‘Man of Steel’ is the feminist action movie of the year

SlateJune 19, 2013 

— Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel,” the Superman reboot that arrived in theaters last week, is quite possibly the most feminist action movie of the year. Striking for its absence of naked ladies, it also features a tough Amy Adams performance as Lois Lane and women all over newsrooms and the military.

There’s even a ridiculously enjoyable feminist supervillain in this battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) on behalf of humanity and General Zod (Michael Shannon), a Kryptonian criminal who wants to rid Earth of its inhabitants to resurrect his destroyed planet. Zod’s right-hand “man” is actually a woman: Kryptonian baddie Faora (Antje Traue).

Of course we’ve had female villains before, but Faora is evil for reasons that have nothing to do with her gender. She doesn’t use her feminine wiles to seduce men or kill them during sex. She’s a straight-up believer in the genetic superiority of people from Krypton and tells Clark Kent things like, “You’re weak, son of El. Unsure of yourself. The fact that you possess a sense of morality and we do not gives us an evolutionary advantage.” While pummeling him.

Snyder and his longtime stunt coordinator Damon Caro, along with fight choreographer Ryan Watson have given Faora a quick, jabbing fight technique, making her fast to compensate for the fact that, unlike the hunks of beef she’s fighting against and alongside, she isn’t physically imposing. And she’s just as resilient as the guys, machine-gun fire ricocheting off her chest as a highly entertaining rebuke to the idea that you can’t have a female supervillain because you can’t have a man beat her up.

I’m all for strong female characters like Lois, who drink bourbon, hang with the boys, and smooch the hero at the end. But “Man of Steel” is a reminder that tough female action characters don’t have to be good. With a whole generation of female actresses aging out of romantic comedies and into other kinds of movies, and another coming up behind them who’ve credentialed themselves as action stars before they even hit 20, maybe we can accept that we’ve got enough role models and enjoy letting some of these women go bad.

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