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May 14 2012

Joss and The Avengers cast talk about female action heroes. "Johansson notes, "A lot of the female superhero movies just suck really badly. Whedon nods. "The suck factor is not small.""

And then Samuel L. Jackson goes and excitedly interjects about a female superhero who's a hooker.
Well, The Pro is hilarious.

Why did they transcribe this and not just show a clip?
Ah The Pro... I hear there was a PROposal a few years back for a movie, with someone like Sarah Silverman as the lead.
Well, The Pro is hilarious.
And yet pretty clearly not where Johansson was trying to take her point.
I kind of liked Elektra with Jennifer Garner. Maybe the movie didn't do well, I don't recall. They never made a sequel. But I thought it was alright with a woman superhero lead.
Certainly would be either the biggest fustercluck in cinema history or a brilliant exploration about people gaining superpowers who either shouldn't get powers or get some really screwed up abilities ;D

Besides, isn't one verison of Catwoman a former prositute or escort? Probably doesn't help the argument much, but...
I think an argument could be made for maybe first actually getting movie female superheros right to begin with, before going off and deconstructing them.
I was stopped dead in my tracks when I read "Hawkeye had a crucial cameo in "Thor"."
I must have been watching the other version of the movie where they shoe-horned Hawkeye into 'Thor' for no reason at all.
Black Widow in Avengers may be my favorite female superhero in film to date. Before this, I half-enjoyed Elektra (the movie sucked but Garner was emotionally compelling), loved Hit Girl (and hated that people argued that she was sexualized, which was utter nonsense), and only enjoyed Catwoman as performed by Michelle Pfeiffer. I'm trying to erase the Halle Berry film from my brain. There aren't very many female superheroes in movies, which is perhaps why the Avengers studio execs initially objected to the Black Widow's inclusion. WORST ALMOST MISTAKE EVER. ScarJo's badassery was second only to Ruffalo's. They were the breakthrough stars. Hopefully we'll see more strong women on the big screen!

Joss kinda deserves to do a Wonder Woman film.

[ edited by WhatsAStevedore on 2012-05-14 19:20 ]
I don't understand the idea that Hit Girl was sexualized, but man did I ever hate that movie.
Agreed on both counts, b!x. I was pretty excited for, then pretty hugely disappointed by, Kick Ass.
Do Ripley and Sarah Connor not count because they don't have superpowers? They were both great female driven action movies, though perhaps Terminator was not intending to be.
They are characters from the 70s and the 80s though. Who have we got this decade? Katniss and Black Widow. And that's about it.
Well Lisbeth in 'Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' had some unusual powers, and of course Katniss broke a lot of box office records with 'Hunger Games', so I think that the public is ready for more powerful girls/women so long as the story is interesting. The problem (IMO) is that the studios try to reduce the Super Heroine to eye candy and then blame her when the audience finds her dull.
Y'know, Joss also admitted to liking "The Pro", but it all lands on Sam? Does it all land on Joss over at Jacksonesque? :)

Samuel L. Jackson actually is king of the roundtable by shouting out to the awesomesauce of "The Long Kiss Goodnight", where he himself was dragged hither and thither helplessly by a truly badass female action hero, who at no point wore pasties.

I was puzzled by the sort of backhanded comment about "Hunger Games" ("whatever you think of the movie" comes across to me as though he wants to avoid being mistaken for having liked it?) -- if ever a movie deserved unqualified praise about the marketability of female fronted action adventure, it is that. By the way, re: Scarlett Johansson kicking Katniss' ass, there are two sequels coming up and I can think of something to cast her as that would yield... opportunity. Just sayin'.

I'm all for more female characters in the sequel, I just don't want, overall, the roster to double or something. I wouldn't want to see them try to bring in more than, say, 2-3 characters to the mix for any major contribution. Any or all of them female is great, but the other hang-up I have is... a lot of the Avengers' female roster sorta stinks. Of the ones mentioned in the article, Moondragon probably makes the most plot sense. Scarlet Witch... isn't there a rights issue there? Thought I heard that. I think a good market, from an expanded/expandable Marvel Universe standpoint (and assuming no rights issue) for using "Avengers 2" to bring Cloak and Dagger into the cinematic mix. Firebird could be cool.
Anyone interested at who Marvel might add to the Avengers roster, there's a list from Wikipedia from the 1960's to present time.

Wasp seems to be the most obvious addition, but I'm not sure if Marvel will do that until an Ant-Man movie is off the ground, as the two characters are very tied together. I don't know if Marvel will wait for Edgar Wright, who is not doing Ant-Man next but working a new movie with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost next.

There's Scarlet Witch, but once again I wonder if Marvel would rather kick off the mystical side of Marvel with Doctor Strange. Plus having the Scarlet Witch without being able to mention Magneto, who FOX has the rights to with X-men would be weird.

Ms. Marvel then perhaps?

