Movie: Justice League and why it is everything Age of Ultron should have been

While this review does not contain spoilers for the Justice League movie, it does contain spoilers for previous DC films, including Man of Steel, Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and Wonder Woman, as well as Marvel’s Age of Ultron. 

I have to admit when it comes to their movies, I much prefer Marvel to DC. Not just because Marvel has a much bigger universe, boasting seventeen films to DC’s five, but because Marvel doesn’t seem to take itself as seriously as DC. As I said in my review of Thor Ragnarok, I have a great appreciation for superhero movies that embrace the over-the-top nature of comics. To be honest, I’d much prefer to watch a silly superhero film like Thor Ragnarok or Guardians of the Galaxy than a serious take on them like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy (excellent though it is).

Having said that in recent years I have found the lighter tone in Marvel films to border on being callous, particularly in the most recent Avengers film, Age of Ultron. It’s difficult to see superheroes quipping with each other while towns burns and civilians die. It makes them seem uncaring like they are battling the enemy more for their own gratification than to save people. As my partner pointed out recently, in Marvel movies civilians kind of feel like ants. Not so with DC.

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At the end of Man of Steel, there is a huge battle between Superman and General Zodd, which involves them punching each other through buildings. It ended pretty much levelling downtown Metropolis and caused a huge amount of controversy among fans. Superman has always taken huge efforts to protect every day people and minimize (if not totally rule out) any civilians casualties, and here he was smashing his way through buildings without a care for anyone those buildings might contain. But DC was able to learn from those mistakes.

Ever since Man of Steel, DC have excelled at showing the human face of the conflict. Batman Versus Superman opens with Bruce Wayne seeing the destruction of Metropolis first hand, including being told by one of his employees that no one left in the building is getting out, they’ve evacuated all they could but it is not enough. It’s probably the best scene in the whole movie in terms of sheer emotional impact, at least in my opinion. Wonder Woman followed suit showing the liberation and consequent destruction of the village of Veld. However, it is Justice League that does it most simply, and probably in the best way.

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Justice League shows Batman and Wonder Woman forming an alliance of superhumans (well, superhumans and one rich guy) to fight the monstrous Steppenwolf who seeks to unite the three mother boxes which will turn Earth into one giant hellscape. Early in the film, while elsewhere the Justice League are still teaming up, we are introduced to a Russian family who lives in the shadow of a power plant that has been abandoned after a reactor leak. A power plant that just so happens to be the perfect place for Steppenwolf and his army of flying techno monkeys to use as their base. The film revisits this family again and again as they deal with the destruction of their home, right from the moment of Steppenwolf’s arrival through to the end of the film. We don’t just see the impact on them in the hour of battle, we see them across days while they struggle to stay alive against impossible odds. Deciding to include them as part of the movie was an excellent bit of filmmaking, and is one of the many things that makes Justice League work so well.

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Justice League also prioritises minimising the human casualties in the same way people expected the original Man of Steel to. Flash is initially very nervous in battle, so Batman tells him to focus on saving the innocent, to just try and save just one person’s life. Saving human life feels like an important part of the fight in Justice League, rather than being totally secondary to the battle and trading quips with your teammates.

On top of that, Justice League knows when to use its sense of humour. While it doesn’t same the same funny or lighthearted nature of a Marvel film, the humour is still definitely there, just not in the middle of battles where people’s lives are at risk. The Justice League tend to crack their jokes to ease the tension in the quieter moments, which gives the audience more time to enjoy the joke without being whipped to the next bit of the action. It also shows a very human side to the superheroes, after all, who hasn’t cracked a joke at some point to ease the tension when under great stress?

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Ultimately, Justice League’s biggest strength is showing off the humanity of its heroes, even the ones who aren’t technically human. They struggle to relate to the world, they make awkward jokes and they treasure the lives of others. They fall in love, are scared of failure and worry about making the wrong decisions. They are imperfect (despite how Gal Gardot and Jason Momoa look). It might be because of the decision to make the DCU a considerably darker than the MCU, but it works really well in this case. DC have given some much-needed shades of grey to a superhero genre that was quickly becoming black and white. It continues the tradition of Wonder Woman in making heroes who are powerful yet fallible and incredibly lovable and that is something to be applauded.

