so i recently caught the tail-end of this Ridley Scott version of Robin Hood and what a shock, it featured Cate Blanchett, who has to weigh about 95 pounds, sword-fighting guys, because no one can make a movie where a woman is NOT fighting like a man if there’s any fighting being done. this is a long-standing pet peeve of mine, i admit; i’ve been ragging on it for YEARS, and once injured myself during the course of an impromptu mockery of such a concept.
but it occurs to me that a) it’s not so much the concept of ANY woman being some physical hero, but the ham-handedness of how it’s done that bothers me, and b) there’s at least one lady who reads this site (making her a solid 33% of our readership), so i should probably throw her/woman at large a bone and not be a total misogynist all the time here, right?
(as a brief interlude, let me link to Vulture making sort of the same point i am with their examples being the unrealistic nature of Zoe Saldana, Anne Hathaway and Angelina Jolie’s lack of “some believable heft”, but more logically and politely. although i submit they have an entirely too rosy view of Gina Carano’s MMA career.)
so with all that being said, i figured i’d come up with a top 13 “woman who i accept as competently beating the hell out of men and/or other foes in various works of fiction,” or something like that.
janklow’s favorite 13 female characters who he accepts as competently beating the hell out of men and/or other foes in various works of fiction, or something like that
well… that’s certainly a very literal interpretation of the subject matter in title form… so let’s proceed. now it may be that there are characters who are similar to those below that still manage to annoy me; all i can promise you is that i am NOT annoyed by these characters, maybe because they’re better characters or the justifications are more explained/reasonable. that might not seem like much, but… uh… that’s all i’ve got?
it also helps to impress me if your female character has an utterly heartless glare or two in her. fear breeds respect, i find
13. Shakima Greggs (the Wire)
one thing about anything David Simon does regarding Baltimore (Homicide, the Corner, the Wire) is that you can assume it’s PROBABLY all based on a real person somewhere down the line, so maybe a kernel of truth ruins Greggs as a character? that said, i can’t think of who the “real person” is, so she qualifies. she wails on criminals alongside all the male police officers, she expresses concern about handling herself on the same level as them… yes, this a competent female character.
also, that whole “anything David Simon does” thing might apply to Treme too, but i don’t know shit about New Orleans, so i really wouldn’t know. i’m from Maryland, damnit!
12. Mattie Ross (True Grit)
what this is about is defining “competent.” 14-year-old girls shouldn’t be mowing every villain down with a pair of six-shooters or beating up seven-foot-tall men or whatever the hell else all these female heroes are doing (killing Witch Kings, i guess). so while -SPOILER- wounding your father’s killer in the final confrontation in a manner that -DOUBLE SPOILER- causes you to fall into an underground cavern and eventually lose your arm to snakebite doesn’t seem like much of an achievement for a movie’s hero … it’s perfectly competent for a 14-year-old girl who’s the main character to stack up this way. COMPETENTLY. i don’t need to see all these damn space acrobatics.
11. Rachel Brooks (Justified)
okay, a couple of quick disclaimers here:
–for some of these characters that cross multiple forms (movies versus books, for example), i am familiar with the characters in all their forms. however, despite the fact that i have enjoyed many movies based on his works, i don’t read Elmore Leonard novels, so i have NO idea if this “Rachel Brooks” concept is even in there;
–this inclusion is mostly to point out Justified to people who don’t watch it (which would probably be all of you jerks).
anyway, she’s a great shot, never attempts to physically overpower people, and effectively banters with Raylan Givens, our hero (and i will point out that this is a very well-written show). so this works for me. welcome to number eleven!
and if all else fails, dress your female character up like Bruce Lee and give her some swords and guns. i… i will be forced to respect her
10. Takako Chigusa (Girl #13) (Battle Royale)
now, in fairness, it’s not like i find all the rest of the female characters in either the book or movie annoying, as they’re both entirely necessary and also just kind of there, and none are portrayed as particularly menacing. i’m not THAT completely insane. …well, okay, but i try to rein it in a little when i’m writing lists for the internet.
still, i’m claiming Chigusa qualifies because a) she’s portrayed as cutting a swath through what should be physically superior opponents (possibly with some eye-gouging and dick-removal) and b) it’s done in a reasonable fashion (she’s fucking crazy for legitimate reason, and has the luck of getting a reasonable weapon in the game). if it had been some other female character being some cutesy bad ass, THEN i would be completely annoyed, as expected.
09. Molly Millions (Johnny Mnemonic/Neuromancer/Mona Lisa Overdrive)
now, in fairness, Molly does take advantage of one loophole that allows fiction to have women cutting through their foes with minimal effort: she’s from the near future and she’s bursting with cybernetic enhancements that make her stronger, faster, and the rest. and this, for obvious reasons, makes it much less annoying that she is (as i recall it) a pretty unstoppable physical force handling most of the heavy lifting for the assorted characters.
i admit that this seems like a concept most writers could use to spare my annoyance, but it often seems to be handled in a much more “cute,” “hilarious” fashion in other works (“oh, look, that cute little girl is beating up those thugs because she’s genetically enhanced” seemed to be the M.O. of Dark Angel, which caused me no end of disgust), and so Molly benefits. so it goes.
