Warning – Minor spoilers for Pitch Perfect 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road are ahead. Nothing Earth shattering but hey, you have been warned.
This weekend, two new movies hit theaters across America and managed to kick the box office juggernaut Avengers: Age of Ultron down from its throne, landing the newest Marvel adventure in third place for the weekend box office. The backdrop of the new releases, Mad Max: Fury Road and Pitch Perfect 2, couldn’t be more different. Mad Max: Fury Road is a return to a dystopian world first introduced to audiences back in 1979, with original Mad Max director George Miller back behind the wheel. The movie is dark and action packed from beginning to end and presents a world lacking water, oil, and civility. Its main protagonists are an almost nameless man (Max, played by Tom Hardy) searching for redemption and a woman named Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron), who is searching for the same. Pitch Perfect 2, on the other hand, is a bright, cheerful movie about a group of college girls who are seeking redemption in a completely different way, in a completely different world. While in Fury Road, the good guys are battling mad men with weapons and vehicles that seem to have been literally transported back from a future that we all hope will never come, the girls of Pitch Perfect 2 were singing their way back to former glory while their main antagonists, a German a Capella group, happen to be able to make some great sounds with their mouths. The differences between the movies matter but what matters more here is the one thing they both have in common: Girl Power, in spades.
Lately, the push for a more diverse playing field when it comes to gender has Hollywood scrambling, trying to find the right combination to make movie magic. Sometimes, it works better than anyone could have hoped (high-five to Bridesmaids!), others, not so much (see you at the Razzies, Hot Pursuit). This weekend’s box office is the perfect example of that right combination and, as mentioned, the new releases couldn’t have been more diverse. How did two completely different movies based in two completely different worlds manage to pull off what some people considered impossible? Pretty simply, actually: instead of presenting their female characters as damsels needing to be saved, the women in the films were perfect examples of how independent women can save themselves.
In Fury Road, Furiosa is a trusted member of Immortan Joe’s (the king of the Citadel) army. She is tasked with delivering water and supplies to a neighboring society but, instead, uses this freedom as an opportunity to liberate several women that were being used only for breeding and their breast milk. Max winds up joining their cause not because they need him but because HE needs THEM. He is on a search for redemption and hopes that his decision to help may lead him down the right path. These are not women in search of a savior but women that have taken their destiny into their own hands; women who have decided that enough is enough and that they would rather die trying to find salvation than become complacent in their damnation. From the moment that Max meets the women, their strength and bravery is on display. From the first intense fight between the women and Max, there is no doubt that these are people to be reckoned with and Max is quick to learn the lesson. Throughout the movie, the women are the stars and Max is simply the man that happens to be along for the ride. That isn’t to say that Max wasn’t a badass whenever he had the opportunity, of course! After all, he IS Mad Max. However, one scene of the movie perfectly sums up his role: as the bad guys approach and Max and the women are stranded, hopeless to escape as the villain approaches, Max has three bullets in his sniper rifle. The first shot goes wild, so he takes his time with the second shot as Furiosa quietly approaches him from behind. He takes his time, takes his shot, but still, no hit, leaving him with only a single bullet to hit the approaching vehicle, in the dark, in windy, sandy conditions. It is at this point that he notices Furiosa behind him. He doesn’t say a word and Furiosa doesn’t expect him to say a word; she is simply waiting to see what he will do. Max hands her the rifle and stays in place to act as the crutch for the weapon as Furiosa steadies her shot, laying the rifle on Max’s shoulder before pulling the trigger. Spoiler alert: she hits her target.
This scene effectively demonstrates that Max understands that no matter whose name is on the marquee, everyone knows it’s Furiosa’s show. As a matter of fact, it is so much her show that a group of “meninists” (ugh) swore to boycott the film for trying to inject a strong female character into their man movie!
[M]en in America and around the world are going to be duped by explosions, fire tornadoes, and desert raiders into seeing what is guaranteed to be nothing more than feminist propaganda, while at the same time being insulted AND tricked into viewing a piece of American culture ruined and rewritten right in front of their very eyes.
