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Disposable Women

June 1st, 2012

It’s a funny thing to care about, but I was relieved to read that actress Christina Applegate will be part of the cast for the forthcoming Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. The teaser trailer for the long-delayed follow-up to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy showcased the four male members (erm) of San Diego’s Channel 4 News Team with no sign of groundbreaking newswoman Veronica Corningstone. I had become concerned that the sequel might regress to the all-men’s club at the start of the Ron Burgundy saga, that the filmmakers might presume that all their audience wants is more of the childish misogyny of the days before the News Team learned the important lesson that Women Can Be Anchors Too.

Okay, I know how this sounds, but bear with me. Even an absurd comedy factory like Anchorman had a heart. A hero’s journey, if you will. And I hate when the makers of a sequel toss away whatever personal growth its characters experienced in the initial installment.

Case in point: Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery. Mrs. Thielavision and I were among the relatively few people who actually saw this Mike Myers film on its initial theatrical run. (We had free passes, so we thought “what the hell.”) And what may be hard to remember after the excesses of its sequels is that the first Austin Powers was at times a rather sweet little fish-out-of-water story in which–just like Ron Burgundy–a loathsome relic of a past era learned to appreciate that women aren’t merely there to be conquered. By the end, he and the luscious Vanessa Kensington were happy newlyweds.

Until the second movie blew her up.

The very first scene of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me picked up with the honeymoon, and the revelation that Vanessa was actually another of Dr. Evil’s mechanical assassins. She short circuited and exploded, leaving Austin heartbroken–for all of a couple of seconds–before he happily realized that this meant he was single again! And that wrapped it up for poor, unmourned Vanessa.

I get that these are movies that are not intended to be taken seriously. The Spy Who Shagged Me even hung a lampshade on the nonsensical nature of Vanessa having been “a fembot all along.” But I recall being bothered by the cavalier manner in which the sequel shed itself of her, and not just because I enjoyed the sight of Elizabeth Hurley in silver lamé. I thought, “Hey, didn’t the last film want us to actually care about these two? If their relationship was so instantly disposable, why did it take up so much screen time? Why not just be a straight-up joke machine?” In other words, don’t spend one movie telling me something is important to turn around and tell me that it never mattered in the first place.

Which is why I’m perhaps a little too pleased by the return of Veronica Corningstone. If she is immolated in the first scene, I’m gonna be pissed.


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