This might come as a surprise to anyone who knows me now, but when I was in primary school I played football. Not only did I play football, but I was kind of a big deal (Yeah, humility can suck it. Let me have my moment). I was the star striker for my team – and though we only played two matches for the whole time I played for my all girls school team (we won one, we lost one. A 5 – 0 stinger against Sudley Juniors which still stings to this day, let me tell you), I was still made to feel like a star.
So much so that when the annual ‘mixed team’ was being put together for a match, I was one of the girls picked to join the boys. Sweet Jesus, was I happy. This was the big time. My happiness was only dampened by two factors: 1. Only two girls actually got to play for the mixed team, myself and the goalie and 2. I got put in defence. DEFENCE? Are you kidding me? I was distraught. Not only did I hate playing defence, but I couldn’t play it. All I can remember from playing the match was how all the boys – on both sides – wanted to make sure I knew my place. I was a girl and I didn’t really belong there. They kicked the ball as hard as they could at me and if I missed an interception someone would shout something at me like ‘Stop putting makeup on and GET IN THE GAME’ or ‘Stop worrying about breaking a nail’.
And so it is that the majority of action films feel no different. Always with the token ‘hot ass kicking girl’ who regardless of how tough and capable they may be, still get fraught with story lines where they get hit on – at least once – by the villain or main dudes and have at least one scene where they strut out in heels, make up and sexy dress just to assure the audience that this woman can still pander to male, hetero fantasy. Yes, these women get to join the boys team – but they never once let them forget their gender.
The Expendables franchise seems intent on doing this. Whilst the first of the series was essentially bereft of any strong women (it had a damsel in distress and a love interest as standard), the second and the third of the series both have a woman as part of the main gang. Expendables 2 featured Nan Yu, and whilst capable as fuck, there are still the same old requisite moments where the lads crack jokes about being in the mood ‘for a bit of Chinese’ whilst discussing food (wink wink!) and an eye roll of a moment where she pulls out a pedicure kit (because as a woman myself I can confirm that I do indeed travel everywhere with my trusty nail maintenance set) to use on somebody to ‘get them to talk’. Classic.
Expendables 3 features UFC champion and jaw dropping MMA wonder woman (and future big time female action star if her hype is to believed, which I’d just like to get super excited about right now) Rhonda Roussey, who from what I can tell is introduced in a pretty dress and heels and will no doubt get sweet talked or manhandled by at least one fella from the main cast (before putting them in a choke hold, no doubt).
Now, I’m not bashing Stallone’s attempt at inclusion here. It’s better than nothing and these really are some killer women, but why stop at one? More to the point, in a film franchise whose entire ‘shtick’ is all about a bunch of ‘has-been’ mercenaries proving that they’re anything but (played by a bunch of ‘has been’ actors also proving otherwise), wouldn’t it be cool to include some women of an equal age to all these wrinkled up fellas also proving that they still have value? That they can still kick ass? Because there’s a wealth of actresses out there who could be wonderfully utilised in that scenario.
One of the main cast of The Expendables – Dolph Lundgren – once said in an interview with The Daily Beast regarding the rise of women in action movies: ‘I love women but any woman, no matter how trained … almost any man can defeat any woman because it’s just the way the body’s constructed. I don’t care if she’s a karate champion, the guy is still going to kill her if it’s a fair fight ‘.
Obviously, Dolph is oblivious to the extent of fantasy at work in action films, so even if what he says is true (and I’m weak as shit, have string beans for arms and struggle to even carry my own shopping home some days, so what the fuck do I know? Except I’m positive that if you put ‘almost any man’ in a fight against Gina Carano she would rip his fucking head off) why couldn’t women still be represented equally to men? Because it’s unrealistic? I’ve seen The Expendables and I have quite the bombshell to share with Mr Lundgren – it aint going for realism.
I mean, yes it’s a big dumb action movie (and what?!) but I like The Expendables for how it breaks down the boundaries of ‘age appropriate’ – damning the Hollywood ageism tradition. The only problem is that many of these actors aren’t especially discriminated against for their age in the same way that women in Hollywood are.
And here’s a handy inforgraphic from Vulture regarding some dismal age discriminations in Hollywood: Leading men get older whilst their female love interests stay the same age. Here’s Expendables 3 star Harrison Ford’s ick-factor inforgraphic:
So, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what a female Expendables style film would look like. Apparently, some form of movie in this manner has already been green-lit with Stallone rumoured to be producing it (with an eye rollicking working title of The ExpendaBelles being thrown around – like they’re a girl group getting produced by Phil Spector in the 60’s), but I don’t hold my breath on it being in any way decent.
When I imagine an all female Expendables movie being actually made by someone, I see young, sexy action women in revealing outfits. I see chill out, banter scenes where the women delicately sip cocktails and talk about their troublesome love lives with terrible men. I see some kind of ‘outfit’ montage where the women carefully pick out the ensembles they choose to kick ass in. I see all of the characters defined by existent stereotypical tropes and caricatures of women: there’ll be a ditzy one, there’ll be a tomboy, there’ll be a stripper and there’ll be a horrible, radical feminist in the mixture who all the other women will hate. At some point too, there’ll be a cat fight. In the rain. In mud. In bikinis.
I can hear some fat cat movie guy with his feet up on a million dollar coffee table pitching the whole thing to someone else over Facetime with horrific phrases like ‘Imagine Sex and the City, except they aint just pounding cocktails and cock – they’re also pounding bad guys with their fists – POW!’
I mean, stop doing this to us Hollywood.