I hope that DC keeps up the pattern of making heroes who care about the little people, and who make mistakes. Hopefully, it will give Marvel a chance to think about the way it uses civilians in its films. I’ll be very interested to see the next couple of efforts from both studios. For the moment at least, it seems like the two competing studios compliment each other by being different, and that makes it a great time to be an audience member.

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Also, I’m shocked that anyone pulled off the pretending something is a skateboard/surfboard when it isn’t. Congratulations Jason Momoa! 😛

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What did you think of Justice League? Did you enjoy the darker tone, or do you prefer more fun superhero films? Let me know what you think in the comments, on Facebook or Twitter.

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Kickass TV Heroines: Maze (minor spoilers)

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Name: Mazikeen (more commonly known as Maze)

Location: Los Angeles, California

TV Show: Lucifer

Actor: Leslie-Ann Brandt

 

 

Most of the time, this series will look at shows with female leads but Maze is proof that sometimes the most kickass character in a show isn’t the lead. Don’t get me wrong, the female lead of Lucifer, Chloe Decker, is pretty damn awesome, but no one can match Mazikeen for pure power, loyalty or simply speaking her mind.

Maze may be a simple demon, rather than an almost-all-powerful fallen angel like her boss/best friend, Lucifer, but she’s certainly more capable of finding her place in the world. While Lucifer’s confident facade occasionally drops, confidence oozes from Maze’s every pore. She’s comfortable being a demon and thinks everybody else should be cool with it as well, be they angel, demon or human. She quite happy being aggressive, overtly sexual and the first to jump into a fight and not just because it’s in her demonic nature, but because it’s what she enjoys in life.

But Maze doesn’t just have incredible physical strength, she also has strength in her convictions and is unwilling to change for anyone. Despite deciding to try to properly integrate herself into the human world later in the series, she still wants to be uniquely Maze, and if that means hanging sex hammocks in her shared living room then so be it.  She also stays true to her realisation that she is more than Lucifer’s servant, even turning down the chance at gaining Lucifer’s beloved convertible to make her point to him by making him pour her a drink. She remains happy to follow his lead but refuses to be treated as less than equal.

That brings us to Maze’s biggest strength: her loyalty. Her friendship once gained is almost impossible to lose, even for those trying to. Maze fights fiercely for those she loves, from stepping in front of blades to protect Lucifer, to jumping into a bar fight to defend Chloe, to glaring down a random to get more trick-or-treat candy/cash for Trixie (Chloe’s daughter). Even when her human best friend, Linda, becomes scared of her after realising Maze’s true nature, Maze sticks by her, determined that their friendship is more important than being from different dimensions. Maze’s loyalty knows no bounds, but it is also her biggest weakness.

Despite being incredibly blunt and aggressive, it’s not Maze’s own choices that get her in trouble the most, rather it’s her loyalty to those around her. Sticking up for Lucifer and making sure he stays safe is pretty much the main cause of all the problems in Maze’s life. It’s what gets her stuck on earth, it’s what gets her into the most fights and it’s certainly what causes the most problems in the other relationships in her life.  Even when it’s inconvenient or even downright dangerous for her, Maze drops everything to help her supernatural best friend and it doesn’t always end well. With Lucifer, the long-term nature of their friendship means that Maze often puts his needs before her own, even if means causing pain to herself or others. It fully destroys her first chance at friendship on earth, and possibly her only chance at love. In this case, her loyalty to Lucifer is almost closer to co-dependence, neither can fully make sense of the world without the other.

Having said that, none of this ultimately takes away from Maze’s internal strength. She is someone who is unashamedly confident in who she is and isn’t afraid to stand out in the human world. Once she has made up her mind about something, be it friendship or knowledge about the workings of the world, nothing shakes her convictions. She may be incredibly physically strong, but it is her strength of character and quality of friendship that makes her such a kickass female character.

