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December 20, 2012

The War on Women (Action Movies). [krakatoa]

This post evolved from my email comment on the pointlessness of Keira Knightley's character in Pirates turning into some kind of swords(wo)man for no apparent reason.

Anyone else tired of the way every movie must shoe-horn in an action-hero chick? Even when the movie is specifically not about action-hero chicks?

That has gotten very old for me. Very few actors, much less actresses, can physically pull it off. Even fewer do it within the context a story that makes it the least bit plausible. But on the rare occasions they do, those women are forever hot in a way that makes those who cannot just seem pathetic or exploited in comparison.

I watch these films with the perspective of someone who actually has trained in hand-to-hand and has experienced the flesh & blood physics of hitting, being hit, and tumbling (e.g.: knowing how to take a hard fall). From that, I appreciate scenes that I think many overlook. I may be in the minority.

For instance, this scene from Van Damme's Maximum Risk is just incredible in its brutal realism:


This is hardcore close-combat fighting before the UFC made it popularly (relatively at least) understood. It's not your normal JCVD action sequence. No splits or silly round-kick/hook-kick face slapping combos. It's not really artistic action compared to a Jackie Chan flick. But it is just intensely gripping. It isn't about looking pretty. It's about survival. Even when it looks as though it is going to go off the rails with the knife, they keep it within the realm of the possible. This scene was way ahead of its time, and it still makes my blood pump in a way few movie fight scenes are capable. It ranks up there with the knife fight scene in Saving Private Ryan.

Point being, realism scores highly for me, be it guys or gals placed in action roles. They don't have to look like they are black belts. They just have to look like they are performing actions that don't look or feel contrived within the context of the story, or over-done with wire-work and cut-scenes.

Ace liked this scene from Firefox, and I do as well.

It's not a highly skilled fight, and for that reason, the context given by the scene is crucial. It's just a relatively average man using his fists, the tools at hand, and most importantly, his fear to grit out survival.

If your movie is set in the world we all live in, let the audience actually be able to relate to the hero or heroinne in real-world terms. John McClain's character in Die Hard isn't popular because he's able to do things the rest of us can only dream of being able to. He's popular because he survives in ways everyone can relate to. The Die Hard franchise wouldn't be nearly as popular if the first movie suffered from the excesses of fantasy action the sequels often do, and there is a free lesson there for any director willing to take it to heart.

If the hero or heroinne must be improbably skilled, I think Hollywood could help its cause quite a bit if they would cast and more importantly, write in a way that allows us to suspend our disbelief. You have to get the audience to buy into what your are selling. So to go to an extreme, Christian Bale's fight scenes in Equilibrium are fantastic while being completely unbelievable in the real world.

Now, you may have noticed that all the scenes I approvingly refer to are about guys. If you are a feminist, you most certainly have, and in penance, I am going to reduce my instances of video objectification of women later tonight by the number of scenes referenced. Which should leave enough time for dinner and a movie. It'll be like a real date night.

Just, um, without a woman. So it'll be pretty much like a non-date-night as well.

In no particular order and in in my opinion, here are some action-chick successes based on contextually achieving a buy-in to their bad-assery:

Linda Hamilton (Terminator 2)
Summer Glau (Serenity)
Carrie-Anne Moss (Matrix)
Angela Bassett (Strange Days)
Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil)

Who's on your list, and why?

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posted by Open Blogger at 05:03 PM

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