Welcome to Girls on Film -- a Monday-night Cinematical column full of female-centric musing, rants, love and aggravation.
First, let's state the obvious: Hollywood loves franchises. They love creating them. They love running them into the ground as they prance about on the original source's grave, tossing box office earnings to and fro. They love rebooting old fare with new life so that they live on, and on, and on like a soul-sucking Energizer Bunny.
Sadly, there are so many remakes in the works right now that an entire post could be filled just listing them. Superheroes have it the worst -- reboots coming only a few years after initial stabs with Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk and The X-Men -- but that's just the start. Today, almost every film of the past is being considered for a reboot or sequel.
Second, there's the issue this has led to: A feverish. try and try again obsession. If failure bubbles out of a once-respected franchise or film, it no longer means death. The idea might get shelved for a year or two, but inevitably, the world bubbles up again. We saw The Incredible Hulk get two treatments in five years, both of which needed the foreign box office to even cover their production budget, and now we're awaiting a third Hulk appearance in 'The Avengers.' Luckily, Bruce Banner is being thrown into a larger mix of crime-fighting talent, but this risk is also compounded by Joss Whedon, 'The Avengers' director -- a geek King whose only directorial feature couldn't make back its budget with its worldwide box office.
This perseverance and risk taking, mixed with an obsessive need to reboot old fare, would suggest that it's the perfect time to be a woman in Hollywood. But wait -- where are the femme-led, sex-changed reboots?
Instead of big studio reboots with women, the closest we get is the indie web series, 'The Girls on Film.' Ashleigh Harrington and Jeff Hammond take popular, machismo-filled scenes from films like 'No Country for Old Men' and 'Star Trek' and recreate them with women. It's a fun series that quite plainly shows the opportunities inherent in giving women rebooted roles, though its "fun and friskiness" undermines the message a touch. Some feminine twists soften the impact of the material, as well as the idea that women can take on anything in any form. (For example, Tyler Durden -- as man or woman -- would never wear pink stiletto high-tops! ... But that's just nitpicking on a solid series.)
NSFW: Strong language.
Outside of minimalist indie productions, however, we've got almost nothing to bite into ... even though the time for gender-switching reboots has never been better.
In the '90s, Joss Whedon's television version of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' proved that a woman could be an ass-kicking star in popular geek fare and cultivate a loyal and adoring fanbase. The series remains his biggest accomplishment, living on longer than any of his other projects. (It's even getting a reboot.)
We've witnessed Angelina Jolie rise from misfit to A-list superstar. She became the leading woman of the action world, and led one of the most high-profile sex switches Hollywood has seen, with Tom Cruise's 'Edwin A. Salt' becoming Jolie's [Evelyn] 'Salt.'
This is the world of 'Charlie's Angels' and 'Kill Bill.' In the last year, we've seen Noomi Rapace become an international name for her strength and violent, payback-fueled guts. Jennifer Lawrence portrayed a coming-of-age girl in 'Winter's Bone' without any of the expected, feminine signifiers. Hailee Steinfeld won everyone over as the tough cowgirl in masculine western 'True Grit,' and before that, Chloe Moretz was the best part of the boys' club of 'Kick-Ass.'
And I'd be remiss not to mention Kara Thrace, otherwise known as Starbuck. In 'Battlestar Galactica,' Katee Sackhoff absolutely ruled the screen with power that looked earned, rather than arbitrarily rewarded. She was so good, in fact, that Dirk Benedict's rant against the "unimagining" of the reboot and the "castration" of Starbuck was seen for what it was: a hurt ego whining about a woman who made a cheesy role into something awesome.
We've seen women succeed in "male" roles, and it's become quite clear that when written well and directed well, its not hard for an audience to embrace female characters. But it's not only a matter of the creme de la creme getting a jolt of female energy.
Take 'Salt.' It wasn't the greatest movie. Jolie rocked her part, but as Eric Snider noted in his review, the film had its flaws. But maybe that's a good thing. Naturally, we'd want every movie to be the best that it can be, but there's also a cheesy appeal in great heroines acting in flawed films. We love Van Damme, Stallone, Schwarzenegger and the rest as characters who kick ass, not necessarily as men in perfect action films. A film shouldn't have to be perfect for it to star a woman.
What Hollywood needs to realize is that it's not women who hurt the box office, but "women" as seen through Hollywood's ever-troublesome gaze.
Last week we saw the funky reimagining of Wonder Woman's comic book look boiled down to some overly colorful, how-on-earth-does-it-stay-up fetish wear, which then brings to mind the abomination known as 'Catwoman.' Obviously, tough femme-fare will fail if it's made ridiculous, and in the world of comic women, they already have to overcome their sexualized pasts in print.
It's no exaggeration to say that there are hundreds of remakes, reboots and sequels in the works -- some being no more than a whisper in the wind, while others skyrocket toward completion. Yet here we are, bringing you announcement after announcement of new fare and not one is being reimagined for women. Not "women" in the all-too-false and derogatory sense that pigeon-holes half of the planet into a rigid and inaccurate hole of stereotypes, but women playing these roles with the same heart, humor, toughness and grace as the men who once inhabited them. Women getting to be people -- diverse, varied and dynamic.
Whether we're talking some dancing in 'Footloose' or 'Short Circuit' or 'An American Werewolf in London,' there are tons of opportunities for Hollywood to play with gender and casting. (Especially the last one -- how great would it be to see supernatural mainstream girl fare not enveloped in romance?) It doesn't require any effort save removing any completely sex-dependent actions or references in the script. In fact, chances are, any casting changes made after the scripting process can only help, as the character will be saved from all the shopping, lipstick and "girlie" references that inevitably define most female roles.
If Hollywood can give Joss and the Hulk multiple chances, offer up a myriad of Terminators that never live up to the original and give Wolverine another origin story in a handful of years, American cinema can certainly recast a few reboots with women, giving actresses time to shine as people, rather than female stereotypes shackled to old Hollywood habit.
Follow the column on Twitter for extra femme-centric buzz: @girls_on_film.