Unordered List

Monday 11 November 2013

Thor: The Dark World, Part 2: Female characters & representation.

Previously: Part 1, Heroes & Villains.

I was extremely careful not to read any spoilers before I saw this movie, which is just as well because it's VERY spoilery. The one thing I did see beforehand was part of a review that said Jane's role was mostly to "faint on cue", which made me rather apprehensive. There's probably going to be a lot of debate over this among fans, but I personally thought the depiction of women in Thor: TDW was very good. If Jane had been the only female character, I wouldn't have been pleased by the fact that she fainted a lot, but there are four women in this movie (one more than in The Avengers, which had a far larger ensemble cast), and each of them has an important role in their own right. On the simplest level, this is how representation works: the more women you have in your movie, the more leeway you have to let one of them be "weak" -- whatever that means.
Jane's characterisation is very solid thanks to the first movie, and I appreciate the number of publicity interviews Natalie Portman has done where she talks about strength of character vs. the concept of "strong female characters". Sif is a warrior. Frigga is an witch and a diplomat and a mother, who can fight if she has to. Jane is brave and curious and smart, but she's not a fighter. Darcy is independent and fun and "normal". All four of those characters are "emotional", but not in a way that's coded to make them seem hysterical/weepy/stupid, which is often how some people interpret "emotional" female characters. A female character who faints a lot sets off alarm bells because we associate it with swooning damsels in distress, but a female character who has no weaknesses is a more insidious problem. I suppose they probably could've done better than Jane being Maguffinised for half the movie, but I think it worked in the context of her being the mortal girlfriend of a near-indestructable alien, which I can only assume will be the primary conflict in the Thor/Jane romance storyline in any potential sequels.

Friday 8 November 2013

Thor: The Dark World, Part 1: Heroes and Villains.

SPOILER WARNING: There are spoilers for Thor: The Dark World throughout this post!

I recommend watching this movie back-to-back with Thor, as it really emphasises the way the two stories shift from personal character journey to sweeping epic. I watch A LOT of superhero movies, but this was probably the best graduation from origin story to sequel that I've seen so far. Thor is purposefully the reverse of your typical superhero character arc because instead of struggling with superpowers and learning how to become a hero, he's learning how to be a fallible human and not have superpowers. Even the obligatory daddy issues are far more interesting than usual, because Odin is an actual character rather than a long-dead ghost or an avatar of lofty paternal expectations.
Thor's unusually well-drawn characterisation means that there's a solid base on which to make The Dark World a sci-fi/fantasy epic with an ensemble cast, instead of just another superhero movie where the central character hits Bad Guys until they give up. I was also pleasantly surprised by how complex it was -- not that I'm suggesting it's a particularly deep and meaningful cinematic work, but more that it was one of the most unpredictable (and rewatchable) superhero movies I've seen so far. If you look at the Thor-Loki arc over the course of their three movies together, Thor is about Loki running rings around everyone because they're all straight-shooting warrior types. The Avengers is about Loki finally meeting his match, in the form of Black Widow (intellectually) and the Avengers themselves (because Friendship and Teamwork triumph over Evil, obviously). Finally we reach Thor: TDW, in which Thor has learned from his mistakes and manages to fool Loki himself.