Friday, March 18, 2016

Strong Female Character Friday: Negasonic Teenage Warhead (DP)


You know what? I'm actually all for female characters whose names are too long and too awesome to fit into the title bar of this blog. I could be annoyed that I can't fit all of "Negasonic Teenage Warhead" and the title Deadpool up there, but I'm actually pretty cool with it. Why? Because that is the single most badass superhero name I have ever heard. Seriously, I cannot think of a name cooler than Negasonic Teenage Warhead. That this name belongs to a female hero and that it's not some kind of ironic joke is just freaking icing on the cake. Negasonic Teenage Warhead is amazing and I am so happy she exists.

Though this really shouldn't be a shocker to any of you out there.

If there's one question I've faced since seeing Deadpool, it's surprisingly not how I felt about the film's depiction of characters dealing with sexual trauma or how I felt about the main character's depressive tendencies (canon in the comics) or how I felt about the really really gratuitous violence. Nope. Whenever I told someone I saw Deadpool for like the first three weeks the only thing people said to me was, "So you loved Negasonic Teenage Warhead, right? Seems like something you would like."

Well, random strangers and friends, yes. I did like Negasonic Teenage Warhead and she is the kind of character who I would like, so well done for calling that one correctly even if your hive-mind accuracy was kind of creepy. She's exactly the kind of teenage girl power fantasy I've always had and precisely the character I so desperately wanted to be when I was sixteen. Hell, I kind of still want to be her now!

Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) has no alter-ego that we know of and appears in Deadpool for a lot less of the film's run than I would have hoped. She's not a main character, more of a glorified cavalry. She has a handful of lines and no character development to speak of. And you know what? I'm totally cool with that. For real. Negasonic Teenage Warhead is a relatively minor female character in a movie that's really just Ryan Reynolds vamping for two hours, and that's completely fine because what they manage to do with her in that minor role is so much better than most of everything else we get these days.

So we meet Negasonic Teenage Warhead at the beginning of the movie when she and Colossus (Stefan Capicic) go to pick up Deadpool (Reynolds) and stop him from murdering his horrible nemesis, Ajax aka Francis (Ed Skrein). I mean, it's way more Colossus' show than hers. She's his apprentice on the X-Men, ostensibly there to watch and learn. But instead of being some female character there to smile and simper or to front about how strong she is or to fulfill any of the annoying stereotypes about female apprentices or female heroes, Negasonic Teenage Warhead seems to mostly be there to make fun of Deadpool. Which is, actually, great.

See, the joke of her character is that she's incredibly powerful and strong and has insanely cool powers and a ridiculously awesome name, but she's also a teenage girl with an attitude problem. She likes texting and chewing gum and she respects none of the authority. So when Deadpool starts talking about his plan and all of his impressive kills and everything, she just sort of raises an eyebrow, says something cutting, or ignores him. It's amazing.

It's amazing because the movie never punishes her for this. She doesn't get a comeuppance, and the movie doesn't even say she's wrong. Nothing she says about Deadpool is actually even inaccurate. She might point it out in a snarky way, but she's not wrong about him. When she says that his plan is overly complicated or that something he says is stupid, we the audience get to laugh because we agree with her. She's right.

And Deadpool himself recognizes this. He actually immediately likes her because he realizes that, one, her name is phenomenal, and two, that she's really smart. She doesn't care what he thinks, and he respects that. So Negasonic Teenage Warhead becomes the rare female character who can criticize a male hero in a superhero film without having be proven wrong or shown to be a bitch. 

Just take a minute and think about how uncommon that really is.

Then, later in the film, Deadpool decides that he really does need help with his mission after all, so he asks Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead for help. The joke, of course, being that the movie couldn't afford any additional X-Men, nor could it afford more popular ones. But anyway, our teenage queen of sullenness is back and she shows up to the final battle in what looks like her comfy clothes. It's not until her powers activate that we come to find out she's wearing a uniform under them. Still, she's a female hero who shows up to the fight covered head to toe with like seven layers, including a coat. Even her official uniform is a full coverage jumpsuit. It's practical, looks protective, and makes sense. What are the odds?

The real showstopper, though, is when we finally see Negasonic Teenage Warhead using her powers. Because it turns out that her powers are actually the most powerful ones in the entire movie. While in the comics this incredibly ridiculously minor character's powers were ill-defined and not very impressive, here her powers are to essentially make mini-explosions in front of her while she runs, sending out shock waves and concussive blasts or just blowing up everything.

