The ups and downs of gender in the CG movie Ark

So, I finally got around to watching the movie Ark today. The first half hour or so got me really excited. The rest… well, let’s just say that the movie could have benefitted from an education regarding Women in Refrigerators.

The rest of the article is cut for massive spoilers that will ruin your ability to ever watch this movie if you read them. That being said, if you have already seen the movie or never intend to see it, please read on.

I. The Good

First there was Jallak. The movie opens with him doing the whole “protect the children” spiel when his commander and another fellow soldier want to shut down hibernation pods because the kids in them are Cevean. This gave me a warm fuzzy because usually the role of protector is relegated to women because it allows them to transgress the boundaries into the public/aggresive sphere without compromising their femininity. Them showing a man as having paternal instincts, to me at least, stood out.

Then there is the one kid who wakes up after Jallak takes a stand, Amarinth. She is adopted as his daughter. It skips to 16 years later (making her 18) and she is shown generating an electric current. Cool. The viewer already knows that she’s related somehow to the legendary priestess, Amiel, who built the Ark — the machine that is to help the races leave their dying planet.

And then… then the movie pops out three more surprises: the ruler of the Storrions (the militant race that has enslaved the Ceveans) is a woman, their lead scientist is a woman, and Jallak’s second in command (he’s the commander of the army at this point) is a woman. I mean, not one but three stereotype breaking women? There’s so much potential there I almost wet my pants.

The Empress is shown as a woman torn between her people/duty and saving her own skin. Although she is complicit in the slavery and war-like behaviour of her nation, she takes a strong stand against the nobility who want to build smaller ships and leave before the planet collapses. She also has a clearly evil adviser named Baramanda (he’s a total Sephiroth type).

We don’t get to see much of Piriel, but it’s made very clear that she’s Jallak’s second in command in the army. The doctor is introduced as the Storrians “leading scientist,” and even though the first scene she gets is of her failing, the viewer knows it’s because her task is impossible rather than because she isn’t smart enough.

Early on Amarinth’s love interest, Rogan, is introduced. He is a rebel Cevan who tries to assasinate Jallak to prevent the Storrions from obtaining data on the whereabouts of the body of Amiel. He gets some cool fighting scenes, then his gun craps out on him and he surrenders.

Amarinth gets exactly one cool scene: after all hell breaks loose, she uses her techno powers to power the escape vehicle for her and Rogan. All of her screaming and freaking out about the situation is mitigated by the way that she and Rogan talk about how she “saved him” and stuff.

Oh, and did I mention that all of the women have plausible proportions? None of them have huge boobs. All of the costumes are beautiful and skintight, but it’s not in a way that causes you to focus on their bodies to the exclusion of the rest of them. My only gripe in this area is that the leading men got more variety in their body shapes and age markers than the women did. In fact, for a long while I had a hard time telling the doctor and Piriel apart because they’re both short-haired blondes. Only one visibly old woman appeared in the movie (excepting random people in the street), but she just had a cameo. Jallak was clearly a distinguished gentleman of some years, and even Baramanda is clearly older than Rogan.

II. The Bad

The first 30 minutes sets up so many awesome possibilities, but things start going downhill from there. It all starts with Jallak being caught as a traitor when Baramanda calls him out on the incident with the kids in the first scene where he got Amarinth from. He gets arrested and Baramanda goes to get Amarinth because they now know that her blood will make the Ark run. I’m sitting around witing for her to bust out with her cool techno powers, but no. Not even a little bit. After her screaming and struggling ineffectually with her captor — who is a machine — Rogan comes to save her. And gets a cool fighting scene while he does so. Amarinth sits back and does nothing.

Then she wants to save her father and says that she’ll do it her way. Cool, right? Except her way involves her giving herself up to Baramanda with no actual assurance that anyone will be safe. You’d think she’d try to bust out her cool machine powers to stop the machine that’s about to kill her dad. But, no, she walks into the middle of the square and says, “Here I am, take me.” Great plan there. Great plan.

Rogan and Jallak join forces after Baramanda double-crosses Amarinth (and puts her to sleep, of course, which shelves her so that the boys can take centre stage). They get some wicked cool fight scenes. Remember Piriel, that female commander I mentioned? Yeah, no one else does, either. She got one scene telling Jallak how he had disappointed her and how he was on his own, and then she doesn’t show up again until after all the action has gone down. But her arm was shot when the rioting began! Wow!

