[SPOILER WARNING for The Rebellion Story. If you’re in the magical girl loop or just don’t care, read on unafraid]
Not gonna lie—there’s something immensely satisfying about watching a character rise up powerful when they’ve been everyone else’s kicky bag in the story so far. Especially if it’s someone characterised as traditionally weak and helpless, a young woman for example. Fighting back against the resident nasties, in whatever form they come, removes the damsel in distress frame and makes her her own vengeful hero. Bonus points if she’s superpowered up now, bonus bonus points if it’s something the baddies wanted but backfired. Yeah. It’s bitchin’. But it’s also a trope that can be used quite problematically.
Look at Lucy for example, or at least the trailer for it—I might be jumping the gunshark to cast judgement over the movie before it’s even out, but bear with me—aside from being all “woo-hoo! A lady-led superhero movie!” something about it rubbed me the wrong way. At first I thought it was just the ‘using more of your brain’s capacity makes you an automatic badass’ thing, which, I mean, I’m not a neuroscientist but I’m pretty sure that’s not as grounded a theory as some might think, even if it is explained by Morgan Freeman. Then I realised that the badassery I was watching played exactly into this little narrative idea that grates on me: Our Heroine is a force to be reckoned with, oh yes, but only after being manipulated, fondled and beaten to a pulp.
The drugs that make Lucy superhuman were implanted in her completely against her will, removing any agency from the get-go, and they were only activated when she was kidnapped by (presumably?) a rival gang and violently injured. Yes, there’s something very rewarding in watching the thug come back in thinking he’s got the upper hand and Scarlet Johannson smirking and kicking his expectations square in the crotch then swaggering out of there. But that’s the trap this trope falls into—women granted the ability to be world-shatteringly badass, but only once everything else is stripped away from them and, as the trailer states, they’re losing everything that makes them human. It’s sister cliché is ‘she’s suffered so much she’s really done and she’s going to turn evil’. It happens to perfectly respectable main characters everywhere, from Buffy to Madoka Magica. And it can be annoying, problematic, and occasionally make no damn sense. Continue reading