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Just wanted to say thanks to everyone who contacted me to say get better soon or how much they enjoyed the blog during my couple of days off sick. I really, really appreciate it! Thanks for being patient while waiting for this post. I hope it was worth it!

Why no Thursday post?

Some of you may have noticed that my usual Thursday post isn’t up yet. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be up today. I’m hoping that it and a wrap-up post on the Australian Marriage Equality  Survey will be up over the weekend, but I can’t be absolutely sure as I am pretty sick. I have a chronic illness and at the moment it’s going through a pretty extreme flare up, and the pain in my muscles is pretty bad. Sitting up hurts, and therefore so does writing. I’m hoping it will calm down in a few days, but until then: no posts. Sorry!!!

Movie: Murder on the Orient Express, and why it’s better to leave some questions unanswered (spoilers)

The small screen seems to constantly be adapting Agatha Christie; there are miniseries, there are seasons upon seasons of Poirot and Miss Marple, there’s even a couple of Doctor Who episodes! The big screen not so much, at least not in the English speaking world (India and France seem to have an enduring love for seeing Poirot on the silver screen). That’s why I was surprised to hear about a Kenneth Branagh adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express in 2015, particularly as Branagh himself would be playing the famed Belgian. In my head, Poirot has always been short, slightly plump and balding. He looked exactly like David Suchet (who played him for 24 years in the ITV series of the same name). Branagh is tall, blonde and has a charm about him that always seems to follow him into any role, it makes for a brilliant actor, but not one that I could imagine happily fitting into Poirot’s precise shoes.

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Therein lies a problem.

Murder on the Orient Express is one of the most-loved of the Poirot novels. Not only that, it’s seen many fantastic adaptations over the years, including one in the long-running David Suchet series I previously mentioned. References to it are scattered through literature and television alike. It was likely that most of Murder on the Orient Express’ audience would enter the cinema already knowing the solution to the crime at the centre of the film. The question was, what did the filmmakers want to tell us that was new? What would hold the audience’s interest?

At least part of the answer seemed to be a very hammy interpretation of Poirot both from Michael Green, (the film’s scriptwriter) and from Branagh. It’s an idea that may have worked in an adaptation of another one of the Poirot books, but this is Murder on the Orient Express. The plot discusses the definitions of right and wrong, and what can drive perfectly ordinary people to commit a meticulously-planned murder. It’s not something that’s meant to have a main character who enjoys overacting and eating the scenery for breakfast. By the time Branagh shifts into a more serious mode towards the very end of the film, when the solution has presented itself and he is confronting the murders, it feels like a break in character. He’s taken threats to his life and a murder pretty damn lightly, so it’s somewhat surprising that his character decides to suddenly take things seriously.

It’s particularly disappointing that Branagh’s Poirot is so over-the-top because his supporting cast is absolutely fantastic. Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Penelope Cruz and Olivia Coleman show why they are so critically acclaimed in their individual work with ease. Willem Dafoe and Josh Gad both vary between strangely comical, tragic and loathsome. Daisy Ridley is wonderful (as always) in her first outing on the big screen since playing Rey in Force Awakens, and Leslie Odom Jr. who plays her love interest is fantastically conflicted throughout the film. Johnny Depp’s character, being the victim, is only alive for the first quarter of the movie, but he makes the most of it, very quickly showing the audience what a slimeball his character is. All of the supporting cast was amazing, but it was Tom Bateman’s performance as Bouc that I enjoyed the most (although that might be because ever since I saw him in Da Vinci’s Demons, he has been a particular favourite of mine). More often than not, it was his character’s more subtle silliness that got the audience in my cinema laughing, while Poirot’s attempts at slapstick only elicited groans.

