I want to take a moment to talk about what a GOOD year 2015 was for women in action films. I mean seriously, it’s been a really long time since so many of the big titles at the box office had well written and acted female characters at the core of the stories.
We have to start with Kingsman: The Secret Service (because it was released in February of 2015). Sure, it centers primarily around men doing “men” things, but an evil henchwoman with fucking swords for legs? How awesome is that? The script could have easily called for a man, but casting directors made the choice to have Sofia Boutella play Gazelle. She slices, she dices, she ultimately holds her own until the bitter end. Is the film’s use of women perfect? No, but goddamn if it isn’t entertaining as hell.
Divergent: Insurgent released in March 2015 didn’t have quite the impact as it’s predecessor, but I will stand by my statement that this film series is better than it’s book counterpart. In part, this is because Shailene Woodley is such a fabulous young actress. She brought life to a character I honestly couldn’t stand in the novel, and the screentime she shares with Oscar winner Kate Winslet is enjoyable and engaging. It’s tough out there for a female-led dystopian young adult series post Hunger Games, guys.
Ex Machina was a surprise hit, something with the not-so-subtle Blade Runner appeal and an engaging script. The story consists of what, three main people? But I cannot say enough good things about the performance of Alicia Vikander and Sonoya Mizuno, bringing life and humanity to androids created by Oscar Isaac. If you aren’t enthralled with ‘Ava’ and her Caprica Six-type journey, then maybe the new golden age of Sci-Fi film isn’t for you.
The #1 film of 2015 (for me at least, I don’t care how much money TFA makes) is Mad Max: Fury Road. A franchise built around the survival of one man in the face of the apocalypse, we know there are strong women in that universe. Warrior Woman, Aunty Enity and Savannah anyone? But it wasn’t until this fourth chapter that we meet Furiosa, an incredible creation of writer/director George Miller and Oscar winning actress Charlize Theron. While she only has one arm, she is recognized early on in the film as the favorite Imperator of Immortan Joe, completely and utterly a badass who takes it upon herself to rescue the wives of Joe. Those women are not without capable (ha!) abilities and the drive to survive, to protect each other and make it to the proverbial promised land, the Green Place. We also on this 120 minute car chase meet the Many Mothers, a desert biker gang of older women who in reality are stunt women who did all their own scenes. Let’s not forget that Megan Gale‘s Valkyrie, the woman who takes careful aim with her shotgun, was going to be Miller’s Wonder Woman in HIS Batman/Superman/Justice League film that ultimately turned into Christopher Nolan’s Bat-trilogy. Just think about what that could have been, guys. I have dreams about it. I want this film to win all the things, from Directing to special effects (seriously, if you haven’t picked up the blu-ray and watched the making of featurettes, you really should).
I guess I should mention Avengers: Age of Ultron even though I feel Joss Whedon let me down with his limited use of one of the most powerful
redacted in the Marvel universe. Of course I mean the MUTANT (oh, wait, I can’t say that with a MCU picture because Fox owns the phrase) Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch. I wanted more of her using her powers as her comic book counterpart frakking SNEEZES AWAY ALL OF THE MUTANTS IN THE UNIVERSE, guys. I wanted more from St. Whedon of the Fandom, he knows how to use strong females, and he simply didn’t in this case. Probably the biggest letdown of the year for me personally as far as movies go.
A small mention should go to Tomorrowland for it’s use of a young lady in the lead. While the film was plagued with issues, the vision of a futuristic utopian society of positive science and technology should be commended.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is probably one of Guy Richie’s best films. I’m still so disappointed it didn’t get better reception from the media, as it’s stylization is perfect. The casting of Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as our two lead spies was inspired; they share the screen wonderfully well with moments of conflict building into a friendship that I want to see the next chapter of. But specifically, we’re here to talk about the women. So, once again I need to talk about Alicia Vikander. Her character is a mechanic, living and surviving in communist Berlin. We find out during the film that she’s actually a British agent, and I could watch the fight-dancing scene between she and Hammer all day. There is also the main villain of the film Victoria, played by Elizabeth Debicki. It isn’t everyday that a 60’s spy thriller has a woman in charge of the evil-family-empire, calling the shots and creating chaos. Definitely a must see.
Jurassic World received a lot of criticism for it’s portrayal of Claire, ranging from calling HER the monster of the picture (for her dislike of children) to the “unrealistic expectation of a woman running in high heels”. For serious, women CAN run in their heels, ok. It’s a skill, and it does come in handy. I wish there would have been at least one other woman who showed quick thinking and survival skills, aside from the beautiful T-Rex heroine from the original series saving the humans at the end.
2015 brought us many iconic series returning to theaters such as Terminator: Genysis. Probably the weakest of the film franchise (yes, even weaker than Rise of the Machines), we did get to see Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clark) take on the scifi-action holy grail of roles for women, Sarah Connor. The film did what JJ Abram’s Star Trek ’09 did, changing the timeline to explain story discrepancy. It felt like director Alan Taylor was trying to put the first two films together in one, but completely missed the mark with the script. The casting was alright I guess, but the measured way of new Sarah’s speech was distracting and made her a laughable heroine at the best of times. The fact that Clark gets third billing is also an issue I have with this picture.
