Progress Or Sabotage: Haywire and Underworld 4 Get Same Day Release

When I saw the trailer for Haywire, about a female assassin I immediately perked up. I found the original Underworld to be a fresh take on the vampire meme. Plus, I loved the gothic architecture in the background. When I discovered they filmed location shots in Budapest I’ve wanted to go to Hungary ever since.  I wonder if action or science fiction movies with a woman as the lead protagonist will become the latest cool trend like paranormal romance novels are for book publishing. There’s clearly been ongoing interest by audiences for these types of stories.

There have been other films where women led the story like the Lara Croft and Resident Evil franchises. Hollywood even threw us black girls a bone with Sanaa Lathan starring in Alien v. Predator way back in 2004. While these films may have been profitable, Angelina Jolie and Milla Jovovich have hearty careers (esp. Jolie) they were made for the mental capacity of 12 year-olds. 

And while Salt (originally written with Tom Cruise in mind which also starred Jolie) was a much meatier film I’m still waiting for one that has enough gravitas. I may have urged folks to see Colombiana, but a film about a woman seeking vengeance whose family were essentially criminals is not exactly the best message.

On the other hand one could argue most films in this genre are flawed. The difference is due to shifting demographics where women are getting more of these roles in a post-Ripley and Sarah Connor world, but like the Bond Villianesses they’re still envisioned by men. There have been a few great individual characters like Foxy Brown and Cleopatra Jones, but they didn’t travel far beyond a window-dressing fluke that ended with the Blaxploitation genre. I thought Trinity from the Matrix films most embodied a balanced combination of toughness, intelligence and vulnerability, but that was more than a decade ago. French film Nikita looms large twenty-two years after its release because of the depths of its character and unique perspective. So much so it has spawned two international tv series, one crappy American movie remake but remains second to none.

I have yet to find a more interesting character than Tina Turner’s portrayal of Auntie Entity in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. 

Well, except maybe Grace Jones in Conan The Destroyer. Talk about kicking some serious booty! Her athleticism made her stand out.

I haven’t even touched on the paradox of our promotion of violence, but far too many movies seem to take glee in showing women being victimized *cough* Girl With The Dragon Tattoo *cough*. I won’t watch the American remake of that film after inadvertently streaming Part One of the Swedish films. Because I hadn’t read about the plot, didn’t know the non-English title is actually Men Who Hate Women, I was completely unprepared and almost threw up when I discovered there was a rape scene. I was horrified and stopped watching. Eventually, I calmed down enough after I read the backstory on Stieg Larsson and his overall intended message for the Millennium trilogy. I went on to watch all three films and I guess I was more relieved there weren’t scenes as bad as that one, but it was more like surviving a war because it was so emotionally taxing. There has to be something that is serious but not as gut-wrenching.

This isn’t the 1980’s or ’90’s and the mindless car crashes, collisions and explosions have been done to death. It’s time to retire The Transformer series. The Comic Book franchises have filled a gap as late, with Marvel doing an excellent job with tying their heroes and showing preview scenes for upcoming movies. I really enjoyed X-Men: First Class and Thor but that was because of the interpersonal relationships and themes present. The filmmakers get a permanent black eye for diminishing the awesomeness of Storm AND for not casting black women – even as an extra. Someone had better start using their box office muscle where more than one-third of the entire paying audience is black in only supporting movies that recognize us, but that’s a whole other issue.

For the record, the success or failure of Red Tails (about black male fighter pilots) offers no value to me personally, nor will it assist black women professionally as we’ve been completely erased in that film as well. George Lucas dating a black woman has yet to translate in any significant front-end or back-end gains for us in his films or at his company to my knowledge, so let’s never assume (group) potential value in relationships until we see evidence of something that benefits more than one individual.

Since this genre is still male-dominated (like the industry and society at large) and the success of (still predominently white) women-led films across any genre is judged more harshly, the opening weekend box office becomes imperative. I’d hedge my bets in supporting these films for potential benefit based on our shared gender before counting on (black) male support. I’d LOVE to be proven wrong! Apparently, we’re still circling the crawling stage in crucial areas of development.

So after that long sidebar companion discussion we’re (almost) back to the topic at hand. Hollywood continually thwarts funding for women-centric films unless they’re horribly racially stereotypical (Precious, The Help, anything by Tyler Perry, other black male comedians in drag/fat suits who aren’t Toilet Paper Productions Perry), anti-woman ridicule disguised as a comedy (Bridesmaids, Bride Wars), offendingly paternalistic (“Third World” survival tales) or gratuitous in objectifying us. Or stories about us being raped, beaten and murdered.

So after ALL of that (I still left a few offenses on the table and the complicity of other women demeaning each other) what we’re left with is the ‘opportunity’ for failure when competing studios who collectively claim women can’t carry a film STILL – after this has been DEBUNKED numerous times – pit two women-starring films against each other. Of course neither film is directed or produced by women, but again we’re still circling the crawling stage in crucial areas of development.

Both films will lose key support by peeling away at audience numbers. Overall attendance is on a steady decline. Crappy movies and high ticket prices discourages legit ticket buyers. The studios insistence on delaying availability for streaming and pushing DVDs only encourages the piracy they complain so bitterly about.

I know I asked whether the not arbitrary decision to have these movies in direct competition signifies equal positioning and more opportunities. I think you can guess what my answer is. Still, Kate Beckinsale had nixed continued involvement in the series at one time (the third one was a prequel without her in it), so the studio is banking on perhaps one last hurrah with Awakening.

Haywire has cache because Steven Soderberg’s directing. Newcomer Gina Carano plays a black ops soldier who’s betrayed and the fact she has martial arts training makes the fight scenes look even better. The same can be said for the latest Nikita incarnation because what untrained actress could pull off a credible single-shot sword fight? It always annoys me male stunt fighters are still being substituted for women as if we can’t tell when they’re in drag.

At the end of the day I’d rather see a woman kicking you-know what over being a damsel in distress, but mental acumen and femininity rule. There are women Studio Heads but we’ve still got far to go. I think the curiosity factor is higher for Haywire. Women In Hollywood hails this as a potential gamechanger where a female athlete gets such a big opportunity for movie stardom. Perhaps, but no one ever overdubbed Ah-nuld like Soderbergh does to Carano. One step foward and you know the rest.  If you plan to see either of these films drop a comment.

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