Thursday, August 13, 2015

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Scarlet Overkill Deserves Her Own Movie—So Here's The Script

WARNING: Massive Spoiler Alert for the DESPICABLE ME and MINIONS movies. Reading this post is not advised if you intend to watch them. Do, however, come back and enjoy my epic post after you've seen them!

Universal Pictures



About this time last year, I blogged about how I introduced my daughter to science fiction. Since then, she's been consuming more SF stories in film, including DreamWorks' MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN and HOME. This summer she was ready to dip her toes into Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment's DESPICABLE ME franchise. Unexpectedly, the experience launched me onto a pop culture journey of epic proportions.

DESPICABLE ME: Pros and Cons

For the uninitiated, the least you need to know about DESPICABLE ME is that it's about Felonius Gru, a supervillain who finds redemption after adopting three orphan girls. Read the IMDB description here. It's very high concept. A key aspect of this story is that Gru has a bunch of little yellow creatures as minions, who just about steal every scene they're in.

We watched the first two films on home video. MINIONS (directed by Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin; written by Brian Lynch), a spinoff story about the Minions, came out in theaters the day after we saw DESPICABLE ME 2. Since it's summertime, I suggested to my daughter that we see MINIONS right away. She loves the Minions, so it wasn't exactly a hard sell.

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Unfortunately, the Despicable Me franchise is plagued by two problematic elements, namely sexism and the marginalization of female characters. For example, there are no female Minions, a significant oversight. Example #2: Anti-Villain League Agent Lucy from DM2 has awesome martial arts skills, but is only able to use them against…cupcakes. Not cool. She serves as Gru's love interest. Yawn. And in one scene, she's a classic damsel in distress. *shudder*. Reel Girl presents a sharp analysis of these issues in 'Minions' most sexist kids' movie of the year, rated Triple S for gender stereotyping (beware the harsh comments, though).

Another issue is that Gru is presented as this incredible hero for becoming a single father. Yet countless women are single mothers in real life and have been doing what he does for like, forever. Where's their celebratory movie and representational characters in a mainstream blockbuster film?

So yes, the franchise falls short when it comes to female characters—and characters of color and those with disabilities. Of course, this is de rigueur when it comes to Hollywood. Even if the team behind the films had wanted to gender flip the main character from the beginning, it's doubtful the powers that be at Universal Pictures would have agreed. And you can bet I discussed these issues with my daughter in a way that enlightened without invalidating her enjoyment of the films.

Problematic elements aside for the moment, the Despicable Me franchise is entertaining family fare. There are genuinely funny and endearing moments in the stories. DM2 and MINIONS aren't as strong plot-wise and a significant reason is because they come across as officially sanctioned fan fiction spin-off stories. I can't imagine what kind of story Illumination Entertainment is going to cull from the leftovers for DESPICABLE ME 3 (2017) (an hour and a half of the Minions counting their money?), but my family will most likely watch it anyway.

An exciting MINIONS discovery

Universal Pictures

Back to MINIONS!

Regular Galaxy Express passengers know I'm averse to potential spoilers and so I generally avoid them. Therefore, the only trailer I watched was one that only featured the Minions. I couldn't avoid learning about the existence of supervillain Scarlet Overkill, who immediately intrigued me, but beyond that I went into the film knowing very little about the overall story.

I'm keenly aware of the film's problematic elements and I agree with the points made by Reel Girl, and yet…I fell really, really, really hard for Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock).
Turns out she is exactly my kind of supervillain! I can't get enough of her. In fact, she's my current favorite.

Believe me when I say I wasn't expecting anything from this film other than a pleasant diversion and a satisfied daughter. Me fall head over heels for a MINIONS character? Never saw that one coming at all.

I've been having intense feelings and a complicated experience with Scarlet Overkill. I'll share why since it has a bearing on my favorite genre, sci-fi romance.

Scarlet Overkill: the world's most underrated supervillain

Universal Pictures

First, let's review Scarlet Overkill's introduction.

