I’ve been hearing a lot about “Salt” lately and I’m not really sure why. It’s an action flick starring Angelina Jolie, whoop dee doo, we’ve only seen about eight of those before. But either the producers or Angelina Jolie herself (or both) are trying to convince us that it’s a revolution in gender stereotypes and that it’s going to completely rewrite the idea of female action leads. I guess this one is supposed to be different because the script was originally written for a male lead (surprise, Tom Cruise) but then he became uncool and they picked the perennially hot Angelina instead. The movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score is already down to 57%, so maybe the marketing gurus are just trying to build hype in the wake of “Inception.” Whether or not “Salt” is actually good doesn’t matter much to me – I’m just irritated that they have nerve to try to write off every action heroine who came before. As that Cinematical article points out, someone has already revolutionized female action leads, and she did it over thirty years ago: Sigourney Weaver in “Alien.” And she didn’t need Angie’s puffy lips or tremendous bosoms to give her an edge (although she did run around in her undies for a bit).
My other problem with “Salt” is that the marketers/producers want us to think that the female lead’s sexuality has nothing to do with her character. That’s all well and good, but if you want to make a point about the flexibility of gender roles in action movies, don’t cast an actress who’s been on every “hottest actress” list since she was 17.
I’m sure we could go on about this for hours, and we can probably debate the definitions of “action” and “lead” until the cows come home, but here are five butt-kicking ladies who deserve to share the podium with Angelina Jolie…even though she takes up a spot here too. Anyway. Play nice, ladies.
1. First and greatest: Ripley. Before there was “Terminator” or “Rambo,” before the He-Man muscle era, there was “Alien.” Ripley is on a ship with an otherwise all-male crew, and she doesn’t even make out with any of them. When the alien shows up, she picks up a gun like everyone else and joins the fight, and (spoiler alert), she’s the sole survivor. She lives on to fight through three sequels. And she rescues the cat! Fanboys still admire the undies scene, but hey, this is the early days of the action flick – baby steps.
2. Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in “Terminator 2.” She may be a little crazy and a bad mother, but you’d have some issues too if you’d witnessed the end of the world and your son was the only hope for avoiding evil robot domination. She evolves from a meek, cute waitress to a guerrilla warrior who has a hidden warehouse of guns in the middle of the desert. On top of that, she’s actually buff. Years later, she even got her own moderately successful show, “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.”
Plus, ask anyone and they’ll probably agree that “Terminator 2” is just one of the greatest action flicks of all time.
3. Angelina Jolie as Jane Smith in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” I picked this role over Lara Croft and “Wanted” because this movie was slightly less dumb. Jane is president of her own company of lady spies, and her skyscraper office is full of high-tech computer systems and smart suits, complete with a zipline escape route. Her husband is also a spy, albeit one with Vince Vaughn for a partner and an office in some dumpy dockside warehouse. Once they find each other out, rather than discussing their issues, they promptly start trying to kill each other. There’s no great character depth here, and only some marginally relevant commentary on marital relationships (made even less relevant by the fact that this is the movie that split up Brad and Jen), but Jane Smith has wicked skills and a fabulous wardrobe and only relies on her boobies once. And that was for a job.
4. Milla Jovovich as Alice in “Resident Evil.” She actually came to mind second after Sigourney Weaver, and she’s probably got the largest action-movie repertoire of any actress. She starred in “The Fifth Element,” “Ultraviolet,” and all the Resident Evil movies (including the fourth, coming out soon). Next, she’s going to play Milady de Winter in “The Three Musketeers” alongside Orlando Bloom, Mads Mikkelsen, Matthew McFayden, and Christoph Waltz. (Incidentally, I have always believed it was Orlando Bloom’s destiny to be in a “Three Musketeers” movie, and I’m rather pleased with his role.) Anyway, back to Alice…honestly, I think I’ve only seen the first two movies, and they’ve sort of blended together into one big mass of Alice shooting zombies, driving motorcycles through windows, blowing stuff up, and developing telekinesis or something. But since most of the Resident Evil games have a male lead, I was always pleased that they chose a lady to take over the majority of the zombie-slaughtering duties.
5. Michelle Rodriguez in…lots of things. Her first role in “Girlfight,” two “Fast and the Furious” movies, “SWAT,” roles on “Lost” and in “Avatar,” even voicing a Marine in “Halo 2” have kinda led to her being typecast, but she still manages to bring some heart to her tough-chick roles. (DUIs aside, I do have some respect for her making a niche in a very masculine film category.)
I have a whole list of honorable mentions that I’m leaving off because I want to hear what you guys think. Who else should have made this list? Who would win in a fight between Angelina Jolie and Milla Jovovich?