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But while it didn’t cause such a vocal response, I think there was a bigger problem with the movie: the ending. At the end of the film, Poirot confronts his fellow passengers with the truth: they have all conspired and committed the murder of Samuel Rachett aka Lanfranco Cassetti, the man who ruined the lives of the Armstrong family by kidnapping and killing their two-year-old daughter. These are the people left alive after the subsequent deaths of nearly the whole family trying to get the justice they never received. Poirot then decides to let them go free, as he believes that they need to move on with their lives and that no justice would come from turning them in. He gives the officers coming to collect the body of Rachett at the next station a false solution and heads off to his next case leaving the train behind. It’s all very neatly wrapped up, complete with a bow at the top, however, neither the original book nor the excellent David Suchet adaptation give such a clear-cut conclusion.

It’s certainly implied in the book that Poirot will let the murderers go, by his two offsiders offering to change their testimonies, but it is never explicitly stated. Better still, the Suchet version never reveals what Poirot says to the police, simply that he gives them a key bit of evidence, before walking away in tears, holding his rosary. These endings, in my opinion, are significantly more powerful. Murder on the Orient Express is set in a time where people still were hanged for murder and therefore looks at the idea of what this style of justice is worth. The life of one of these twelve? Two? All of them? The audience is given the same information as Poirot, but then it’s left up to them to decide, having received no answer from the story.

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Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express is significantly less powerful. It simply hands its audience an answer. No amount of dialogue about split souls or whether the twelve murders are “true killers” can bring back the moral discussion this film so miserably fails to have about what is right. Poirot decides that the twelve are justified, so the audience is left with the sense they must have been. It’s disappointing, given how interesting the film could have been.

That’s not to say Murder on the Orient Express isn’t enjoyable, it certainly is. It’s exceptionally cleverly shot, beautifully scored and as I’ve previously said, the supporting cast is amazing. It definitely made for a lovely Sunday morning, but it could have been something more. This could have been a film that engaged me long after I left the cinema as the TV adaptation did before it. I believe, as a filmmaker, that audiences are intelligent and should be allowed to make up their own mind about how they view a film, rather than being told how to think. Hopefully, the next big screen adaptation of a mystery will embrace that too.

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I’d love to know what you think! Would you prefer to be to given answers at the end of films or make up your own minds? Which Poirot did you prefer? Let me know in the comments, on Facebook or Twitter.

Kickass TV Heroines: Nomi Marks

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Name: Nomi Marks

Location: San Fransisco, California

TV Show: Sense8

Actor: Jamie Clayton

 

 

Nomi Marks is a kickass TV heroine for the 21st century. She’s a self-proclaimed hactivist (and a successful one, given that after being caught in her younger years, she now works freelance in cybersecurity). She’s a successful, eloquent blogger. She’s a proud trans woman, and her relationship with her girlfriend Amanita is probably one of the most healthy ones you will ever see on television. Oh, and she is a member of a psychic cluster which means she can access the abilities of and communicate with seven other people all over the world.  She’s one of the most amazing and capable women you’ll see on television at the moment (or on Netflix as the case may be).

Nomi was the first character that drew me into Sense8, which quickly became my favourite TV show of all time. But it’s not just because the first time you see her is a somewhat graphic sex scene with her partner (Freema Agyeman, who I still thought of as Martha Jones at the time). It’s because Nomi, despite being incredibly charismatic, is still very grounded and relatable. In the first episode, we see her vulnerability as a trans woman in circles where people wouldn’t necessarily expect to see it. In a flashback to Nomi and Aminita’s first Pride as a couple, we see Aminita excitedly introduce her girlfriend to her friends only for one of them to call her a “tranny” and a “colonising male”. Nomi is moved to tears after Aminita stands up for her as no one ever has done it before. In the next episode, we see how she has used her traumatic experience to help others, as we see her recording a vlog, which I still listen to when I need inspiration to this day.