Speaking of the rioting, that’s when we see the last of the Empress. But, I mean, she was clearly evil for asking her nobles to go ahead with the plans when it seemed like the whole finding Amiel’s body thing was a bust. Some pissant rebel shoots her in the head while she’s being all, “I’d never abandon you, my loyal subjects!” Her anti-climactic ending was assured by then, however, because Baramanda had been stealing the limelight with his blood-sucking bug power and obsession with Amarinth.

So, Amarinth has been out cold this whole time and Baramanda starts sucking her blood to steal her techno powers and get all the glory for himself. The doctor starts arguing with him, secure in her knowledge that he wouldn’t dare do anything to her because she’s the only one who knows how to run the Ark. Except for her assistant. Who apparently is in love with her. Gag me.

Just like Amarinth, the doctor gets taken down by Baramanda because her armour of moral outrage just didn’t cut it for protection. She’s actually shot, and killed. Her last line? She tells assistant-boy, “Just shut up and hold me.” No joke.

So, anyway, Baramanda continues sucking Amarinth’s “life force”. The boys bust in, but only manage to take out Baramanda’s guards before he gets his bugs back in her. At this point his blood triggers Amiel’s body to sort of wake up and shoot green things through him before disappearing. She also activates the Ark with all that stuff.

Baramanda is down for the count, and the boys rush to try to help Amarinth (still unconscious) while the assistant holds the body of the doctor. Piriel joins up at some point, sporting that wound I mentioned earlier, and the boys plus her take Amarinth to the escape pods. She decides to sacrifice herself to stay with Jallak try to shut down the Ark. Rogan and Amarinth (kicking and screaming like the helpless little girl she is) get sent to the location of the second ark.

You should know what comes next: Amarinth is told that she is to sacrifice herself to power the ark, of course! Women who get too powerful can’t be left to survive, you see. And she has to do it because Baramanda (remember him?) has joined with the other ark and is coming to kill everyone like the one-dimensional psychopath he is. She gets to have one kiss with Rogan and then she merges with her Ark for what has to be the most painful mech battle I have ever witnessed. And I saw Iczer-One, mind you.

Here’s the only real fighting scene that Amarinth gets in the entire movie. And it consists of her being knocked over and stepped on until she gets lucky and grabs the residential sector off of Baramanda’s back. Giving her father and Piriel a chance to sacrifice themselves by shutting down the core. And by that I mean that Jallak has been hacking the code to shut it off while Piriel stood around looking pretty and asking him if he was done yet.

Rogan lives at the end to give this long speech about how Amarinth taught the two races so much about living together and made The Big Sacrifice.

III. Let’s recap

All the women introduced are dead with most of them not having done anything worth note.

Amarinth, the lead female, has had to sacrifice herself because her Phoenix-class powers are too awesome to let her live (forgive the comic book reference, but it’s the same paradigm being used).

Piriel, who presumably has military experience, was never given a scene in which she could kick ass, but Jallak and Rogan were given several painfully long Matrix-esque fighting scenes. And, don’t forget that after her brave speech where stays behind with Jallak, she does squat except for die along with him.

The Empress, who should have been a driving force, is nothing more than a plot device used to introduce Baramanda, who is a one-dimensional Sephiroth clone. She also dies in a completely unbelievable manner. Honestly, even if there hasn’t been a riot in her entire lifetime (which is highly doubtful), at the first sign of trouble she would have been taken to a secure location — or, most realistically, the machine she was riding in would have snapped up a shield. Having her stand up and be like, “LOOK AT ME, I AM AN IDEAL TARGET!” just makes her, and her guards, look stupid and incompetent. Which flies in the face of the previous times we’ve seen her.

The doctor’s expertise on running the Ark comes to naught, and she’s killed because… well, I’m not exactly sure why they killed her. Maybe because she could have stopped Baramanda from fucking things up so badly?

Ultimately, I’m disappointed that the movie started off with so much potential to do something different but instead decided to fall back on tired old cliches with a tired old ending and a big ‘ol heaping of misogyny. In some ways I think it’s worse than if it had been honest about its intentions from the beginning, because then I wouldn’t have gotten excited and I would have been able to enjoy it for the carbon-copy cliche that it really was.

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