Ant-Man was a surprise hit for many reviewers and critics, the level of humor in a heist movie that happened to feature superheroes was refreshing and entertaining to the end. There were many fans who were hoping to see more of The Wasp (an original Avengers member for goodness sake) in action, but instead we got training montages perfectly illustrating why Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) should have been given the suit before Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). With all the early script and directorial issues the film went through, I guess we’re lucky we got to see Hope do anything other than being saved. The post credit scene gives me hope for future flights of The Wasp.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation completely surprised me. We all saw the trailer and poster featuring Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) hanging from the side of a jumbo cargo jet, which sort of set the tone for the film I was expecting going in. What I WASN’T expecting was a phenomenal character and performance from Rebecca Ferguson as Isla Faust. While Fury Road features the best car chase since Buillet, Rogue Nation has the best motorcycle chase. Really, no debating here. As ridiculous as it sounds on paper, the high speed race through the highly occupied freeway in the desert is heart pounding and epic, ending with Faust leaving Hunt in the literal dust on the side of the mountain road. I’m really hoping if there is another film in the franchise, we’ll see her return.
Nope, not even going to mention the OTHER superhero movie that was released in 2015; the one that was so goddamn boring and lackluster, it’s subsequent already-announced-sequel date has been PULLED from the studio’s lineup.
Sicario continues to be mentioned as an Oscar contender, and Emily Blunt as FBI agent Kate Macer should probably get a nomination. The film is harsh at times, but realistically so. This is one of those roles that could have easily been written as a man, and no real change to the story (other than one notable scene opposite Jon Bernthal) would have been needed. The relationship built between Blunt’s Macer and Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro is unlikely and at times completely uncomfortable, reminding everyone what fabulous talents they both are.
The Martian, while centering around stranded astronaut Mark Watney, features a fabulous performance by Jessica Chastain as Shuttle Commander Melissa Lewis. We get to see her character go through the various emotional turns that come with the territory when you leave a crewmember friend behind on Mars because you think he was killed during a sandstorm when you have to scrap the mission but then NASA tells you later he actually survived so you go against orders and return to the red planet to rescue him. You know, just regular former Naval Submarine Captain stuff.
And finally, the one you’re all still talking about and flocking to the theatres to see, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. For me, the most impactful moment is Carrie Fisher being called General Leia, a title that is EARNED, not bestowed. I’ve gotten into a couple of different arguments with hardcore ‘Wars fanboys who try to convince readers that Leia was given the title as a ceremonial thing, rather than her earning it like her male counterparts in the saga. Pretty sure her years of command were the reason, guys.
We also got to see our first notable female Storm Trooper, who carries the title of Captain. You have to do some things in order to earn THAT title too, although we barely saw anything of note with our Chrome Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie). One can only hope we’ll learn more about Phasma in the next installments.
Rey is the desert mechanic we need, the one we’ve been waiting for. She survives on Jakku, waiting for her unknown family to return for her. She knows enough to keep the sometimes problematic issues of the ship that made the Kessel run in 12 parsecs in check, something we’ve only seen Han and Chewie be able to do. If we go with the notion that the prequels (episodes 1-3) don’t really matter in the grand scheme of the series, then TFA is the first time we see a woman wielding a lightsaber and using the force; and Rey does well for her first time holding the elegant weapon for a more civilized age. It shows how far the series has come to feature three women in roles of prominence and capability in the boy’s club of the galaxy far far away.
Honorable Mentions of 2015 Film:
Crimson Peak needs to be mentioned because it isn’t often we get two women in starring roles, with as much juicy luxurious artistry to play in. While the film itself was a disappointment to me (I was really expecting more horror, to be honest), one cannot ignore the lush performances of Mia Wasikowska as Edith Cushing and Jessica Chastain as Lucille Sharpe.
Short film Power/Rangers featuring Katee Sackhoff as the Pink Ranger. Really, it’s the Morphin Time movie we all want, and/or reminded everyone why we want Kara Thrace as Captain Marvel.
The Hateful Eight for Jennifer Jason Leigh holding her own alongside one of the best male casts in a Western since Tombstone.
Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 2 for finishing up the series that brought back young adult literature/cinema from the brink of death post-Twilight horrors.
Spectre JUST for casting Monica Bellucci as a Bond Girl.
Furious 7 for continuing to give Michelle Rodriguez an awesome job, and giving us the Lettie vs Ronda Rousey fight.
Jupiter Ascending for….trying?
All in all, it was a damn fine year for women in cinema, and this isn’t including the numerous tv series and streaming shows that should be mentioned (like Vikings, The Americans, Ash Vs The Evil Dead, Outlander, Agents of SHIELD, Supergirl, Jessica Jones, Agent Carter, Major Crimes, The Walking Dead, Marco Polo, and many others).