Obviously Luc Besson‘s Lucy sold a shitload of tickets last weekend, taking down nearly $44 million, which is certainly a kind of feather in the cap of Scarlet Johansson. Her Lucy character, a drug-enhanced superwoman, is the third super-formidable she’s played over the past four years — a woman who beats the shit out of or kills male opponents (or victims) like it’s nothing. The other two characters, of course, are Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, whom she’s played in Iron Man 2, The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Laura-the-zoned-out-alien in Under The Skin. If you add Johansson’s mesmerizing voice-performance in Her as Samantha, a kind of ghost in the software with an enormous, constantly evolving intellect, it’s clear she and her agent have forged a new hotshit ScarJo identity — a woman of unearthly powers and confidence whom you don’t want to mess with and perhaps not even talk to unless…you know, you have super-powers that match hers.
But ScarJo is not — repeat, not — an action star. Someone applied that term within the last two or three days and it’s just not selling. She’s been playing some kick-ass, super-powerful women, yes, but without the slightest real-world authority. Whupass Scarlett is an act, a marketing idea — a feminist conceit or some kind of tip-of-the-hat gesture to women who crave power and control over their lives, and that’s fine. But I’m not actually buying it for a second because for one thing she’s just too small to be an action star. I talked to her once at a party (I mentioned I was looking to try a little opium for old time’s sake, and she said it didn’t sound like the impossible dream), and she’s only about 5′ 3″ or thereabouts. No way. She just doesn’t look tough enough.
Real action stars exude authenticity. They’re real-world. However they physically deal with enemies, their prowess never seems to be an act or a conceit. What they do is never CG-enhanced (or is never noticable if it is). They’re in the moment and doing that thing in a way that never permits disbelief or uncertainty,
I completely accepted Gina Carano‘s formidable fighting ability in Steven Soderbergh‘s Haywire as she obviously can handle herself against any guy of any size — never a moment of doubt. Chloe Moretz‘s Hit-Girl ruled in the first Kick-Ass, but this was largely due to the novelty and the wild outfit, I think. I loved her in that jokey little film, but I didn’t believe she had it in her to deck all those big guys at the end, no way, and that’s the difference between posturing and being in the action realm. Steve McQueen was an action star Zen Master in the ’60s and ’70s. He was not an actor pretending to be a badass — he absolutely was that. Sigourney Weaver was totally commanding and believably steadfast for what she was asked to do in the first two Alien films. (I don’t want to think about the Fincher version.) Harrison Ford was obviously the real deal in his action flicks of the ’80s and ’90s. I almost believed Angelina Jolie as a fighter during the first act of Salt but they gradually made her into more and more of a super-cyborg in the middle and end portions, and again — she’s just not tall or heavy or strong enough. She’s a little taller than Johansson (I spoke to her once on-set and later at a junket for In The Land of Blood and Honey) but she lacks authority in that realm. She just does.