Somewhere between the ages of 5 and 10, I had a bracelet. Well, to be honest, my oldest sister had the bracelet. I just borrowed it on occasion. It was a cuff-type bracelet; about two inches wide in faux silver finish and open in the back so you could squeeze your wrist into it. Whenever I managed to get my grubby childhood paws on the bracelet, this magical thing would happen where I would throw my arms out and spin in place in a circle. And then, miraculously, I could stop bullets with that bracelet. And hop into a jet that no one else could see and fly away to rescue mankind.
Linda Carter as Wonder Woman gave me the precious gift of female empowerment, and I loved – LOVED – that show. Only Charlie’s Angels could surpass it in terms of early female role models on TV (and don’t get me started on how many times I struck “the pose”…) So, understandably, I am thrilled the new Wonder Woman movie has finally hit theaters. I haven’t made the trek to see it yet (I’m waiting to take my 13-year-old to see it a couple of weekends from now), but I know the memory of having that bracelet on my arm – and all the magic of feminist make-believe that came with it – will return once the lights go down and the movie starts.
In honor of this kick-ass female superhero finally getting her due on the big screen (and, quite frankly, kicking ass while she does it, according to reviews), I’ve decided to compile a list of my favorite KICK-ASS fictional characters and the actors who’ve played them, along with a bit of commentary and some Bechdel/Mako Mori ratings (as perceived by me.) These are not ranked in any particular order, so with that – I’ll start with the woman I had originally hoped might play Wonder Woman in the DC Cinematic Universe:
- Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) in Haywire: The character of Mallory blew me away in this movie. A female black ops super soldier? I’m all over that. Carano is a former mixed martial artist, so that helped immensely with the fight scenes. Plus, she’s beautiful. I’d really, really hoped Carano might be selected to play Wonder Woman – she seemed a natural fit, after all. But Gal Gadot has grown on me, so I’ll satisfy my Carano cravings with additional Haywire viewings. (Yes, I know she’s in DeadPool, but I can’t admire sheer evil. I’m too much of a Gryffindor.) There were close to no other women in Haywire, so it fails the Bechdel test, but the Mako Mori test don’t want nothing to do with Mallory Kane. This movie is centered on her. Correction, this movie IS her.
- Charly Baltimore (Geena Davis) in The Long Kiss Goodnight: If you haven’t seen this movie, then what the hell are you doing with your life? Charly Baltimore kicks much ass in this movie. Unapologetically. Even gleefully, you might say. And the way she takes a shot is awesome. I mean a liquor shot, but she takes all the hits and punches, too, and manages to best all the bastards in the end. And throughout, she manages to embrace her motherhood. Yaaaasss. More of that. For purposes of the Bechdel test, I am totally counting her young daughter as another important female in the movie that she interacts with, because that is an essential element to the movie arc. And see my above statement on the Mako Mori test. The same applies here. (Honorable Mention: Geena Davis as Morgan in Cutthroat Island. It’s been years since I’ve seen it – maybe since anyone has seen it – but she’s a frickin’ pirate. A kick-ass pirate.)
- Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Oh. My. God. That should suffice as my only narrative for this entry, but I’ll go on. This ranks as one of my top dozen favorite movies, and one of the few I actually own. Yu Shu Lien is an incredible fighter. She’s strong. She’s fast. She’s morally centered. And she’s no fool. This movie is Michelle Yeoh at her finest, though as a Trek fan, I am eager to see her take on the Captain’s chair in the upcoming ST: Discovery series. With the addition of Ziyi Zhang’s character, Jen Yu, this tackles the Bechdel with no problem (it’s hard to argue this doesn’t pass the Bechdel when these two have one of THE major fight scenes in the movie). And yes, it’s also strong on the Mako Mori test, as the male characters in this movie seem to be there to support the female characters. (Honorable Mention: Ziyi Zhang as Jen Yu. She has an incredible and complicated character with a beautiful story arc. Just thinking about it makes me want to watch it again.)
- Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) in The Fifth Element: This is another one of my top dozen movies and sits on my shelf next to Crouching Tiger. Leeloo is powerful, yet fragile. Intelligent, yet inexperienced. Gorgeous, yet not afraid to get her hands dirty. These are all the reasons Corbin Dallas falls for her in the movie, and I fell for her as a strong hero role model. When it comes to the tests, however, the movie overall falls short. Other than a quick scene where LeeLoo interacts with the Diva, there are virtually no other women for her to interact with. (And I could go off on how most that are present are only there for the pleasure of the men…but I’m not looking to write a soapbox essay.) Whether it passes the Mako Mori test is dicey. She does arguably have her own character arc, but it’s difficult to separate her story from Corbin’s. I lean more toward a yes than a no on this one. Either way, I still could watch Leeloo over and over and over. (Honorable Mention: Milla Jovovich as Alice in Resident Evil. So, I’ve only seen the first one. After the elevator incident, and the laser-borne dice-o-matic scene, I’ve learned I don’t handle messy death scenes well. Anyway, I know she plays an incredibly kick-ass protagonist in this movie series, so I can’t mention her without mentioning Alice.)
- Nearly Everyone Exciting (Zoe Saldana) in nearly everything I want to watch: Uhura. Gamora. Neytiri. What totally kick-ass female character does Saldana NOT play? If there is a science fiction or fantasy movie I want to watch, the talented and gorgeous Saldana is likely to be in it. Plus, her Cataleya in Columbiana has long been on my To Watch list, as I hear her character is absolutely deadly in that film. Rating these movies with the Bechdel and Mako Mori tests get ugly, as the Star Trek and GOTG series are “ensemble” movies whose characters (mostly men) fight for a common, often universe-saving goal much larger than any of them. BUT…there are minor character arcs – that mostly belong to the men. The ST franchise doesn’t offer much in the face of either of these tests, but I would argue that the dynamic between Gamora and Nebula in the GOTG series provides some Bechdel-worthy moments. Which reminds me… (Honorable Mention: Nebula (Karen Gillen) in GOTG series. Yes, I know I said I don’t champion evil girls, but Nebula just looks awesome. And one gets the feeling there might be chance for redemption there. Maybe?)
I could go on and on and on, but I don’t want to write a novel about each character (though I likely could.) So instead, I’ll provide a summary list of several more KICK-ASS female characters, from superheroes to suburban warriors, who rock my world.
- The Bride (Uma Thurman) in Kill Bill vol. 1 and 2 (and the rest of the Viper Assassination Squad, if I weren’t so anti-evil…)
- Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith) in the Matrix movie series (the women stole this movie, in my opinion.)
- Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in the Alien movies (“Get away from her, you bitch!” Best movie line ever.)
- Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) in Salt. (And I guess as Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider movies – I’ve not seen them.)
- Black Widow (Scarlett Johannsen) in the MCU (points off for the stolen Ghost in the Machine role, though)
- Billie Jean Davy (Helen Slater) in The Legend of Billie Jean (if you haven’t seen it – go watch it. The Pat Benetar song is still amazeballs. This beats Slater’s SuperGirl movie, though she was lovely in that, as well.)
I know I’m missing some amazing female characters who kick much ass and take much names. So please add to this list in the comments below! If you need me, I’ll be scouring the resale shops for some silver cuffs to wear to the movies next weekend.