Feminism for male chauvinists

A little more frivolous today.

I’ve recently watched two improbable blockbuster films, of different type, standard and age. Each inspired me with various thoughts, but one thought was common to both.

The films were “Valerian: City of a Thousand Planets”, recently released at the cinema; and “Kingsman: Secret Service”, which came out in 2014 but I saw on DVD.


Valerian” is a tale set on a far future space station, so big it can encompass many cultures, human and non-human. Valerian is a soldier/cop trying to solve a mystery, aided by his girl-friend/colleague Laureline.

“Kingsman: Secret Service” tells of an agency of secret agents who are very British and polite but unaffiliated to government (for some reason this is regarded as a good thing.) They are dapper but deadly, and working-class lad Eggsy is put through a selection process which owes much to “Men in Black”, along with several upper-crust men and one woman, Roxy. There is a deadly plot against world peace, which they have to thwart.

“Kingsman” is highly enjoyable, if you don’t mind its extreme (though cartoonish) violence. “Valerian” is less good, though undeniably impressive visually.

The thought I had of both, which may be unfair to the individuals involved, was: This is what a male chauvinist would think a feminist film looks like.

Each film has a male protagonist, but he has a female partner of equal skill and courage. Laureline is more of an equal in plot terms than Roxy – one might even say she is an equal protagonist except that the film is called after the man. To be fair, this comes from the source comic material, which I have not read.

Laureline and Roxy are tough, clever, and can be ruthless. They are as essential to saving the world/planet as the men.

Hooray! At last!

Arguably they are better than the men. At the climax of “Valerian”, Laureline wins the moral argument with Valerian, persuading him to break rules to save the peaceful aliens. (She uses emotional blackmail to do this, but we’re meant to approve.) In “Kingsman”, Roxy and not Eggsy is the one who comes out top of the selection procedure, in a rather silly final test of obedience, which seems to me to owe something to the Unsullied in “Game of Thrones”.

So, like “Rogue One”, these films think that if we have one really feisty woman kicking ass up front with lots of dialogue, it doesn’t matter if she only has men to interact with. (Particularly bad in “Rogue One”, which was so earnestly diverse in every other aspect of casting.)

All three films could easily have given us more significant female roles if they’d really wanted to.

“Kingsman” does have two other major female characters – a villainous sidekick who kills people with sharp prosthetic legs, which is terrifically cool, but does she have back-story or motivation? And Eggsy’s mother, a completely disempowered victim who needs to be rescued by her son and her son’s male mentor. Oh, and then we have the beautiful and heroic Swedish politician who rewards the hero with sex.

I understand that you are parodying/homaging James Bond, but she is not a wonderful role model just because she offers before he asks.

“Valerian” also has other female characters – one a heroic shape-shifting lap-dancer/prostitute who dies immediately, and I do mean immediately, her plot usefulness is over – and a dead alien princess who psychically shares her planet’s doom with the hero from beyond the grave. And her mother.

Er, again, for a man to be inspired by a woman’s sad fate is not ground-breaking.

The other soldiers/agents/criminals in both films are normally men. (Admittedly, it is a plot point that the “Kingsman” system is old-fashioned and needs to move into the 21st century, but the criticism seems mainly to refer to its bias regarding class and education.)

But of course it’s feminist! Look at the way they kick ass! Look at the way Laureline persuades Valerian to abandon his promiscuous ways to offer to settle down with her! (After virtually coercing him into this offer, she turns aggressively coy.)

Ho hum. Is this feminism?

The suggestion that thousands of years in the future, it’s still the norm for a standard man to have a string of past girl friends while the standard woman wants to find and commit to the One is a bit clichéd and sad. This might have been progressive in the late 20th century, but it’s not in the 28th.

And Roxy’s role in the denouement in “Kingsman”, though it’s just as demanding for her and just as necessary, is frankly the boring bit. She confronts her fears and floats alone in space, while Eggsy shoots people, dodges bullets, explodes people’s heads colourfully to music (don’t ask) and exchanges witty repartee with his mentor and the villain.

It’s his story, no question.

And in a “city of a thousand planets”, it’s of course inevitable that the “border” areas are going to be brothels with women offering any appearance or experience to passing men. And this is where the film chooses to take us – and take us for a very long interlude.

Please let’s have films where women are just, you know, around and talking – whether as hero, villain, sidekick, redshirt, comic relief, love interest, hero’s ally, miscellaneous spaceship pilot, obstructive bureaucrat, interfering parent etc.

And where men are too.

Love from the PPI Blogger

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