To me when I think of great strong women characters in the Marvel universe I generally think of all sorts of X-men characters, rather than anyone from Avengers.
Johansson talks good sense here; Jackson shoots a little too quickly for the humour and gets in the way a bit, though. I used to be a bit unsure of Johansson but recently I've become pretty convinced by her acting and screen presence. I'm not sure that I'm especially keen that Joss would spend his time on a Black Widow film, given everything else that he might get up to; but I'd rather like to see he and Johansson working together again.

Regarding superheroines generally, it is worth bearing in mind that superhero films are something of a genre, or sub-genre, unto themselves. Buffy may qualify, but I don't think that any and all action films with unusually impressive lead characters (male or female) count. In the later Die Hards, Bruce Willis might as well have had super powers, but those still aren't superhero films. No more are the Terminator films or TV series, nor the Alien films (the first of which wasn't an action film either). Just my thinly sketched reflections on genre, though. Alien Resurrection comes closest since the lead Ripley clone has super human powers, but I still don't think it comes close to counting as falling within the superhero genre.

I can imagine reasons for approaching this differently - say, if you were trying to assess the commercial viability of films led by heroines of extraordinary prowess. But, wary though they are, I don't think that the studios or general audiences (if the latter are wary) are as wary of female action leads generally as they are dubious about female suerheroes. I myself am neither wary nor dubious.
KingofCretins, I forget where, but I remember reading about how Marvel had access to both Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (who had some major roles in Avengers over the years) but once again they can't refer to Magneto.

[ edited by Matt_Fabb on 2012-05-14 21:16 ]
Cool, Fabb. I never could get a handle on the limits of what Marvel can use for their own movies, out of the mutant roster or the Spider-Man roster.

Going through that very helpful list, I'd be very interested in Firebird, Echo, maybe Quake. I have mixed feelings about Ms. Marvel.
It all lands on Sam because people were trying to have an actual conversation and he basically derailed it by bringing in a hooker book. (You'll notice that while Joss might say its hilarious, he also points out it wasn't something he would have brought into the discussion of Johansson's point.)
Also, in Marvel Comics proper it's no longer Ms. Marvel. Carol Danvers is Captain Marvel now.
The Captain Marvel moniker is subject to enough confusion, as it exists across two publishers, I would guess that a movie that would use her would probably introduce her by the name she's gone by longest, maybe with an end of movie self-promotion as a nod to current canon. Just be my guess.
Dunno if this deserved its own post, but there's an interesting article posted a few days ago about why Joss and Scarlett should do Wonder Woman next, and one of the most compelling reasons is that they're probably the few who COULD get it made at all:

5 Reasons Joss Whedon And Scarlett Johansson Should Do Wonder Woman Next

I'm still waiting for my Amazonian princess on the big screen, or well, a decent superheroine movie at all. The interesting thing was that apparently Tim Burton and Michelle Pfeiffer were interested in spinning off Catwoman into her own movie, only it never got off the ground. I don't know if the character would have worked on her own, but it would have been leagues better than the Halle Berry atrocity. I also, um, have fond memories from childhood of the Supergirl movie.
I find it almost annoying that that column implicitly fires Joss' actual actress from the movie -- shouldn't it be "5 reasons Joss Whedon and Cobie Smulders Should Do Wonder Woman Next"? Besides, the comment about Scarlett Johansson kicking Katniss' ass just made me fancast her as Johanna Mason.
Can we only suggest quotes from actual scripted dialogue and not from interviews? Because I think "See, that is the problem - Sam is the problem" would be a great quote :)
if ever a movie deserved unqualified praise about the marketability of female fronted action adventure, it is that.

It also helps a lot when the source material is a gazillion-copy selling YA book.

As for female action films, I can't think of many recent ones. Kill Bill is probably the most recent one that had any real impact, but then again it didn't really change the industry either.
Having finally gone to see Avengers again today (in 2D this time), I really enjoyed ScarJo's performance. The first time, I was just overwhelmed by the awesomeness of it all, this time I noticed more. The big final battle is far easier to follow in 2D and I was able to really appreciate the flow of the action from one character to another. But most of all, I really loved Black Widow. I felt that while she was very much a 'normal' mixing it with supers (how tired she looked in one of the battle scenes), she was never less than badass, or less than the supers she fought with. She sold every part of it.

I would love a BW movie, and it might be a good place to introduce other Avengers.

I think she might be a bit good looking for Johanna Mason. I think because of her animosity towards Katniss, I picture Johanna as quite harsh looking. ScarJo has quite soft features. But I guess that one is gonna be different for everyone anyway.
The Resident Evil movies are entertaining guilty pleasures, with a pretty decent heroine at the centre, largely because Milla Jovovich is a capable actress and clearly does a bunch of her own stunts. They aren't on the same level as, say, Alien, but they're fun, and making plenty of money. The last one made almost three hundred million dollars worldwide, with the fifth movie coming out later this year. Actually, the most memorable characters in the Resident Evil movies are all women. Rain, Jill Valentine and Claire Redfield (granted, Claire and Jill are better in the games, largely because they're sidelined, Alice is the star after all) - all cool, competent female characters.

As a fan of the games, I probably shouldn't like the movies as much as I do, but they entertain me. It isn't technically a superhero movie, but Alice pretty much is a superheroine.

