Last year, around this time, we saluted the women who breathed fresh air into a moviegoing season that typically reeks of testosterone.
Many of 2014’s summer blockbusters were headlined by women, including Angelina Jolie, Emily Blunt, and Scarlett Johansson — cause for celebration. There was so much awesomeness going on that we declared it the “Summer of Bad-Ass Ladies.”
Now it appears summer 2014 wasn’t a blip on Hollywood’s radar, but the beginning of a promising trend. The films of summer 2015 were packed with substantial roles for women, who effortlessly stole scenes –and, in some cases, entire movies — from their male co-stars.
(That said, annoying female stereotypes persist. Did “Jurassic World” really need to punish Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire for loving her job too much and not being into kids?)
As we close the books on the year’s most explosive moviegoing season, it is with great delight that we dub it “Summer of Bad-Ass Ladies: The Sequel.”
Below, we revisit the baddest of these pioneering bad-asses. We hope we’ll be seeing them next summer, too.
Charlize Theron in “Mad Max: Fury Road”: For the sake of its promotional campaign, Warner Bros. pretended that Tom Hardy’s Max is the star of “Fury Road.” But if you’ve seen the film, you know it is Theron who owns virtually every frame of this magnificently bleak and beautiful post-apocalyptic action flick. With a shaved head, oily face paint and one arm, tough-as-nails truck driver Furiosa is the heart and sinew of director George Miller’s female-centric road movie, with Hardy’s Max mostly along for the ride. When it comes to sci-fi heroines, she’s right up there with Ripley and Sarah Connor.
What’s even more impressive? There isn’t a single damsel in distress to be found in “Fury Road.” The cast’s menagerie of bizarre supporting characters includes strong, resourceful women of all ages and personalities. Why should this be such a rare thing? Hollywood execs should use Miller’s forward-thinking epic as a template for all summer blockbusters to come.
Alicia Vikander in “Ex Machina”: There are so many wonderful, eerie and astonishing things to discover in writer-director Alex Garland’s artificial intelligence thriller. Chief among them is Swedish performer Vikander, also delightful in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” who brings to life the strikingly beautiful, eerily lifelike humanoid at the center of the film. With her cherubic face and curvaceous CGI body, Vikander’s Ava is alluring and dismaying, uncannily perfect, and completely believable. Is Ava the perfect object of male fantasies or a master manipulator? Is she a girl waiting to be rescued or a skilled self preservationist? In a film where nothing is quite what you expect it to be, Vikander is the biggest surprise of them all.
Rebecca Ferguson in “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation”: Last summer, Tom Cruise starred in “Edge of Tomorrow” but willingly took a back seat to the incredibly bad-ass Emily Blunt, who dominated the clever sci-fi thriller. Weird rumors about Katie Holmes aside, maybe this guy deserves some feminist cred. This summer, he did it again, basically ceding his role as headliner of “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” to intriguing newcomer Rebecca Ferguson.
As enigmatic triple agent Ilsa Faust, Ferguson matches Cruise step for step and blow for blow in executing her own stunts and when it comes to intrigue, she’s a lot more interesting than the one-dimensionally heroic Ethan Hunt. The film’s most electrifying sequence, an attempted assassination in a Vienna opera house, is almost entirely Ferguson’s show. Coolly shimmying up the rigging in the sleekest, and most practical, of silk gowns, she’s practically auditioning to take over the franchise.
Melissa McCarthy in “Spy”: McCarthy has always been brilliant at satirizing social convention, but she’s so likable and so good at what she does, we hardly notice the sly statements she makes. In “Spy,” she reunites with “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig and tackles the male-dominated genre made famous by James Bond and Jason Bourne, playing a timid CIA analyst lured out from behind her desk and into the dangerous field.
McCarthy may be may be sending up the exotic, over-the-top world of Hollywood espionage, but she also has a lot of fun and gets to do everything 007 does — a moped chase in Budapest, a killer knife fight — only she’s way more hilarious.
Elizabeth Olsen in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”: When it comes to creating memorable on-screen superheroines, Marvel has been a bit slow to evolve. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is a formidable force but is seriously outnumbered by her male colleagues, who don’t have to stuff themselves into a slinky, black catsuit before saving the world. So it was a welcome moment when Olsen’s otherworldly Scarlet Witch made the scene in “Age of Ultron,” wielding some very cool telekinetic abilities. You can see just see the neighborhood kids mimicking her witchy powers of mind control while playing superhero. That’s something long overdue.
Kate Mara in “Fantastic Four”: Comic book movie reboot “Fantastic Four” took a critical and fiscal bruising when it debuted earlier this month. The film is widely considered a disaster but it contains at least one overlooked element: Mara’s thoughtful portrayal of invisible woman Sue Storm. Watching the actor at work, it’s hard to believe that only 10 years ago, Jessica Alba’s Sue was largely celebrated for the way she filled out her skintight suit. In sharp contrast, Mara’s performance emphasizes Sue’s brains over her body. She is arguably the first female superhero whose intellect is more important than her sex appeal.