The big boss battle at the end has to get called off when Negasonic Teenage Warhead, having defeated her bad guy and used an explosion to propel Deadpool a couple hundred feet in the air, rescues her mentor Colossus and in so doing blows up an aircraft carrier. She's kind of ridiculously powerful and I love it.

This isn't even counting all of the little moments of hilarious wonderfulness she gets. Like when Deadpool is facing down his final confrontation and she makes him hold on for a second because she's texting. Or when she refuses to get flustered when he calls her on her habit of alternating between saying things that are mean and things that are sullen. She just gives no craps the entire time, and it's fantastic.

Now, there was some controversy around the film when a few people took Deadpool's comment, "I pity the guy who tries to pressure her into sex after prom," wrong, but I personally don't mind it. I mean, the implication here isn't that sexual assault is okay, it's that Negasonic Teenage Warhead is in absolutely no danger from it. It's that she's so strong and so powerful that anyone who tries to make her do something she doesn't want should watch the hell out. This is a far cry from the way teenage girls usually get to be. Especially in superhero movies.

All of this combined means that Negasonic Teenage Warhead is a pretty one-note character, but that's not a bad thing in this case. Pretty much everyone in Deadpool except the title character and his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is fairly cardboard. What's great is how Negasonic Teenage Warhead is allowed to be one-dimensional in such a badass way. I mean, her one personality trait is how little of a shit she gives about all of this. And that's so fantastic.

It's fantastic because female characters, particularly teenage female characters, are all too often defined by our "sensitivity" and "emotional intelligence." Even the most standard female superpowers are ones having to do with seduction or mind-reading or empathy or magic. We rarely get to be super strong or make explosions or set fires with our minds. Much as we might want to.

But Negasonic Teenage Warhead isn't that super stereotypical "strong female character" either - she's not there for the titillation of a male audience. Her age actually does disqualify her and the film makes sure not to sexualize her in any way, even in a movie that's pretty damn sexual. A lot of movies would give lip service to not sexualizing the teenage girl character, but here they actually just don't. She's there to provide the muscle and for literally no other reason, which is revolutionary in and of itself.

Negasonic Teenage Warhead is a very literal female power fantasy, and I don't think she's just mine. She's this image of a woman who has nothing to fear from anyone. She's so powerful and so strong and so clearly doesn't care what anyone thinks, that I look at her and I long to be so fully unconstrained by society and public opinion and my own fears for my safety. i want to be like her because I want to live a life where I never have to be afraid.

There are literally hundreds of male characters like that, men who aren't afraid of anyone or thing because they have never had to be. But we get precious few female characters with that level of strength and autonomy. We get even fewer who are never punished by the narrative for their strength. Negasonic Teenage Warhead never gets her comeuppance. She's never proven wrong. She's never broken or hurt or killed. She's strong and sassy and bitchy and she stays all of those things through the end of the movie. 

Even more, she's a hero without being an explicitly good person. It's a nuanced idea, but it's one worth pointing out. Female heroes are almost always defined in terms of their moral rectitude. A woman who has powers and isn't super duper morally right or intentionally choosing good is a villain almost all the time. At best she's kind of morally ambiguous, like Catwoman. 

But Negasonic Teenage Warhead is a hero without having to seem like she has any strong feelings about morality at all. She does the right thing because she's decided to do the right thing, and she doesn't appear to care what people think of her for it or give it a second thought. That's inspiring too, a life lived without internal scrutiny.

So, yes, people who asked: I do love Negasonic Teenage Warhead. I love her a lot and for a lot of reasons. Good call. I love her shaved head and her all-black wardrobe and her kickass name. But I love her autonomy and her strength and her resilience more. So if you really want o make my day, give me twelve more female characters this awesome. That would be cool, thanks.


2 comments:

  1. Yeah, she is awesome.

    I wonder if the X-Men films will include her eventually.

    The problem is, the main x-men films are still in the 80s. According to Fox, the plan is to make a 10 years time jump with every film, until they reach "present time".

    Meaning we are still like 3 movies away from seeing the "main" team in the present.

    Sorry about my rambling.

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    1. No, I agree - I would love to see Negasonic Teenage Warhead hanging out with Wolverine or making snarky comments in her head to Professor X. But it'll be a while before we get to see that, and I wonder what on earth her name will be when she stops being a teenager...

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