Action is a fan-favorite film genre and this year cinemas exploded with a plethora of action movies. Among 2016’s action list were four movies that won our action-hungry hearts: Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Mechanic: Resurrection and The Accountant.
These movies not only contained the typical action sequences and characteristics we’ve come to expect from an action movie, but they also delivered incredibly strong female characters and an improved sense of drama to their stores while staying true to their action-movie roots.
The Girl As The Guide
All four movies possess a key female character that emotionally and/or conceptually transforms the protagonist throughout the film. In Jack Reacher 2, Mechanic 2, Jason Bourne and The Accountant, the story centers on the protection and well-being of a female character.
In Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Reacher needs to protect Major Turner (Cobie Smulders) from killer mercenaries. Bishop (Jason Statham) in Mechanic: Resurrection needs to protect Gina (Jessica Alba) from a human-trafficking crime lord who is trying to kill her.
In Jason Bourne, our hero (Matt Damon) fails to save the woman who put him on his path to enlightenment, later embarking on a journey to protect his father’s legacy by taking down the CIA.
Furthermore in The Accountant, Chris (Ben Affleck) must protect Dana (Anna Kendrick) from corporate-hired assassins.
The generic action-movie female character was a central aspect of each of these movies, but it was how they were used in the movie that completely redefined the action genre.
Even with the movies advertised as being action blockbusters, they all diverted from standard action popcorn in an attempt to tell more dramatic tales. By the protagonists helping keep these women from danger, the women also helped the protagonists discover something new about themselves.
Action Redefined: Women With Purpose
This common practice of utilizing an attractive woman in the action movie genre was present in all four of these movies, but the women in these films are not simply eye candy for male viewers, they each have a powerful purpose.
In The Accountant, Dana and Chris’ relationship is not a romance that's built throughout the film. Instead, Dana is more of a moral guide than a love interest. It was through Dana that Chris discovered his medical condition was never holding him back socially and even though he perceived the world differently than the rest of society, there was someone out there that understood him.
He found intimacy and love where he thought there never was. By the end of the movie, the Chris that we see is a totally different person from the Chris we saw in the beginning. Through Dana we saw a change of character in Chris. The film makes a strong statement that no matter how different you are, you will never be alone.
Similar themes were present in Mechanic: Resurrection.
Here, Gina becomes Bishop’s new romantic partner, but her purpose extends beyond that. Through Gina, we see a side of Bishop that was lost in his past. She serves as a link to forgotten memories and a lost identity. Bishop used to be an orphan. Eventually he grew up to become a international "fixer." It was when he met Gina in Thailand that he once again embraced his past.
Her purpose was not simply to portray a beautiful Jessica Alba on screen, but to empower our hero in accepting a part of himself, which ultimately gives even more power to Gina.
Women are also empowered in a different way in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. The relationship between Jack Reacher and Major Turner not only gave Turner a dominant role throughout the film, but also introduced a concept that's rarely explored in the action genre: the family dynamic.
In Never Go Back, Major Turner unlocks a new side of Reacher: the loving father. After embarking on his personal mission to save Major Turner from an unjust execution, Reacher meets Samantha (Danika Yarosh), his supposed daughter. Through Samantha, Reacher comes to accept that he indeed lives a lonely life and that forming a family and finding love should be his prime objective.
This theme played out extensively throughout the film and Major Turner is the reason. She is perfectly portrayed as the most badass woman on the planet and that's a good thing.
Out of the four movies, it is in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back that we see women with the most power. First, Turner is an army major. Second, she has comparable screen time to Reacher himself. Third, she is the key to the family dynamic and to the love that the hero discovers.
In Jason Bourne, Bourne doesn’t receive a female love interest. Nevertheless, both lead women in the movie, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) and Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), aid Bourne in discovering the truth about his father.
Bourne's father was the one responsible for the secret CIA Treadstone program that Bourne underwent. When Parsons first made contact with Bourne in Greece, she eventually helped him contact Lee. Her unfortunate death was one push factor that kept Bourne on his feet, but it was ultimately Heather Lee that pushed Bourne in the right directions.
She is the driving force that keeps the movie alive and she's the brain behind Bourne's entire mission objective. In Heather Lee we see a woman making the calls and carefully planting her ideals into a "man's world." (Check out the clip of her calling the shots in the trailer below.)
She succeeded and at the same time even helped Bourne discover a new path for the truth; he can now trust the organization that betrayed him -- if he chooses to. Moreover, if the Bourne franchise is heading towards a sixth installment, this gives ample room to expand Lee's story and perhaps even her own spin-off movie.
More Drama And Less Action
All four movies gave a powerful purpose to the lead female characters, but in addition to strong relationships between male hero and female guide, all of the films put the action in second place, letting the drama take on the spotlight.
In Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, while it contained decent action sequences, more scenes were dedicated to the developing relationships of Jack Reacher, Major Turner and Samantha. These dramatic sequences promoted family values and instilled the story with more meaning than just scenes containing exploding cars. Of course, exploding cars were definitely present in Never Go Back, but death-defying stunts were not the prime spectacle of the movie.
The same can be said about Mechanic: Resurrection. More time is spent in the movie developing the relationship of Gina and Bishop than the action scenes.
Compared to the rest of the movie, it was those scene involving Gina and Bishop that substance to the movie overall. (Something I failed to grasp until I watched the movie a second time.) It is in these scenes that we experience Bishop's inner self, giving us more than just the expert assassin.
Additionally, in Jason Bourne, while it was mostly action-packed, it was Heather’s ambiguous past that heightened expectations for future installments. Scenes involving the dramatic interactions between her and Bourne were some of the most interesting moments in the movie.
In The Accountant, it was Chris' affection towards Dana and his long history with autism that was the story's main theme. Here, the dramatic element is presented in Chris' past growing up with autism and with his developing friendship with Dana. By the end of The Accountant we even find out that Chris' brother, Braxton (Jon Bernthal), is the master assassin trying to kill Dana. This heightens the drama as we see two brothers interact after years of not seeing each other.
The Accountant ends on a good note and it is these dramatic elements that maintained the action in all of these action movies.
A Genre Redefined
Through a different representation of women and an expansion in dramatic elements, the action genre was redefined with these four films and they've opened the door for future action movies to expand even further.
Should action movies keep innovating and expanding the genre in new ways like this? Let me know in the comments below!