“Because as soon as the embargo for Logan broke, my feed was filled with film writers, including many female film writers, claiming that Laura was “kick-ass,” “a little badass,” or “#goals.” Gut reactions don’t lie, but I couldn’t help but think that here we are, a bunch of smart, opinionated adult women, identifying with a silent little girl.
And that’s fine. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: Laura and her ilk aren’t characters. And their age and increasing silence has become a handy crutch for writers who might otherwise have a harder time bringing female leads to life. (Look to the lackluster characterization of Stranger Things’ Nancy and Joyce for evidence of this.) So while the device aims for gee-whiz novelty — A little girl who can fight? Now I’ve seen everything! — it ends up being a part of a fusty and familiar trend in genre writing.
But the age issue is not as telling as the silence is. One only need to look to Game of Thrones’ Arya Stark — another killer girl paired up with a gruff older man — to see how far a modicum of thoughtful writing can take you. Arya is rebellious and prickly, and as the seasons go on, defined by her personal code and desire to avenge her family. But the way she communicates — with her teachers, with her allies, with her enemies — is how we see her grow and gain a better understanding of the world and her own values. Part of this can be chalked up to the benefit of long-term TV storytelling. And part of it is that Arya exists on a continuum alongside many other interesting female characters and does not bear the weight of being The Girl.
What’s more, a story about a group of lab escapees is very different, thematically, than a story about a bunch of born mutants. The X-Men, with their myriad origin stories and socioeconomic backgrounds, represent the collective experience of discovering who you are — an oftentimes horrifying discovery at first — and then growing up and into your own strengths and weaknesses. Laura and her peers, on the other hand, are trauma survivors, defined by a thing that happened to them. That’s every bit a valid story, perhaps more resonant with these times, but years of experience at the movies tells us that it’s far more subject to writerly laziness. Hopefully the success of Logan gives whoever inherits the X-23 story license to think outside the damaged-woman box. But so often these writers invite such horrific circumstances on their characters — needles! Bright lights! Vats of mysterious liquid! Straitjackets! — that they have no fuel left when it comes to the person herself. Inventing forms of torture, it would seem, comes easier to them than inventing a complex human — or mutant.”