Good and bad movies do not exist. That is a bold statement to make but I believe it to be true, or as true as my subjective mind can see it. What makes a movie “good” depends on the movie itself and the viewer viewing it. Watching is not as passive an activity as we perceive it to be, it takes effort to be engaged. But that engagement always comes with baggage: social and physiological. There is no such thing as a “good” movie without a good viewer. Would a child enjoy Citizen Kane (cliché I know) as much as a learned adult? No, they would not understand. They would get bored.
To which I present Tank Girl (1995), a post-apocalyptic black comedy starring Lori Petty as Tank Girl, Naomi Watts as Jet Girl, and the man born to be a villain Malcolm McDowell as Kesslee. The plot is straightforward and we’ve all seen it done before in other things: bad guy destroys protagonist’s home and kidnaps their young friend. Protagonist teams up with kangaroo-men to rescue them. It’s been done. The plot is the weakest point of the movie, and that’s a shame because it detracts from the really cool main character.
Tank Girl is an interesting character. She comes from a time when female characters, especially feminist ones, were written as confrontational; they “didn’t need no man”. But later on in the plot we would discover that “they’re just a delicate little butterfly and they just want to be loved”. The 90s didn’t really know how to write women well. Tank Girl doesn’t have that problem. She’s tough and doesn’t show any kind of weakness. I don’t think she knows how.
Although this is presented as a comedy, I hope that was their intention, there is a lot of disturbing imagery and subtext. Most of the men in this movie, including some of the good ones, are obsessed with sex and discuss rape with a casualness that made me feel dirty. It’s just not a subject that has comic wings. All media has context, you cannot escape it, and when the “good” guys want to sexually assault the unconscious female protagonist, it kind of sends off the wrong thing about what society values. Media itself cannot change society but it is an excellent mirror of it.
One way to judge the value of a piece of cinema is to ask yourself: “Am I better off for having watched this movie? Am I glad to have seen it?” Yes I am glad to have seen it. It is that rare type of movie that takes risks with the medium and while it fails in some places, the script would have benefitted from some rewrites, it offers something new. Even 20 years later. Tank Girl is now available on Netflix.