Girl power: New generation of action heroines

Girl power: New generation of action heroines

A new squad of female actresses is picking up the action heroine mantle from Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hamilton and Uma Thurman.

They are led by Scarlett Johansson, twice declared Sexiest Woman Alive by Esquire magazine, who is elbowing in on the action with her new film Lucy after outings as Black Widow in 2012's The Avengers and this year's Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

As Lucy, she gets to fire guns, cause some serious hurt and basically leave any man silly enough to go after her looking like a bumbling fool. The film opens in cinemas tomorrow.

As Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence has powered The Hunger Games film franchise into a global hit. The first film in 2012 earned US$691 million (S$860 million) while the second instalment Catching Fire (2013) was a scorcher with US$865 million in takings.

There are also Shailene Woodley, who fronts the Divergent series; Chloe Grace Moretz, showing off her potty mouth and action chops in the Kick-Ass films (2010, 2013); and Zoe Saldana, a key ensemble member in Guardians Of the Galaxy (2014) and who has also been firing away in action flicks such as The Losers (2010).

This is the new sexy. The buxomy beauty is not the damsel in distress but the one who gets to kick butts and look cool doing it.

From time to time, strong women have had their moment on the big screen. Weaver was the extra-terrestrial-busting star of the Alien films (1979-1997), Hamilton bulked up as Sarah Connor for the blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Thurman was a deadly beauty in the Kill Bill films (2003 and 2004).

Traditionally, though, the action arena has been a male preserve. Just take a look at the mucho macho line-up of The Expendables franchise: Sylvester Stallone, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford and Wesley Snipes. It is a list of testosterone swagger seen on film from the 1970s right up till today.

The likes of Johansson, Lawrence, Woodley, Saldana and Moretz are correcting the imbalance. At the same time, they are changing the rules by not being pigeon-holed as only action stars the way many of their male counterparts have been.

Johansson's extensive body of work ranges from indie drama Ghost World (2001) to period drama Girl With A Pearl Earring (2003) to romance Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008).

Lawrence's work in the drama Winter's Bone (2010) and comedies American Hustle (2013) was lauded, while her turn in Silver Linings Playbook (2012) earned her an Oscar for Best Actress.

Woodley did drama in The Descendants (2011) and romance in The Fault In Our Stars (2014).

Moretz, only 17, has also stretched herself by doing horror in Carrie (2013) and Let Me In (2010). And dancer-actress Saldana first broke out in the dance film Center Stage (2000).

Meanwhile, with every punch and kick, they are tearing gaping holes in the theory that audiences do not want to watch women in action roles.

bchan@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on August 20, 2014.
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