Machete Kills and Other Absurd Action Flicks

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In current news…just a couple days ago the trailer for Machete Kills came out.

And, for the record, I really really love cheesy action movies.  I also love B-movies, and parodies of old-school B-movies, and any sort of trailer that has a line in it as outrageously funny as “the enemy may have a missile, but we…have Machete” is a must-see in my book.

Although I also love the absurd badass-ery of movies like Rambo and Predator, movies like The Expendables and Machete have capitalized on our love for movies we know to be delicously absurd without taking themselves quite so seriously.  Both of the films are partly parody, and are quite serious about following the requirements of the action film genre which has just gotten bigger and bigger with time.

These movies have more explosions than a Michael Bay movie, and my all-time favorite sequence in Machete is when he swings out of a window into the lower floor of the hospital using a man’s intestines.  Yes, his intestines.  The absurdity is intentional, and if you can stomach it, it’s delicious.

Much like The Expendables 2, which came out last summer, Machete Kills is packed full of stars, to the point where there doesn’t seem to be an unknown face on-screen.  There’s Charlie Sheen as the greaseball President of the USA, and Mel Gibson as the villain, not to mention Jessica Alba, Cuba Gooding Jr., Antonio Banderas, Alexa Vega, Lady Gaga, Sofia Vergara, Vanessa Hudgens, and of course, Danny Trejo and Michelle Rodriguez.

Now, to be clear, I have a special soft spot in my heart for movies under the direction of Robert Rodriguez, from Spy Kids when I was young to From Dusk to Dawn when I got older.  Rodriguez has a knack for creating powerful female characters who are caressed lovingly by the camera’s gaze while killing just as many people as their male counterparts.

Despite my undying love for these characters, the film still brings to mind Laura Mulvey’s work on the male gaze in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”).  Mulvey addresses cinema from a Freudian perspective.  Basically she claims that film provides pleasure to the viewer as a voyeur, as the passive woman is viewed by the masculine and active camera/viewer.  The viewers, be they male or female, are forced into a masculine position of power over the woman/image/object onscreen.

This theory seems pretty depressing because it suggests that any fan of strong sexy women is in fact contributing to their objectification, supporting a hierarchy in which men are those with power and the woman is simply an object to be looked at, just by watching a movie.

So here we are at an impasse.   The fact is that in media, while women can be seen as powerful, they rarely escape from their feminine role as sexual and reproductive objects.  In other words, a man who may normally be threatened by a strong women, especially if she was as muscular as Arnold S, can safely fantasize about sexual domination through his position as voyeur.  This goes along with Mulvey’s theory because his gaze gives him power, and by looking he is holding this strong woman in check.

So this brings up a question of how we view women, not only in movies, but in reality.  How can a powerful woman be powerful?  Must she abandon her femininity, refuse to wear makeup, wear baggy clothing in order to be taken seriously?  Or can she own her own sexuality while kicking ass?  It often seems that in media women’s sexuality can never be their own, especially due to theories like Mulvey’s male gaze.  If the women on-screen is always the object of a male gaze, how can she be empowered?

Perhaps the most concise way of posing this question is the way Browder asks it in her book Her Best Shot: Women and Guns in America, “is the armed woman a powerful force or a seductive fantasy?”

I’m not sure how to answer these questions, but I do know that I look forward to Machete Kills.  Despite all of the problems inherent in Rodriguez’s portrayal of women, he has consistently cast females in powerful roles that I personally enjoy seeing.  I remember my surprised reaction to Machete was an incredibly practical one.  The majority of active, violent, powerful, strong characters in the movie are women.  That in and of itself seems like we’ve made some progress.

Plus, it would be a mistake to ignore the parody inherent in the Machete films.  I look forward to seeing the film not only for its absurdity, but the absurdity that acknowledges the ridiculous nature of most films churned out of the Hollywood factory.  My hope is that the movie will extend its gory critique to gender, beyond simply providing badass characters.  But, at least if it doesn’t, we can still watch a lot of ladies kick ass.

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