UTAH TECH UNIVERSITY'S STUDENT NEWS SOURCE | September 26, 2022

Female roles in superhero films not meeting potential

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I’m a female comic book fan, and I love superhero movies.

However, in the recent lineup of superhero films, the love interests just seems unnecessary. Female roles in superhero movies should be amped up to fit with modern society.

After seeing “Thor: The Dark World,” I had mixed feelings.

The movie’s overall plot was sound, the characters all had distinct personalities, and the hero was likable enough you wanted to root for him. Yet just one thing in the movie set the whole plot off from becoming better: Thor’s love interest, Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman.

Foster doesn’t serve much purpose in the film aside from being the love interest, or in typical fashion of some superhero movies, the victim. Portman is a solid actress, so the acting was fine, but the character’s pointless purpose felt like it belonged in an ’80s action film.

I would’ve much enjoyed the new Thor better if Sif, a female warrior of Asgard, had a bigger role. Sif is a very cool character (she’s a battle ready, sword wielding heroine), but she’s extremely underutilized in the “Thor” films. If Foster would’ve biffed it to be replaced by Sif, the movie would’ve been 10 times better.

Pepper Potts from the “Iron Man” series, Betty Ross from the “Hulk” movies, and Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane from the “Spider-Man” movies are all so interchangeable I could just call them “the love interest” instead of singling them out.

My own personal problem with the majority of them is wondering why the superhero is making any time for romance when the world needs to be saved.

My biggest pet peeve is how they bring nothing to the story and are all bland. Yes, they somehow help the hero in some films in a passive role, but the female characters in these flicks should have a more active role in stopping the end of the world. Examples of active female characters would be Black Widow from “The Avengers” and Catwoman from “The Dark Knight Rises.”

These two characters brought more depth to their own movies and added to the plot instead of making it feel stale and formulaic. I would go even further to say they should make more characters like Black Widow who are not there for a romantic agenda and can play with the boys. However, if a romantic interest is needed, they should all be like Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman.

It’s disappointing in 2013 on the brink of 2014 the superhero genre can’t push for females to play a bigger part in the franchises. An even crazier idea would be to have a flick about a female superhero. As a female viewer, it’s annoying to watch many of the female leads do nothing.  

The Bechdel test, created by Alison Bechdel, is a test for movies to show whether it is gender biased. There are three different tests a movie must pass. No. 1 is whether there are at least two women in the movie. No. 2 is the women must have a conversation. No. 3 is the women must have a conversation about something other than a man.

According to the Bechdel statistics, out of 4,537 movies, only 55.7 percent passed all the tests, 10.8 percent passed two of the tests, 23.4 percent passed one test, and 10.2 percent passed none of the tests.

Rating the superhero film genre against the Bechdel test is setting it up for failure. The bulk of these flicks have a male protagonist, with male partners, and then the love interest. If there is something I would give “Thor” credit for, it’s having a female friendship between Foster and her intern Darcy.

However, we’ll compare “Thor” against other superhero movies. “Captain America” has one female lead and love interest. “Hulk” has one female lead and love interest. The “Batman” trilogy has one female lead and love interest (aside from “The Dark Knight Rises,” but the other female lead was also a love interest). The pointless “Man of Steel” had one female lead and love interest.

Even my beloved movie “The Avengers” only passed one test.

The problem as a whole can be seen from movies of all genres. Even when there are female leads, it’s most likely a romantic comedy. Filmmakers have created a misguided belief that women are only interested in movies about romance. Because of this glaring generalization, most movies are tailored to what the filmmakers think women want.

The conversations in most movies that actually do take place between two women are about a guy. The film industry believes if the conversation is about other things, the female movie goers’ interest will dwindle. This is a gross misconception of a woman’s identity.

It’s an old, outdated patriarchal system that diminishes a woman’s identity by creating an illusion that a woman’s existence can’t be fully realized unless there is a man involved. It isn’t too surprising when the number of men in media positions far outnumber women.

Media’s slow progress can be easily shown with a woman not winning best director until 2010, Kathryn Bigelow.

From what I’ve read about future developments from Marvel and DC films (possibly a Wonder Woman appearing in the Batman vs. Superman movie), female roles in superhero movies will grow more important, slowly but surely. In the meantime, for every great female character like Black Widow, we’ll have to sit through a movie with a Jane Foster, the love interest.