A Few Quick Movie Reviews

Slight spoilers for: Pitch Black (2000), The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), Riddick (2013), The Maze Runner (2014), Into The Storm (2014), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), and Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014). I’ll put a warning before more major spoilers.

So, I just saw some movies, and I noticed things while watching them. It’s hard not to, although it can make it difficult to enjoy them. The 2013 Riddick movie, for instance, I found more and more unpleasant to watch, until the ending that made me want to throw a tantrum. I liked the previous Riddick movies – Pitch Black (2000) and The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) – I enjoyed them, and I didn’t find them glaring problematic in their portrayals of women.

Not perfect, sure, but I found that the character Riddick did seem to respect the women around him in them, or at least as much as he respected anyone. His closest relationship with a woman was very protective, although given his interactions with the other Pitch Black survivor we see him with it seems to me like it’s because going through something like that of course you’re going to form close bonds, and as he went to extra effort to rescue her (actively working against throwing her to the wolves to better the others’ chances of survival) then it makes sense he’s going to be protective and feel a sense of responsibility towards her. So I find that ok. It’d be nice to break away from father-daughter motivations and relationships, but it wasn’t actively bad. The 2013 movie, however, broke from that really jarringly.

I’ll probably take a deeper look at the Riddick movies some time, I’ve been planning to do a review/comparison/maybe a little analysis since I saw the latest one, but that will require re-watching the movies with that in mind.

Anyway, the point of this post was that I had a movie day, and I was thinking about them and rating them a little while I was packing away groceries, and thought I should write down just a little bit on how I thought they were overall, as well as with diversity.

How I’m doing this:

  • Bechdel Test: a movie passes the Bechdel Test if two (named) female characters talk to each other, about something other than a man. I’m only counting when both talk, meaning scenes where one talks and the other ignores them/doesn’t respond won’t count.
  • Female Characters: how many female characters there are, and how prominent they are.
  • Racial Diversity: just my general impression and what I noticed, I wasn’t tallying up the races of the characters or anything.
  • Comments: just my impression of the movie, did I enjoy it, did it have anything problematic that I noticed (although, note that I do actively try not to notice that in entertainment a lot of the time, because it can make it really difficult to enjoy things – as I told my partner when he noted some potential fatphobia in Digimon, you really have to tune it out, or just push it to the back of your head and ignore it if you don’t want the be hunting forever for things to watch). Will contain spoilers.

The Maze Runner

Bechdel Test: Fail.

Female Characters: Two. One a main character, another somewhere between main and minor (important to the story, but not much screen time – actually the main female character was more of a minor character too: not much screen time, not many lines).

Racial Diversity: Pretty good. The cast was still predominantly white, and most of the really main characters were. But in groups scenes, a reasonable amount of diversity, and diversity among the people of colour.

Comments: Ok, first up, [SPOILER!] the diversity is really good because these kids are special, there’s something about them. It’s suggested they’re perhaps somehow smarter or think differently/better than most people. They are the salvation of the human race, somehow genetically superior, and they’re not all white, yay! On the flip side, there only being one girl shown as being among this group (there could have been more, but I didn’t see any in any of the flashbacks) is kind of suggesting that men are ‘better’ than women. From what I gathered, it’s a genetic mutation or resistance, somehow linked to their neurology or psychology (although really shouldn’t it be their immune systems? I dunno), which means there shouldn’t be a sex or gender difference in the likelihood of having it, unless the mutation is only in the Y chromosome. So that’s a little disappointing. [/SPOILER]

If I could, I’d tweak some other things relating to the main female character, and add in some more racial diversity, and the lack of body diversity was a given, but it’s an entertaining story. I liked the mystery, and having things slowly unfold, and the action was gripping, and the main character smart. Plus I like that Stiles from Teen Wolf now gets to be the hero instead of the sidekick who can’t do anything in a fight, he makes a good main character, and he plays a fairly different character – his mannerisms and facial expressions are still largely the same, but he really gets the personality different.

Into The Storm

Bechdel Test: Yes. One of the main female characters had a brief conversation with a teacher who was later named, the other spoke to her daughter who was also named.

Female Characters: Two main, and a reasonable number of background characters (the only minor characters who were female were two family members).

Racial Diversity: Bad. One main-ish African American man, one African American minor character, and I didn’t notice many non-white faces among background characters.

Comments: It definitely says how low the bar is that I’m actually happy this movie didn’t do the woman-as-reward-for-saving-the-day thing. It looked like things were going down that path with the older son, Donnie, and the girl he has a crush on, Kaitlyn, and my partner made a comment about it when “he saved her”.[SPOILER!] But no, Donnie didn’t save her, she saved him. I mean, the moment was very brief, but as far as I could see he was standing still going “oh shit I’m gonna die” and she grabbed him and pulled them both to safety. Then, yes, he takes care of an injury she has, but that’s hardly very heroic, and then he’s the one who needs extra saving again. And afterwards, they hug, but you don’t see her after that, there’s no now-they’re-dating epilogue. This happens also with the who single parents, who it looks like are being set up, because generally in movies when two single parents start talking to each other they end up together. But again, no. Yeah, they went through some stuff together, and bonded over caring for their kids. They became friends.[/SPOILER]

So yes, that’s a pretty low bar to pass, isn’t it? Having a human being be given as a reward like a trophy or a gold star. But sadly it’s one that plenty of movies don’t pass, so it’s still kind of an achievement.

