Lollipop Chainsaw Is Genius Subversive Feminism
By Alex Cranz
The term “girl power” spun out of the Riot Grrl movement. A musician and ‘zine maker paired together the word “girl,” which on its own is pretty weaksauce, and “power” which is incredibly visceral. Antithetical words formed a potent new phrase and for much of the early 90s it was something jarring and sputtered only by a woman/girl who was a fan of Sleater-Kinney or Bikini Kill.
Then the Spice Girls came along and coopted the phrase. They monetized and publicized it and created a new brand of innocuous feminism that was less about the Riot Grrl idea of women fighting and finding a place in the world and more about women coquettishly winking at the boys and asking for a seat at the table.
Playing Lollipop Chainsaw I kept thinking of the Spice Girls brand of feminism. Juliette with her Baby Spice hair and Sporty Spice wardrobe is, on the surface, just another Spice Girl. She’s a hypersexualized masculine ideal/caricature of a teenage girl. She’s apparently obsessed with her jock boyfriend. She’s got a mad case of body dismorphia and cheerfully extols her boyfriend’s primary virtue, he likes her despite her fat ass. She’s got an oral fixation. She’s cute as hell. She’s absurdly cheerful. She pole dances.
She’s four singing buddies away from telling you to get with her friends if you want to be her lover.
But she’s also a total Bro.
One of those things feminists like to brainstorm in the dark misandry fabulous corners of the internet is how to destroy all men–I mean how to get men to relate to what feminists are saying so we can all move forword and hug and be awesome and junk. A lot do straight off. You say “equality” and dudes say “heck yes!” But then a lot of dudes are asshats and you say “equality!” and they say “Make me a sandwich lolololol” and then you get Misandrist4Lyfe tattooed on your head to totally troll their asses and communication breaks down and you start thinking that the idea of “just wait until the bad eggs all die off” isn’t so bad.
But James Gunn. Beautiful wonderful James Gunn, former husband of Jenna Fischer and maker of the across the board excellence that are Tromeo & Juliet, Slither, and Super, is a dude and whether intentionally or not (I’m hoping the former) he’s fashioned a game where women are universally bad ass and empowered and “privileged” and men are stuck in the roles women are in for 99% of video games. And he wrapped it all up in that Spice Girls tongue in cheek brand of “girl power.”
Because the guy in this game? The love interest? The holder of Juliette’s heart? He’s a smart and affable and normal dude. And he gets his head chopped off, is saved by magic, and spends the majority of the game tacked onto Juliette’s waist like the worst. Fannypack. Ever.
He spends the game being praised for his prettiness by Juliette’s sister (objectified in the most literal sense possible), threatened by Juliette’s dad (actually blamed for being a victim and threatened merely due to his gender), and being denied the right to make any choices whatsoever about his life or body or autonomy. There’s even a point where he actually rants about this denial of autonomy and his girlfriend’s complete dismissal of his desires and needs. And what does Juliette do? Does she rest her chin on her fist, cross her legs and seriously listen to his beef? Nope! She does the Juliette version of “make me a sandwich lolololol.”
It’s really kind of genius. Because it is very much a complete reversal of traditional portrayals of genders and it’s so steeped in silliness that that it sort of slides by. You don’t quite realize what’s happening at first. It’s just goofy fun, and then suddenly it’s super relevant.
Though I have to wonder who is actually playing the game. There are women like myself curious to see what the fuss is about. Film nerds like myself who are James Gunn completionists (except for Scooby Doo–skip that shit). And, uh…whomever the market is for pink sparkly skulls, dismembered rock n’ roll zombies and hypersexualized and totally fetishized teenage cheerleaders. Juliette is like Buffy forced through the Spice Girls machine and then forced to pose for Maxim. She’s so not the kind of woman most women could or would ever empathize with or desire to emulate. She’s a thirteen year old boy’s idea of the perfect woman. Strong, confident, totally hot and completely living and existing in a fantasy world.
I’m not mad though. It’s so overt–so over the top–that it feels wonderfully tongue in cheek in its intention.
It also feels very…light. Story-wise and content wise it’s a brief game. One perhaps more at home, as far as pacing is concerned, in an arcade than on your console. The sixty dollar price tag is a little steep for what you get. Less than ten levels and approximately 8-10 hours of gameplay…and that’s if you go slow. Yes there’s replay, but it’s all about topping your score and beating your time.
The arcade sensibility inherent in both the brevity of the game and the reward concepts is carried over to it’s hack and slash nature. This is a button puncher. You’re meant to find a rhythm to the combat as you would in a fighter game, but more often than not frantic button pushing and judicious use of the “oh shit jump away” button get you through ably enough.
The only time you aren’t mashing buttons and wondering why your thumb is sore is doing boss battles where things get very QTE very quickly. I think quick time events are supposed to be difficult? But hitting A, B, X or Y in a timely fashion is a helluva lot easier than taking on stupid zombies that can shoot you from across the room and bug out and keep you from ever getting up because apparently their zombie guns are magical and full of ammunition.
Which brings me to the biggest, and only real quibble with the game. It’s buggy. Not game breaking buggy, but buggy enough for me to notice. Hit boxes disappear and pathways are smaller than the artwork meant to represent them and doing chainsaw leaps over rainbow bridges (it’s a thing) quickly become irritating if you don’t find the stupid rainbow bridges super special and apparently very secret on ramps.
I just don’t get it. This is a AAA game coming from Warner Brothers Interactive. It’s not fifteen bucks on Xbox Arcade (and maybe it should have been). There is no excuse, none whatsoever, for it to be buggy to the degree it is. It’s not the only game. Skyrim is like playing early WoW on release days. At some point they all figured out we’ll still buy the games even if they’re broken, and for the price we pay that’s pretty damned unacceptable in my book.
All the same it’s a sharp game. Too clever for its own good and way too damned enjoyable for this particular reviewer.