This week’s Danger Gal Friday post profiles two characters from the first Transformers movie, Mikaela Banes and Maggie Madsen. I know what you’re thinking — “Megan ‘I have the libido of a 15-year-old boy’ Fox? Really?” * — but hear me out. While certainly Mikaela’s character in the first Transformers movie is physically exploited (and evidently even more in the second movie), she has her moments and I think those moments are important.
Neither of these female characters are shrinking violets and they’re not rescued any more than any of the male characters. In fact, Mikaela deals far better in life-or-death situations than Sam Witwicky does and rescues him from the Decepticon named Frenzy. She’s self-contained and, as evidenced by her walking away from her idiot and condescending boyfriend, doesn’t take crap from anyone. She’d rather walk home than get a ride from a guy who treats her like an idiot. ** When Sam’s car, Bumblebee in disguise, “breaks down” Mikaela is quick to try to solve the problem. Contrasting Sam with the guy Mikaela just walked away from, Sam is in no way intimidated by Mikaela’s ability to take care of herself and whatever car she’s driving. (Or moped — I really thought her the type to have a motorcyle rather than a moped.)
In the end, it’s Mikaela who rigs an injured Bumblebee onto a tow truck and hauls him around so he can fight the Decepticons. She sees an opportunity to make a difference and takes it, even if it puts her own life in danger. She doesn’t expect others to fight for her. So, while I’d certainly like to see less of Fox’s physical exploitation in the movie, her character’s resolve is a positive counterpoint. Also, she stands up to the Sector Seven officer to the point of revenge and in the end isn’t punished for that, but is instead rewarded with having her juvenile record expunged. Mikaela is definitely not a perfect, princess-type figure waiting for others to rescue her and solve the story’s problem.
The other character I found interesting in Transformers is former NSA analyst and Rand Corporation employee Maggie Madsen. Maggie has a colorful past, having lost her NSA job because she has a tendency to speak her mind bluntly, but she’s also acknowledged to be brilliant. She leads her team in discovering the hostile agent hacking into Air Force One. While I feel bad for her feet in those stilettos and think their presence is ridiculous, she’s not sexually exploited and is considered valuable. In the end she’s part of those who defeat the Decepticons.
On balance, I found unexpected feminist aspects of both these characters in Transformers. No one doubts these two women’s ability to accomplish what they set out to do. I’m not optimistic about more of the same from the second Transformers movie from what I’ve been told, but I wanted to at least highlight these unexpected aspects of the first Transformers movie.
Having said all that, I’d really love to see a Transformer with a female voice. Hear that Michael Bay?
* Also, I sort of like that Fox has been plain about creating a persona for the men’s magazines. Some of her quotes are definitely disarming and blunt, a refreshing trend from a “sex symbol.” If it’s true, then she’s created a character to play and admitting it points a finger at how ridiculous it is. Fox seems to be playing the stereotypical vixen and at the same time breaking that character down. That’s not something we normally see in the run-of-the-mill starlet.
** The Transformers Wiki claims that Mikaela hid her car knowledge from other boyfriends. I didn’t really get this out of those scenes. Rather, it seemed Mikaela doesn’t open up to people in general and so would not just automatically share personal information even with a boyfriend. When her boyfriend writes her off as just a pretty face, she walks away without looking back.She’s not afraid to be alone or on her own.