Rise Of The Female Action Hero

2015 has been an intriguing year for Hollywood action dramas. These films usually fall under the umbrella of franchise rebirths or contemporary remakes, and that isn’t such a bad thing anymore. The term is no more treated with cynicism, thanks to a stellar year for action junkies and genuinely creative and imaginative revamps of the genre. But there’s a trend to be noticed: In most of these films, though the title suggests that it’s all about everyone’s favorite cult hero and man, it’s the woman – or the lady actor, to be precise – who steals the show. This is an encouraging trend in many ways, and suggests that Hollywood seems to be opening up and not taking its legend too seriously – thereby resulting in an explosion of pleasantly surprising femme fatales on screen. 

Let’s take a look at four very notable such examples this year:
 
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
Director: George Miller
Hero: Mad Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy)
Real Hero: Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa 
 
 
It all began with perhaps the best genre film of the year. The same director behind the original franchise, George Miller, who is now in his 70s, reinvigorated the series by imagining it within the universe of a badass, all-conquering, resourceful warrior named Furiosa. This was a considerable risk, and the studio deserves equal credit for greenlighting a film that doesn’t really take forward the franchise, but reinvents it without really utilizing its titular hero. The gamble paid off, because Charlize Theron absolutely nailed it, combining with Tom Hardy during a grueling shoot to provide a large chunk of action to the dusty, miraculous, pulsating, continuous, long action sequence that the film is. The Oscar Winner (Monster) also reinvents herself as an actor in between two stages of her career – physically and emotionally manifesting all her frustration, energy and flexibility into one of the year’s most memorable characters. And oh, those eyes. 
 
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION
Hero: Tom Cruise, as IMF Agent Ethan Hunt
Real Hero: Rebecca Ferguson, as undercover MI6 agent Ilsa Faust 
 
 
The fifth installment of the Mission Impossible franchise is the most visually arresting, skillful, action-packed and emotionally consistent part of the legendary American series so far. Tom Cruise does what he does so well, even at an advanced age, but it’s his spy counterpart in this movie, the utterly gorgeous and lethal Swedish-born Rebecca Ferguson – who provides the film’s most outstanding, breathtaking sequences. Nobody will ever forget the Vienna Opera sequence, in no less measure thanks to the filmmaker’s solid grasp over building up the suspense of the scene. But the image that sticks is that of a sexy Ferguson in a gown and high heels, brandishing a massive rifle and aiming at her attackers behind the stage. Even during the physics-defying bike chase sequence in the Middle East, Ferguson’s biker avatar is so utterly subversive and distracting that nobody seems to worry about a 50-year old Cruise putting his life on the line again. Not to mention that 3-minute long underwater sequence, where Ferguson demonstrates agility and grace while pulling off an improbable rescue. In every way, she has been the greatest addition to a spy franchise in years – combining oomph, style and substance. And oh, those eyes again. 
 
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E
Director: Guy Ritchie 
Heroes: Henry Cavill as American agent Napolean Solo, Armie Hammer as Russian spy Illya Kuryakin
Real Hero: Alicia Vikander as undercover British spy Gaby Teller, Elizabeth Debicki as one half of villainous bro-sis duo Victoria Vinciguerra
 
 
What a vivid, monochromatic, funky retro blast this spy recreation of the famous 60s series was. It signaled Guy Ritchie’s return to form – his insanely kinetic and energetic frames buzzing with frilly 60s charm, effortless European suaveness and Tarantinosque music themes. While Cavill and Hammer spent most of the film wooing their ‘damsel in distress’, it was the damsel who turned the tables on them, literally and figuratively, to walk away with the parting shot and most glamorous portions of the film. From Berlin to Russia to Italy, it’s Vikander (who shone bright in ‘Ex Machina’) who blazes to glory as the mysterious and very attractive British agent. And not to mention the extremely erotic presence of Elizabeth Debicki as the two-faced, seductive blonde bombshell in the film, in direct contrast to Vikander’s goodie-two-shoes grins. 
 
SPECTRE
Director: Sam Mendes
Hero: Daniel Craig as the iconic James Bond (007)
Real Hero: Lea Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swann, on the run with Bond
 
 
Spectre may not have been the most engaging Bond movie, but the chemistry between Craig and Seydoux lit up the screen far more than the over-hyped inclusion of Italian legend Monico Bellucci in a bit role as the “other Bond girl”. Seydoux, who is the only actress (French) to appear in both the MI (Ghost Protocol) and Bond franchise, is a Palme d’Or winner for her riveting, daring turn in the lesbian love story ‘Blue Is The Warmest Color’. In Spectre, she is everything a Bond girl should be, including her own person, until the filmmakers give in to tropes and have her rescued in the end by Bond to make his love life come a full circle – after he failed to do the same for his first love Vesper Lynd (the ravishing Eva Green) in Casino Royale.

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