Monday, 11 June 2012

Top Five Kick-Ass Heroines


There's no shortage of donkey-kicking heroines in science fiction and fantasy literature that take some inspiration from the ancient world - Trinity and Katniss Everdeen are probably two of the most awesome, but you could add Padme Amidala, Lucy Pevensie, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and many more. Perhaps surprisingly, there are also a fair few bottom-bothering heroines in yer actual Classical mythology. Most if not all are either at least partly divine or members of entire races of warrior maidens, usually Amazons, but still, they're there - Camilla in the Aeneid is particularly memorable, Medea's magic leaves quite the trail of destruction behind her and of course, Athena is, among other things, a goddess of war.

Popular culture representations of ancient world settings, though, are a bit more lacking in the butt-prodding women department. There are plenty of female characters who kick ass in a more subtle way, within the confines of a woman's role in the ancient world, particularly in Rome. Lucilla in Gladiator is one of my favourites, as she acts entirely within the confines of her position but is strong and powerful nonetheless (I also love it when she tells Maximus 'I'm tired of being strong' but continues to be so anyway). I, Claudius' Livia is dangerous in a different way, building on the ancient Roman stereotypes of the wicked step-mother and of poison as a woman's weapon (for fairly logical reasons, it has to be said). I'm not sure you'd describe either of them as 'kick-ass' though. I don't know if anyone has produced a formal definition of what 'kick-ass' means, but I sense somehow that poisoning people or politically out-maneuvering them is not quite it. These activities are undoubtedly awesome, but perhaps lack the foot-in-backside element of 'kick-ass'.

These, then, are five kick-ass heroines who make the buttocks of bad guys feel sore in some kind of ancient-world setting (some closer to reality than others).

5. Andromeda, Wrath of the Titans
Is our heroine the lead? No, though she's the only female character with any substantial role in the film.
Does she have any special skills? Within the narrative, no, not unless you count the ability to wade into battle wearing large and impractical earrings. However, the main reason she makes the list is Rosamund Pike's ability to out-act everyone else in this film by a country mile. Where Neeson and Fiennes phone it in and Nighy hams it up, Pike commits to this tiny, under-written role, and that's what makes Andromeda just a little bit kick-ass. Also, the earrings are quite cool.
How hard does she prod bottom? Not very, but then, no one does really. She survives a fairly apocalyptic battle, so that's reasonably impressive.
Whose donkey does she kick? Well, she helps defeat Cronus. I think. I'd stopped paying attention by that point, to be honest.
Could she take on Batman? No. He'd distract her by yanking off one of her earrings. This is why Catwoman doesn't wear earrings.

4. Mira, The Last Legion
Is our heroine the lead? No. Like Andromeda, she's the female lead/only female character of importance, and the love interest.
Does she have any special skills? She's been trained in a martial art (Kalaripayattu, according to Wikipedia) in Kerala, and she seems pretty good at it.
How hard does she prod bottom? Pretty hard at first, but she suffers from Eowyn Syndrome; she starts out all tough and kick-ass and gets less so over the course of the film, until she reaches a depressingly domestic happy ending. I heard a good paper on this subject last year.
Whose donkey does she kick? Some randoms near the beginning of the film. Important ass-kicking is reserved for the male lead.
Could she take on Batman? She could probably give him a decent run for his money, but the gadgets might ultimately throw her off, what with her being from the fifth century AD and all. If I remember Batman Begins correctly, some versions of Batman are also trained in some kind of martial art, so this might be one for martial arts enthusiasts to fight out between them.

3. Flavia Gemina, The Roman Mysteries
Is our heroine the lead? Yes!
Does she have any special skills? Not physically, but she's particularly good at solving mysteries.
How hard does she prod bottom? As a young, well brought-up Roman girl in a realistic series aimed at children, Flavia's bottom-prodding opportunities are more limited than the others on the list. However, she brings several people down (or raises them up) through her mystery-solving ability and she survives an encounter with some nasty crocodiles in the arena, with some help from Nubia and a friendly lion. I ummed and aahed over whether this entry should go to Flavia or Nubia, but ultimately decided Nubia is a bit too peace-loving to go on the ass-kicking list - her most extreme actions tend to be motivated by the desire to alleviate suffering rather than cause it. Flavia is not quite as hard-edged as the boys (both of whom consider murder at various points) but as the group's leader she's ultimately the strongest and she'll fight like a tiger for those she loves.
Whose donkey does she kick? Various people in various ways throughout the books, but escaping the crocodiles with Nubia and Monobaz the lion's help is one of the most exciting and requires her to be particularly brave and physically tough.
Could she take on Batman? Maybe when she's older. If she had Monobaz with her.

