Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, the Superman reboot that arrives in theaters on Friday, is quite possibly the most feminist action movie of the year. Striking for its absence of naked ladies, it also features a badass Amy Adams performance as Lois Lane and women all over newsrooms and the military, not just in the bedroom. There’s even a ridiculously enjoyable feminist supervillian in this battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) on behalf of humanity and General Zod (Michael Shannon), a Kryptonian criminal who wants to rid Earth of its inhabitants to resurrect his destroyed planet. Zod’s right-hand man is actually a woman: Kryptonian baddie Faora (Antje Traue).
Of course we’ve had female villains before, but Faora is evil for reasons that have nothing to do with her gender. She wasn’t sexually betrayed by the hero, like scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) in Iron Man 3. She doesn’t use her feminine wiles to seduce men or kill them during sex, like Batman and Robin’s Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) or GoldenEye’s Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen). Instead, she’s a straight-up believer in the genetic superiority of people from Krypton and tells Clark Kent things like, “You’re weak, son of El. Unsure of yourself. The fact that you possess a sense of morality and we do not gives us an evolutionary advantage.” While kicking his ass.
Snyder and his longtime stunt coordinator Damon Caro, along with fight choreographer Ryan Watson—both of whom worked with Snyder on his female-centric action movie Sucker Punch—have given Faora a quick, jabbing fight technique, making her fast to compensate for the fact that, unlike the hunks of beef she’s fighting against and alongside, she isn’t physically imposing. While she dresses like the other men in General Zod’s forces, Faora’s armor has curves rather than working to disguise her gender—fashion in a functional form. And she’s just as resilient as the guys, machine-gun fire ricocheting impotently off her chest as a highly entertaining rebuke to the idea that you can’t have a female supervillain because you can’t have a man beat her up.
I’m all for strong female characters like Lois, who drink bourbon, hang with the boys, and smooch the hero at the end. But Man of Steel is a reminder that tough female action characters don’t have to be good. With a whole generation of female actresses aging out of romantic comedies and into other kinds of movies, and another coming up behind them who’ve credentialed themselves as action stars before they even hit 20, maybe we can accept that we’ve got enough role models and enjoy letting some of these girls and women go bad.