The group went so far as to claim that Max was “replace[sic] with an impossible female character in an effort to kowtow to feminism.” We won’t give the group any more “hits” by linking the blog but if you want to subject yourself to this type of small mindedness, Return of Kings is a great place to start.
There is absolutely no doubt that Furiosa stole the show here but it wasn’t simply to give power to women – the simple truth is that writer/director George Miller wrote a hell of a badass character and the fact that the character just also happens to be a woman is beside the point. Sure, Miller could have changed a couple of lines and possibly a small plot point in order to give this part to a man but why? Furiosa is the type of character that inspires other writers to think outside the box and if we are lucky, we will see plenty of other female characters in the near future whose beauty and femininity isn’t judged by their size five waist but by their actions and by their strength of character.
On the other side of the coin but still playing in the same field, Pitch Perfect 2 took the box office by storm this weekend and it is likely that no one predicted just how well things would turn out for The Barden Bellas. At face value, the sequel could be dismissed as another “chick flick” and manly men everywhere sighed in reluctance as they took their significant other to a movie not deemed “macho”. Instead of the typical love story that generally accompanies romantic comedies, or a love story at all, audiences were presented with a tale of a woman’s (Anna Kendrick returning to her role as Beca) struggle to make a future for herself while trying to bring her group of friends back from humiliation. Not only is the movie absolutely hilarious (kudos to writer Kay Cannon and director Elizabeth Banks, not to mention the cast) but the “girl power” message behind the film is something to be cheered. For some, movies that focus on the strength of their female characters can come off as “preachy” but if you are somehow able to call Pitch Perfect 2 “preachy”, you may have bigger issues than a strong dislike of a Capella. The problem with the sequel wasn’t the way it was marketed or anything with the movie itself; in fact, the only thing wrong with the film was the way many perceived the film, sight unseen, simply because of the female cast.
Whenever an all-female cast is offered, there are many who immediately assume the worst. In all fairness, until recently, female led movies tend to run on the rom-com side, presenting women with male characters that are impossible for men to live up to in real life, stale predictable jokes, and stories of love conquering all when, for the most part, we all know better. Basically, rom-coms are the female equivalent to every complaint women have had about comic books for years. These stories of impossible love can inspire some but for others, they can be boring and long winded. Since these generally less-than-well written films have been the status quo for female led offerings almost since the first movies were made in Hollywood, it is easy to see why some decided to skip the musical comedy this weekend. However, based on its worldwide box office gross of over $108mil, it is also very apparent that some decided that a female cast was exactly the cure for what ailed them.
Pitch Perfect 2 does have a sprinkling of a love story but that isn’t even 1% of the film’s screen time (though, it does lend itself to a pretty great Pat Benatar number from Fat Amy towards the end) and with that love story, it’s actually the man who is pining for a woman who doesn’t want to be pinned down, not the other way around. Beca’s beau from the first film does make a couple of appearances but only as her support; he is never the main focus of a scene. Beca’s journey to become a music producer is well written and believable and while she does give her man a quick call when things are getting tough, it is her Bella sisters that truly keep her running. This outing is all about the girls and, more importantly, you don’t even realize just how empowering the film is to women until the credits are rolling and you actually take a moment to think about what you just witnessed. In other words, if you saw the movie and felt it was a lecture in feminism, you may be a misogynist.
Both movies are absolutely wonderful and considering the box office haul, there is a good chance that Hollywood is currently learning a great lesson here. The next big female-led film hitting the big screen will be June 2’s Spy, which will reunite Melissa McCarthy with Bridesmaids director Paul Feig. Let’s all hope the trend continues.
The weekend box office totals (domestic):
1. Pitch Perfect 2 – $70,300,000
2. Mad Max: Fury Road – $44,440,000
3. Avengers: Age of Ultron – $38,837,000
4. Hot Pursuit – $5,780,000
5. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 – $3,600,000
6. Furious 7 – $3,600,000
7. The Age of Adaline – $3,200,000
8. Home – $2,700,000
9. Ex Machina – $2,103,000
10. Far From the Maddening Crowd – $1,300,000