Last Friday it was announced that producer Adi Shankar has hired Dutch Southern to write a script that's being described as a "Female Expendables." This really isn't a surprise considering the first Expendables was a huge hit, action does well overseas, and we've seen the beginnings of a trend that might actually allow (*gasp*) women to be more accepted as action leads.
By the way, this also proves my pet theory that film evolves much slower than TV as it was more than TEN YEARS AGO that Buffy Summers and Sydney Bristow were kicking ass on their respective shows, spawning a number of would-be imitators. It really shouldn't have taken this long for studios to do more than just dip a toe into the female action genre.
I'd relish the chance to write a Female Expendables, but barring a miracle, that's not going to happen before this trend gets run into the ground. Of course, getting this film right is critical because a huge failure could set female action films back ten years. There are still people who point to Catwoman as an example that filmgoers don't want to see women in the lead of comic book movies. No, schmuck, filmgoers just don't want to see a shitty movie! Catwoman's failure is a monument to the incompetence of the creatives involved - NOT a binding prescient against adapting a character who has "Woman" as her suffix.
So in the interests of preserving the female action genre, here's some free advice:
X-nay on the ex-trafficking-say - I read a lot of action movies and one common trend - particularly for the mid-budget ones - is that they involve our hero going up against villains who run a sex-trafficking ring. It's not a trend that started with Taken, but Taken's success certainly fed it. It's already an overused go-to trope. And I know what you're thinking, "Hey we've got a film full of female leads. You know, rah-rah girl empowerment, feminism, all that crap. Why NOT send them up against a bunch of guys looking to sell women as sex slaves? It's thematically perfect."
Well, cuz it's lazy. And overdone. And exploitative. And sleazy. Which leads to...
Mind your tone - When it embraces the cheese and the over-the-top nature of having all these action icons in the same film, The Expendables movies are really entertaining. You know when they're less entertaining? When they take things too seriously, as with the South American dictator Stallone's team faced in the first film. It's the same sort of tonal confusion that marred the last Rambo film - you can't spend 2/3 of the film seemingly trying to make a serious statement about the real atrocities in Burma and then expect cheers when the tone shifts into glorious over-the-top comic-book action in the third act.
In other words, don't be serious. Have fun with it. A villain can be effective without being disturbingly analogous to the real madmen who exist in the world. That said, it doesn't need to be a ridiculous campy cheesefest like Charlie's Angels either. You CAN mix fun and action in the right proportions, why just...
Look at Alias - J.J. Abrams nailed the right tone for this project a decade ago. Rent Alias. Watch it. Study it. Learn how to make a female protagonist strong without turning her into an emotionless automaton. Take notes on how to present a strong antagonists who don't need to be excessively violent or "real." Oh, and there's one other thing Alias does really well, but deserves it's own catagory.
Sex appeal - Just about every episode of Alias had Jennifer Garner donning one sexy disguise or another. Some times it was as simple as an evening gown, other times the mission called for slinky lingerie or swimsuits. And because it was done with a wink, it rarely felt exploitative. It was all part of the fun of the show, and there's nothing wrong with a little eye candy in the right proportions. So don't run away from this, but also don't fall into the trap that I and many other readers complain about - that some scenes linger too long in exploiting the female lead's body. There's a fine line between appreciating the feminine form and leering like a creepster. Find it.
So it's not worth doing right unless you have legitimate female action stars. That means true classic icons like Linda Hamilton and Sigourney Weaver. It means back the Brinks truck up for Jennifer Garner and Kate Beckinsale. Go after Sarah Michelle Gellar, Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel. Heck, Jessica Alba probably wouldn't be a bad pick either. You need at least a few of these bigger action stars in the cast - women whose most prominent roles are action-based.
Then you've got your second tier of female action. On this list I'd have Rosario Dawson, Maggie Q, Eliza Dushku, and Rachel Nichols. Yvonne Strahovski from "Chuck" is another casting choice I wouldn't overlook. And based on her turn in Live Free or Die Hard, Mary Elizabeth Winstead would also make my list. These are good people to fill out the cast and I'm fans of all of them but it would be a huge mistake just to cast from this tier.
Gina Carano feels like she should be on the first list, but given that Haywire didn't do so well, it's more likely she's seen as belonging on the second list. Either way, I'd be surprised to see her overlooked.
Keep all this in mind, and you've got a potential hit. Ignore more than one of these guidelines and you might become the new poster boy for "Why Woman Shouldn't Headline Action Films." A whole genre's riding on you guys - I hope you're up to it.
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