Tag: opinion

It's time for Hollywood to embrace the female super villain

Contributed by
Apr 29, 2019, 6:27 AM EDT (Updated)

If there's one thing the Internet has been keen to do lately, it's point out all the ways Hollywood continues to mishandle female roles in many of its franchises. It's a valid complaint that shouldn't be tainted by the small handful of unsubstantiated and wildly inaccurate accusations that exist on the fringe. And it's worth noting that, sometimes, audiences are equally to blame for the direction female characters take on the big screen and beyond; if the demand for strong female roles ceases to to exist or, more importantly, fans don't put their money where their mouths are, then studios will always put them on the back burner in comparison to their male counterparts. 

When the discussion of female characters comes up, however, especially in superhero and franchise films, there's something noticeably missing from the conversation. Yes, women need to have a strong, positive presence in pop culture, but what about the bad guys -- or, more specifically, bad girls? It's time for Hollywood, and audiences, to embrace the villainess.

As the market continues to be flooded with comic-book franchises, it runs the risk of becoming a lot of the same-old, same-old. The more variety and diversity that exist in storytelling, the more interesting it is. Sure, it's great that we are finally seeing two of the most iconic female supers get their own standalone films in the near future, but if the cries for equal representation for women in film are sincere, then we need the bad right along with the good.

The villain is often an incredibly powerful character, one who's typically described as being sophisticated and highly intelligent, and often called a mastermind; they kind of have to be in order to pose a credible threat to the hero. By not exploring the duality that exists in women, just as it does in men, we're perpetuating the myth that women are less complex, and prohibiting actresses from playing far more interesting roles in the process. Where's the female equivalent to Darth Vader, the Joker or Norman Bates?

Though Catwoman and Mystique have both been portrayed numerous times on the big screen, neither has really been a true villain. Catwoman is arguably more antihero than villain, and while X-Men: Days of Future Past's plot revolved heavily around Mystique, the real villain was Bolivar Trask. Movie Mystique has been a lot less villainy or evil than she is in the comics. Talia al Ghul took a backseat to Bane in TDKR, and X-Men dropped the ball with Dark Phoenix, never really letting audiences see how powerful a force she was. Is it because, as a culture, we view a woman as the caregiver, the nurturer, the mother, thus refusing to accept her when cast as destructive, hateful and dangerous? Even Disney effectively neutered one of its greatest villains, Maleficent, in the live-action film by giving her a backstory that some guy broke her heart, so she turned into a jealous, vengeful bitch. Why couldn't Maleficent just be evil because she was born that way? 

Last year's Gone Girl was the first time we truly got to see a fully fleshed-out, well-written female villain in Amy Dunne. She was smart, driven, calculating and maniacal. Much like Heath Ledger's widely hailed Joker, Amazing Amy was an evil genius, and Rosamund Pike's portrayal of her earned the actress numerous accolades. Dunne was the antithesis of a mustache-twirling villain.

If fans really want to see more screen time for women, then they have to let go of their bias that they can only be portrayed according to a set list of unwritten rules that women=good, men=bad. Women=soft, men=hard, women=love, men=violence. Those assumptions are based more on societal stereotypes than biology or facts. Human beings can be deeply flawed, whether by nature or nurture, regardless of gender. To be fair, it seems like Hollywood is slowly opening up to the idea of the bad girl; James Gunn confirmed that Nebula is returning in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel, and director David Ayer seems to be making Harley Quinn a major player in the upcoming Suicide Squad. It's been confirmed that Game of Thrones actress Gwendoline Christie is playing antagonist Captain Phasma in the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII, and according to rumors the villain's role will continue to grow in Episodes VII and IX. Will they let these nefarious ladies be as sinister and vicious as their comic-book counterparts (in Christie's case her Empire predecessors) or water them down on the big screen?

Superheroes will always stand up for the right thing, because that's what heroes do. It's almost a knee-jerk reaction that good will rise against evil. But the good guy isn't really the most interesting character. That distinction almost always goes to the villain. Bad guys are mysterious, complex geniuses who defy the narrative that people are inherently good. And it's because they go against the perceived norm that humanity is mostly positive that we are perhaps so drawn to them; it's human nature to be curious about the things we understand least and want to flirt with danger. Good guys may make us feel nice, but bad guys get us off.

Comic books have always explored the complexities of human nature in more daring ways than most media. They push the envelope with imaginative and outrageous characters and scenarios, which is partially why we continue to see so many of them adapted for TV and the silver screen. That being said, if studios are going to continue to tap this plush resource, then they need to bring some of the most wicked villanesses up to the major leagues.