Friday, November 18, 2011

Evil Queen Ascendant

Well, I caved. You all knew I would. I watched the trailers for the two Snow White-themed movies coming out next year, "Mirror, Mirror" and "Snow White and the Huntsman," and two things were immediately apparent. The first is that the two films are totally different, not going for remotely the same audiences, and the whole notion of a feud between them should be put to bed once and for all. The other is that both films have taken the same tactic of marketing their films based on their best assets - the actresses playing the Evil Queens. I take this as a very good thing.

First up in March will be "Mirror, Mirror," directed by Tarsem Singh and starring Lily Collins as Snow White and Julia Roberts as her royal evil stepmother. The tone of the trailer is light and humorous, and very heavy on the eye candy. "Alice in Wonderland" is pointedly namechecked at one point. Collins has very little to do or say in trailer. Instead, the vast majority of the time and attention goes to Julia Roberts, bringing on the camp with the help of Nathan Lane and Armie Hammer, playing the Prince. She's also shown in at least half a dozen different ornate costumes, gets all the best lines - relatively speaking - and looks like she's having a ball.

Then in June comes the much darker, grimmer "Snow White and the Huntsman," an action-adventure starring Kristen Stewart as Snow White, Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman, and Charlize Theron as the icy evil queen. The trailer is told from the queen's point of view, full of shots of her being photogenically nasty, while the two leads run about in the woods, and barely get a word in edgewise. Now Stewart and Hemsworth, being the title characters, are probably going to get far more screentime in the actual film, but it's hard to imagine Theron will be less of a presence, especially after the trailer spent two minutes selling her evil queen as sex and violence incarnate.

Ever since these fairy tale film projects started being announced, I've anticipated this moment. I love villainesses, the raging, cackling, vamping, over-the-top, evil queens and witches who are a staple of fairy tales. But Hollywood is a man's world, and male superheroes fight male supervillains, or genderless aliens, or giant robots. Occasionally you get a sexy Bond girl who goes bad, or a secondary henchlady like Bellatrix Lestrange, but no one who's really built up as a credible threat. But an evil queen is a different matter. Then you can justify hiring an actress like Roberts or Theron, who have an Academy Award apiece, to come in and take command of the screen.

And what I'm really hoping for, which both trailers suggest might be there, is that these menacing ladies will be allowed to come off as well-rounded, interesting characters instead of just the same old tropes. We've had a great run of comic-book villains lately, including the Joker, Magneto, and Loki from "Thor." Next year, with Charlize Theron and Julia Roberts as the evil queens, and Anne Hathaway playing Catwoman, I'm hoping for a similar run of memorable villainesses too. In previous posts I've lamented the lack of female serial killers, but female villains in general could use a boost. After all, the villains always seem to have the most fun, don't they?

Hollywood has been getting better about pushing more big franchise films led by women. "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" lands in December, and "The Hunger Games," "Brave," "Prometheus," and the Snow White films will take their chances next year. However, improving gender parity doesn't mean just giving over more lead roles to women, but making sure we get a better balance of males and females in all the other roles too. It's telling that the few female-led franchises we have now like "Twilight" and "Underworld" hardly feature female baddies at all. And as it's generally not considered good form to show James Bond or Batman being too mean to the fairer sex, even when they deserve it, there are few opportunities for villainesses to leave their marks.

I mean, who was the last really great movie villainess that you can think of? Gothel from "Tangled? The Other Mother from "Coraline"? Maybe Dolores Umbridge? It has been far too long since the Bride's hit-list from "Kill Bill." So, as someone who will always secretly root for the bad girls, the wicked women, and the evil, evil queens, I hope both "Mirror, Mirror" and "Snow White and the Huntsman" do well and Hollywood can be encouraged to create more parts in this vein. And maybe encourage some of our more seasoned actresses to come out and play them.

Okay, "Mirror, Mirror" looks pretty terrible, but this is the most interesting role Julia Roberts has had in ages.

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