Dan: A lot of the comments this week were about how we were perhaps missing the mark on what makes a female best, especially a strong sci-fi protagonist. Sometimes we forget that in discussing what we will debate on before and post filming, the two guys and I get a more rounded definition of our subject matter. So, in fair discloser and making things right with our more vocal commenters, I will expand on my personal view of what makes a female a great protagonist, and how she can avoid being an "Ice Queen".
Let's start with a guy that we can all agree is universally heralded as a bad ass, take no gruff awesome dude; Indiana Jones. Here's a guy who is intelligent, strong, good looking (or so my wife tells me), and knows how to punch a Nazi in the face. My guess is the male equivalent of an "Ice Queen" would be an A-hole, and we all can agree Indy is not one of those. But why? Well, he tries to avoid conflict whenever possible, opting to outsmart his opponent as plan A. He does this by using his surroundings, using back doors that only truly educated and experienced adventurers would know about, and romancing ladies if need be to get out of jams. If, as the situation demands it, he has to introduce the room to fist 1 and fist 2, he christens the fight with a knowing groan and eye roll, as if to say to the audience that he knows he's going to win, yet it's realistically not going to feel good for anyone involved.
Great, now we've defined why he is a bad ass strong protagonist. Think first, make your enemies look dumb, and when violence is needed, don't act like it was your idea to begin with. Now if you swapped his gender to a woman, you would get Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica. She may swap a little intelligence for being quicker to punch you in the face compared to Indy, but the reflection remains. Has anyone, anyone ever called Starbuck an "Ice Queen"? No, because her gender is only something that comes into play with whom she chooses to romance. The audience reacts positively to that.
The other point made by our commenters was that greatness in female-itude should not have anything to do with being maternal, because that is a gender-role prison that men don't have to be strapped down with. I flat-out reject the place those complaints come from. Men have gender roles that, when followed, make them stronger protagonists as well. Sure, men can't give birth to a child, so it would be pointless to shoehorn character development into a male role that revolved around such tropes. But you know what men do have issues with? Impressing their father.
Did someone say Indy again? Oh wait, it was me, reminding you of the third and arguably best of his exploits. The entire film was about Indy having daddy-issues, and coming to terms with them. Like it or not, women have mothers in them by hard-wired design, even if they never have a child themselves. Like-wise, all men are hard wired with a need to deal with their father, whether that be impressing them, or surpassing them.
You find this trope in Finding Nemo, where Nemo convinces his father that he has grown up and can be allowed to swim free. You see this in Taken, where Liam Neeson battles with his impotency as a father, and practically jumps for joy when his life skills fall in line with what will bring his child back to him. We see this in Big Fish, where the entire film centers around a son rejecting his father, then later accepting him for the lies that make up his life.
What I'm trying to say is that saying that motherhood shouldn't be criteria in measuring the qualities of a female protagonist is wrong. Protecting your young and drawing power from that is a unique skill that women bring to the table, and should not be ignored or sidelined. With more and more films showing men protecting their children or parents instead of some bimbo get made, the better off women will be.
Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley are strong female characters because they are protecting humanity as if we were all their kids. John and Newt are just microcosms of that urge. If they made a film where a guy had to go save the world, but also was saving his child, it would be awesome as well. Or we could realize that movie was Live Free or Die Hard and call it a day.