Minnesota's co-op op-ed page
I saw Captain America the other day. My mother and I occasionally meet halfway between our towns to see a movie. It was playing. We watched it. What can I say. It was fine, really what can be expected of a sequel to an action movie that was just alright to begin with. I often find myself, when watching action films, really bored by the actual action sequences. Like the big fight scenes and car chases are my time to zone out and just wait for them to get back to the plot. And this one was jam packed with CGI sequences, which I always find a little offsetting and unnatural looking.
This hasn’t always been the case. I can think of several action movies I have seen where I watch the action, wide eyed, yelling WOW! Did you see that? But I have a sort of general theory that, much like a truly good comedy film, an awesome action movie is very hard to pull off. Usually it’s just a flimsy plot packed with long stretches of things blowing up and people kicking each other in the face.
But that’s not really what I’m here to talk about. There was a point early in the film where Scarlett Johansson’s character, Black Widow, is fighting a pack of dudes on a ship. She’s flipping around in her skin tight black outfit with her long red hair whipping all over the place. My mother leans over to me and whispers “The hair.” And I know what she means. As you watch this thin shapely black figure do acrobatics and kick bad guy ass, you watch this spray of hair fly around her face. And I imagine my mother and I are not the only women who are thinking, that would really get in the way.
Because the thing is, first of all, this woman would not be able to see where she was going with this fan of red hair all over the place. How can she gauge if there’s a guy behind her with a knife, say, or some dude on her right, lunging in for the kill? She wouldn’t. That hair would block her view. On top of which, as she lands all catlike, arms poised to strike, knees bent in a sexy action pose, some of that hair would be stuck to her lip gloss. It would not fall, as it did, perfectly combed about her shoulders. It’d be caught in her eyelashes and the part would be all messed up. Also, if I was a bad guy in a fight with this whirling dervish, I’d just grab a fistful of that stuff as it whipped by. That would really mess up her backflip. I told my mother, “I know. She’s barely wearing clothes, because I assume they would get in her way. You’d think she’d tie her hair back.”
This happens all the time. Like in the Watchmen, where the young Silk Spectre is basically wearing latex paint as a costume, but she has this straight dark hair that falls to her waist. And granted, she at least has bangs, but no WAY would those locks fall back into place after she’d just leapt from an aircraft and done six cartwheels. That stuff would be plastered to her teeth. Now I know that guys like long hair. Or at least, that’s what they tell me, not guys, but THEY. And it’s all fine and good to be cascading around your bare shoulders in a slinky sequined evening gown, or even fanned across the cape of a superheroine while they’re riding in the invisible jet to the action. But couldn’t they right before they join the fray just put it in a quick updo? How about a high pony? Man every time I’m in close quarters with someone wearing a high ponytail, they inevitably turn their head and their hair smacks me across the face. It could be an extra weapon. And you know, when they put their hair up, you can see their neck. Don’t guys like necks? I’ll have to ask THEM.
Wonder Woman at least had some sort of headband to hold it back. And in the ’70’s TV show, she clearly used so much hairspray it was more like a solid object than actual hair. But that little purple haired girl in Kickass? I’m sorry. It’s just not practical. Have you ever tried to have sex with your long hair down? You end up constantly picking it out of their face. You need to schedule special attendants to just hang out in the room and keep fluffing it and fanning it provocatively out of the way so the two of you aren’t blinded. I used to have such attendants, but not everyone can afford such a thing. Then I chopped all my hair off, so it’s no longer an issue.
I’ll give you the boobs. Guys like boobs. I don’t even have to check with THEM to know that. So the superhero costumes are always made out of paint, or they’re corseted up to an 11 inch waist, and their entire torso and ribcage are shoved to the top to add volume to their cleavage. I’m not even going to bother with the risk of just popping out the top of such a getup while you leap in the air to headlock a super villain, much less losing the ability to breathe when you’re all cinched up like that. And the acrobatic tendency of most lady superheroes (arguably far greater than their male counterparts) necessitates respiration. I’m not going to needle at the costume bottoms that would clearly need a Brazilian wax or the spike-heeled boots you might catch in the grate of a fire escape you scaled down in pursuit of a mad scientist.
But does it have to be always with the hair? It just pulls me right out of my willing suspension of disbelief. Maybe some filmmakers would balk at my assertion that the flying hair is targeted at men’s taste. Maybe they see it as an extra visual spectacle for an action sequence. A friend once told me that John Woo, early in his career when he had little money to work with, had a really cheap and easy trick to amplify explosions and such to make them look more spectacular. He’d put people behind big objects, and when the thing blew up, they’d just throw stuff in the air, like little wads of paper and stuff, so there was more visually happening in the melee. What if we put her hair up and used a tactic like this instead. Like she can be flipping and spin kicking while sparks or something are spraying all around her. Man! That just made me think of sparks AND hair flying. What a disaster.
I get it. There is a formula for creating a movie superhero lady. You take a very tiny actress. She has to be really small. Like I could fit her up my sleeve. I could shoplift her easily. Then you dress her in something very very tight and skimpy to accentuate her smallness and tempt me further to steal her from the shelves (I have a sickness). If the costume covers her skin, you must at least be able to tell that she isn’t wearing underwear and where her nipples are. Next you give her nice big boobs. Many tiny women don’t have very big boobs, but fortunately, we have the magic of cinema. And finally, throw her hair all over the place so we know she’s working for her pay. Hair moving that much cannot possibly be attached to a lazy heroine. The guys can stand around nobly and fire their cool guns and gadgets, but the chicks really need to be on the move.
I could get all clinical and technical about the objectification of women in the world of comic books and movies and the unrealistic image they convey as role models to young girls and whatnot, but really, I’d just settle for a visual scenario that I could watch without doubt or irritation. Sure, all the guys in Captain America were super muscle-fied. There was even a part where the villain’s chest suddenly became a much better toned chest than it was a minute ago. Oh, magic of cinema. But at least they didn’t have a constantly undulating screen about their faces that made them nearly impossible to see. Or maybe this was just a really easy way to have a stunt woman do all of the action scenes instead of Scarlett Johansson. Who’s to say?
Also this film was clearly sponsored by Nike. There were multiple occasions where I was pulled right out of the action with the thought, “Why did we just look at those weird sneakers?” Ah, but that’s another column.