Saturday, November 28, 2015

The year of the fembot

Spoiler alert: If you don't want to know which 2015 movies might have female characters who are robots and which may not, you may want to stop reading now. However, to list actual movie titles is kind of the spoiler itself. I'll include the one that's the most spoilery toward the bottom. I've already spoiled Turbo Kid, I suppose ... if you care about that, which I argue you should not.

I suppose 1997 is the actual year of the fembot, as that's the year that Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery hit theaters. However, 2015 is shaping up as a close second.

I just saw my fourth 2015 movie last night in which a female character either becomes, or is revealed to be, a robot. And in three of those, one of the characters is in love with that female robot. (In the fourth and the last one I will reveal, the love is also there, but it's maternal.)

Turbo Kid (dir. Francois Simar, Anouk Whissell & Yoann-Karl Whissell)

The most recent robot on my viewing schedule appears in the post-apocalyptic 80s throwback/ exploitation movie Turbo Kid, which sounds as awesome as it ended up being not awesome. The character is Apple, a girl the title character finds in "the wasteland" and ends up reluctantly befriending/loving. The fact that she's a robot is not immediately revealed, but once it is, they play it up for about half a dozen false deaths. It grew very tiresome, just like this movie. I did think actress Laurence LeBoeuf (wait, that's a woman's name?) was probably the best part of the movie, though it took me a while to warm up to her character.

Ex Machina (dir. Alex Garland)

The female robot most central to the plot of the movie is, of course, in Ex Machina -- and it's really one of a handful of female robots. But none of them hold a candle to Ava, played by Alicia Vikander, who easily seduces (emotionally, if not physically) the young programmer summoned to the remote technical fortress of an internet billionaire/genius. Even knowing the character is an example of artificial intelligence, Caleb (Domhnall Glesson) still falls for her. I guess maybe I would too. The movie is chilling and excellently explores the host of existential issues related to such a character.

Tomorrowland (dir. Brad Bird)

One of the weirdest aspect of the total misfire Tomorrowland is not that the most compelling character is, again, a robot. It's not that a childhood version of the male character falls in love with her anyway. It's not even that some 50 years later, when that character is now played by George Clooney, he's still in love with her, though that is pretty weird. No, the weirdest thing is that he somehow still feels betrayed by her -- a robot who failed to be a compatible love interest for him -- and that she still has the appearance of a child, making his romantic feelings an example of thankfully unconsummated pedophilia. Yeah, someone didn't think this movie through, though this is hardly the only evidence of that fact. Still, as with Turbo Kid, the actress Raffey Cassidy as Athena is the most compelling reason to watch the movie.

Final spoiler warning.

Chappie (dir. Neill Blomkamp)

This is the one outlier on the list in the following two ways: It's both the one instance of maternal robot love, and the one instance where a character is actually turned into a robot. (Three ways, actually, if you consider that the initial relationship involves a human woman and a male robot.) How do you actually turn a flesh and blood creature into a robot? Chappie has the answer, of course: You download a character's consciousness and install it in a robot body once its human body has failed. That's what happens to Yolandi, a mother figure to the title character, at the very end of the movie after she's gunned down in the climactic battle. And even though Chappie has possibly the most far-fetched usage of fembot technology, it's almost my favorite -- Chappie and Ex Machina are currently very closely situated in my 2015 rankings.

Honorable mentions:

There are actually two 2015 movies that also feature what I would call "enhanced" female characters. Though they are definitely not robots, they each have bionic components that make them all the more lethal. The first is Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in Mad Max: Fury Road, who has a robotic hand replacing the half arm she has lost. Then there's Sophia Boutella as Gazelle in Kingsman: The Secret Service, whose blade legs not only help her run, they also help her slice and dice flesh. I suppose if you want to get technical, Gazelle should be "first" because Kingsman came out before Mad Max.

So is 2016 the year that fembots actually overthrow our society, perhaps led by Ava as implied at the end of Ex Machina?

I guess we'll have to wait and see.

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