I like B movies. I grew up on the hyper-colored and noisy sci-fi, action, and fantasy films of the ‘80s, then discovered the depth of the post-war noir B movies that made so much mood with so little. Eventually, I worked as a crew member on films ranging from studio funded to micro-budget.
That career is long behind me, but when seeking out an evening movie to watch, my first impulse is to reach for a B movie that probably went straight to video in the first place. Most of these are action films of some variety with ninjas or cyborgs or rogue cops seeking vengeance. And here’s where the problem starts. Usually, this quest for justice is prompted by violence toward a woman who is close to the hero’s heart.
Skimming through the streaming options, looking at the plot synopses of these films highlights how much the woman is in peril (or dead), setting the man off on his journey. Paraphrasing: “Leader of a biker gang vows revenge after a rival gang kills his wife…” “When officer Joe Jones’s wife is kidnapped by cartel members…” and on and on. I know I’m not the first to point this out and others have done much more extensive analytical work in this area (Susan Sontag and Laura Mulvey come to mind).
I’m not fond of seeing women in this kind of danger, or harmed physically merely for the sake of the man’s motivation, and I try to avoid these films. But sometimes it sneaks up on you. Just the other night, my brother and I settled on a modern ninja film after passing on a lot of other typical storylines, only to find ourselves back in the standard revenge plot. When the hero’s loving wife announced to him early in Act I, “I’m pregnant,” my brother and I both groaned with despair, knowing she would be sacrificed to the sake of the man’s plot and lust for revenge. We were right - she didn’t make it past the next five minutes.
And that’s why I love romantic suspense. The woman is important. She’s 50% of the main characters. Yes, she can be imperiled and yes, the hero can come to her aid, but she’s not just a function of the plot. Her wants and needs are just as important as the man’s. Chef Hayley, the heroine of Countdown to Zero Hour, isn’t a soldier, but also isn’t completely helpless when it comes to standing up to the danger. The heroine of One Minute to Midnight, “Bolt Action” Mary, has a special ops background and rescues the hero more than once.
I don’t know if this plot device in action/adventure films will ever change, but I plan on staying as far away as possible. Reading and writing women who are participants in their story is so much more satisfying.
What about you? Can you watch these films without the plot device bothering you?