08. Beatrix Kiddo AKA the Bride (Kill Bill: Volumes 1 & 2)
this is pretty much a given: she’s depicted as intensely talented and unstoppable, and she bests all of the opponents she faces, many of them men. however, some factors that make this acceptable include a) explanations and/or montages of training at the hands of masters of her various crafts and b) her often being bested to some extent by foes before ultimately getting the upper hands and c) the fact that a large percentage of her enemies are, in fact, other “competently man-beating women.”
the latter, i suppose, tempers her ranking on the list (after all, you’re not supposed to get bonus points for beating up mere women), but it also ensures that i’m not going to be annoyed by her wrecking the world’s best MALE assassins. although she still kind of does that. oh well.
not to put my business out there, but if i didn’t include Andrea on this “competent female characters” list, it MIGHT get me beaten up by a girl. seriously
06-07. Erica and Toni (Red Dawn)
so i think we all know that i am totally obsessed with Red Dawn; it’s mostly the tale of plucky teenage boys defeating the mighty Communist war machine invading middle America. but you may remember that there ARE a couple of women/young girls hanging out in this film – Erica and Toni – and they kill a hell of a lot of Russians. and Cubans too, i suppose, as there are a handful of them hanging out in the film.
now it helps that they’re not defeating their foes with martial arts acrobatics or some kind of mastery of swords or whatever; it’s completely plausible that women could learn to shoot small arms into Russian faces with great skill. still, as a grouchy old man, you might suspect that i would object to these teenage girls being seen as death-dealing warriors of the highest sort. but i appreciate the fact that their femininity is not played up and that one of them –SPOILER ALERT– ends up as a booby-trapped corpse that kills some Russians. also… come on, it’s Red Dawn! fuck yeah!
04-05. Andrea and Michonne (the Walking Dead)
let me quickly note that we’re talking 99% about the comic here, as the series is a) not that developed yet and b) does not portray Andrea that competently or Michonne at all (so far). hell, the fact that they’ve now fired the main guy who adored Michonne’s character does not speak well for how well it will go if/when she appears. i guess we COULD be talking about them eventually, but as for now… well, let’s just stick to the comic.
but okay, why are they not annoying? well, Andrea becomes a peerless sniper, but this is a reasonable skill for the bad-ass ladies, she’s generally self-deprecating otherwise and she doesn’t wreck shop in any other physical category. Michonne’s a bit higher on the “how are you possibly operating on this level” scale… but then you can attribute this to her dominance to the quality of her opponents (the average man and/or zombie is not that skilled at sword-fighting either) and the fact that she’s not an entirely unstoppable force. we’ll just leave the specific evidence of THAT untouched for now.
even in a cocktail dress, Mason is still pistol-whipping (or otherwise threatening) various men into submission, even if some of said men aren’t dressing THAT much like men in this film
03. Lornette “Mace” Mason (Strange Days)
sometimes i suspect i should just say “fuck it” to all this half-assed comedy and turn this website into a fan site for Strange Days, although for the time being, we’ll just have to stick with the comedy and my ancient 2007 tribute to that film. but moving on, let’s note that the baddest character in the entire film can probably be said to be the female buddy of the film’s main character, “Mace” Mason.
and i’m totally fine with that. she beats people down reasonably (such as by using chairs and not ridiculous acrobatics), she’s not immune to getting trapped in difficult situations, she’s known to make bold declarations that get turned into parts of excellent Fatboy Slim songs, and most of all, she’s a complete character (we get back story, we get interplay with central characters, we get an explanation via her job of why she’s skilled), not some bad-ass female archetype to be used as needed. i think it also helps that she seems completely stressed out for most of this film (albeit with good reason), as constant stress seems like the fuel for someone to just cut their way through a legion of bad guys with punches and handguns.
“get away from her, you BITCH” still remains the pretty much greatest “there’s about to be girl-on-girl violence” line in movies
02. Ellen Ripley (Alien series)
yeah, yeah, you most assuredly saw this one coming. Ripley’s never THE most imposing character in any film she’s in … well, okay, MAYBE in Resurrection, since at that point she’s gone to being part alien, but she’s topped by Parker, Hicks and Dillon in prior films, i think. Ripley’s never portrayed as having any degree of training in deadly arts, or physical augmentation, or magical Witch-King-killing powers. still bitter about that last one.
however, this is why it all works: she’s essentially an average person in good shape who is not going to fucking take this nonsense from these damn aliens, which are deadly as hell, but also reasonably killed by anyone who’s got the means to do so. and her most “girl power” moment is still the logical mauling of an alien queen thanks to her ability to run that power-lifting exoskeleton (also helpfully established in a reasonable manner earlier in that film). the key here is to make these ladies seem like real people you can relate to, people.
yes, as always, Garth Ennis keeps it 100% classy
01. Kathryn O’Brien (Punisher MAX)
kind of had to go with an outside-the-box pick here (if only in principle, because the number one spot should have SOME element of surprise, right?), but i had to give her the nod because she is to some extent the kind of character i might find annoying: early in the series she’s seemingly mostly there for comic relief, but then Garth Ennis decided to work her in a few more times and flesh out the back story, and all was well (she gets a little more powerful over her run, but i attribute that to Ennis deciding to bring the character back). unless you’re O’Brien, because if you’ve ever read something by Ennis, you know his characters are very likely to have had a rough time of it, and she’s no exception.
but despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that she’s hanging alongside the Punisher, who himself is operating at an unrealistic at-the-limits-of-what-a-mortal-man-could-possibly-do rate most of the time, she doesn’t seem over-powered – she does get injured and/or bested a few times in these comics – just very angry and effective. and not to run anything, but the fact that she’s killed in a mundane way after all the prior heroics certainly doesn’t hurt. as seen in my praise of the Descent, the fastest way to get me to sympathize with female characters is to make them suffer and die. huh… this might say something about me…
final disclaimer: i could honestly switch #1 through #3 around fluidly. this may be one of those “he that i am reading seems always to have the most force” type of things. maybe i just need to watch Strange Days again? (the answer to that question is always “yes.”) also, i know i am going to think of some character who legitimately merits inclusion on this list in a day or so. SO FRUSTRATING.