SPOILERS: Would A 2018 Comic Book Movie Survive A 'Woman In Refrigerator' Controversy?

With rumours circulating that a 2018 comic book movie currently includes this old comic book trope, we explore what this could mean for its possible success and indeed the future of the franchise.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about what the general public will and won’t accept in comic book movies. Earlier this week, Joe Robert Cole, writer of Black Panther had this to say about Tony Stark’s character:


"Think back to Tony Stark, him being douchey and being okay. If that character, Stark, was created in a movie today, I wonder if the response would be like, ‘Oh, it’s cool that he’s douchey and disrespectful to women … That’s fine.’ I think we’re at a different place. I think it’s a better place.”


He has a point. While we weren’t supposed to like Tony when we first met him in Iron Man, it’s still debatable whether a womaniser and a seemingly sexist character would be embraced by the movie going public today. Even in Iron Man 2, Tony hasn’t seen much progression, looking at Natasha Romanoff and claiming ‘I want one.’ I remember laughing at this line in the cinema but would people find the joke amusing today? With the #MeToo movement and Woke Twitter it’s certainly debatable.


The issue becomes even more complex when we consider female roles in superhero movies and the desire for stronger female figures that take more prominent positions in the films. There’s a demand for this on both sides of the screen. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Thor: Ragnorok star, Tessa Thompson, suggested that the future of the MCU will be female. While there’s strong evidence to suggest that Wonder Woman was successful because of a high demand to finally see a great female superhero. It’s also likely that Captain Marvel will see the same pattern.


Have we reached the point where moviegoers will no longer accept films where women are treated as nothing more than tragedies to progress the plot, possibly being killed off in the first five minutes of the movie. We’ve seen this happen in films before in both Marvel and DC.


The Dark Knight, for instance, has Rachel Dawes. While she has a minor role setting up the mob boss, she is ultimately a damsel in distress and a tragic death that forwards Bruce’s character. Now, Rachel doesn’t actually exist in the comic books so there’s no character story that the writers of this movie needed to fulfil. But the decision to kill her off like this becomes more questionable when you realise that she is literally the only main female character in the movie.


Women In Refrigerators Explained




Rachel Dawes is seen as an example of a ‘woman in a refrigerator’ on screen. What does this mean? 'Women in a refrigerator' refers to the 1994 comic where Kyle Rayner returns to his apartment to find his girlfriend has been murdered and stuffed in a fridge. Comic book writer Gail Simone, worked with other female writers to produce a list of cases where women had been used in similar ways. In her own words, Simone said the list had one simple message:


"If you demolish most of the characters girls like, then girls won't read comics. That's it!"


This brings us back to 2018. Would this have been accepted if The Dark Knight released today? To be honest, it wasn’t even really accepted then. Back in 2008 people were discussing how Dawes had been used as a character. Today those voices are far louder and more prominent in society. The discussion might have even been more apparent if Dawes had been murdered five minutes into the film.


An argument against the idea of ‘fridged women’ in comics suggests that male heroes and characters go through the same horrific acts of violence and indeed death as the women. The difference, people claim, is that these characters often recover and regain their heroic status whereas the women do not. This has perhaps changed in recent years but back then it was common for female characters to stay dead or forever changed by the experiences.


At this point you’re probably wondering whether there is a movie releasing in 2018 that could fall into this trope?


While mainly speculative, what we’re about to discuss will touch upon some of the rumours currently online surrounding a film being released this year. As such, if you want to go in completely blind, it might be best to avoid reading what follows below the spoiler image.



 

 


You may have heard the rumour that Deadpool 2 in its current state is unfixable. People who claim this say that while some issues can be corrected by reshoots, one can not and that this refers to a 'woman in a fridge' scenario. No one reliable has come on the record about what this could mean but we can take an educated guess.


