Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Order of Willie Scott

So, I went to see "Transformers: Age of Extinction" last night. I'm not going to bother with much of a review: Michael Bay has these down to a fine art now, so if you liked the first three you'll like this; if you didn't like the first three, you won't like this. For what it's worth, I rate them 2 > 4 > 1 > 3, but that's like rating Spice Girls singles - they're just varying levels of awfulness.

(That said, I did like some things: most of the Autobot character designs; Hound; the Dinobots!; Prime's original disuise form; that Prime had the Autobot shield in his new disguise form; Frasier Crane's character; and the Dinobots!)

But I'm getting really sick of a particular depiction of women that seems to crop up in films rather too often, which I have chosen to call the Order of Willie Scott, after the character in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom".

This character type is distinguished as follows: the actress is cast because she looks good but usually (but not always) lacks any acting experience and indeed talent. The character is then portrayed as being completely useless. She exists to shriek at opportune moments, to get herself into all sorts of trouble, and to generally motivate the manly men to go off on their adventures. As a side-order of awfulness, the character is usually (but again, not always) depicted as being 'strong' by virtue of constantly defying the paternalistic male figure in her life - be that her father as here, or the hero (who, by virtue of being the hero must of course be the surrogate father-figure /sarcasm) - generally serving to get herself into yet more trouble.

Now, in fairness, there is a certain counter-argument here: faced with a war between giant transforming robots, it's not really a surprise that someone might go to pieces. Indeed, there was one scene in particular that would have had me curling up in a ball and just accepting death. But that's actually part of the point: in film, it's invariably the female character (especially the OWS) who cries, and cowers, and gets rescued, while the manly men bellow, and stand, and do the rescuing. It's not a realistic human response to danger; it's a patronising faux-female response to danger.

(The reality, with something like this, is that some people would be shattered and some would adapt more quickly. But it's likely that that adaptation wouldn't cut across the 'classic' lines: faced with a war between giant transforming robots, there's no telling whether it would be the manly man or his seventeen year old daughter who is better able to cope. Indeed, there's an argument for it being the latter, as she has less life experience to be confounded.)

So, I'm afraid I'm going to have to induct Nicola Peltz's Tessa Yeager into the Order of Willie Scott, alongside Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's Carly, and of course Willie Scott herself (but, incidentally, not Megan Fox's Mikaela Banes - Michael Bay does actually know how to do better, he just chooses not to).

(Of course, I've also previously complained about the 'fake' badass warrior woman - the one who is portrayed as being tough and independent and awesome... right up to the point where the script-writers need to establish how great the 'real' hero is, at which point she'll need rescued. I don't like that either. My preference is for characters like Lady Sif from "Thor", Eowyn from "Lord of the Rings", Delenn or Susan Ivonova from "Babylon 5", Sarah Connor from "Terminator", or Ellen Ripley from "Alien".)

Actually, it occurs to me that "Transformers: Age of Extinction" could have been improved hugely by the simple expedient of changing the sex of Mark Wahlberg's character. Though it should be noted that I didn't see anything wrong with his performance.

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