Black Widow was my favourite Avenger from the movie, hoping to see more of her in Marvel's upcoming slate of films (whether that be in her own film, or even just in a small role somewhere).
Regarding superheroines generally, it is worth bearing in mind that superhero films are something of a genre, or sub-genre, unto themselves. Buffy may qualify, but I don't think that any and all action films with unusually impressive lead characters (male or female) count. In the later Die Hards, Bruce Willis might as well have had super powers, but those still aren't superhero films. No more are the Terminator films or TV series, nor the Alien films (the first of which wasn't an action film either). Just my thinly sketched reflections on genre, though. Alien Resurrection comes closest since the lead Ripley clone has super human powers, but I still don't think it comes close to counting as falling within the superhero genre.

Umm... Batman... just saying (Superheroes are superheroes because of the extraordinary things they do with their abilities and not because of their abilities being extraordinary - I don't know why modern creators/audiences have such a fear of identifying superheroes for what they are. Imo technically all of the above should be classified as superheroes.)

Personally I think that the whole lack of successful superheroines in cinema has more to do with simple statistics than anything else. Although there may be statistically just as many artistically successful movies made in the superhero genre as any other, the relatively small size of the genre itself means that quality films are simply numerically harder to come by. And given that so few of even these films focus on a female protagonist, it follows that the numerics for well done female-centric superhero films make them extremely hard to come by.*

What's the secret to producing more/better female-focused superhero/action films? Obviously putting more projects into the pipeline, but more importantly writers and studios need not to be afraid of producing artistically sub-par material despite the (most likely well-intentioned) negative punditry from people like you and me that will undoubtedly arise. Artistry is a skill developed through practice, and without failures there can be no successes. The real main reason for all the recent, super successful male-centric superhero action films? All those not-quites that came before them. So much of the discussion about the success/failure rate of female action [super]heroes seems to revolve around the quality of what's being produced. Without quantity quality is a moot point. Focus on quantity, then quality will take care of itself.

* courtesy TVTropes warning.
Didn't know what to expect of her going in. Never cared much for ScarJo's acting and eye rolled endlessly at the marketing of her and the fact that she is not a founding Avenger. Yet I knew as Joss' sole female Avenger she'd have to be good and he sure did disprove the former. She was a pleasant surprise if only because her presense made my wife okay with being dragged back for a sequel.
brinderwalt, I agree with most of your latter two paragraphs. Though certainly not with the claim that if we (or whoever) focus on quantity, quality will take care of itself. But I expect the sense you meant it in is fine.

I think, however, that you may be suffering from genre creep. Batman, in the Nolan films too, definitely falls within the superhero genre. Masked vigilantes/avengers needn't, and indeed preceded the development of that genre.

But looking back I see that I hadn't expressed myself well at all; sorry. While the superhero genre as such may have begun with super powers, I do not wish to suggest that, within their fictional world, every super hero must count as having such powers. My reference to powers (regarded as such within the fictional world or not) was meant to suggest that they are not sufficient for the story to count as being within the superhero genre; I never meant to suggest that super human powers (regarded as such within the fictional world) are a necessary condition.

Batman, Black Widow, Hawkeye, et al, all obviously have super human powers relative to the real world. But that's another matter.

Anyway, sorry for the misleading expression last time. But we still obviously disagree!
I actually really kind of loved Black Widow in the movie. I shouldn't be surprised -- Joss is great at portraying strong, layered women on screen, but her character was so unnecessary in Iron Man 2 and I've never been a huge Johannson fan. Proved me wrong: Black Widow is the human heart of the movie.

She and Hawkeye are the the only unaltered pure human beings in the Avengers, and they are magnificent but also playing way outside their league. I think her and Hawkeye's relationship is all kinds of awesome: a platonic male/female close relationship with great chemistry, inside jokes and no hint of romance.

It was only after my second viewing that I realized Black Widow = Zoe! They are both hardened soldier types (though BW is a spy), military, loyal to a fault, super-dry sense of humor, can kick your butt handily. BW's relationship with Hawkeye is not unlike Zoe's relationship with Mal -- though without the command overtones, both pairs have an intimacy and ease with each other that comes from years of protecting each other's backs and fighting together.

In other words, Black Widow is a pretty cool character.
To actually get more female action films, you'd have to get past the mindset that female action films don't sell. But to prove that they do sell, you would have to have more female action films released.

But the film industry is a bit better than the video game industry in that respect. So yay for faint praise.
I really liked "Salt" with Angelina Jolie.
The Underworld series (movies 1,2 and Awakening) feature a very strong female character named Selena who reminds me of a vampire version of The Black Widow, although the series is also big on gore and stylish photography rather than coherent storytelling.
@buffywrestling - I also liked Salt, a lot. Fun fact though - it was originally written for a man (Tom Cruise) and that was part of the reason Jolie took the role, b/c she said something to the effect in an interview that most men can't write female action stars without going someplace silly with it, and the character would be better and more realistic if its written for a man from the start, and then just tweaked slightly afterwards for her. And she was correct!

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