Recently, I wrote how this has been the summer of the superhero. But a buddy asked me why I thought the women of the best movies of the summer were so . . . Sexless. It got me thinking.
Let’s look at the best superhero films ever. Who were the female love interests/central female characters? Batman had Katie Holmes and then Maggie Gyllenhaal. Superman had Margot Kidder and then Kate Bosworth, and as a boy he’s got Kristen Kreuk. In his teen years, he isn’t dating Lois and the actress playing Lane is perhaps the hottest woman ever to cross a caped crusader’s path. Hulk had Jennifer Connelly in the Ang Lee film. Iron Man had Paltrow. Spidey had Dunst. All of these women are good looking, to be sure. (There are no truly ugly chicks in Hollywood, unless they’re supposed to be ugly, and then they end up being over-the-top fatties or horsefaces.) But also, none of these women reek eroticism. They don’t have fire, they don’t have sexual energy, like Angelina Jolie, Naomi Watts, Eva Mendes, Jessica Beihl, or even Lindsay “I’m out of control with drugs and can’t stop flashing my snatch” Lohan. The women who star in superfilms look and act like the kind of girl you would take home to mother.
Adam West’s Batman, who flirted with Lee Merriwether’s Catwoman back in 1966, is not an exception to this rule, for two reasons:
First, Catwoman was hardly a female lead–as far as I can remember, she and Bats only went on one date, in their respective secret I.D.s. And Bruce’s fling with Miss Kitka didn’t exactly end well, especially because the guys who set up the blind date were Joker, Penguin, and Riddler. For another thing, it seemed as if Batman’s heart truly belonged to the boy wonder. (Note: Julie Newmar, an even hotter Catwoman, flirted with Batman on the TV series. Still not an exception to my thesis, but just look at this buttshot: Mee-OW.)
The only other exception I came up with is Liv Tyler, who played Betsy Ross in this summer’s Incredible Hulk film. But even that’s stretching it a bit–Liv isn’t really my type, and she spends most of the film looking mopey and sad. I guess a chick can be a little hotter if she’s tortured for it. I’m reminded of a similar horror-film rule: The first girl to show her boobies is the first girl to end up with her belly cut open and her guts strewn across the screen.
Truth to tell, the last time I remember geek-film-freaks being given a truly sexy, sexually active pin-up girl as a lead, she was a cartoon.
You could argue that Jessica Alba of Fantastic Four, or even Hallie in Catwoman/X-Men or Garner in Elektra, are exceptions to this rule, but they aren’t. Because they were superheroines. And the same is kind of true for them, in reverse. Alba dated Reed “king geek” Richards, known for being completely sexually oblivious. Hallie got a hottie in Catwoman (Ben Bratt), but in X-Men she dates nobody and fellow seXy-woMEN Famke and Rebecca Romijn dated ubergeek Cyclops and old lech Magneto, respectively.
The next question is, why are our heroes denied a really hot and heavy sexual dynamo? Cops in the movies get them all the time. So do firemen and mobsters. Senator Charlie Wilson scored Julia Roberts, for chrissake, and two of the ugliest guys in Hollywood recently got two bodacious babes who couldn’t keep their hands off their men: Hoffman married Tomei (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead) and Paul Giamatti got Laura Linny (John Adams, HBO). Hell, fat white guys on TV have hot sex kittens dripping off their man-tits. (Tony Soprano had a new one each week.)
So what gives?
There are several possible reasons:
1. Hollywood thinks comic-book fans will be sexually threatened by a libidinous female. The problem with this theory is that ubergeeks buy DVDs, upload scene- and screen-catches, and endlessly compile lists of things like hot chicks (and lists of reasons for a dearth of hot chicks). I mean, after Spider Man came out I can’t tell you how many super-bloggers were analyzing at that first kiss, frame by frame. Think of the fun they’d have had if the other pair of lips in Spider-Man’s upside-down rain kiss had been on top of a wet-white-T-shirted Carmen Elektra?
