Tomrrowland 2

Casey Newton is the hero the future, and cinema in general, needs. She is extremely intelligent, determined, optimistic, and is willing to sacrifice everything for causes she feels are just. Even if it means sabotaging equipment that will be used to demolish a NASA launch pad – once the demolition is complete her father, a NASA, engineer, will be out of a job. Newton is the ultimate symbol of hope. The dreamer who can see the light through the grim death obsessed fog that mankind exists in.

Yet no one is talking about her.

One of two key female characters – the other being the artificial intelligence known as Athena – in Brad Bird’s ambitious, though not always effective, film Tomorrowland, Newton (played perfectly by Britt Robertson) has gone relatively unnoticed in a summer season where women have come out swinging. While I had some issues with Newton becoming a bit of a passenger in the final act – the messiest section of the entire film – her presence was a welcome addition to the growing list of strong female characters.

In a perfect cinematic world Newton would be the precursor to Mad Max: Fury Road’s butt kicking heroine Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). A woman untainted by the human greed that threatens to destroy the world as she knows it. Sure she may lack the physical prowess of Theron’s remarkable character, but both Tomorrowland and Mad Max: Fury Road share quiet a few traits. Aside from being films were mankind is the makers of their own doom, both films feature lead female characters who are equals, either intellectually or physically, to their male counterparts. It can be argued that Newton represents the brains, and Athena the brawns, of Furiosa.

Mad Max Fury Road

The fact that the top three films for this year’s Memorial Day weekend (Pitch Perfect 2, Tomorrowland, and Mad Max: Fury Road) all had empowering female characters is something that we should be rejoicing. Frankly, it is a trend I hope will continue to flourish to the point where it is no longer needs to be discussed.

However, it is the discourse that I find most fascinating. Despite having an unshakeable hold on the box office, Pitch Perfect 2 is still talked about as if it is an anomaly. A film that managed to connect with audiences, but is not necessarily the blueprint studios will follow. An odd viewpoint considering that the sequel made more in its first weekend, than the original did in its entire theatrical run.

The bulk of the intellectual chatter has centred around, and rightfully so, Mad Max: Fury Road. That film is a breath of fresh air within a genre that makes strides towards gender equality at a snail’s pace. It has been wonderful reading the numerous think pieces on why not being overtly feminist has actually made Fury Road the perfect female positive action film. The fact that asinine men’s rights groups – really, how does such a thing even exist? – got all up in arms about the strong female characters in what should be a “male” action movie, no doubt fueled the conversation further.

Though it has not lit up the box office the way pundits expect, it is trailing Pitch Perfect 2 domestically but doing slightly better than the musical ladies internationally, there is already talk of the possibility of a new Mad Max trilogy. Hardy is reportedly eager to return, but there is no word on whether Furiosa will make a cameo appearance in any of them. Tomorrowland has not been as lucky. After a disappointing opening – the Disney film debuted at number one but its $40.7 million haul was nowhere near its reported $190 million budget. – the focus has been on whether or not this will cause studios to shy away from original projects, especially ones with prominent female characters.

Tomorrowland

The disturbing thing about this is how quickly one financial bomb threatens to setback the whole equality movement in the minds of some. Disney has already announced that it is scraping production on TRON 3, which many see as the first domino in the Tomorrowland fallout. While not a female-driven franchise, the fact that they were even planning to make a third TRON film, after TRON: Legacy’s less than stellar reception, is fascinating in itself. Similar to Mad Max, it seems that blockbusters marketed more towards men are given several chances at redemption.

So Ghost Rider, TRON, and Pacific Rim all get multiple chances at the plate, but Tomorrowland’s strike out is reason not let female positive blockbusters into the batter’s box?

The math simply does not add up.

To put things in perspective, this is the same industry that has put the majority of its eggs in the lucrative comic book basket, but is still gun shy about the notion of female superhero films being viable commodities.

Disney may grumble at Tomorrowland underperforming, but they also have the Marvel and Star Wars franchises to cushion the blow. Not to mention all the existing animated properties that they are planning to adapt into live-action films. Will the performance of Tomorrowland stop the studio from making its female driven Star Wars: Rogue One spin-off? No. The Star Wars brand is simply too powerful to fail financially. However, similar to the Mad Max franchise, Star Wars is still predominantly marketed to young males, despite the fact that women now make up more than half of the film industry’s audience.

