Monday, August 20, 2012

Free advice for the makers of the "Female Expendables"

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.

Bring on the icons - No one would ever accuse The Expendables films of having intricate, complex, or even original stories.  But that's okay, because no one is going to these films for the script.  Cast this thing with a bunch of no names, or even bigger actors who aren't action icons and all the appeal goes out of this film.  An Expendables with Mark Wahlberg, Colin Farrell, Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds just doesn't have the same appeal.

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.


  1. Surprised you didn't mention Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez. I imagine they'd be top two on the casting wishlist.

    Angelina Jolie? She's by far the biggest female action star in the world. But then, of course, they'd need to pay her salary...

    1. Jovovich was a definite oversight on my part. Jolie crossed my mind but I pretty much place that around the likelihood of them getting Eastwood for EXPENDABLES 3 - never gonna happen.

      I sorta feel like Rodriguez would be in the Tier 2, but that's just me.

    2. Yeah, Jolie is definitely the Eastwood, or even Tom Cruise, of the potential casting field.

      Rodriguez and Dushku would be hilarious in the same film together. Dueling "bad girls"!

  2. I'd watch that movie (the one you hope is made), even if only to promote more female-lead action films.

  3. I think most of your choices are spot on. As much as I like Mary Elizabeth Winstead though, I don't think she has action hero cred.

    I think the Asian female action stars should have a slot or two in a potential movie. Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang, Maggie Cheung, JeeJa Yanin, Qi Shu, Wei Zhao and Chiaki Kuriyama all deserve consideration.

    Other possibilities are Lucy Liu, Kristanna Loken, Carrie-Anne Moss, Uma Thurman, Kelly Hu, Pam Grier, Summer Glau, Lucy Lawless, Maggie Q, and Cynthia Rothrock. Oh, and Lynda Carter cameo would be perfect.

  4. Ug. Please. If you're going to make a strong female character don't make her run around in anything skimpy. That just weakens her and your message. Plus you'll only be selling the movie to prepubescent boys and men who never got past the "All women should look like Playboy models, f**k like a porn star, and keep house like June Cleaver" stage.

  5. Mostly I agree. I've been trying to get this job, so I have strong opinions about it. But I think tonally, you have to remember that this can't be The Expendables. In fact, when I was working on a treatment for it I retitled it "Badass Chicks" because I didn't want to keep thinking about The Expendables in my head.

    The difference is, The Expendables was chock full of big, beefy '80s icons, so it has to be an '80s movie. The films of the '80s were tributes to muscles and manliness.

    But the '80s wasn't about girl power. There are precious few women who got to run around beating ass back then, so an action movie with an all female cast can't be an '80s movie. It has to be something more modern, something with a little more grace and a little less camp. Something that flirts with you and then leaves you pining in the dust.

    That's what I was going to do. May still do, who knows.

    1. btw, there are a couple of 70's/80's low budget movies you might want to take a look at:
      -- Commando Squad, directed by Fred Olen Ray
      -- The Doll Squad, directed by Ted V. Mikels

    2. Emily, it'll probably amuse you to know that my treatment of the same is also called "Badass Chicks."

    3. That does amuse me. And it fits. Perhaps some day you and I will be up for the same assignment.

  6. If it's really supposed to be the equivalent to THE EXPENDABLES, it has to be cast with 80's action chicks. Otherwise, it's just another action ensemble. The cast would probably look like this:

    - Carrie Fisher
    - Pamela Anderson
    - Sigourney Weaver
    - Linda Hamilton
    - Pam Grier
    - Cynthia Rothrock
    - Brigitte Nielsen
    - Lucy Lawless

  7. I think, in terms of the female action genre, there are two generations. The first group being Hamilton, Weaver and Lawless. They were tough, dangerous almost masculine. The second generation are the glamazons, the women who maintained their femininity while still being Convincingly violent. Jolie, Gellar, Alba, Jovovich, Garner, Beckinsale, Q, Liu and Saldana (Zoe) belong to this group. There are many more, but I think these are the icons and should be cast.