When I decided to write about women in cinema, I hoped I'd be writing a jolly 'girl power' piece, pulling up heroines such a Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hayley Stark in Hard Candy and Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games as prime examples of strong, independent and brutally UN-stereotypical presentations of women in cinema in the last decade. Women who rely on their own merit and strength without a totes-dreamy male bursting in to save the day, have the lady swoon, kill the bad guy, then go fire up the BBQ and grill some MEAT.
However, the more female characters I dragged up through the recesses of my mind, particularly ones prominent in the major blockbusters of the last couple of years, the more I have been forced to conclude that not only have the tides not turned, but there seems to have been a digression of female roles akin to Ron Burgundy's newsroom pre-Veronica Corningstone. Diversity is an old, old wooden ship, and women have become nothing more than swooning, perilous plot vehicles for the big male lead to prove his worth.
The Marvel Universe. Movies that sprang from comic books have been at the forefront of blockbuster season, and the female characters are good, but not great characters. They are scientists, lawyers and army agents, handy with a gun and OK with casual law-breaking. And yet they are still the ones to be rescued. They are still there to support the male hero. They are still, in comparison to Mathilda from Leon, a disappointment.
As for Avengers Assemble, Joss Whedon's insanely popular and critically well-received blockbuster, it seems that every female character from the previous films is excused for one reason or another (Peggy is long gone, Jane 'is asked to work at a facility', Betty isn't even bloody mentioned). In their stead we have two token women, both kitted out in skin tight costumes and bereft in comparison to the four heroes who have already starred in at least one of their own films and will take the brunt of the action, thanks very much.
Not only, on reflection, does it make me sorry that Marvel hasn't even considered a superhero film where the woman is in charge, particularly now the superhero genre has been reborn fully into its own (therefore I am disqualifying early admissions such as 2005's Elektra). It also makes me sorry that championed feminist Joss Whedon, who created probably one of the strongest female characters of our generation in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, wrote the female characters in the third highest grossing film of all time purely as highly sexualised objects made to flash in the trailer for slobbery male interest.
This brings me neatly onto Star Trek: Into Darkness, which has probably the most unnecessary underwear shot since Game of Thrones (which coined the phrase 'sexposition' to excuse the animalistic sex scenes whilst characters tell their less interesting monologues). We all know the old proverbial 'sex sells', but to throw these moments in when cinema was supposed to have moved along in terms of equality is frankly embarrassing. Transformers, with an airbrushed Megan Fox, is placed into this category without any explanation needed.
Not all heroines are sexualised, though. Some are just pathetic, and to be honest I can't work out what is more depressing. For example, Lois Lane in Man of Steel is a confident, intelligent journalist. Who falls in love with Superman after approximately two conversations. Whose only moment of empowerment whilst shooting her way out of an alien spaceship is instructed by a man, and who is eventually saved a fair few times again by the titular man himself. Then there's the blockbuster series of Stephanie Meyer films that are loved by some, hated by most.
The Twilight Saga presented the biggest damp squib of a blockbuster heroine in years, one who sits in a chair for four months when she gets dumped. One who gets married as a teenager to her disgustingly older and stalkerish boyfriend who puts her seatbelt on for her and casually kidnaps her to stop her from seeing other boys. Even thinking about it makes me angry.
In a wild attempt to make allowances for the reintroduction of the damsel in distress and the sexualised female, I think it's fair to say that cinema has entered into an age of nostalgia, where men have been reintroduced as men's men, hairy chested, stubbled and indestructible. It leaves more female characters to settle right back into the tired old routine: look pretty, get rescued, be grateful, don't expect your own film. I don't think it's a good enough excuse myself, and like to think that audiences wouldn't turn their nose up at a girl who pulls herself together after heartbreak, or a woman who takes matters into her own hands, or a female superhero in a lead role. Particularly when some of the fan-made material looks so amazingly cool.