In the MINIONS world, Scarlet Overkill is the world's first female supervillain. She makes a dramatic entrance at Villain-Con's Hall H (a Comic-Con homage). Check out her appearance in the following trailer. Frankly, it's too awesome for words:


Amazing, wearable tech rocket dress, check. Shoots up the stage with her machine gun as she makes her entrance, double check! At this point, my jaw hit the floor and never came back up.

Throughout the film, Scarlet shows off a variety of impressive skills. Here's a short list:

* Master thief

* Martial Artist (Taekwondo, perhaps?)

* Pilot (of both her rocket ship and rocket dress)

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* Experience with a variety of weapons

* Savvy marketer (see: her Villain-Con marketing campaign, as demonstrated in her magazine ads, TV commercial, fireworks display during her stage show, the "Doesn't it feel so good to be bad?" tagline, and the gold statue in her likeness. This woman really knows how to market her brand!)

* Consummate actress and public speaker (as demonstrated by her marketing and evil-doing skills, e.g., when she makes her Villain-Con speech and then later tells Kevin, Stuart, and Bob a bedtime story)

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Another element I adore about Scarlet is that as the story progresses, she becomes increasingly fanatical, wild, and over-the-top. The filmmakers didn't hold back in this regard. In one scene, she kicks over her TV in a fit of anger. Not to glorify violence or anything, but she's just so full of power!

She also displays a mesmerizing range of facial expressions, from sweetly maternal to mildly annoyed to explosively furious. And she maintains her magnetic charm all the while! The contrast is fun to watch and made me curious about that aspect of her emotional development.

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In short, this supervillain is amazing. Spectacular. Red hot! But that's not all. There's another part of Scarlet that enthralls me even more.

The ultimate supervillain couple

Universal Pictures

As I stated previously, I had only seen the one trailer prior to watching the film. So imagine my shock—yes, shock!—when I learned Scarlet's inventor sidekick is also her husband. (Herb Overkill is voiced by Jon Hamm). It took a few moments for the significance of this news to sink in as I was just concentrating on absorbing the story. But then a realization hit me full force in the face:

Scarlet and Herb Overkill are a superhuman/supervillain sci-fi romance waiting to happen.

Technically, they already had a romance and MINIONS takes place during their Happily Ever After. But the film doesn't delve into their backstory, which only made me crave it so very, very much.

The Overkills' amazing loot room!

At the time when MINIONS take place (1968), Scarlet and Herb are a married couple and very much in love. In fact, there's a distinctly sensual undertone to their interactions. They hug and touch each other a lot, make lovey-dovey faces, and generally act very hot for each other. Some of it is played for laughs, like when Stuart the Minion makes fun of them kissing, but mostly the filmmakers have taken their relationship seriously.

Take a gander at the following image. Isn't this totally the look of a couple reliving memories of their hot sex together?

Universal Pictures

It's almost as though the creative team happened upon this great concept of a supervillain and her scientist husband while writing MINIONS, but couldn't take it any further because of franchise limitations (after all, the Minions are the stars here). Still, they explored it as much as they could within the context of the film. That's my guess, and it's supported by this nugget from an interview with Pierre Coffin (via Flickering Myth):
We’re always thinking about the poor parents who will be accompanying their children to the movies, because we live that thing every week. “What do they wanna see? Oh God, here we go again.” And usually I’ll be super bored or just mildly enjoy it. So you want to care about   the parents, like the kids will get the jokes at their own level, but the parents will enjoy it for other things.
Oh yeah, I enjoyed the "other things" all right!

Scarlet and Herb really dig each other and even more importantly, they are perfectly matched in terms of personality, interests, and gender roles. The following featurette clip (with Jon Hamm and Sandra Bullock) demonstrates those elements:


Speaking of gender roles, I just love, love, love how Scarlet is the supervillain/leader and Herb provides the support and nurturing. He keeps her arsenal stocked with creative weapons and is the genius behind her rocket dresses. He treats Scarlet with romantic cards and gives great side-eye on her behalf. What's not to love about this guy?!

