January has traditionally been the worst month of the year for movie fans. If a studio doesn’t have confidence in a movie’s money-making prospects, they’ll drop it into theatres during the darkest days of winter and hope for the best. As an audience, we’re sometimes granted opportunities to see some of the previous year’s Oscar bait in wide release, but even that’s a best-case scenario.
Except this year something’s changed — especially if you happen to be a card-carrying fan of the badass arts.
Among this weekend’s four wide releases, two of them feature take-no-prisoner female leads with a penchant for killing anyone who gets in their way. And man, I’ve got to tell ya, that’s exactly the sort of thing a guy like me can throw his support behind.
If recent history tells us anything — and I mean anything — it’s that we need more female action heroes. And that’s got nothing to do with gender equality. Whether it’s the bride in Kill Bill, Ripley in the Alien franchise, Sarah Connor from the Terminator films or Hanna in last year’s Hanna, there’s a rich cinematic history of hard-as-hell women who rival Mad Max and John McClane in the hearts and minds of action fans.
But I don’t know if this Selene character from Underworld Awakening should be slotted in alongside them. There are obviously going to be the perverts out there who are like hubba bubba Kate Beckinsale or whatever, but I’m just not sure about her action star credentials.
I know her character’s got vampire powers, but Beckinsale really doesn’t look particularly intimidating. She looks like a model. And let’s be honest, if we had to pit vampires who are just trying to do the right thing while wearing leather against one another, Blade isn’t going to have much trouble with a skinny-armed Brit.
And this isn’t a male-female thing... I wouldn’t trust Andrew Garfield to save the day either. The point is, if and when the lycans rise — as they surely will — I’m not sure Selene will be my first choice to save humanity. Whatever other problems the Underworld franchise has had, its most lethal mistake was not casting a believable badass in the lead.
Fortunately, that’s not a problem for Haywire. Gina Carano’s a former ultimate fighting champion and, based on my limited knowledge of ultimate fighting, that means she’s pretty good at fighting. In the film’s opening scene, which was made available online about a week ago, Carano’s character throws Channing Tatum on the ground and kicks him repeatedly. Tatum’s probably my number one most loved meathead, but nothing could have made me want to see Haywire more than seeing him get pounded.
Steven Soderbergh is one of Hollywood’s most reliable directors, and while he’s become better known for the Ocean’s Eleven franchise and Erin Brockovich, the guy’s got serious badass credentials. In 1999, he directed Terence Stamp in a small film called The Limey, and despite the total absence of explosions and car chases, still managed to create one of that decade’s most enduring tales of violent revenge. He did it with long cuts that slowly built tension, and then brief spurts of controlled mayhem.
Combining those directorial skills with Carano’s physicality should be more than enough to make Haywire an early 2012 favourite and the perfect antidote to Underworld Awakening.
Elsewhere, Red Tails tells the story of some of the first African-American fighter pilots in the Second World War. It’s a story that deserves to be told, and George Lucas’s relentless efforts to get the film made deserve kudos. But it’s unfortunate that Lucas’s involvement has completely overshadowed the film’s story.
The only question anyone seems to be asking is whether or not Red Tails represents a return to form for the much-maligned Star Wars mastermind — and the guy isn’t even directing. Instead of using the film’s release as an opportunity to highlight the sacrifices black Americans made for a country that treated them like second-class citizens, the press has focused on rehashing old arguments about the prequels. It’s a shame, because despite all the crap Lucas has pulled, he deserves some credit for making sure this story got told.