Action Heroine How-To

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Most action flicks have two different kind of women: the super strong, super brave ones who don’t need anyone to save them and the the weaker, more scared damsels in distress, who do need someone to save them. Usually, there is not much of an in-between. They don’t cross over. They don’t have much of a personality other than that, the brave one or the damsel in distress, and, frankly, it’s disappointing. With characterization like that, they become almost less than human.

Human beings are complex. They are multifaceted. They are not one single personality trait and that alone. Even the bravest people are sometimes scared out of their minds. And sometimes, maybe that person you pegged as the scared one is actually the bravest of them all.

Similarly, you often see that the women in these action flicks quickly become the love interest to the main hero of the story, whether or not the woman is the damsel or the heroine herself. These love stories often feel rushed and even sometimes slightly misplaced–or more than slightly depending on the film. As a screenwriter-in-training at a film school, one of the things we learn is there should be a B story in all our films, which often means a romance (or, in the case of romance films, it’s usually the best friend). However, many writers tend to speed the love story up, so these characters who may have only known each other since a few days ago end up falling madly in love over the course of the film. Ridiculous and unrealistic.

Relegating a woman (or a man for that matter–just any human being, really) to no more than a love interest is, again, creating them to seem almost less than human. In all our complexities and thus our beauty, we are meant for so, so much more than simply romance. It’s dehumanizing to think of any human being as there for no purpose other than to be someone’s lover.

And, again, absolutely ridiculous.

That being said, after my somewhat lengthy introduction, I recently went to see Kong: Skull Island, one of the newest action flicks in theatres. By no means is it a “perfect” movie, but no one really asks any film to be “perfect.” Or at least I don’t. It is a rather relative term, after all. However, it does have two major things going for it, in my perspective, both of which happen to be based around their treatment of Mason Weaver, Brie Larson’s character.

By no means is Mason Weaver merely your textbook action heroine: a strong, kick-ass woman who takes no nonsense from anyone (but especially the men), though she is all that too. They allow her to be afraid, which, to be honest, anyone would be–should be–when facing a giant creature like King Kong. They allow her to need help and to give help at the same time. They allow her to care and to work for what she believes in. They allow her to be witty, as shown in her introduction to the rest of the group:

“Mason Weaver is a woman?”

“Last I checked.”

She isn’t merely anything. Personally, I think that is beautiful and more true to life. No human being that I’ve ever met is merely one thing–or even merely two or three or four things. We are all these complex creatures with hopes and desires and fears and pasts and an entire assortment of other things that haunt us, that make us who we are. It’s refreshing to see an action hero, particularly an action heroine, who is allowed to be more than the textbook character.

Additionally, I love the way they handle the interaction between Weaver and James Conrad, Tom Hiddleston’s character. Nothing between them screams something that would only happen between love interests, and yet you know that they are setting them up for something in the future continuation of the franchise. The way the director framed them, always in a two-shot, always side by side in the larger group. The way the writers kept throwing them together for conversations, learning about each other, dealing with the situation in which they find themselves, working together. The way the actors play them. It’s in the subtleties.

Again, this is much more true to life. It isn’t accelerated to fit the span of one film. It isn’t forced, isn’t shoved in our faces. The seeds of romance have been planted, which is how life works. You don’t meet someone and instantly fall in love. It takes time. You want to get to know them. You want to experience life with them. You want to experience who they are as a human being. All of that takes more than a few days. Refreshing to find something that maybe actually will get it right.

Now, I’m no film critic. I’ve only just recently started forming my own opinions about movies. Thank you, film school, for that! These are simply my thoughts. They were the only things I could really think about coming out of the theatre. They were the things that I told my roommate when I got  back. They were the things I told my mom when I gave her my brief description of what I thought about the film. Obviously, they are the things that stood out to me, that matter to me, and hopefully, they will be the things that I can some day incorporate into my own screenplays and other forms of writing.

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