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Lest you think Herb is some kind of saint, he has a devious side. For example, after Scarlet recruits the Minions and brings them to her castle fortress, he tells them he's going to make warm milk and cookies. Because hospitality, right? But a short time later, Herb is the one drinking the milk and eating a cookie. He doesn't offer any of it to the Minions—or even to Scarlet! The film is full of little details like that and they help make Scarlet and Herb fully rounded characters.

Here's another interesting thing to reflect on: Scarlet and Herb are one of the few supervillain couples in mainstream science fiction media. Supervillains are usually loners, so the concept of a supervillain couple, while not 100% new (Hello, Boris and Natasha), still feels like something different. Scarlet and Herb are a fresh reinvention of this trope.

They're also a very unique kind of supervillain couple, at least in my film watching experience. I can't recall another mainstream couple in an SF/SFR movie* wherein the woman is the supervillain AND which features the couple as wildly in love, with palpable sexual chemistry, AND said couple fully respects each other and treats one other as equals. Whew! I'm quite astonished by this discovery and also in love with the fact that Scarlet and Herb are so in love with each other.

Awww...

There's a D/s flavor to their relationship and in my opinion it's intentional, probably some kind of fan service for adult viewers. Scarlet is in charge and Herb happily surrenders to whatever plan she dreams up. That dynamic is so incredibly fun to watch. Sandra Bullock described this couple as "mavericks" and that word captures them perfectly. Overall, their relationship is wonderfully subversive. I think that element excites me the most. It's just too bad everything else around them falls short.

Right supervillain, wrong film

Universal Pictures

I'm having difficulty reconciling some of my feelings about the Overkills, though. MINIONS is a family/kids movie and therefore I feel a tad conflicted about having become so enamored of characters who are adults, age-wise, but whose presentation is targeted mostly at children.

Also, there are elements of Scarlet's character that distress me because they're sexist in nature. For example, when one of the Minions looks at a magazine picture of her, he holds it vertically and the picture unfolds as though he's looking at a photo in Penthouse. Disgusting, quite frankly, because it's a completely gratuitous sight gag that objectifies Scarlet more than it celebrates her.

I adore Scarlet for who she is, but at the same time I'm left wanting so much more. I want the same type of character (superhero or supervillain), but in an adult sci-fi romance film (doesn’t have to be m/f—any pairing would be fine!). It's frustrating to encounter fun characters like Scarlet and Herb and not be able to enjoy them in a story that's a better fit for my adult sensibilities.

Here's a terrific fan-made video that includes many of the elements I love about her character. It nicely captures her supervillain angst as well as how protective she is of Herb:

BEWARE FINAL BATTLE SPOILERS


I would love to watch an entire film devoted to that kind of Scarlet Overkill spectacle!

To be clear, I don't like Scarlet because she's a villain, but because she's compelling as well as extremely talented at her occupation (if you've seen her fight moves in the henchmen competition scene you know what I'm talking about!). She's unapologetic about her villainy and does it in style. She has ambition. Goals (like overthrowing England, heh). Scarlet is a sexually confident woman. She also has agency, at least as much as the MINIONS storyline allows.

The character of Scarlet Overkill has flaws, but they have very little to do with her actual nature.

The real problem?

She's in the wrong story.

The Minions exist to serve. They aren't supposed to be someone the supervillains of the Despicable Me world fight. In MINIONS, the titular characters become accidental adversaries, which is pretty weak storytelling. They're a good example of why successful secondary characters should remain secondary—because that's where they shine. (Leveraging them for a summer blockbuster film regardless of what's best for the story is another, separate issue). Therefore, Scarlet doesn't get to face off against anyone worthy of her skill level and status. Nor does the film grant her an origin story, so her motivations and emotional responses come across as superficial and cliché. But that's not her fault. The fault lies in a collective failure of imagination. And that breaks my heart.

