The Fantastic Four and Feminism
For our 24th anniversary, my husband and I went out to the movies. We wanted to see Ant-man, but ended up seeing Fantastic Four instead. In general, I liked the movie’s first half, but felt that it’s second half, once they receive their powers, had too much crammed into it. But that’s not what I want to talk about here.
I want to talk about the women in the story.
First off, Sue Storm is great. I REALLY LIKED the way her character was treated for the most part. She was clearly a scientist and valued member of the team (she designed the suits). She didn’t play the role of a damsel in distress or prize. The fact that if the writers follow the comics Sue and Reed are destined to marry was barely alluded to at all. We have a vague impression that Reed likes her and a brief scene with Victor telling Reed to back off that makes us suspect Victor has a crush on Sue, too. But there is no indication that Sue returns either of their feelings and no kissing. Sue has just as many relationship moments with her brother, Jonny, and her father, Franklin, than she does with Victor or Reed.
My husband (a comics fan) tells me that in the original comics Sue started out with only invisibility as her power, which was clearly the weakest of the four. I SO APPRECEIATE the fact that movie Sue is given her full powers right away: invisibility, force pushing and force fields. This makes her a combat-effective valuable member of the team.
So far, all is good. And then we hit the scene when the travelling-to-another-dimension project is taken away from the young scientists. Reed, Jonny and Victor get drunk together and decide to do a secret solo journey to the other dimension so they’ll be famous like Neil Armstrong. Reed calls up his childhood friend, Ben Grimm, (whom we’d met in the prologue) and asks him to come along, too.
And they don’t call Sue to join them.
That’s right. Reed calls his childhood friend, but not Sue, who has been working shoulder to shoulder with them for months.
This burns me. Yes, it later becomes useful for Sue to be back on earth so she can do hacker things and get Ben, Reed and Jonny (but not Victor) back from the other dimension. But Franklin could have filled that role just as well. Yes, it could be argued that the boys knew Sue would be smart enough to stop them from going in the first place—because she isn’t drunk off her ass. But that just brings up the other question: why didn’t the boys invite Sue to their pity-party in the first place? She’s equally devastated at having the project taken away.
And the only answer is because she’s a girl.
How much better would the scene have been if Sue had also been there and drunk off her ass, too? (Shockingly, girls can also get drunk. Remember Kara “Starbuck” Thrace?) Sue deserved her trip to the other dimension, too.
Secondly, let’s talk about the other women in the story. Except, oh wait, we can’t BECAUSE THERE AREN’T ANY.
Now I realize that if the moviemakers wanted to honor the original comics, they pretty much had to stick with the original skewed male to female ratio of the fantastic four themselves: one woman, three men. So let’s talk secondary characters. Villain: Victor von Doom –male. Project leader: Franklin Storm –male. Board of director spokesperson –male. That’s pretty much it for people who influence the plot. Everyone else is basically a spear carrier. None of those roles had to be male. All of them are.
Even among the spear carriers only three women get lines (that I recall). Ben and Richard’s moms in the prologue have brief appearances (along with their dads). A female military officer confers with Sue on how to track down Reed. That’s it.
I never used to notice things like this until I had a daughter. (Don’t even get me started on the Penguins of Madagascar movie.)
And if you’re wondering if I can walk the walk here’s the gender breakdown of my latest novel THROUGH FIRE & SEA:
Main characters: Leah (f), Holly (f), Gideon (m), Ryan (m)
Villains: Duke Ruben (m), Qeturah (f)
Elementals: Goddess in the Lake of Fire (f), Grumbling Man/Isaiah (m), Thunderhead (m), Poison Cloud (m), Cinders (m), Cauldron (m), Smoking Cone (m), Ocean Elemental (m)
Minor characters, female: Holly's mother, Dorrie, Yudith, Jehannah, Beulah, Shannon, Ms. Prempah, Eleanor, Dana, Paige, Niobe, Zamara, Sabra, Nimue, Cassie Burns, Councillor Ellona, Cook, Belinda, Gilda, Officer Pratt, Samantha
Minor characters, male: Joseph, Kyle, Captain Brahim, Saul, Duke of Poison Cloud, Duke of Cinders, Duke of Smoking Cone, Emman, Daniel, Officer Dunne, Yakob, Chad, Jason, principal, Malachi, ferryman
Women: 25 Men: 26
And no, I didn't deliberately balance the numbers beforehand. When I write both male and female characters naturally spring into my head. The only characters I deliberately gender balanced were the two police officers, Pratt and Dunne.