Sunday, December 30, 2012

YEAR 2002: ALICE (RESIDENT EVIL)



Lara Croft remains the best known action-heroine created for an American videogame.  However, the zombie-killing game RESIDENT EVIL has one superior distinction: that it spawned the most financially successful film-series to come out of a game-franchise.  Five Resident Evil films have come out as of this date, and all have starred the heroine created for the first film, the zombie-fighter Alice, consistently played by Milla Jovovich.

Following BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER it became more common for monster-fighters to be more than a little monstrous themselves.  Alice begins her heroine-career as an employee of the Umbrella Corporation, an institution responsible for unleashing a plague of zombies upon the world.  Alice turns against the Corporation and attempts to help ordinary people menaced by the subhuman creatures.  She's originally just a highly skilled mortal but exposure to the zombie-virus enhances her strength and skills to phenomenal levels, at least in some of the movies.

Most of the other characters, whether continuing presences or one-shot types, are largely forgettable, so Alice would seem to be the character responsible for selling the film-series to its fans.

YEAR 2001: PRINCESS YUKI



THE PRINCESS BLADE was a one-shot take on the 1970s manga-series LADY SNOWBLOOD, albeit transplanted to a vague post-apocalyptic environment.

Princess Yuki is the number-one swordswoman of a clan of assassins that serves an oppressive future government.  In contrast to SNOWBLOOD she isn't initially motivated to avenge her mother's mother, but takes arms against the tyrants belatedly after she learns that they were responsible for said murder.

In contrast to SNOWBLOOD the movie doesn't attempt to evoke the poetic contrasts of the cold-hearted but warm-bodied assassin.  But the swordplay choreography by Donnie Yen is better than average.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

YEAR 2000: MAX GUEVARA



DARK ANGEL, a two-season wonder produced by James Cameron, took place in a slightly dystopic future not very different from the present.  Main character Max Guevara (Jessica Alba) was a genetically engineered super-soldier who escaped government confinement and attempted to blend with regular humanity, taking the job of a bicycle messenger.  But not only does she have to dodge agency hunters, she gets embroiled in freedom-fighting by her mentor/lover, a cyber-journalist named Logan.  To further complicate things, other super-soldiers, as well as beast-human hybrids called transgenics, manage to congregate in the same city where Max hangs her hat.

Cameron's future-world shows little original thought, but the fight-scenes are pretty kickass, frequently showing lean but super-strong Jessica Alba slamming around men twice her size. 

As a side-note, I have to say that Alba is one of the few actresses who got worse the more experience she got, as witness her work in MACHETE next to this series.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

YEAR 1999: BATGIRL



Though the Barbara Gordon Batgirl remains the best known to the general public, Cassandra Cain is on the whole a more original transformation of the "female Batman assistant" concept.

In keeping with the darker spirit of comic books in the 1990s-- as well as her surname, modeled on that of the first person (according to the Bible) who committed a murder-- Cassandra begins with a stain on her soul, in contrast to the many simon-pure heroes of the Golden and Silver Ages. Long before becoming Batgirl, young Cassandra-- the child of assassins Lady Shiva and David Cain-- is trained to become an assassin herself.  Not knowing any better, she does kill a victim, only to have such a negative reaction as to flee the influence of her father.  She later finds sanctuary and re-training with the Batman Family, and adopts the name "Batgirl" with the blessing of Barbara Gordon.  She later lost the title to another claimant, and then to a renascent Gordon-Batgirl.

The scripts, initially by Kelly Puckett, were fairly complex but I personally did not take to the manga-influenced art of co-creator Damion Scott.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

YEAR 1998: FAITH



In a general sense Faith is to Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Callisto is to Xena.  However, the approach of the two teleseries to the idea of the "negative counterpart" couldn't be more different.

In XENA, Callisto makes her appearance within the teleseries' first season, while Faith doesn't show up until the third season of BUFFY-- though, to be sure, the show's first season was short, being that it was a midseason replacement. 

Nevertheless, Callisto is conceived as a rebuke to Xena's attempt to make restitution for her past acts; she's a victim who chooses to turn villain in order to undo Xena's attempts at heroism.  Faith is more like the "cool girl" who undermines Buffy's position as the center of her homebuddies' attention.

That said, by not being as thematically opposed to the series-heroine, Faith proves more malleable, going back and forth from hero to villain to hero again, and serves a major plot-function for the series as a whole by demonstrating that more than one Slayer can exist at a given time, as against the received Slayer mythology. 

But perhaps her best quality is that the actress Eliza Dushku looked way better kicking vampire ass than Sarah Michelle Gellar did.  Wikipedia reports that Dushku was offered a shot at a Faith teleseries, and that she passed on the concept.  Given the reception of her later teleserials TRU CALLING and DOLLHOUSE, this might not have been the best decision.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

YEAR 1997: BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER



The 1992 BUFFY film remains important purely as a dry run for the more ambitious teleseries.  Had Joss Whedon and his company not managed to find a new direction for the series-- merging horror, adventure, and enough motormouthed, self-referential dialogue to make Quentin Tarantino gag-- the film might scarcely be remembered any better than the Cyndi Lauper vehicle VIBES.

I noted in my XENA essay that I didn't think the "vampire slayer" mythos was quite as ambitious as the "warrior princess" concept.  Nevertheless, both teleserials excelled in terms of portraying a relatively unexplored field: the dark side of the heroic femme formidable. Evil "femmes fatales" were as common as dirt in the history of pop culture, but heroines in the adventure tradition generally had to be simon-pure "good girls." Xena and Buffy were both noble souls who occasionally allowed rage or egotism to master them, as pop-fiction readers regularly saw with male heroes ranging from Batman to Mike Hammer.

The most intriguing aspect of Joss Whedon's mythos was that it was fundamentally atheistic despite the presence of multifarous demons.  However, Whedon rarely explored this theme in depth in BUFFY as he would in ANGEL.  Still, BUFFY was important in terms of Whedon forging his method of the brooding-loner-with-a-posse-of-faithful-friends-- not to mention the mass appeal of BUFFY's "take back the night" feminist theme.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

YEAR 1996: CALLISTO

 


Within the first year of the teleseries XENA WARRIOR PRINCESS, the producers came up with a yin to Xena's yang: Callisto, vengeance-driven warrior-maiden.

In so doing Callisto's creators followed a pattern not unlike those seen with classic comics-heroes.  If Superman's power is brain, give him a mortal enemy who's all brain.  If Batman's tightly wound, give him a lunatic clown as a nemesis.

In part Callisto-- referred to as "the psycho Barbie" by some pundits-- follows the Batman pattern. Because Xena's entire raison d'etre revolves around doing good in restitution for her past evil acts, Callisto makes the perfect counterpoint given that she's a victim of one of those evil acts, but one who refuses to grant Xena any forgiveness. 

And in addition to being just as skilled in "Greek kung-fu" as is the heroine, she's Joker-crazy as against Xena's sober-sided toughness.

Unlike the Joker, the producers apparently wanted Callisto to complete a decisive character-arc, rather than being a routine sparring-partner.  This proved a wise decision, resulting in a strong dramatic sequence-- ironically not on XENA but on the companion-show HERCULES-- in which Callisto has a time-traveling experience which roughly puts her in Xena's sandals, so to speak.

Further, Callisto finally does achieve an appropriate revenge upon her enemy, but in keeping with the philosophical sensibilities of the writers, it brings her no satisfaction. Having reached that apogee, the character only appeared a few more times in an altered form (as a kind of angelic presence) before the series concluded.