a lot of people off (again). That’s not surprising. There’s that famous quote about how people love you for making them feel like they’re thinking, and hate you for actually make them think. Anita is an expert in fiction analysis, which is why no one managed to defeat the behemoth of her video game series. Just like she did to video games, she saw through Fury Road‘s pathetic catering to feminism.

If you hear anyone praising the film for ‘strong female characters’ and subverting the norm with the old women, you can be sure the person has little understanding of fiction. Feminism means promotion of women’s rights with hopes they’ll be equal to men. It seeks not to fuel the dichotomy of the patriarchy but to end it. It seeks to erase differences and question norms. Fury Road doesn’t question any norms but fuels existing ones that are more politically correct.

A world that challenges gender roles will challenge the concept of gender roles. It’ll put men and women in the same position, and ask us whether it’s possible or not for gender to mean nothing. In Fury Road, gender tells you who’s evil and who’s not. All of the guys are bad. There is not a single bad female. There are only two male characters who aren’t villains, and a character expresses mistrust towards them because of their sex. This is more than enough to tell us that males are pretty awful, but women are good-natured and also badasses.

You even get an action heroine, who’s defining feature is that she looks like the singer from Skunk Anansie. This is also the most interesting thing about her. She has no personality beyond doing what’s right because she’s a protagonist. That’s fine. That’s how action heroes work. Luckily she has enough charisma and a gritty look that emphasizes badassery instead of sexiness. She’s a great action heroine that ticks all the right boxes, but her character is as shallow as a damsel in distress.

It gets worse in the climax, where a bunch of old women push into the final scene despite the film not wanting them there. There’s no reason to focus on them so much. They’re a plot device that tells the characters to go back and instigate the final chase. They contribute nothing to the scene. They have no personality and no charisma. We have no reason to cheer for them other than that they’re good, and they’re only good because they’re women. They just take up precious time that could be better spent on Max and Furiosa.

Amidst all this, the only character with a personality is Max himself. Tom Hardy destroys Mel Gibson with his performance. Gibson made Max a charismatic but shallow action hero. Hardy and the script turn the ‘mad’ into ‘mentally ill’. The looks on his face, his jerky behavior – all points to a broken, damaged man. We also get some ‘visions’ to let us know Max has a troubled past, but they must’ve written that before they knew how brilliant Hardy is.

So, Fury Road has one of the most sexist worlds ever. It’s a world where all males are bad and disposable. Females are either angels or badasses. Thankfully, feminists couldn’t ruin George Miller’s vision. There’s a brilliant moment of symbolism in the final scene where some of the old women die a beautiful death, which is a metaphore for how the film doesn’t let social justice stops its brilliance.

At its best, Fury Road betters the ideas in the previous films. The world is weird, mentally ill and unstable. There are plenty of odd design choices to emphasize this, but the the car with the guitarist is the most telling one. It may seem impractical to have a guitarist in the middle of a car chase, but this is how this world works.

Humanity couldn’t stay the same after an apocalypse. There’s no reason that the cultures that will rise up will be like ours. Memories of the old world should be erased. New symbols take their place. In this world it’s cars and weapons. It’s a culture that worships cars. That’s why they run with their designs, and you get a sports car with wheels of a tank and the guitarist. This is what makes the world seem so real and alive. If only George Martin could think of such odd details.

It’s less weird than before. In the previous films, the world was desexualized and truly insane. George Miller took a few cues from Martin and added some very out-of-place grimdarkness. In the previous films, the villains were cruel but also weird. It was a unique way to give them humanity. There’s no antagonist as charming as Master Blaster. They dress weird, but their behavior isn’t very different than whatever Marvel is churning. Fury Road should have looked to its followers – Fallout and Borderlands, who borrowed this weirdness and created their own spin of a mentally ill world.

At least they kept the aestheticization of violence, which is the heart and soul of the series. It still feels like a respond to John Woo. If Woo is the master of gunfights, then Miller will be the master of car chases.