Bedtime story Scarlet

As a result, female audiences—especially girls—are deprived of a character like Scarlet Overkill as the main character in a DESPICABLE ME movie. Ironically, based on a comparison of skill sets, Scarlet's a far more accomplished supervillain than Gru. I doubt the filmmakers intended to sabotage the first female supervillain in the franchise, but on the other hand, entrenched sexism is difficult to shake off.

At any rate, we get Scarlet as a superb supervillain, so that aspect of her is what my heart intends to celebrate. I recognize and appreciate the positive aspects of her character even while knowing she comes with limitations and problematic elements.

Incidentally, a lack of Minions is the main reason Scarlet Overkill's origin story and romance will never appear on the silver screen, a fact I understand and resent simultaneously.


If we're lucky, perhaps she's a prototype of compelling female supervillain/heroine characters to come.

Books are a different matter. Sci-fi romance authors regularly deliver excellent couples in the vein of the Overkills and they also center the narratives on said couples in a very satisfying way. That's a huge reason I read this genre regularly. My Scarlet Overkill experience reminded me how long it's going to take Hollywood to catch up with the progressive and often subversive couple-as-joint-hero stories of SFR.

Scarlet Overkill: "The Movie"

Universal Pictures

Scarlet and Herb Overkill had such a strong impact on me that I subsequently did something I haven't done in well over a decade.

I wrote some fan fiction. Specifically, I wrote a fan fiction screenplay about Scarlet Overkill.

That I burned with desire to create an origin story for Scarlet as well as a sci-fi romance for the Overkills surprised me to no end, especially since I haven't written any fan fiction since my SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO days. There must have been something about these characters that spoke to me. Upon further reflection, I can boil it down to two key elements: Scarlet's female empowerment fantasy and her subversive romance with Herb.

Why a screenplay? Well, the medium for this franchise has been film, so that's one reason. Another is that I was able to incorporate certain elements in the screenplay that simply wouldn't have worked in a book. A third reason is I wanted to keep the story tone similar to that of the franchise, which is easier to do in screenplay format. And it's very readable, so don't worry if a script format is new to you.

My head's been spinning about this whole experience, let me tell you! So I knew I'd never find closure until I spun my version of how Scarlet became a supervillain and met the love of her life in the process. I wanted to help rectify Scarlet's lack of an origin story because both she and her fans deserves it. Hollywood will never, ever give that to her, or to movie audiences, so that's where fan fiction steps up to the plate.

Therefore, I present to you THE UNTOLD ADVENTURES OF SCARLET OVERKILL.

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Here's the basic description as well as a few tags:

THE UNTOLD ADVENTURES OF SCARLET OVERKILL spans the period from supervillain Scarlet Overkill’s origin story to her first meeting with the Minions. It’s a tale of romance, action, and an epic rocket dress!

Rated PGT (Pretty Good Times) for action, cartoon violence, supervillain shenanigans, subversive characters, social commentary, and some thematic elements. Heat level is “sweet”.
***

The story will make the most sense if you've already seen DESPICABLE ME and MINIONS. It's canon compliant, with tons of in-jokes and references to MINIONS. Speaking of which, there are no Minions in this story since the focus is on Scarlet's supervillain trajectory and her romance with Herb. 

Download your PDF copy now—it's free! Share it with the DESPICABLE ME and MINIONS fans in your life, especially girls and teens who like Scarlet Overkill. 

If you've written your own fan fiction about this couple, feel free to share links to your work in the comment section! I found a few cute ones at Wattpad and Archive of Our Own.

Follow "Scarlet Overkill" on Twitter: ScarletTheQueen 

And if you've gotten this far, thanks so much for joining me on this journey!

Got thoughts and/or feels about Scarlet Overkill? Lay it on me!

Joyfully yours,
Heather

*other genres and mediums are a different story