“I am not only a me,” says Nomi, “I am also a we.” That quote has come back to me again, and again and again, particularly in recent days when my country has been having a non-binding poll on marriage equality, the ability for people of the same gender to get married. It reminds me that my actions don’t just affect me, they affect the human race, and that as a fellow human I should fight as hard as I can for the equal rights of those around me. It reminds me that other people in their turn have fought for the rights I have today. It makes me feel less alone in the world. It’s very rare that a single quote from a character can make you totally fall in love with them, but that’s what Nomi Marks accomplishes in her blog about Pride.

In many ways, that is why Nomi is such a strong character. She isn’t the most physically strong of her group, or the most independent (having to rely on the skills of the others in her cluster frequently throughout the first season), but she is definitely the beating heart of the group. She’s the one with the most emotional intelligence and quick wit which make her the natural leader. She has an unparalleled ability to balance the emotional needs and the practical needs of her cluster, and she does it all quietly, without pushing her leadership or agenda on anyone. It’s a true example of respect being earned rather than given.

Sense8 has its finale special next year, after being cancelled at the end of season 2 by Netflix. I love all of the August 8th cluster, but it’s Nomi that I think I will miss the most. Not having her quiet leadership or strength of character around anymore will feel like losing a friend, and an inspiration. While there is only one Nomi, I hope that she inspires other writers to make more female characters like her, women who don’t lead through being aggressive but rather through empathy, wits and emotional strength. It would be great to see more women who kickass with their heart and mind, not only with their fists.

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Of course, it’s impossible to mention Nomi, without talking about her fantastic girlfriend Amanita Caplan. Amanita is the loudmouth version of Nomi, having grown up in a much, MUCH more supportive family. She is happier to loudly argue with life’s antagonists face to face than to publish blogs and videos, and never shies away from telling people what she thinks. She also supports Nomi through the whole series, never doubting her girlfriend’s abilities, strength or sanity. Both Nomi and Amantia show what true love looks like and are willing to face any danger or obstacle in order to be together.

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Movie: Thor Ragnarok, and why it lived up to its trailer

I love movies. I worked at a cinema for three and a bit years. I make short films. In high school, I spent my entire allowance going to the cinema on a Friday night. I. Love. Movies. But, in recent years I found going to the movies a more and more disappointing experience (mostly). Why? Because Hollywood has started consistently putting the only good/memorable bits of each film in its trailer. The trailer for Dark Tower looked pretty amazing and mysterious. The film itself, impressively meh (and it wasted Katheryn Winnick, which is a cardinal sin). The trailer for Atomic Blonde looked insanely kick-ass and amazing. The movie felt like the first film of a freshly graduated film student (and it wasted both James McAvoy AND Charlize Theron, two more sins). The trailer for Thor: Ragnarok looked funny, upbeat and beautiful…

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And the film was funnier, more upbeat and more beautiful than the trailer. It was so good to have had a marketing campaign that was based around humour, and then to have the movie actually live up to it!

Having said that, I am aware that, as an Australian, I am smack bang in the middle of the target market, as director Taika Waititi said that a bunch of the humour in the movie was specifically targeted at Australian and New Zealander audiences. That must have at least been partially true because the cinema I went to see the film in roared with laughter for a good two-thirds of the film. It ended up being one of the most special experiences I’ve had in a cinema. It’s rare that I feel so connected to the rest of the audience, particularly as someone who is very self-conscious around their laugh.

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The other thing that’s amazing about Thor Ragnarok is how well Waititi has built the humour into the foundations of the film. Marvel films throw out funny lines and have their superheroes quipping at one another, but it is often against a backdrop of a more serious nature; the destruction of a city or the middle of a dangerous chase. It can be somewhat disconcerting and dehumanising when they are seen in their full context, and it makes me feel, as an audience member, that they are only there to help sell the film as part of the trailer.  Thor Ragnarok certainly has a couple of silly lines in serious situations, but they always make sense in the context and never detract from the gravity of the scene.