Action scenes aren’t measured by how well the effects are. Good action scenes are like a dance. The movements need to connect. There needs to be good pacing, tension and release, make it visually appealing and let it flow. Good action is not realistic. It is indulgence in visual fantasies.

Fury Road is full of this. Each car has an eye-popping design. Even cars whose drivers aren’t seen have a unique design. It’s still filmed to let you feel the speed. The blurry roads remain the defining feature. There’s also variety. Spiky cars, people hanging on poles, a guy with a chainsaw – the action relies more on memorable set pieces than effects.

It’s also completely heartless, but it’s part of its beauty. The film asks you to cheer for every death, every explosion and every wound. Even when the good guys are wounded it’s shot as if it’s another cool addition to the scene. It may seem too much for some people, but violence can’t be aestheticized properly if it’s censored. It’s not that Fury Road uses extreme violence to cover up creativity. It just knows you can’t be too creative with the PG-13 rating.

Whether it’s better than Road Warrior, time will tell. Miller compromises his vision a bit for silly grimdarkness and feminists, but in the end he runs over them. They put enough holes in his wheels, which means Fallout and Borderlands are ahead. There’s plenty of fuel left in this franchise though. If they keep Hardy and ignore the social justice warriors, then the action genre will come back to life. If not, then maybe this will motivate someone to make a Borderlands or Fallout film.

By the way, Gizmo from Fallout 1 appears in a pretty cool car. Apperantly, fat guys are okay to kill. So much for social justice.

3.5 cars out of 5

Focus (2015)

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Focus is a pretty meta film. Like the characters, it walks a very thin line. It’s never clear what it wants. It’s always on the verge of either fucking up big time or a major success. The end result is similar to the character’s end. They haven’t hit the bottom, but it looks pretty bad compared to the peaks.

The beginning is promising. Nicky (Will Smith) seems desperate to try to prove to us how cool he is, but the filmmakers know the life of crime isn’t that glamorous. Jess (Margot Elise) shows the humanity of her character so much that her good looks move to the back.

The traits of the characters drive the story. It may be about con artists and big money schemes, but the twists and turns aren’t as prominent as the characters’ reactions and relationships. Nicky is a jaded, borderline nihilistic person who cons only because he got nothing else to. Jess is a woman so excited by the thrill of theft that she could easily lose herself. There are a few key scenes which focus on schemes and whether or not they’ll fail. The intensity comes not from just wondering what the outcome will be, but how it will affect the characters.

The film doesn’t always go in that direction though. The most powerful scene is ruined by a monologue desperately trying to convince how cool Nicky is. It’s just a string of events less probable than Elvis Presley landing with his alien friends. They also fail at the climax. Instead of putting the characters face to face with being, for a change, out of control it hands it back to them at the last minute. It may be a clever twist, but it’s a cop out that prevents us from getting close to the characters.

There’s also a terrible, Tarantino-inspired soundtrack full of songs that tell you how cool these characters are because they’re, y’know, big time criminals in a film. The characters are in a constant state of paranoia and fear. They’re not glamorous criminals who smoke a cigar and suddenly their enemies die. Focus shows us the humanity of these people. The soundtrack wants to drown it out.

The soundtrack, coupled with the conclusions to a few great scenes try to negate this. It may seem clever to put such songs in what’s a pretty paranoid film, but this ‘contrast’ has been run to the ground. We get it. The soundtrack doesn’t match the emotions the character feel. When does this cliche keeps appearing because filmmakers are just awful at music? There isn’t an obvious antidote to this. It’s not like half the soundtrack is Front Line Assembly and Nine Inch Nails track. That would’ve made a bipolar soundtrack that expresses exactly how the characters feel. With nothing to contrast the coolness, the soundtrack is there just to drown out the humanity.

The attempts at making this another glamorization of criminals only prevents it from being a great film. The climax is less of a cop out than they hinted, and Smith’s and Elise’s great performances are enough to push the crappy soundtrack in the back. It’s not a brilliant film, but these are 104 entertaining minutes that show you that you don’t have to dumb down in order to make a fun, satisfying film.

3 stolen watches out of 5