To say that this type of film watcher doesn’t want to see sex is to say that the internet is not primarily a tool for masturbation. Let’s get real.
2. They don’t want the sexy to override the super. Maybe it’s the directors’ faults. Maybe they don’t think they can get people to focus on the hero if there’s a big pair of tits pointing at the screen. This suggests that the directors, not the heroes, are the ones who are sexually threatened. But this theory, too, is flawed. For one thing, have you seen the comics these heroes are based on? Lois Lane has the proportions of Barbie, and Mary Jane is supposed to be a fashion model! Kirsten Dunst is certainly pretty, but a model? She’s way too short and her hips are boxy. If standing next to a brick house doesn’t detract from the ink-and-newsprints heroes, it shouldn’t detract from the celluloid ones. It being the directors’ faults seems to make sense because the most courageous and inventive superdirector of all time cast the hottest female superlead of all time: Kim Basinger in Batman (1989), and Burton has a history of knowing how to create sexual chemistry between bizarre characters (see: Edward Scissorhands, e.g.).
3. Geek writers can’t write sexy. This is similar to reason #2, above, and my answer is the same: As a boy reading The Amazing Spider Man #220-280, Mary Jane could lively up my loins with a single word: “Tiger.” And Lana Lang in the Superboy books was always in a hurry to hold hands and kiss. Ditto Betty Ross, the hottest scientist in history. So if the funnybook writers can do it, the screenwriters should be able to, too.
4. Superheroes are portrayed as sexually weak. This is perhaps the best theory. In all big-screen iterations, superheroes are sexually unsophisticated. Whether he’s the conflicted, self-tortured soul of the Tim Burton Batman films or the immature lothario of Batman Begins/The Dark Knight, or the naive and virginal Christopher Reeves, or the reclusive misfit Tony Stark. I suspect that this is because the writers/directors/and maybe even the actors are themselves insecure men who cannot imagine how kinky it would be to have x-ray vision, super agility, or the ability to stretch. Can you imagine someone with powers like that not being the first one to get invited behind the velvet rope? A defense could be that in their secret I.D.s, superheroes play down their talents and confidence, so as not to draw attention, but that’s not always true, either. Tony
Stark and Bruce Wayne, for example, are flamboyant playboys who get laid by models all the time. So why do they fall for Gwennyth and Maggie? And don’t tell me there’s no smart and sexy chicks out there, and these guys are falling for the brains so they let go of the need for bodacious tatas. First of all, there are plenty of smart and sexy women in the real world (visit any major metropolitan public library, law school, or medical residency program, if you doubt me). And second, we’re not talking about the real world. We’re talking about casting in superfilms. And for that matter, there are plenty of sexually vibrant, intelligent Hollywood character actors, too. See: Marisa Tomei, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Christina Ricci, e.g.
5. It’s just being true to the character. For example, in the new Batman films, Kaggie Hollenhaal’s character is supposed to be, literally, the girl next door from his childhood. I’m calling bullshit on this reason, too. I’m sure Bruce Wayne grew up next to more than one girl, yet this is the one he remembers. And the girl who grew up next door to Peter Parker grew up to be a model! I’ve read studies that show that men who have professions that involve the justice system, in particular trial attorneys and cops, have significantly higher hormone levels than men in less dramatic fields. In general, people who are physically healthy tend to be more amorous. And if the gamma rays made Bruce Banner more excitable, and Peter Parker more physically fit, wouldn’t they have a similar effect on their sex drives? Adrenaline is an aphrodisiac, after all. So why wouldn’t these heroes seek women who could keep up with them? The answer is, they would.
So, what does this all mean? It means that it’s a man’s world for Kevin James and Jim Belushi, but Christian Bale and Tobey McGuire are gonna have to settle for hormonally challenged love interests until someone in Hollywood grows a pair and realizes that superflicks can also be sexy flicks.
What do you all think?