The lack of racial diversity sucked, even if they’re being “realistic”. According to Wikipedia, its set in “Silverton, Oklahoma”, a fictional city. Oklahoma is 72% white, so the racial diversity in the movie about matches what you’d find there. But that’s a bad excuse, because unless the racial make-up is important to the story, there’s no reason not have a good mix of races present.

Otherwise, the movie was good. It had suspense, it had interesting characters, the effects were good, and even some comedic relief – a pair of “daredevils” who seemed invulnerable to serious injury. So a good superstorm movie, with a bit of a message worked in to take the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters seriously.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Bechdel Test: Yes. The main female character had three conversations with female minor characters (her housemate, and her editor). Technically, yes, all of those conversations were about the TMNT, “about men”, but the focus was on the story she was investigating, not on the man/men involved.

Female Characters: One main, two minor characters who got two scenes each. It seemed that the bystander scenes had a pretty even mix of men and women, I recall that the falling-debris shots seemed to be one man and one woman diving out of the way each time (or at least the times that are popping into my head).

Racial Diveristy: Bad. One African American minor character, played by Whoopi Goldberg, and two Japanese minor characters. The bad-guy-minions mostly had their faces covered, and the crowd scenes were mostly white.

Comments: Going by the trailer, I was expecting this movie to be pretty disappointing/unremarkable in its level of sexism. However, that staring-at-butt-instead-of-driving scene was the only time the main character (she’s the one the story follows, so I think she gets the ‘main character’ title) was objectified that way.[SPOILER!] The movie actually seemed to be commenting on that kind of objectification, being critical of her being sent off to do “fluff” pieces and show off her body while what she really wants to do is actual journalism, while her cameraman defend the “fluff” pieces and basically says “they’re pretty, so people want to look at you while you say nothing important, so you should let them”. Given he’s also the one staring at her butt instead of watching where he’s driving, and the one assuming that because they work together and she calls him to get a lift places that she must like him, he’s mostly where any sexism is coming from in the movie. There’s also Michelangelo deciding that the main character is his girlfriend, or might become his girlfriend if he keeps trying to say deep stuff and singing at her, to which she mostly just smiles at it like it’s cute or something. So pretty iffy there.[/SPOILER]

I find myself comparing this movie to Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), particularly in the sense of the Sexy Lamp Test – whether the story still works if you replace a female character with a sexy lamp. Transformers fails this. Not every scene could stay exactly the way it was, obviously, but they wouldn’t need to change much, and the overall story would not change. It would just change “guy being very protective of his daughter and not liking her boyfriend” to “guy is really protective of this lamp, and doesn’t like this other guy who really likes the lamp”, which is only a sub-plot anyway, really. In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you could not replace April O’Neil with a Sexy Lamp, it would break the plot. Why is this? Because she does things! [SPOILER!] She’s the reason Splinter and the boys are even still alive, she’s the reason Shredder knows they’re alive, she helps them escape, she helps them defeat Shredder. You would have to change major plot points to replace her with an inanimate object. She is the one the story is following, and not in a passive way, the camera isn’t just looking down on her while things happen to her, she’s grabbing it and charging along and investigating things and showing she has a brain.[/SPOILER]

So the gender diversity is good, and they have a proper main female character – one with agency – and she isn’t just there to motivate the men around her to do things. They have got some things that in my interpretation (which could just be optimism) felt like they were maybe criticising sexism, although there wasn’t enough commentary on them in the movie to be sure of that, so if they’re not then they’re some attitudes that need to change and would be nice to have either not seem in the movie, or have had them outright criticised and stated as not being ok. The racial diversity needs work, as one would expect.

Overall, a good movie. It had action, the characters had actual personalities, and the only real complaint is how Splinter looked. To me he looked a bit off, his fur was too shiny and his hair-hair was too black given the greying of the rest of his fur, my partner thought he shouldn’t have been done with CG and liked the 1990 version of him better, and someone else I chatted to described him as looking “slimy” and “a bit creepy”.

 

So I was pretty happy with all of these movies. They’re all heading in the right direction with gender or race diversity. It’s not like I was expecting any of them to do very well with these, because they’re problems the entire industry has, so they’ll take some time to be fixed. I’m hoping to see movies continuing like this, because the more diverse and equal the representations in them are, the more fun they are to watch and the more enjoyable they are.

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