Posted by Corey Van Den Hoogenband @CoreyOnline
@CoreyOnline comes from the distant land of Toronto, Canada. He's written nerdy stories for blogTO, The Varsity, and Button Masher Media.
Corey Van Den Hoogenband

There's no disputing that the comic book movies of 2016 featured far more female leads than in prior years, with icons like Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn making their cinematic debuts. However, just because a character might hold serious screen time or be featured prominently on posters doesn't instantly mean they're well written.

That's why some movie fans use the Bechdel test to gauge how true to life a film depicts its women. Originating in a 1985 comic, the test has been applied to games, movies and more, and looks to see if a story fulfills three requirements:

  • Are there two or more named female characters in the story?
  • Do those female characters talk to each other?
  • Do they talk about something other than men?

The Bechdel test is not a surefire way of determining if a movie's females are either sexist or human portrayals, but it's often a nice place to start the discussion. That said, we thought it'd be worth putting 2016's superhero movies to the test to see just how well they handled some of our favorite female heroes and villains.

Deadpool

Kicking off the year otherwise full of ensemble pieces was the solo Deadpool movie. Ryan Reynolds's take on Marvel's biggest antihero was so good it helped us forget the embarrassing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but how well did the film handle its ladies? The film passes the first test, with more than two named female characters present thanks to Vanessa, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Blind Al and Angel Dust.

Unfortunately, Deadpool fails the last two parts of the Bechdel test. Although characters like Vanessa and Teenage Warhead are full of depth, motivation and clever writing, none of the named women talk to each other on screen. Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Angel Dust come close when Angel says "thanks" during their final battle, but one word hardly counts as a dialogue exchange. Also, her thanks is in reference to the current fight being lead by male characters Deadpool and Ajax.

Verdict: Fail (1/3 qualifications met)

Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Next on the docket is Batman V Superman, the film that finally gave moviegoers their first look at Wonder Woman. Zack Snyder's box office hit passes the first test with the presence of Diana Prince, Martha Kent, Lois Lane, Senator Finch and more. The film also passes the second test with multiple conversations between women taking place throughout the movie.

However, things get tricky with the third qualifier. While Lois and Martha converse in the film's third arc, it's about Clark. Kahina also speaks to Senator Finch moments before Superman's trial in the film's Ultimate Edition, but it's about Lex Luthor. Fortunately, one conversation passes the test when Lois and Jenny talk about sending Lois to have a bullet analyzed in a Washington crime lab.

Verdict: Pass (3/3 qualifications met)

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War presents a cavalcade of all-star Marvel heroes, not the least of which are Black Widow and Scarlet Witch. In this regard, the film undeniably passes the first test, but what about the second and third?

Astonishingly for a film with so many characters, it's difficult to identify a scene where two women share dialogue. There's a scene when a woman working for Black Panther threatens Black Widow, but Widow doesn't reply (also, the woman is unnamed and referring to her male leader). In the film's opening action scene, Scarlet Witch replies to a comment Black Widow made by saying, "you guys know I can move things with my mind, right?" However, while she's talking about something other than a man, because she's speaking over a group communication network and says "you guys," we interpret Scarlet Witch to be talking to the whole group, not just Black Widow.

Verdict: Fail (1/3 qualifications met)

X-Men: Apocalypse

Between Jean Grey, Mystique, Jubilee, Psylocke and more, there are plenty of women present in the cast of X-Men: Apocalypse. The film has no problem getting by the first test, and it also manages to breeze through the second and third requirements as well.

There are a few conversations one can point to that involve not only two women talking, but discussing things other than men: the young Jean Grey asks an experienced Mystique if she was ever afraid in her early years an an X-Men; Moira and Mystique talk about whether they've met before; Jean and Jubilee talk about Return of the Jedi during their group's afternoon trip to the city. Ironically for a film and team with "Men" in the title, Apocalypse does better on the Bechdel test than any other 2016 superhero movie thus far.

Verdict: Pass (3/3 qualifications met)

Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad has been no stranger to controversy surrounding what some consider overly sexualized portrayals of its female characters, so how does the Bechdel test see things? Squad of course passes the first test, with Harley Quinn, Amanda Waller and Enchantress all at the forefront of the movie's advertisements. On several occasions two women come close to talking, but these exchanges are only one way: Harley gets no response when she compliments Katana; Waller tells a silent Enchantress to extract Iranian files. Close, but not a conversation.

"Love your perfume! What is that, the stench of death?"
"Love your perfume! What is that, the stench of death?"

In the final confrontation between the Squad and Enchantress, Harley Quinn talks directly with Enchantress, but it's about bringing her boyfriend, the Joker, back to her. Luckily, the movie squeezes in two brief (albeit valid) exchanges between Quinn and Waller, like when Quinn asks if Waller is the devil, and when the two negotiate new terms for Quinn's prison sentence after completing the mission (espresso!).

Verdict: Pass (3/3 qualifications met)

Does The Bechdel Test Work?

There's certainly merit to applying the Bechdel test to a film. In cases like Civil War, it might be eye opening to learn how little the female characters had to do, and start a dialogue about how fans would like to see from those characters. With X-Men: Apocalypse, a movie wrought with controversy regarding a poster many interpreted as glamorizing domestic abuse, it might surprise some to realize that how frequently female heroes and villains spoke to each other about things that didn't simply advance the male characters' plots.

While the test can be a good first level inspection of how a film treats its women, analysis shouldn't end there. After all, a film like Deadpool doesn't pass the test, despite having several standout women in its script that are written with a complex range of motivation. If analysis of movie characters started and ended with the Bechdel test, you could infer, inaccurately so, that the characters in Suicide Squad are better portrayals of the way real life women act than those in Deadpool — all because Harley Quinn and Amanda Waller talk about espresso.

If anything, applying the Bechdel test to our latest superhero movies shows that while women are gaining more screen time and landing bigger roles in these films, they might not be getting the same love in the writers room that the boys get. However, the conversation shouldn't stop there. While it's not the be-all and end-all way of dissecting movies, the Bechdel test is a great way to start a conversation about our favorite characters and encourages thoughtful analysis of the pop culture we consume.

Check out some of the most badass women in pop culture doing what they do best — kicking ass — in the video below:

Poll

Which 2016 superhero film do you think did the best job handling its female characters?