Journey to the Center of the Earth was an extremely amusing movie, but not a very good one. However, aside from exceeding at pure silliness and cool visuals, it got one thing pretty much right: the character of mountain guide Hannah Asgeirsson.
The movie is about geology professor Trevor Anderson and his nephew Sean, who visit the site where Trevor’s brother/Sean’s father disappeared a decade ago. The site happens to be atop an Icelandic mountain, so they enlist Hannah’s help to reach it, and of course then they fall through the Earth’s crust into an improbable world-within-the-world that features dinosaurs, glowing birds, and flesh-eating plants. By the time they fall through, however, Hannah has already saved Trevor’s life-twice, in fact, and she’s keeping count and charging him for the trouble.
There isn’t a lot of character growth for anyone in the movie, though Trevor and Sean develop a relationship. Very little of Hannah’s personality is explored, only bits are hinted at-but what’s clear and consistent through the film is that she’s quick-thinking, physically strong, and very good at her job. Though she is saved by Trevor a couple of times through the movie, she’s never reduced to being a damsel in distress; though her hair stays improbably clean and styled, she’s not ever especially sexualized-there’s a gratuitous close-up of her butt at one point, but it came across to me much more as a physical gag than as a sexualized shot. I could picture the same gag done with a male character without stretching my imagination at all.
Furthermore, both male characters come to respect Hannah fully. As they first climb the mountain, Sean tells Trevor he calls “dibs” on her, and rather than calling him out on the sexism of that, Trevor responds that Sean’s too young to call dibs. However, Hannah overhears them bickering about this later (Trevor delivers the even more annoying line, “You think you’re man enough to call dibs on the mountain guide, but man enough to repel down this cliff?”) and actually reacts to it as I’d expect a real-life woman with self-esteem to: she snaps at the two of them, “No one gets dibs on the mountain guide!” Then, at the end when she saves them both yet again (in a particularly silly-but-awesome manner) she smirks and says, “So who got dibs again?” They both give her intimidated looks and point at the other, pretending they hadn’t been so disrespectful; by this point in the movie, it’s not only clear that Hannah is at least as capable as they are-given it’s a situation involving a lot of climbing and other physical strains, she’s probably more so-but that the characters acknowledge that she is, so what was a sexist line at the beginning is actually used pointedly.
This isn’t to say that her treatment is perfect: she also is the love interest in a way that pretty much defines “tacked on.” There’s no chemistry between Hannah and Trevor but at the end they kiss anyway. In almost every other way, she read as a gender-neutral character who happened to have been a woman-awesome!-so it smacked very much of, “Oh, well the audience needs a romance, so they have to get together.” Furthermore, the movie fails the Bechdel Test by quite a margin; there’s only one other female character in the whole thing. (And while I’m criticizing anyway, I don’t think there’s a single character of color in the movie.) But overall, I was pleased: the movie was silly and stupid, so that I came out of it with serious positive feelings specifically due to Hannah’s character was an unexpected treat.