Pitch Perfect 2

It is disheartening that, despite the recent success of female driven movies like Maleficent, <em Cinderella, and Pitch Perfect 2, strong female characters are still considered a risky venture. All it takes is one slip to crack the thin layer of ice women are allowed to skate on. Instead of praising the fact that director Brad Bird felt comfortable enough to effortlessly incorporate characters like Athena (confidently portrayed by Raffey Cassidy), a more wholesome cross between and Kick-Ass’ Hit Girl and The Terminator, and Casey Newton, literally the smartest person in the room, the conversation is making things seem even more dire than they should be.

It is time to loosen the leash a little bit. Just because a film, with strong female representation, does not meet expectations financially it should not be a death sentence to all future female positive blockbusters. It should not even be the first point of discussion.

At some point we need to get to a place where strong female characters are so common in film that their presence no longer needs to be addressed. They can be part of both successful films and failures without having to carry the whole weight their gender’s cinematic impact on their shoulders.

13 Comments

  1. I haven’t seen Tomorrowland, so I can’t talk too much about the content. But I don’t think it was marketed with a heavy gender hook. If anything, it was marketed practically without a hook, and that’s why I don’t think it took off at the box office.

    I think the bigger issue is that Hollywood needs to stop buying into the myth that women will go see “guy movies” but men won’t go see “girl movies.” Films like “Spy” and “Trainwreck,” which feature female protagonists but have various elements with cross-gender appeal, will hopefully help to burst the outdated assumption.

    1. I complete agree that they need to change their assumptions as to who will see “guy moves” and “girl movies”. Even those labels are not as clearly defined, or even needed, as they once were. It is strange that, for an industry that cares about the financial bottom line, Hollywood is still fascinated with appealing to the male consumer, yet all the recent data has shown that women are the ones who are spending the most on entertainment these day. As for Tomorrowland’s marketing campaign, the studio seemed to struggle with identifying who their target demographic was.

  2. An interesting post. So far the only film of the ones you’ve referred to is Mad Max: Fury Road. I haven’t seen the others, though that has more to do with a lack of interest in their subject matter and Tomorrowland not making the best impression on me than anything to do with the casting decisions. The fact that Fury road did have a strong female lead was a very nice touch, especially considering the original Mad Max trilogy is not exactly known for its female characters (and the only real strong female lead didn’t come about until Beyond Thunderdome). In a way that whole thing was a criticism of patriarchy and was based on the premise of the predominantly female cast having to come onto equal footing with the two male characters in their group.

    I can also speak about how rediculous the whole “Men’s Rights” complaints are. The whole idea of defining gender-specific movies makes me sick. I actually did a whole post back in January explaining in extensive detail precisely why we shouldn’t be doing this kind of thing (http://hitchcocksworld.blogspot.ca/2015/01/on-desk-set-and-implications-of.html) and also venting some frustrations on a film that encompasses he reverse side (it was made as a romantic comedy because the filmmakers actually thought that was the only possible way it could appeal to women).

    There’s been some movies that have given me some trouble on the IMDB message boards caused by arrogant people like that. The first one was a movie called Black Sea, and the second was a film called Alien Outpost. Both were films that had an all-male cast when there didn’t seem to be any need for it and in both cases I called them out on it and started threads questioning the lack of female characters. Suddenly I get a wave of horrendously stupid comments, two of which inspired other articles addressing related topics:

    http://hitchcocksworld.blogspot.ca/2014/10/it-is-possible-to-have-female-character.html

    http://hitchcocksworld.blogspot.ca/2014/11/female-soldiers-and-combat-film.html

    In both cases, everyone just started going into an uproar citing various reasons. Some tried to rationalize the all-male casts. Others went and claimed to find it “refreshing” that there were no women in those movies. Others couldn’t seem to comprehend the idea that having a female character does not automatically mean a love story has to be present, since they kept using that as justification for the lack of female characters. Finally, there were those who claimed to want to see “guy” movies and would not listen when I asked why gender associations were necessary (and that’s not even getting into how these users seem to imply that men can’t relate to women).

    A lot of them just accused me of of being too politically correct and claimed that I was interfering with the artist’s vision. One person called me a “Feminazi” (because as we all know from history the Nazis were very supportive of feminism, that’s why there were so many high-ranking female Nazis like… yeah wait, no they weren’t). Quite a few tried to criticize me by claiming there were “hundreds” or “dozens” of all-female films (I don’t know what they’re talking about because I’ve found like… three or four at most). There were even at least two cases of people starting mock threads because they thought I was an idiot because how dare I call out movies on their questionable casting choices and then use them as examples to encourage other filmmakers to diversify the casts.

