It’s hard for us, in these enlightened days of 2023, to remember how dark the future once looked for the state of stupid action movies. Even as late as 2014, those of us who enjoyed our movies loud, stupid, and full of explosions (also spaceships; spaceships were always good) were faced with a depressingly homogenous slate of options.
Let us recall, briefly, the dark age of Stupid Explosion Cinema: Twice a year, Marvel would release a movie about a magical white men with blonde hair who saved the world. Despite the public’s clamoring for a movie in which a woman and/or person of color received magical powers with which to blow shit up, they had no plans to change this agenda: “You have to put one franchise on hold for three or four years in order to introduce a new one,” Kevin Feige explained, before proceeding to make fucking Ant-Man for some reason. DC Comics, naturally, responded with a series of movies about magical men with brown hair, helmed by Zack Snyder, an auteur whose previous work had included historical epics about white men nobly banding together to fight disabled people and gay Muslims. J.J. Abrams re-booted both Star Trek — the 1960s version of Star Trek, which is to say, the version with only one woman in its core cast — and created a new Star Wars sequel, adding precisely one main female character to George Lucas’ universe in the process. This, of course, brought the number of female leads in the Star Wars universe all the way up to two; three, if you counted Luke’s dead mom. Which no-one did.
Perhaps the most damning indictment of the state of stupid action movies in 2014 came from the poster for The Expendables 3, which featured seemingly every actor who had ever been on the set of action movie, and some who hadn’t. The 16-person group included a 67-year-old politician, a Holocaust denier, a Dancing With the Stars contestant, one of the lesser vampires from Twilight, and, for some reason, Kelsey Grammer — and exactly one girl, Ronda Rousey, who was the first woman to appear on a poster in the history of the franchise. Stallone promised an all-female Expendables spin-off, but the fact remained: In 2014, a kick-ass action movie with multiple women in it was a slightly lower priority than an action movie starring Frasier Crane.
We all suffered from this state of affairs. We also wondered why it wasn’t changing: Stupid Explosion Cinema was a genre that, by design, did not require mind-boggling innovation or screenwriting genius. It succeeded largely on the strength of archetypal characters, highly traditional plot structure, likable actors, and expensive-looking explosions. (Also spaceships. Spaceships were always good.) Therefore, making a Stupid Explosion Movie with a bunch of women was mostly about picking some charismatic women and plugging them into the formula; coming up with a diverse and woman-friendly S.E.M., we protested, was so easy that even some idiot on Twitter could do it.
And now, finally, some idiot on Twitter has. Sady Doyle — formerly known as one of the more annoying over-posters on Twitter, and now one of the more annoying and obscenely wealthy over-posters on Twitter — has, at long last, adapted her popular series of Tweets about the ideal feminist Stupid Explosion Movie into a major motion picture, Girlsplosion. The result is a wacky yet violent sci-fi/action/fantasy superhero romp, featuring massive amounts of colorfully portrayed property destruction, nonsensical superpowers, and plot-driving magical doohickeys. It may be one of the more enjoyable action movies of the past ten years, due not only to its all-star cast, but to the fact that it is really, extremely, exuberantly non-smart.
Girlsplosion stars Zoe Saldana, as a young woman pursuing a graduate degree in Ancient Egyptian Studies, which is probably a real thing you could get a graduate degree in, somewhere. She’s been taken under the wing of a world-famous, yet ominous Egyptologist played by Gina Torres. While the two are examining various Egyptian things in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art — it is never explained why a grad student and her mentor would be doing homework like “going to a famous museum exhibit routinely patronized by five-year-olds;” nor should it be, because this movie is really stupid — Saldana is betrayed by her mentor, who was merely posing as a world-renowned Egyptologist with decades of experience in order to further the goals of her international terrorist organization, G.I.N.A., or, Giant International Not-Good Alliance. G.I.N.A, as it turns out, is after the Orb of Sekhmet, a very powerful artifact that — when used correctly — bestows its owner with all the power of Sekhmet, the Egyptian Goddess of Rage.
Gina absconds with the Orb of Sekhmet, after a spirited fight scene in which she is nearly intercepted by a brawny-yet-brooding gun nut played by Michelle Rodriguez, and also by Uzo Aduba, who uses advanced science-fictional robot minions to fight evil, and who also has a very cool car. Unfortunately, Aduba and Rodriguez get side-tracked by fighting with each other to see who can get to Gina Torres first, and Gina escapes. Zoe Saldana, in a relatable and likable fashion, notes that Rodriguez and Aduba would make a great team! Yet they cannot work together. Teams, and working together, are something Zoe Saldana will go on to explain many times throughout the film. Also, Zoe Saldana briefly touched the Orb of Sekhmet and got its mystical power gunk on her, so now she has super-strength.
