Star-Trek-Into-Darkness-Hidden-Poster-Link2012 was a great year for summer blockbusters, but it was an even better year for strong female characters. The highest grossing movie of the year, Avengers: Assemble, was on the surface a male orientated movie. It was a female character, however, that stole the show. Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanov underwent the biggest journey, and enjoyed the greatest character development.

The Dark Knight Rises had two strong female characters, in Selina Kyle and Talia Al Ghul. The Hunger Games, however, was the biggest breakthrough for feminism. The third highest grossing movie of the year, it was led by Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. Without doubt the heroine of the film, Katniss was shown to be resourceful, tough and superior to the men around her. Add to this the female led Brave, Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman, and you can see that 2012 was a great year.

Please beware of spoilers below for Oblivion, Iron Man Three, Star Trek Into Darkness and Fast and Furious 6.

2013, however, has not been quite so fair in the blockbuster stakes. Iron Man Three is the highest grossing movie of the year so far. On the surface, women are well represented, with both Gwyneth Paltrow and Rebecca Hall playing prominent parts. Look closer, however, and you’ll see they get a raw deal. Paltrow’s Pepper Potts is responsible for putting down the principle villain at the end of the movie, but is forced to earn it. The storyline revolves around Tony Stark’s fears that he is not able to ‘protect’ Pepper. This, despite the fact she has been shown to be stronger in many ways than Tony throughout the series. She is also forced to suffer the indignity of the ‘unnecessary underwear shot’, an element that has always plagued male-led action movies. It is perhaps more stark in this instance because Pepper has been shown to be a smart and elegant woman up to this point in the franchise. As for Rebecca Hall, her character is entirely superfluous to the plot. A former conquest of Tony’s, she has turned against him at the behest of the main, male, villain.

The gratuitous underwear shot once again rears its ugly head in JJ Abram’s Star Trek Into Darkness. Alice Eve’s Dr. Carol Marcus seems ready to play a pivotal role in the plot, but in the end it becomes apparent she is present mainly so Kirk, and the fanboy audience, can ogle her. She then is sent crying to her Daddy, and ends up looking a bit of a helpless damsel in distress. She takes over underwear duty from Zoe Saldana’s Nyota Uhura. Saldana has made a name for herself as a tough, action-orientated actress. Sad, then, to see her reduced to almost a lovesick teenager, unable to focus properly on her job because of her intense feelings for Mr Spock.

The biggest culprit so far this year, though, is Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion. It is a Tom Cruise vehicle, with the only other two major characters female. In a movie with only four or five characters in it, you’d expect they would have been given a lot to do. But whilst Andrea Riseborough is in a lot of scenes, she is confined mostly to sitting in a chair, loving/caring/worrying over Cruise’s Jack Harper. As the plot develops, she becomes a turncoat, apparently blinded by jealous rage. It is unclear how much she knows about the true nature of their work, because she is seriously under-developed, used more as a tool than a character. All this after having to undergo a naked swim at the beginning of the movie, along with a disinterested Harper. At least she is allowed to speak, though. Olga Kurylenko as Harper’s wife is given precious little dialogue, most of which is basic exposition. Aside from that, she is reduced to being a passenger, literally for the most part, for the rest of the film.

So, is it all bad this year? Almost shockingly, the saviour so far for female empowerment has been Fast and Furious 6. A franchise that began as a boy’s own fast cars action thriller, the latest instalment seems almost committed to promoting equality. By far the best fight scenes in the movie are between Gina Carano and Michelle Rodriguez, both showing far greater fighting skills than any of the male characters. This is highlighted by a comical scene showing Tyrese Gibson and Sung Kang failing miserably at double teaming one of the villains. Gal Gadot is also shown to be far more resourceful than her male compatriots, and is allowed a noble and heroic end.

Of course, I wouldn’t necessarily say the female characters in Fast and Furious 6 are good role models. They are all, after all, criminals. The point is that they are all allowed parity with, and in many cases superiority over, their male counterparts. Considering the beginnings of the franchise, and the state of the rest of this year’s blockbusters so far, Justin Lin and all involved should be commended.

So what is the outlook for the rest of the year? Last year’s good work has been somewhat compromised in recent weeks. Disney recently came under fire for ‘sexing up’ Brave’s Merida for new merchandise. Just this week Bryan Singer, in a fit of bad timing, tweeted a picture of Jennifer Lawrence ‘naked’ in body paint on the set of the next X-Men movie. Conversely, Star Trek writer Damon Lindelof has apologised for the gratuitous scene involving Alice Eve mentioned earlier on, and has promised to pay consideration in future to this type of situation.

Man of Steel is probably the biggest summer release yet to come. Lois Lane is traditionally a strong female character, and Amy Adams is a very accomplished actress, so it’ll be interesting to see just how the character is written in this particular incarnation. With regards to other forthcoming releases The Lone Ranger, with two male main characters, Thor: The Dark World, The Wolverine and After Earth all focus on men.

The biggest hopes for this year’s big releases come towards the end of the year. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will see Jennifer Lawrence return as Katniss Everdeen, in a film that will certainly make a lot of money, and will be seen by millions of teenage girls. There is also Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, which will focus almost entirely on a female character as played by Oscar winner Sandra Bullock. I hope there will be some other surprises to come this summer with regards to strong female characters. Because as it stands, 2013 stands to be remembered as a misogynist’s wet dream.