Welcome to the world after the comet. There isn’t much water, so the utility company has turned into a fascist government. The cool kids steal water and live in communes. When the fascists destroy the commune, Tank Girl (played by Lori Petty) must rescue the girl and save the world.
How much do we love watching her do that? Let us count the ways.
Number One: We love her unapologetic pro-fun agenda. If Tank Girl can’t dance, dress up in silly outfits, and crack jokes, then she will find something more entertaining than your dour revolution. Since the whole point of the revolution is to make things more enjoyable, I’ll be following her. Trust me, she’s not falling down on the government overthrow part.
Number Two: Tank Girl refuses to respect authority, even when it’s holding a gun. Forget toeing the line for convenience. She is who she is. So if you’re a commando soldier guy working for The Man and you’re thinking about taking advantage of her, think again. You may be stronger, but she’s not going to put out just because you’re temporarily in charge of the situation.
Number Three: She’s never beaten down. Even when she’s imprisoned as a slave in the mines, she asks a guard when Baywatch is on. The bucket of dirt he kicks onto her head in response doesn’t even seem to faze her. No spectacle of the broken heroine here, people, move it along! If you want to watch a woman suffer, you’ll have to find someplace else to gawk.
Number Four: Meet Jet Girl, played by Naomi Watts. A fellow captive in the mines, she has achieved a semi-privileged position due to… her mechanical skills. Nope, she’s not being used as a sex slave. She repairs airplanes. Yes, she’s sexually harassed, but it’s nothing that a little well-timed power tool use won’t fix.
Number Five: When the bad guys torture Tank Girl, she’s clothed. The strip-and-torture scene is a cliche, so the film’s creators skip it. Snaps for director Rachel Talalay and writer Tedi Sarafian. Well played.
Number Six: You know that other big cliche, the shower scene? In this movie, it’s a shower of dirt. Tank Girl is wearing clothes the whole time, and her upper arms wobble. I’m not saying some people wouldn’t find that attractive, but to me it feels like a funny little parody.
Number Seven: I cannot fully convey how beautiful it is to watch Tank Girl go through costume after costume while the stripper-bot lectures her on how to create her sanitized, socially acceptable “look.” Follow the instructions properly? Hardly. (Suzanne of the Campaign for Unshaved Snatch and other Rants would be proud.)
Number Eight: The rehumanization of the strip club. How does Tank Girl approach a large crowd of rich men who are paying to exploit women? How does she intervene with the woman who owns the joint and makes money off other women’s bodies? A musical number from Cole Porter:
When the little bluebird / Who has never said a word / Starts to sing Spring
It is nature that is all / Simply telling us to fall in love
And that’s why birds do it, bees do it / Even educated fleas do it / Let’s do it, let’s fall in love
Everyone’s singing, everyone’s dancing, and now people are expressing themselves for the sheer joy of it and living as equals. Job well done.
Number Nine: The non-makeover of Jet Girl. Her new look evolves as a result of her increased confidence, not the other way around. She becomes more conventionally attractive, including the mysterious disappearance of her glasses, and in some ways I regret that. However, no outside force asks her to. Tank Girl doesn’t do a fashion intervention. We don’t have the classic makeover moment where someone takes away her glasses to show her the “real” Jet Girl. So I’m taking it as Jet Girl growing into herself, and more power to her if she wants to wear red lip gloss.
Number Ten: Tank Girl has her priorities straight. The damsel in distress she’s trying to save, Sam, is a school-aged girl who was abducted by the fascists. At a crucial moment, Tank Girl refuses to let the bad guys use her love for Sam as a weapon against her. She would rather that Sam die than live as a slave. Instead of collapsing into sentiment, she takes action. And kicks major ass.
Number Eleven: Tank Girl is unashamedly sexual, and her sexuality is not punished or degraded. From the first few minutes of the film, we can tell this woman likes to get busy. Rather than sexually abusing her or “normalizing” her, the film lets her be herself from the beginning to the end. She loves sex, and that’s just fine.
Number Twelve: Strong relationships between women. Tank Girl, Jet Girl, and Sam care for each other, trust each other, and help each other. No backstabbing here, just banding together to bring down the anti-fun establishment.
Yes, Lori Petty is a conventionally attractive skinny girl. Yes, I do wonder how Ice-T felt as one of only three people of color in the film, especially since he played a mutant kangaroo and you could hardly tell.
But for sheer exuberance and 100% heroine content, I give Tank Girl four stars. Especially because of the ending credits. Where else will you hear Joan Jett sing Cole Porter?
More Commentary Elsewhere: how to fight like a girl
This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.