In June, Tasha Robinson wrote an interesting piece "We're Losing All Our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome." In it she points out something that has bothered many of us for years, how a movie will often introduce an amazing, interesting, capable female character (often the only one in the story) only to do nothing with her. After her amazing introduction, she becomes a prop, just to aid the guy along his protagonisty quest and/or be his reward at the end.
Examples she gives:
the eponymous Trinity (the Matrix)
Valka (How to Train Your Dragon 2) - ugh, this one DROVE ME CRAZY. The way the script treated her was appalling. Honestly I'm so surprised in the years it takes to produce an animated movie, no one spoke up and said, isn't this bothering anyone else?
WyldStyle (Lego Movie) - drove me nutso. She was so cool at first! And once again reduced to ineffectual character who exists solely to be a protagonist reward
Tauriel (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)
Other examples that have stood out to me include Thandie Newton's character in Mission Impossible 2 (a textbook example really), Zoe Saldana in the new Star Treks, Mako Mori in Pacific Rim, Fiona in Shrek, all the females in The Lion King...really there are a ton of examples, and you'd be hard pressed to find a single movie where the reverse was true with a male character.
(to contrast, the Thor and Captain America movies have been great with female characters. Though Pixar is quite bad with their female:male character rations and almost always fail the Bechdel test, Elasticgirl is an example of a female character who doesn't succumb to Trinity Syndrome.)
I bring this up now because I was listening to Script Notes, a podcast about screenwrting by John August and Craig Mazin. I adore these guys and this podcast. They are terrific. They did a segment a couple of months ago talking about this report, and while they agreed largely with Tasha Robinson, they took issue with her interpretation of Wyldstyle from The Lego Movie. I wish I had a transcript to quote from, but in essence, they said criticism of Wyldstyle falling into Trinity syndrome wasn't fair because that was the whole point of the story. The movie was parodying The Matrix. It was done with a wink and a nod and so was fair game.
The Matrix starts off with Trinity, whose action wowed audiences in a way we hadn't experienced for many a year. She blew our minds, she was so fabulous and deadly. And yet as the story progresses, we learn the real hero will be "The One," and amazing and talented and experienced as she is, Trinity, for some reason, isn't "The One." Instead it's this white guy nerd. Why? We don't know. That's just how this world (our world too) works.
Wyldstyle's character vocalizes her reaction to this. Why isn't she The Special? Why this nerdy average guy and not her, who has been preparing and training and working hard for years? We don't know. That's just how it goes. And eventually she just accepts it, stops doing amazing things, and goes along with the story. (note: I otherwise enjoyed The Lego Movie, but disappointment in Wyldstyle's character kept me from fully loving it)
Tigress in Kung Fu Panda is essentially the same character as Wyldstyle (though serious instead of comedic): the most capable, most prepared, most talented, but for some reason not "chosen" and instead is present to support the seemingly infantile, ridiculous, unprepared but wide-eyed optimistic guy achieve his greatness.
What I wish August and Mazin had pointed out, though, was: isn't that a shame? Isn't it a shame that this awesome female character didn't get a chance to be the hero or even be significant to the second half of the movie? The filmmakers chose to parody a movie that surely none of the young audience would get instead of just letting Wyldstyle be her awesome self. They had a chance to make a character be different, to let a female character in an action movie be significant, powerful, as well as funny, and instead parroted the same kind of thing we've been seeing for decades. For me, the parody fell flat. I would rather have seen and rather my kids had seen Wyldstyle be to the Special what The Winter Soldier's Black Widow was to Captain America. I'd rather she had the chance to fully be her awesome self than fall back on a parody the target audience won't get anyway.
And by extension, I'd rather all girls got to be their awesome selves than be told by movies, again and again and again and again, that they should hold back, be lesser, tone down, hide their skills, step out of the spotlight, don't intimidate the guy, let him be the hero.