Not only that, Thor Ragnarok embraces the over the top nature of the comics in a way that rarely happens in superhero movies. It knowingly winks at the audiences, sharing with you that the whole situation is silly without making fun of it. This is a film that contains a creature made out of rock who ended up exiled from his home planet because he didn’t hand out enough pamphlets for his revolution and Jeff Goldblum in sparkly blue eyeliner. There’s really no way to play those things seriously, and yet it doesn’t come across as being dumb either, just wonderfully innocent and playful. There’s nothing in the movie that feels forced, or there purely for the sake of marketing (with the possible exception of the Doctor Strange scene).

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In fact, Thor Ragnarok doesn’t feel like a film that was made to be marketed to anyone in particular. It feels like something that was made simply for the joy of it. There’s a freedom about it, which is unsurprising given that an estimated 80% of the dialogue was improvised. Even long-term MCU stars, such as Mark Ruffalo, were concerned that the cast was having too much freedom making this film, and that at some point there was going to be a call coming in to tell the production to reel it back or to start again. The call never came. And not making that call was probably one of the smartest things the marketing department at Marvel has ever done.

Giving Taika Waititi and his cast freedom to improvise and create something different for Thor Ragnarok has enabled them to make a fun, charming and exceptionally funny film, which has drawn audiences all over the world in with its quirky sense of humour. It’s kept all the promises made in its trailers which means people are more likely to watch it again, to tell friends positive things and ultimately be that little bit less sick of superhero films. It doesn’t just live up to its own trailer, it lives up to the promise of the fun, not too serious film that Marvel has been promising us for years and never fully delivering on until now. Let’s hope Marvel keeps taking risks and delivering at the same level into the future.

 

Did you love Thor Ragnarok? Did you hate it? I’d love to hear other people’s opinions about it. Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter or Facebook.

Kickass TV Heroines: Buffy Summers

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Name: Buffy Anne Summers

Location: Sunnydale, California

TV Show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Actor: Sarah Michelle Gellar

 

 

As pretty much anyone who knows me knows, I love Buffy. Buffy is pretty much the TV show that made me want to be a writer. There are vampires, and cool demons, and witty dialogue and a whole bunch of kickass women. It was also one of the first fantasy shows I ever watched.

As a little girl, I was totally addicted to fantasy, particularly the high fantasy books my father read me (hello genetic Tolkien obsession). The one problem with them? There weren’t really any female heroes, or if there were they had somewhat diminished roles. I would argue with you til the cows come home (and still will) that none of these books are sexist, rather just books of their time.  But I still missed having a female hero that I could look up to.

Enter Buffy.

I was just about to turn thirteen and my best friend started telling me about the show her father had just introduced her to. It was set in a high school. It was a fantasy. Best of all, it had a female hero. And not just any female hero, this was the type of girl who I was used to seeing falling over while running and being lured into dark alleyways, and here she was, not only fighting for herself but kicking her attacker’s butts. For the first time, I saw a woman being one of the most physically capable characters in a show. It was pretty amazing.

On top of being a great warrior, Buffy also grows into a great leader as the series progresses. At the very beginning of the show, she starts out facing her destiny alone but very quickly finds a few friends, as well as meeting her watcher and mentor Giles (Anthony Head). Her group (affectionately named the Scoobies) only grows as the show does, and by the seventh season, Buffy is leading an army.  While she often makes mistakes (emotional intelligence is definitely an area Buffy struggles in), she sticks to her convictions and ultimately puts others needs above her own.

I think that leadership is ultimately the reason I was so drawn to Buffy, who despite her flawed leadership, still inspires friendship and faith in others. Even if she makes mistakes, and she does often, she is able to recover from them and ultimately come back stronger. It may take her time, and help, but Buffy always eventually deals with what the world throws at her. It’s that quality that makes her an inspiration for me, and for many others who love the show, and definitely one of the best TV heroines.

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Of course, I can’t mention Buffy without mentioning two of the other amazing women on the show, Willow Rosenberg and Tara McClay. They’re two incredibly powerful, strong and emotionally intelligent characters (someone has to balance out Buffy), both of whom make priceless contributions to the show and are very much kickass heroines in their own right.

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