But [Age of Ultron] also speaks to a growing divergence between Whedon’s storytelling techniques and feminist genre storytelling in general. Whedon’s onscreen feminism often follows a very basic pattern — take a character type traditionally played by a man and gender-flip it to see what happens. It’s the same thing Ridley Scott did with Alien‘s Ripley (who was literally scripted to be played by a man).
But this method has been around for decades now. The “Hey! Look! It’s a woman! Playing a part usually played by a man!” approach no longer feels transgressive. Instead, it feels like a trope in its own right, and one that verges on overuse. Meanwhile, fans are increasingly responding to characters who embrace the full spectrum of what it is to be a woman, from very feminine to very masculine.
–On the problem with Joss Whedon feminism.
Incidentally, I find this article’s apologetics–“Whedon’s a feminist but often makes non-feminist stuff because Story”–somewhat interesting in light of the fact it was written a few weeks before Mad Max: Fury Road blew up the internet.
I think the idea that “good storytelling” and “feminism” are in opposition is bullshit. Particularly if you take a moment to consider Whedon’s anti-feminist moments–the attempted rape in Buffy, the terrible Cordelia pregnancy arc in Angel, pretty much every time Black Widow appears on screen in The Avengers–are criticised not just because they’re “un-feminist”, but because they’re bullshit storytelling. Mystical pregnancies are a shit trope. Male-focused rapist redemption is a shit trope. Calling the one major female character in your film a whiny cunt and then implying she’s a monster because she can’t have children is a whole shittropeapalooza.
And one of the reasons I love Fury Road so much is that I think, in this post-Furiosa world, it becomes a lot more difficult to argue the “feminism vs. storytelling” binary. Fury Road was interesting and unique because it had feminist themes. Sure, it could’ve taken the “cheap” melodrama options; it could’ve shown us the rape and captivity of the Wives, it could’ve turned the Green Place into a paradise,1 it could’ve equated Capable’s compassion to weakness, it could’ve sidelined Furiosa once Max showed up, it could’ve sacrificed her at the end instead of Nux. All of those things are what audiences would’ve expected, because those are the things we’re used to seeing.
It could’ve, but it chose to subvert those tropes instead. Whether that choice was due to a conscious feminist agenda or because George Miller just wanted to tell a more interesting story is irrelevant; the fact is that one turn brought along the other. No weaksauce apologetics allowed.
In other words, Joss Whedon’s storytelling falters when his feminism falters. Meanwhile, Fury Road drives a knife-covered eighteen wheeler though the canyon of patriarchal tropes, yelling wildly as it invites you along for the ride.
- This is anti-feminist? Yeah, I think it is, because it plays into biologically essentialist tropes about female caregivers versus male warriors. YMMV on this one depending on what type of feminism you subscribe to, but personally I much prefer Fury Road‘s rejection of this trope in favour of its “everyone works together, everyone overcomes” moral. [↩]