The other day I was watching The Last Legion (2007), a decent if not totally inspiring sword and sandals pic, which used the fall of the Roman Empire as a basis of the beginnings of Arthurian legend, namely the “sword of Caesar” which became Excalibur. (I wouldn’t recommend you put this one on your Netflix queue, but if it comes on TV late one night and you have nothing else to watch, you might enjoy it.)
This movie did something that all period or fantasy (or period fantasy) movies do, and I’m getting really tired of it. It’s the scene where an enigmatic person, covered head to toe so you can’t see their face, single-handedly takes on a group of assassins/soldiers/ninjas/ruffians/what-have-you, beats them all and comes out totally unscathed. Then they take off their head gear only to reveal, as one of the male characters usually exclaims, “A woman?” (In The Last Legion, the super-warrior removes their helmet to reveal the lovely, nay, beautiful Indian actress Aishwarya Rai.)
It's become such a cliche to have the warrior woman in action films. And even more of cliche to have the aforementioned reaction. (The only other cliche as bad is the wino who witnesses something extraordinary, does a double take, then tosses out his booze.) I guess it’s Princess Leia’s fault that women in films with any sort of action not only have to be ballsy, they have to be the equal of men, capable of riding, shooting, fencing and fighting as well as any man. Maid Marian in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves handled a sword as well as any Merry Man. Evie in the Mummy movies started meek, but quickly became the fighting equal of Brendan Fraser’s character. Catherine Zeta Jones in the two Zorro films swashbuckled nearly as well as Antonio Banderas. Keira Knightley in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. Arwen and Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings films. It just goes on and on.
I don’t have anything against strong women in action films. Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hamilton and Michelle Yeoh, for instance, have all done top notch work and are above reproach. But there’s a scene in The Last Legion where a burly 220 lb Goth swings an 80 lb hammer at the 110 lb Aishwarya Rai which she blocks several times with her sword. I’m sorry, but when that happens physics demands Rai be pounded into the ground like a tent peg! It’s like dropping a refrigerator on someone and them acting like you merely dropped a book on their foot.
Karen Allen’s Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark was gutsy and full of spunk. She could drink any man under the table and hold her own in a bar fight, but when the crap hit the fan she didn’t grab Indy’s whip and gun and play “Indiana Ravenwood.” Too often the female characters in action films are just thinly disguised male characters (the Ripley character in Alien started out as a male character before Sigourney Weaver was cast in the role). They should be written as women, and not just men in skirts.
Men and women are different. Viva la difference!