Marian, Queen Arthur, Thor, and the Continuing Rise of the Badass Female Hero

Xena BannerUniversal Television Entertainment

If you’re a regular reader of the words that appear in this space, then it shouldn’t come as any kind of surprise to you to learn that I’m a big fan of myths and legends and tales of greatness, passed down through the generations. Not just the superhero stuff, mind you, but also Robin Hood, King Arthur, and the like. I eat that stuff up with a spoon.

I am not, however, beholden to the legends as they were originally told. I am a firm believer in the concept of stories evolving over time, so as to become relevant to the eras in which they’re told. It’s why we can continue to see updates to all kinds of tales, be they Arthurian, Biblical, Mythological, or what have you. It’s why you can have hit TV shows like Once Upon a Time, and Grimm, and movies like Edward Scissorhands (aka Beauty and the Beast), A.I. (Pinocchio), and Coraline (Alice in Wonderland). Those don’t even include updates of classic literature like 10 Things I Hate About You (from The Taming of the Shrew), or Clueless (Emma), or Easy A (The Scarlet Letter), and plenty more.

Point is, these stories are malleable, and meant to be told different ways, in different eras, for different audiences. All that matters is that they’re done well. If you think about it, these stories are the original intellectual property that suddenly matters so much to those making movies and TV these days. These fairy tales, legends, and myths are the best kind of branded content, in that they can be made without actually having to worry about silly things like intellectual rights to the concept.

So, with that in mind, it makes perfect sense that the hottest spec script out there right now is a new take on Robin Hood, but told from the perspective of Maid Marian that plays like a female-led Gladiator or Braveheart. Written by Pete Barry, Marian is being pursued by every major young star in Hollywood, from Jennifer Lawrence to Alicia Vikander to Margot Robbie to Brie Larson and everyone in between. Big time producers are chasing it, too. Folks like Amy Pascal, Donald De Line, Ian Bryce, Simon Kinberg, Shawn Levy, Michael De Luca, and, yes, even Steven Spielberg and Jerry Bruckheimer are all looking to get in on this thing.

I haven’t read the piece, so I can only go by what I’m told by someone who has, which is that it’s a humdinger. But even if it’s the best thing since Shane Black went out with Lethal Weapon three decades back, the quality of the script isn’t the key here. I mean, come on. How many brilliant, commercial, no-brainer scripts circulate in this town but never actually sell, much less get made?

The answer is, most of them, which means that this one is special, and the reason why, is something that has been coming for quite a while and, now that it’s here, can be acknowledged as long overdue.

At last, after plenty of fits and starts — like 15 and 20 years ago with the likes of Xena, of the warrior princesses, and Buffy, of the vampire slayers — we are finally seeing the rise of the badass, butt-kicking, take charge female heroine, now here to stay, and it’s about damn time.

Buffy 220th Centruy Fox Television

It’s why the most recent Hottest Spec in Town was Ruthless, a John Wick-like tale with a female hit man. Hit person. Hit woman. Whatever, you know what I mean. It’s why Dark Horse Comics just came out with a new mini-series called The Once and Future Queen, which follows a modern day, mixed-race girl from Oregon who could possibly be the reincarnation of King Arthur himself, and why you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that it’s been optioned by a major studio or production company for a film adaptation very soon. It’s why Marvel Comics gave us a female Thor a couple years ago, and now has a teenaged, African-American girl in the Iron Man armor, calling herself Iron Heart.

There is also the ongoing rumor that James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson are considering a female-led spinoff from the franchise. This isn’t new, as the original plan was to give Halle Berry’s Jinx her own movie after introducing her in Die Another Day, but when that movie wasn’t any good, and people actively disliked her character, said plan was put on ice. That doesn’t mean, of course, that it was a bad plan, so don’t be surprised if the next movie, whether it stars Daniel Craig or not, introduces a female super spy capable of carrying her own movie. Or, if they decide to build a movie around Naomie Harris’ Eve Moneypenny, which, when you think about it, doesn’t not make sense.

It almost makes you wonder what would’ve happened if Angelina Jolie’s Salt had come out more recently than 2010. The thing ends on a cliffhanger that we will almost certainly never see resolved, which is only a shame because most of us enjoy our movies to have an actual ending. Clearly, it was designed to be the first in a series, and you have to give the filmmakers credit for gumption, assuming that a sequel would of course be green lit.

The thing is, if it had come out five or six years later, it might have been. Hard to believe that a movie like that could be ahead of its time, but if the shoe fits, right?

Salt 2Columbia Pictures

This month, we have Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell; then in June we finally get Wonder Woman; July gives us Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde, directed by John Wick helmer David Leitch; and there’s plenty more where they came from. Almost exactly a year from now we get Vikander in the brand new version of Tomb Raider, and a year after that we get Larson as Captain Marvel. We have Daisy Ridley as the nominal lead in the current Star Wars trilogy, plus a live action Mulan on the way, a Margot Robbie-led Harley Quinn movie called Gotham City Sirens in our near future, and on and on. (Don’t be surprised, in fact, if Marvel replaces Chris Hemsworth as Thor with a female version once the studio gets to Phase Four or Five of its Grand Master Plan, and his contract is long expired.)

Also, let’s not forget the movies that star regular, every day, slice-of-life stories about women who do their own form of butt kicking. I have lost track of how many times I’ve pointed out here that movies such as Bad Moms are almost guaranteed hits (in that particular case, almost $180 million worldwide, which led to STX of course green lighting a sequel), because they appeal to literally half of the moviegoing public, which is a population that loves going to the movies and of which the studios constantly need reminding.

Literally, every year they need to be reminded of this, but now, suddenly, it seems like they might finally be getting the message.

Which means that there is more on the way. It also means we really are living in the golden age of female badassery, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.

Neil Turitz 2 is a filmmaker and journalist who has spent close to two decades working in and writing about Hollywood. Feel free to send him a tweet at @neilturitz. He’ll more than likely respond.

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One Response to Marian, Queen Arthur, Thor, and the Continuing Rise of the Badass Female Hero

  1. A well written and concise assessment. I’ve been on many panels dealing with just this conversation and it’s interesting to see how the social awareness has changed. For the longest time, having a strong female action hero just meant “putting breasts on a man”. Now we are seeing true depth in female action characters where their strength is powered by who they are and not by a need for a plot device.
    Again, well written.
    Steven L. Sears
    Co-Executive Producer – Xena, Warrior Princess

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