Ok, so there are actually a few things I don’t like about Joss Whedon’s sci-fi series Firefly, and the follow-up movie, Serenity. Most of those things, though, are of the “Simon (played by the gorgeous Sean Maher) should totally get more screen time, and also more kissing scenes, OMG!” variety, rather than genuine quibbles over the story, or the casting, or the writing, etc. Pretty much everything I dislike about the franchise is easy to get over, or ignore.
Except, you know, there is this one thing:
One of the things I love best about the series is how well-developed the female characters are, and how strong and capable these women are, within a variety of roles. The character of Inara (Morena Baccarin) allows for an interesting exploration of feminine sexuality. Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is a more than competent mechanic. Zoe (Gina Torres) just flat-out kicks ass.
And then there’s River Tam (Summer Glau). Her mysterious past is the key to many important plot points, and provides the character with a number of features that make for some very interesting storytelling. And among these is the One Thing I Don’t Like.
I’m just going to say it straight out. I think it will be easier that way. River Tam shouldn’t be able to kick as much ass as she does. Summer Glau is an extremely capable actress – and she looks like she weighs maybe 120 pounds, tops. There is no way a girl that slender, with arms that thin, would be able to knock out all those Reavers.
I mean, yeah, it makes perfect sense that she can use weapons effectively. What else would all that secret government brain-altering be for, right? When River picks up a gun, or even an axe, I’m totally cheering for her. But when she punches grown men in the face bare-handed, and it actually has a serious effect, it jolts me out of the story every time.
See, I happen to be a woman who hits people on a fairly regular basis. I’ve been doing martial arts since the age of six, and I think anyone who knows what to look for would be able to tell. My upper arms, kids, are huge. The muscle required to hit another person with any real force is bulky. If you’ve got it, it’ll show. And even with as much muscle as I’ve got, from years and years of consistent training, I’d have a hell of a time disabling an opponent with just a few strikes, no matter how well-placed. That takes tremendous force, and it’s just not believable when it happens on-screen, especially when the ass-kicker has the physique of a ballet dancer.
I love Firefly and Serenity. I am thrilled that Joss Whedon wants to create stories with strong women – especially women who are physically strong, and fight. But I’m still waiting to see women who are actually built like fighters in those roles.