The likelihood is that Morena Baccarin’s protagonist and Deadpool’s girlfriend, Vanessa,  is the one who is going to bite the bullet. There’s already evidence of a death from the first teaser. We see a clip of action at a funeral and Wade Wilson looking incredibly angry, chasing villains. Again, we can hypothesise that this might be related to the rumour that his love dies, leading him to seek revenge. Based on the impact this had on the audience score, we can also summarise that the death probably wasn’t that pleasant. There might have even been a rape scene because that’s definitely the type of issue that will make an audience score drop, if it actually was low. Particularly, in what’s intended to be mainly a comedy film.


Kickass 2 had the same problem a few years ago. It seemed at one point writers were toying with the idea of including a famous moment from the comics. Instead, they changed the scene, turning it into a joke emasculating the villain. It’s one of the few parts of that film that actually works.


People are speculating about various ways a movie like Deadpool 2 could get around this mistake. Since the character can break the fourth wall, they could address the fact it’s an old fashioned idea and lazy writing. If done correctly this might work and perhaps that was even the intention? Assuming the rumours are right and she is killed off, it’s possible that it is a reference about how women are treated in comic book movies.


This would prove a lot more effective if there was a long list of recent comic book movies that had included ‘fridged’ women. But there isn’t. Marvel hasn’t been killing female heroes left, right and center. And, while there is a flickering of this idea in Batman V Superman it’s never fully realised.
 

Or perhaps since there’s a time travelling character, Deadpool can go back in time and change it, saving her life. While it does give the room for the character to grow and become a hero in the third film, there is definitely some baiting there.


Don’t forget, Deadpool isn’t just a comedy and it’s not just a superhero movie. There’s a reason it was released on Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t alternate programing as some people believe. It was a love story and even the marketing played with this idea. You can summarise the first movie in a lot of ways including the typical chick flick narrative.


Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy fights to get girl back, boy and girl end up together. With this type of narrative, you have an audience who is invested in those two characters so why rip them apart?


The only logical answer is to fuel the storyline of the male protagonist. You’re killing the girl to give the male hero something to do. This is the definition of a ‘woman in a fridge’ and bringing her back at the end of the movie won’t change that.


How Would Critics React?



It’s likely that critics would notice this type of trope being used. Even if they do break the fourth wall to address it directly as ‘lazy writing’ or as an outdated statement, it’s unlikely critics will forgive the decision. They could if this was just a footnote in an otherwise fantastic movie, but there’s certainly no guarantee. Critics will take away points from a film that they think is sexist, racist, transphobic and the list goes on. It’s become more important for films, even fantasy films to represent equality in society.


Black Panther is the opposite example of this. Black Panther is a great film. It equals or surpasses most of the MCU movies and that is a massive compliment. But it gets bonus points for having such a significance and such a great level of importance in the film industry.

Putting a ‘fridged’ woman in a comic book movie is taking a step back and Deadpool 2 is already facing an uphill battle because a joke isn’t quite as funny the second time.


How Would Audiences React



Even if this type of scenario is apparent in a 2018 comic book movie, I don’t think it would have a massive effect on the box office. Particularly if the male character already has a built in fan base. Opinion might dwindle over time but in the moment they would still buy the ticket. It would however, be a mark against the franchise itself and it would be questionable whether audiences would return for the next outing after that. At the very least, you would lose the people who were partially drawn to the film due to that character and indeed, her relationship with the male hero. It’s worth repeating what Gail Simone said.


"If you demolish most of the characters girls like, then girls won't read comics. That's it!"


This idea could easily relate to comic book movies and you might essentially lose half the audience's interest due to one, completely avoidable mistake.


The main lesson here is this: If you’re going to put a 'woman in a refrigerator' in a film in 2018 the rest of the film better be an exceptional, damn near masterpiece. It is all about the execution but even then, filmmakers will be playing with fire. Society has changed, audiences have changed and it’s become the type of controversy that could kill a franchise stone dead.

What do you think? Could an issue like this in 2018 kill a movie or even a franchise? Share your thoughts below.

 
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