    Of course, the good news is that I’ve got a few scripts on hand and pretty much all of them have a strong female lead in some form. In fact most of them have multiple ones. The only script I’ve got which has a predominantly male cast was an adaptation, and even there I managed to fit a strong female character (even if she was a man in the original book) without throwing in any kind of romance.

    Unfortunately, we’ve still got a lot of problems with the modern box office. You might recall that last year Fifty Shades of Gray became a huge hit. This year we got The Age of Adaline which had some good ideas and could have had potential for a strong female lead if it weren’t for Ellis. I don’t know if you ever saw that film, but Ellis was basically a stalker. He chases Adaline out of a party (using every excuse available not to leave her side) then tracks her down to work where he basically pressures her into going on a date with him. Then Adaline finds out that Ellis has actually gone behind her back to get her address and shown up at her house, prompting her to do the smart thing and leave. Adaline then confronts her daughter who immediately tells her to go back to Ellis because he is a good man, and I’m like “no, don’t go back to Ellis. He’s a creepy stalker.”

    Basically, like Fifty Shades of Grey, Ellis is a horrible person who the film insists on trying to cast as the perfect romantic partner. I think there’s something to be said about the fact that we’ve gotten two separate movies of this sort in an era where people should know better. Fifty Shades of Grey might have justification for being so rediculous considering it was a hasty revision of what I can only assume was some really bad Twilight Fanfiction but The Age of Adaline could have actually worked had it made an effort to make Ellis a likeable character. We might have made some progress but I’m not sure we can get anywhere until people stop paying money for films about women being abused that try to play it as charming.

    1. I cannot speak to the contents of either The Age of Adaline or Fifty Shades of Grey, as I have not seen either yet, I do not have any issue with them doing well at the box office this year. I do find the feedback you have endured troubling though. While I believe there are certain films that justify an all-female or all-male cast, it bothers me that there is still that school of thought that assumes a female character injected into a predominantly male cast must automatically be the love interest. It is sad that some people’s views of cinema are still stuck in the 1920s.

  3. Reblogged this on Movie Man Greg and commented:
    This is a very spot on, post. We need more chances for females leading the box office. In the superhero world, the fact that we haven’t gotten a Black Widow or Wonder Woman solo film is disheartening.

  4. I didn’t connect with this character at all. The film doesn’t really care about her and so neither do we. They really dropped the gun and it’s too bad, but it’s also not the biggest crime of this film. I wish casting was my biggest complaint!

    1. While I disagree that Tomorrowland does not care about it female lead, I will concur that they drop the ball towards the end. I found both Casey and Athena to be fascinating characters, more so than love struck Frank Walker in fact, it is just a shame that the rest of the film, I still do not understand the rules/logistics of the utopian world, got tangled in its own construction.

  5. Role of women in the cinema has changed significantly all over the world. Movies like Gone Girl, Queen, The Hunger Games, “Shailene Woodley” movies etc. have shown that women are the new heroes.

    1. I am all for women being the new heroes, it just a shame that studios are not embracing that mentality more. Since I originally wrote this piece, Universal announced, a whole month after the sequel made a killing at the box office, that they will be moving forward with Pitch Perfect 3. It took them that long to realize that there was still juice to squeeze from that lucrative orange. In comparison, the same studio had announced that there would be a third film in The Hangover series days before The Hangover Part II was even released.

      1. Well all the studios around the globe have only one aim – “profit”. Keeping your views in mind, I would say that to some extent it is correct but then there are movies like “the hunger games” or “divergent series”. It has the same story as the hangover. Now if we talk about male – centered movies, “enders game” was a huge success but still its sequel is in dark. So, we can say that everyone is being given equal opportunities; its the one who wins the challenge.

        1. While I see the point you are making, I am not sure I would classify Ender’s Game as a big success. I think it falls into the same category as The Golden Compass. Though Ender’s Game recouped its $110 budget, it only made $125 million worldwide ($61 million of which came in domestically, which was below expectations). Plus I think the controversy surrounding the personal views of Orson Scott Card has made the prospect of a sequel, at least for now, slim.

          1. I agree with the facts but if i truly introspect then i would say that ender’s game is one my favourite science fiction. Of course, after interstellat and divergent. And yes, the chances of EG’s sequel is pretty slim but not of the cards.

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