Sometimes a heroine turns up in the most unlikely place.
The Island, starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, doesn’t really know what it wants to be when it grows up. It starts off as a science fiction movie, then turns into a big mess of violence with a side order of car chase. As movies go, it’s an extremely elaborate and shallow excuse for blowing up a whole lot of stuff. If you don’t believe me, rent the DVD and watch the special feature. It’s all about blowing up a whole lot of stuff.
And yet, in the center is a completely believable action heroine.
I wish I had known who director Michael Bay was before I saw it. Then I could say something like “I never would have expected this from a Michael Bay film!” But I didn’t know his name, even though he directed The Rock, one of my favorite movies. He also directed Bad Boys and Bad Boys II, Armageddon, and Pearl Harbor… and then there’s the Playboy Centerfold collection and a Great White video. Not exactly a track record that screams feminism. One of the writers, Alex Kurtzman, has some credits for Alias and Xena, so maybe that’s what shines through.
Johansson’s character, Jordan Two Delta, lives in a facility that protects rescued humans from the contaminated environment. She has a bit of a crush on Ewan McGregor’s character, Lincoln Six Echo. That doesn’t stop her from kicking his ass in a 3D XBox fighting game.
When Lincoln discovers that All Is Not As It Seems and they’re about to be killed, he breaks the news to Jordan and they escape from the facility. Jordan’s initial reaction is disbelief and denial. A few minutes later, she’s applying a wrench to a bad guy’s skull, all with a minimum of drama. I don’t know why their tighly controlled social environment permitted those XBox matches, but thank goodness for that experience and the mandated daily exercise! Otherwise, there is no plausible explanation for how quickly they adapt to the change from their sterile white pleasant environment to running through the desert and hand-to-hand combat.
As they make their way to Los Angeles, Jordan matches Lincoln for emotional stability, endurance, and risk-taking. It’s almost like (gasp!) women don’t fall to pieces and require special handling during a crisis! And apparently it isn’t necessary to continuously target a woman with ugly, sexualized violence in an action film. You can just shoot at her and kidnap her just like anyone else. Then you can even let the woman live through the film instead of hurting or killing her to provide extra incentive for the hero. Who knew?
For a heroine in a science fiction film, Jordan is pretty normal. She doesn’t have any special powers. Her clothes aren’t flimsy or terribly revealing. And this woman doesn’t scream. She yells. She’s real.
The film does suffer from an overabundance of white people. It’s supposed to be 2019, so why can’t we show a little more integration? Djimon Hounsou does a good turn as a mercenary, and Michael Clark Duncan gets a bit part. There’s a man who looks like his background is probably Asian who plays one of the clients of the facility, and a few other non-speaking roles. I doubt The Island would have done any worse at the box office if the film’s creators had cast more people of color to balance out three of the four main characters being white.
I’m not going to suggest that you run out to rent this one, since it’s over two hours long and not the most original movie I’ve ever seen (*cough* Logan’s Run *cough*). But I relaxed while watching Jordan. I felt good about her character, I felt good about how she was treated, and I kept that feeling all the way to the end. This is a rare thing.
All in all, I give The Island 3 stars and thank the filmmakers for creating Jordan. I would have given it 4 stars if they’d given her the climactic fight scene, but I guess that was too much to hope for. It would have been too short, anyway, since she would have cleaned that guy’s clock.
This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.