Girls run the world

BY NAT ALDER | JULY 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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Friday will see the release of Luc Besson’s Lucy a science-fiction action film starring Scarlett Johansson as a woman who, upon being forced to ingest an experimental drug, is given abilities that render her a stone-cold killing machine.

In honor of the film’s arrival, I’ve generated a list of three other great action films with female protagonists — a few of which have some sci-fi elements. For this list, I tried to stay away from more common choices, so you won’t be seeing such films as Kill Bill, The Hunger Games, or Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. These picks are, in my opinion, some truly classic, gnarly, hard-core action flicks with inventive and eclectic female leads.

Haywire, 2012, Steven Soderbergh, director

Recently retired director Steven Soderbergh (Oceans 11) tackles his first and sadly only full-stop action film, and boy, is it a sight. Led by MMA-fighter Gina Carano in her feature début, Haywire may be a simple story of a double-crossed agent seeking revenge, but the film’s best assets are its action sequences. Effectively choreographed and edited together using as few shots as possible, they allow the viewer time to fully process the images and give a palpable sense that what you’re witnessing is real, adding an extra tinge of brutality.

Carano is exceptional here; though she delivers certain lines with a half-baked sensibility, she possesses the power to win the viewer over with her innate ability to kick ass. A legend from the film’s production goes like this: When shooting a first-act hotel fight scene with Michael Fassbender, the actor told Carano to “step it up” and hit him harder. The next take, she broke a vase over his head. (R, 93 minutes)

Aliens, 1986, James Cameron, director

This film earns great marks not only for being a superb sequel but also for being a fantastic action, sci-fi, horror, and adventure film. Aliens succeeds at subtle world-building and awe-inducing set pieces and is tied together by an iconic Sigourney Weaver as mineral transporter turned alien-attack survivor turned space-marine Ellen Ripley.

In the film, Ripley leads a team of Earth soldiers to a planet on which another crew has gone missing, and, naturally, bad alien stuff happens. It’s worth a watch, if not for the insane visuals, then for the stellar performance by Weaver, who was nominated for an Oscar for the role. Another thought is how Aliens, being the third film in his oeuvre, paved the way for director Cameron to go on to direct smaller, more intimate pictures, such as Titanic and Avatar. (R, 137 minutes)

Hanna, 2011, Joe Wright, director

Hanna can best be described as a fairy-tale action film grounded in the real world but soaked in existential themes and topped off with the slightest hint of science fiction. It stars Atonement’s Saoirse Ronan as a teenage girl trained by her father (Eric Bana) to assassinate her mother’s murderer, a wickedly evil CIA agent (played with exquisitely cold calculation by Oscar winner Cate Blanchett).

Set across three continents, the film is brimming with culture (a distant cousin to the feverishly European flick would be Run Lola Run), and it benefits from truly madcap but beautiful production design and carefully constructed action sequences that manage to be distinct and engrossing. Ronan once again proves she’s one of Hollywood’s finest up-and-comers in this film.

As we track Hanna’s action-packed journey across the world, we’re treated to the actors’ vast range of talent, whether it’s in her wide-eyed curiosity of seeing the world for the first time or in her frightening confidence as she stabs, shoots, and kicks away at baddies trying to take her out. An added bonus? The sleek yet buzzy original score, composed by Brit-electronic duo the Chemical Brothers. (PG-13, 111 minutes)

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