I love the movie Hellboy with a passion. When I saw it in the theater, I did a little dance on my way out. But I don’t want to be a woman in the Hellboy-verse unless I can be evil.
I should want to be good, since the good guys win. If I’m good, I get to be Liz Sherman (played by Selma Blair). Liz could be cool. She’s a firestarter. In a fantasy movie, starting fires can be fun. (In real life, it can lead to the entire state of California going up in flames, which is not fun.) She spends a lot of her time with a team of superheroes who “bump back” at things that go bump in the night, which is way fun.
Unfortunately for us, Liz is unsure about whether she wants to kick ass. She would rather be normal. It’s understandable, since she’s not actually in control of her powers. She starts one accidental fire and one purposeful fire during the movie, excepting a childhood incident we see in memory. The accidental fire is started when the bad guy breaks into her room and puts her under mind control, and she can only start the purposeful fire by asking a man to HIT HER. So it seems that men pretty much run her show. (Would this be different if she embraced her power and learned to use it?)
In fact, given how little relevance she has to the main plot, it could be argued that Liz is actually just The Girlfriend with a quasi-superpower tacked on as an accessory. She gets manipulated by the bad guys, abducted, stripped, held hostage, and finally rescued by the hero. Yawn. Why would I want to be that?
If I’m Liz, I also have to deal with the insult of the DVD cover. In the movie, I would dress like a normal person. On the DVD cover, I would be turned into a vamp. No thanks.
So I would like to be bad instead. If I’m bad, I get to be Ilsa Haupstein (Bridget Hodson), devoted military servant of evil. I’m not saying I want to help Rasputin bring god-monsters into the world to destroy it. I definitely don’t want to be in the position of resurrecting my boyfriend with someone’s blood. I’m just saying I want to be bold, confident, committed, and dish out a pistol-whipping when necessary. Ilsa is also The Girlfriend, but she has taken a side and she is giving it everything she’s got. The good guys don’t give her any quarter because she’s a woman, and she doesn’t let being a woman stop her from kicking their butts.
For a woman in a movie to be a heroine, the viewer should want to be her. In Hellboy, Liz just doesn’t cut it. Ilsa wins.
Despite Ilsa, though, I can’t dredge up more than one star for my beloved Hellboy based on Heroine Content criteria. Ilsa and Liz, the only two women in the film, are attached to men. The only people of color are… wait… hang on… right, I don’t remember any. It breaks my heart to give it one star because I have such love for it, but it’s only fair since this is typical Hollywood fare.
I’m hoping Hellboy II: The Golden Army does a better job. The trailer, which I’m including below, makes me a giddy fangirl. However, we’ll have to wait and see about the gender and race issues.
This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.