In my head, I’ve already worked out my dream cast for what a female Expendables movie would look like. There’s a lot of big names and there’s a lot of strong women – physically, mentally, capably – of all ages involved. Some are probably considered to be ‘has beens’ and ‘over the hill’ just like many of The Expendables are, but none of this will ever even happen, anyway so who cares. Here’s my never-gonna-happen Fantasy Dream Team. You probably imagine it completely different, but whatever. This is my dream:
You probably know Zoe Bell best from her performance in Tarantino’s Death Proof (which, as far as Tarantino movies go – and I’m not a fan – is actually way better than the reception it got). Sassy, fearless and so fiercely enigmatic that anytime she’s on screen you can’t help but get swallowed up by her charm, Bell was a stunt actress elevated (quite rightly!) to the heights of credited supporting actress. Come on Hollywood, this woman has it all. Why she hasn’t crossed over into the mainstream and earned herself the sort of female action hero status she’s worthy of is ridiculous.
Grace Jones is 100% wow. Her voice, her looks, even the way she moves – she’s a sublimely inspirational and inconceivably original superstar who does, says and looks whatever and however the fuck she wants. For further evidence that she totally belongs in this list, just watch her in View To A Kill or even Conan – she’s an action movie heavyweight and totally under utilised . I also get the feeling that Grace Jones will never, ever be ‘too old’ for anything.
Sometimes, even if the film is terrible, I still watch it if Milla Jovovich is in it (this is my only explanation for hate-watching each and every one of the Resident Evil movies). This is a woman with real star power and stamina who can slam the breaks on an approaching attack with a fierce death-stare from her eyes alone. She’s stronger and tougher than she looks and I’m continuously disappointed that people don’t seem to hire her for better roles (or maybe she just really really likes to work with her Resident Evil director husband? Who knows).
Foxy Brown herself. Pam Grier is not only capable of using an assortment of ammunition to her advantage (verbal and deadly) but she’s smart as hell and plays manipulative, hardcore and savvy to the hilt. Firearms expert? You betcha.
One woman who has successfully maintained a career of playing badass characters throughout her career is Ms Michelle Rodriguez. Since her phenomenal breakthrough role in Girlfright (which makes me kid myself into thinking that I should start running track and training down the gym, Rocky style, to become a boxing superstar. Because she just looks so cool), Rodriguez has played take-no-shit, tough female characters time and again. Put simply, she’s cool as fuck. Even when she turns up drunk at sports events with her supermodel girlfriends. Kind of makes me love her more.
SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR
So, I know by this point you’re all probably going – what? Buffy?!! Are you kidding me? But hear me out. Whilst she might have had a stunt double for most of the tricky portions of the show, SMG still kicked ass. Furthermore, it was nice to see a diminutive blonde completely capable of looking after herself. She made tiny women like myself think ‘Yeah, I could defend myself if I had to’. Plus, I just really want to see her back in work in something that I actually want to watch.
Cynthia Rothrock is someone that you’ve probably never heard of, but she was and still is a big deal. A martial arts supernova, Rothrock was discovered by Chinese studio Golden Harvest whilst looking for the next Bruce Lee in USA. Rothrock was not only the original inspiration for Sonia Blade in Mortal Kombat (who was always the character I’d play. Represent!) but also took on some of Hong Kong’s biggest martial arts heavyweights in the process. Cynthia Rothrock is possibly the most underrated name on this list – don’t believe me? Just check out her IMDB page.
Whilst Sigourney Weaver may not be some martial arts expert or known for her proficiency to battle through hordes of bad guys with her fists, her turn as Ripley in the Alien films is enough to earn her a place in this list. Who says that you need to be martial arts proficient anyway to be a mercenary? If Harrison Ford can be involved purely for his arrogant Han Solo swagger to make a comeback, then Weaver can certainly hold her own with a throwback to her Space sassiness too.
Did you watch American Horror Story: Coven? Angela Bassett was gloriously terrifying, a magnetic and fearsome force of nature who purrs through scripts with a seductive level of threat. Bassett might not be up to the task of being a mercenary, but if Kelsey Grammer can get a starring role in Expendables 3, then there’s certainly space for Angela Bassett to be on hand for snide comebacks and battle plans.
I know many people completely obsessed with the Battlestar Galactica reboot – I liked it enough, but for me it was all about watching Katee Sackoff tough it up in her wife beater – flexing some muscle, chewing on a cigar, wise cracking against macho numbskulls and playing the shit out of a role that was originally written for a man.
It’s such a shame that Haywire was such a terrible, terrible movie. But even for all of it’s faults, there’s no denying that Gina Carano’s action performance was impeccable – her fight scenes showing a statuesque, physically commanding superhero of a woman (even if they did have to dub over her vocals in it. Like, what the fuck – Dolph Lundgren is allowed to grumble indeciperably through action movies, but Gina Carano can’t?). The former UFC fighter was set to be The Next Big Thing in Hollywood action movies – so where is she? Give her another action role to really sink her teeth into, and stop worrying about whether she can say her lines properly. We have Meryl Streep for that.
If you’re not sure who Yuen Qui is then do yourself a favour and watch the cartoonish, martial arts comedy masterpiece Kung Fu Hustle, where she plays the Landlady (complete with hair rollers and perma-ciggie, who turns out to be incredible at Kung Fu). A martial arts master (and opera singer!), Yuen Qui also has the kinds of screwball comic timing and air of mischief about her that are impossible to hate. Plus, she’s a bit of badass in real life too: in 2013 she was arrested in an underground Mahjong Parlour for illegal gambling. That’s my kind of woman.
Kind of like the Mickey Rourke of the batch, Brigitte Nielsen might look like little more than a walking advertisement for aesthetic surgical procedures and rehabilitation centres these days but she was the Amazonian action femme fatale of her day, and it’s time we paid some respect to that fact. What’s more, The Expendables are an inexplicable whos-who of men rumoured to have engaged in intimate acts and relationships with Nielsen. Good girl. Join the gang. If just for the cameo alone.