Battle of the Pre-teen Badasses: Stranger Things’ Eleven vs. Logan’s Laura
When historians look back at the 12-month stretch from the spring of 2016 through the winter of 2017, there are going to be three things at which they will look: the presidential campaign of the United States of America, the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, and the complete and total renaissance of badass, pre-teen girls.
First, in July, the world was taken by storm by Stranger Things, a phenomenon that one-third of Hollywood still doesn’t understand, one-third is furious they didn’t think to make, and the remaining third is trying to replicate ASAP. The top billing on IMDB might go to Winona Ryder, but we all know who the star of Stranger Things was; it was Eleven. Played by 13-year-old Spanish-born Millie Bobby Brown, Eleven was as lethal as she was lovable in the first season of the breakout show. She took the industry by storm, and her and her friends were among the most popular of the red carpet season that just wound down.
Not to be outdone, the final Hugh-Jackman-as-Wolverine film, Logan, just hit theaters this weekend, and it’s Spanish-born pre-teen Dafne Keen who steals the show. It’s tough to outshine Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, but Keen is able to do so, relying on non-verbal acting for the greater portion of the film, while securing her spot in the pantheon of badass superheroes with her film debut.
So which of these two badasses did it best? Time for a breakdown.
Unexpected level (5 points)
Both Laura and Eleven have the “cute little girl who suddenly can kick your ass” element going for them, and it’s why they’re here, in fact. We’ve seen a fair amount (though not enough) of young, female heroes in movies over the course of history (Hermione Granger, Matilda et al.), but there’s still plenty of sticker shock in seeing a character who would typically be pigeon-holed into relying on the help of older or more male characters being the one who is a true badass. In this case, Eleven got the jump on Laura by eight months, so her turn was even more unexpected.
Food of choice (5 points)
Both Eleven and Laura have memorable food scenes in their respective show/movie. For Laura, her first food of choice is a bowl of Corn Flakes which she works on just before one of the most memorable scenes in the movie, a scene in which she makes it known for the first time just how badass she is. In a later scene, Laura wolfs down a friendly home-cooked dinner, but the Corn Flakes and their expert product placement are the more notable food for Laura. In Stranger Things, Eleven notably takes quite a liking to Eggos. When Eleven breaks off from the pack late in the season, it’s her trip to the grocery store to get Eggos that clues the boys onto the fact that she is still in town. In the final scene of the season — when we’re not sure about the fate of Eleven — we see Hopper leave Eggos in a box in the woods cluing us in to the fact that our favorite nose-bleeding star is still in the picture. This one isn’t even close. Eggos and Stranger Things are so closely connected now that the savory breakfast food had a Super Bowl ad in which they referenced the breakout TV show of the summer.
Supporting cast (5 points)
Mike and Eleven have kind of a cute middle school romance. Dustin’s lisp is endearing. I look forward to seeing more of Will in Season 2. I came around on Lucas by the end of the season.
But c’mon. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are in the movie actor Hall of Fame. Wolverine and Professor X get the easy win.
Archnemesis (5 points)
Every good pre-teen heroine needs a stifling white male to attempt to harness her power. For Eleven, that man was the weird self-proclaimed father figure Dr. Martin Brenner, played brilliantly by Matthew Modine. For Laura, we had a pair of creepy dudes, the first being Pierce, a metal-handed weirdo hell-bent on snatching up Laura and her super friends like a modern version of the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, Transigen (the evil corporation who “created” Laura) had to send in their Chief Evil Officer Dr. Rice, the son of the man who “created” Wolverine, so we got not one but TWO evil white dudes. That being said, I’ll still going with Dr. Brenner for Modine’s performance alone.
Who’d win in a fight? (10 points)
This one is more obvious than it seems on the surface. Sure, Eleven can control things with her mind, but unless she can control an adamantium bullet into Laura’s head, Laura is basically invincible. Now, Eleven could potentially possess said adamantium bullet, but the odds are long and Laura would most likely take care of business quickly. This is sad though, these two are too likable to pit them against each other. Let’s move on.
Likability (15 points)
This category is also not nearly as close as it seems on the surface. Keen (and really we are talking about the likability of the actors as much as the likability of the characters) does an admirable job in a role in which she isn’t given a line of dialogue until over halfway through the film. She has a very expressive face and is certainly not lacking in charisma. She’s no Eleven, though. Brown broke onto the scene in a way almost no actor has done in recent memory turning in one of the best performances from an unknown entity (of any age) with her turn in Stranger Things. I wouldn’t be shocked if in 18 years, we have graduating classes across the U.S. with multiple girls named Eleven in their ranks. (OK, I’d be a little surprised.)
Acting chops (15 points)
This is a key category, and it’s a tough one. I just ranted and raved about Brown’s breakout performance, but, as noted, Keen had an even tougher job with her lack of dialogue. The scene in which Keen finally speaks her first words and rips into Wolverine in Spanish, as well as the scene in which she (*major spoiler*) consoles a dying Wolverine, were A-level acting jobs. So while Brown was the breakout star of 2016 (non-Mahershala Ali category), I can’t give her the full 15 points.
EDGE: Eleven, 10 points; Laura, 5 points
Most badass scene (20 points)
Probably my favorite category. Both of these young girls had scenes that were among my favorite of the last year. Each had a scene that either made you jump up from your couch and shout “Fuck yeah!” (Eleven) or let out an audible giddy laugh in the theater at the pure violence emanating from this seventy-pound weapon of mass destruction (Laura).
For my money, the most badass scene for Eleven was the scene in which the two bullies from Mike’s school convince him to jump off the cliff to save his friend Dustin. Mike freezes in midair, flies back to earth, and Eleven storms around the corner, shooting absolute fire out of her eyes (well, not literally) and snapping the forearm of the pee-your-pants bully (I refuse to call him by his true name). It’s a scene in which the bad guy gets his and friendship conquers all. It’s almost a perfect cinematic scene.
However, nothing Eleven does is as “badass” as Laura at her peak. Logan is an exceptionally violent film and Laura is arguably the most violent character in the film. She cuts off heads, repeatedly (and I mean repeatedly) stabs a emotionless Wolverine knockoff, and almost murders a convenient store clerk because he dared ask her if she was going to pay for her Pringles. She has about 50 kills throughout the film and while there is more to badass-ery than straight up murder, hopping from one fully-armed government operative to the next while cutting off limbs left and right is pretty damn badass. Laura gets the (bloody) victory.
Superpower (20 points)
This one is going to trip a lot of people up. At first glance, Laura’s near-invincibility-slash-wolverine-claws-coming-out-of-her-hands-and-feet combo is a tough superpower to top. But think about it. What was Wolverine doing the entirety of Logan? Trying to end his life because of how miserable he had become with his ability to take as much pain as humanly possible while never dying. That sounds like actual torture. Give me some run-of-the-mill mind control please.
With that final category victory, Eleven takes the final lead over Laura, 60–40. The two were tied coming into the final category and some folks might disagree with the edge in superpower going against Laura, but for here and now, we can crown Eleven the “Queen of the Preteen Badasses.”