Backstory time! Aduba and Rodriguez explain the existence of G.I.N.A. to Saldana, because — despite its being a giant international organization with thousands of employees, devoted explicitly to super-villainry and destruction — the world’s governments have never taken action against it, or warned anyone about it, and also, it has never been on the news. Aduba and Rodriguez also take this opportunity to explain their fascinating backstories: Rodriguez has devoted her life to stockpiling weapons and/or getting vengeance on Gina Torres, because one of G.I.N.A.’s prior operations caused the death of her one true love (Lena Headey, seen in a tear-jerking flashback). Uzo Aduba is a quirky, acerbic billionaire and computer genius, who works with her mysterious “business partner” — a strangely affectless Scarlett Johansson, who never leaves her underground laboratory — to design and utilize futuristic crime-fighting technology, because billionaire super-geniuses always feel it is their civic duty to engage in vigilante crime-fighting, and also because robots are cool.
Having established that they fill the necessary superhero-team slots of Brawn (Rodriguez), Brains (Aduba), and Relatable Leader Figure (Saldana) — the Thor, the Iron Man, and the Captain America, respectively, or perhaps the Superman, the Batman, and the Also Superman — Saldana convinces these super-powered weirdos to overcome their differences. Which they do, whilst relocating to Uzo Aduba’s super-cool futuristic techno-mansion, and having a wacky training montage.
During their wacky training montage, Gina Torres becomes a living God and takes over France.
Readers will note that all of the characters introduced so far are women. Yet gentlemen have no need to fear: This film is truly dedicated to racial and gender diversity. For example, at the futuristic techno-mansion, we meet Uzo Aduba’s stunningly beautiful — yet hilariously ditzy — personal assistant, played by noted white man Chris Evans. Evans’ delightful turn provides the movie with much of its ribald humor, mostly regarding the professional incompetence of men, and the fact that good-looking men (especially the blondes, am I right?) are always dumb as a sack of hammers. Fellas will love seeing that they can help save the world, too, mostly by answering the phones and wearing short-shorts.
Girlsplosion is also not without its romance: Idris Elba volunteers his services as a brooding weapons expert with a mysterious past. Sparks fly between Elba and Saldana, yet she suspects he may be an undercover G.I.N.A. agent, working to infiltrate the team. Also, Rodriguez’ grief over the death of her one true love, Lena Headey, is complicated by the boundless compassion and even more boundless cuteness of a neighborhood librarian (Alison Brie) who attempts to pierce Rodriguez’ strong-yet-silent facade. Can Zoe Saldana ever trust Idris Elba? Will Michelle Rodriguez learn to love again? These are the sort of questions that Girlsplosion honestly pretends to consider, before moving on to the lengthy, explosion-filled fight scenes against a living God played by Gina Torres.
In one of the lengthier and more explosion-filled of these scenes, Idris Elba is captured by G.I.N.A., and — despite being well over six feet tall, and previous established as a crack weapons expert and combat pro — must subsequently pine for his stronger, more competent girlfriend, Zoe Saldana, to rescue him from his distress, because that is jut how romance works. We can’t love you if you don’t show a little vulnerability, gentlemen! We like to feel like we can protect you! This defeat is emotionally shattering to Zoe Saldana, and she is on the verge of giving up.
Yet Zoe is visited, in her darkest hour, by the Goddess Sekhmet (Laverne Cox) who tells her that rage can be either constructive or destructive. Gina Torres, frustrated by years of being underestimated and overlooked as an Egyptologist, has chosen to blow up France. Zoe, meanwhile, can use her rage to save both the world and her boyfriend. Some people might look at an increasingly dudes-only slate of superhero movies and become ever more irritated and enraged by the failure of an entire genre of movies to make room for non-white-dudes. Others might goof off on Twitter and eventually write an imaginary movie where Chris Evans wears short-shorts and Laverne Cox is the supreme power in the universe. There are lots of ways you can go with your frustration, the Goddess Sekhmet is saying.
“Truly, my young heir, this world is an unfair one,” the Goddess Sekhmet points out. “Not all of us will have our stories told. Not all of us will be considered ‘marketable’ or worthwhile by those who crave power and wealth. But all of us have the power to tell our stories. Also, to blow shit up, because for God’s sakes, people will pay to see literally any movie with enough explosions in it. This movie could star a bag of rice and it would still make a zillion dollars. There’s literally no reason a diverse, woman-friendly action movie doesn’t get made four times a year, because you know it would make money. Now go, Zoe Saldana, and use your superpowers to sell tickets! Er, I mean, save Idris Elba!”
It should surprise no-one to learn that Zoe and friends triumph over evil, that Elba and Saldana smooch, or that Scarlett Johansson turns out to be a killer robot created by Uzo Aduba. But it’s perhaps this moral of self-empowerment through embracing the proven monetary value of CGI explosions that is its greatest reward. I mean: Its greatest reward aside from the fact that Uzo Aduba decides to build a spaceship for the sequel. Because, seriously: Spaceships are always, always good.
Photo by Leo Hidalgo, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license