Monday, August 2, 2010

Angelina Jolie- The Female Action Hero

I love Angelina Jolie. Yes, I know that she's got tattoos that don't make sense, a strange incestuous relationship with her brother, a vial of blood from her ex Billy Bob Thornton and a constantly on-off drama with her estranged father who thinks that she needs mental help, but there is so much to love about Angelina Jolie.

Not only is she totally smoking hot, she's also the epitome of the independent, can-do, tough as nails woman. She can drive her own helicopter, raise 6 children, rake in millions at the box office, rock Armani on the red carpet, do all of her own stunts even with the risk of concussion, is a goodwill ambassador on behalf of refugees for the UN, and on top of it all, she has the world's original Hollywood studmuffin, Mr. Brad Pitt.


It makes me tired just thinking about it.

For most of us, just doing one of those things would take an army of professionals and a few hours worth of dedicated, hands-on service. But the other thing that makes Angelina Jolie incredible, is the fact that she is quite possibly the only credible female action hero on the big screen.

A fair share of female action heroes have made their way to the small screen. This list includes the fantastic Jennifer Garner as Sidney Bristow in Alias, Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy, Jessica Alba as Dark Angel, Evangeline Lilly as Kate on Lost and Hayden Panetierre as the cheerleader in Heroes. All of these iconic women figures were a hit on tv, but very few could make the leap to the big screen, despite being big draws for women during prime time. So what's the problem?

There are a few factors at play. On the one hand, men represent a fair share of moviegoers, particularly for action films. Women audiences do not show up in droves for the premiere of the latest film based on a video game, even if the star happens to be a buffed up Gyllenhaal. And when those action films go to head to head with big draws like Sex and the City, most women make the obvious choice.

On the other hand, women don't identify with highly macho, one-dimensional male action heroes. The women of the small screen are successful not just for their high kicking ability, but also for their friendships, their relationships and family matters. The complexity of Sidney Bristow's relationship with her father, mixed in the fog of post-Soviet era paranoia and clouded by unresolved issues with her missing mother, are an integral part of what made Alias worth watching. Buffy's smouldering connection with sexy but highly dangerous Angel who still harbours deep remorse over his past added layers to the series that kept most women on edge as they watched week after week. And how could anyone resist the season-long mystery surrounding "Save the Cheerleader, Save the World?"

There's one common thread to this pattern of what made these women successful on the small screen- the time it takes to build these stories, tensions and connections. A 2 hour movie slot doesn't give you this time. In a typical action film, the audience is drawn in by a movie which is largely plot-driven, whereas the women in these series are largely character-driven.

In action films, the characters tend to be 'stock' characters, based on stereotypes and easily interchangeable for the guys that you see in just about every action film. We know this cast well: the tough as nails bureaucrat in a suit with piercing eyes who doesn't have time for red tape, the hard ass general who believes that the answer to everything is to shoot first and ask questions later, the nervous rookie on his first day who punches out one-liners or dies in the first sequence, and the hard-nosed detective who is determined to get his man, regardless of whether or not he's innocent.

It's no surprise, then, with no characters to identify with, that women don't flock to action films and that they don't star in them either. The only exception to this rule appears to be Angelina Jolie, who, arguably, is probably the only credible female action hero in Hollywood.

Let's face it, there are only so many women that we would believe in. Jolie already proved her action hero chops as Lara Croft in the two Tomb Raider films, and even that franchise represented the only female lead in a based on a video game movie at the time. Otherwise, women have been relegated to the side, either playing the victim or the assistant to the hero. And even when their role is to assist, most women end up just being eye candy, like Megan Fox in Transformers, who is virtually useless when she's not lying on a motorcycle with her butt in the air.

Michelle Rodriguez has also had a good run at being the tough as nails woman on the scene in films like Avatar and the Fast and the Furious, but even she's just an accessory and not a star. Although I believe in her to do a film one day, I don't know if she can carry an entire film on her own. And that may be a moot point, since there may not be many studios out there willing to bank on her being a success at the box office.

The studios know that their big draws are always going to be males in this franchise. A lot of men have made their entire careers as action heroes. That's why it was such a gamble to offer the role of Salt to Jolie when the role was originally written for a man and offered to Tom Cruise. The studio was banking on the idea that Angelina Jolie could give just as much as Tom Cruise into this role and draw major audiences, reeling in both men and women to this intense action film of the summer.

It was a good bet. It may be too soon to tell whether or not Salt is going to break the bank the way that the producers are hoping for, but the fact that Salt is a potential multi sequel franchise with good potential speaks volumes for the project and their faith in Jolie. Jolie is a sexy, intimidating killing machine in Salt, keeping the mystery up until the final few scenes and foregoing the untouchable vixen act for something far more gritty and compelling. Overall, it's a smart film as far as action movies go and Jolie does it make it worth the ride.

As Ms. Jolie herself once said, "I don't want to play a Bond girl. I want to be James Bond."

Mission accomplished.

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