2. Naevia, Spartacus: Vengeance
Is our heroine the lead? No, but she's a prominent member of a large ensemble cast made up of roughly equal numbers of men and women.
Does she have any special skills? Not at first, but she seems to respond well to Crixus' training, which focuses on sword- and knife-fighting (rather than the potentially more practical but less useful in hand-to-hand combat skill of archery. Presumably because Crixus doesn't know anything about archery).
How hard does she prod bottom? Pretty hard. She's developing a knack for dispatching people with defiant one-liners as well ('No, but it's a f**king start'). Perhaps she's Buffy's distant ancestor.
Whose donkey does she kick? She takes out Gnomey Guy, who has already proved a few episodes back that he wasn't a total loss as a gladiator by beating down several Roman soldiers at once. OK, he's injured, but still, it's pretty impressive. Her getting the b**tard in the balls is especially satisfying.
Could she take on Batman? Probably not, but if he'd done something to really piss her off she might take him out in a frenzy of sheer rage.

1. Xena, Xena: Warrior Princess
Is our heroine the lead! Yes! Of a spin-off probably better known and loved that its precursor.
Does she have any special skills? Lots, though I'm unclear how she came by them. Her use of her discus-thingy as some kind of deadly boomerang, possibly a forerunner of Oddjob's bowler hat, is particularly noteworthy.
How hard does she prod bottom? Six seasons of ass-kicking (maybe someday there'll be a movie). When Xena prods bottom, the bottom in question is sore.
Whose donkey does she kick? Lots of people's. Regular enemies include crazy Callisto and Ares, who is the freaking god of war. Xena kicks his ass regularly. That's some serious mojo she's got there.
Could she take on Batman? Of course she could. One well-aimed discus throw and he'd be down. She might be in trouble if he was in the Batmobile though - Argo's a nice horse, but he's no match for twenty-first century technology.

Bubbling under: Nefertiri in The Mummy Returns. She's fairly kick-ass as an Egyptian princess, but it's her twentieth-century reincarnation as Evie who really gets the job done, and Evie isn't an ancient-world character (granted Xena lives in a peculiar pseudo-medieval never-time, but it's still more ancient than the 1930s).

More Top Five Lists

18 comments:

  1. Angelina Jolie plays the eponymous heroine in Salt, and delivers some very serious fundament battering; if you haven't seen it, it's not bad.

    I hear that Scarlett Johansson does some damage as Black Widow in The Avengers, though I haven't seen that one. I can certainly believe it, though.

    Uma Thurman takes out quite a few people with that sword in the Kill Bill films ...

    On a more classic note, Emma Peel (the magnificent Diana Rigg) probably couldn't take on [the] Batman, but she could certainly hold her own and send some keisters flying with those judo/karate/whatever moves she had.

    I don't include Wonder Woman, because that. costume. argh.

    I'm sure there are more -- though, admittedly, not nearly as many as there ought to be.

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  2. Black Widow was pretty cool in The Avengers - Thor insulted her in a rather controversial way, but she was pretty cool. I wanna see a Black Widow/Hawkeye movie, they had good chemistry.

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    1. me too! and with Joss Whedon writing/directing it! ;o)

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    2. Definitely! I really want to see a Joss Whedon Iron Man movie too

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    3. Suffered a senior moment there and failed to note the 'ancient-world setting' restriction, which should have been obvious (how long have I been reading this blog?). Sorry about that!

      Offhand, I can only think of a few that I've actually seen: one is Valeria, the thief who becomes Conan's love interest in Conan the Barbarian, and who slices and dices with the best of them. There's also Grace Jones's character in the lamentable sequel, whose name I shall not mention.

      And, if you count ancient worlds that are not Earth, there's Leela, companion to Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor. She was pretty tough, in a Doctor-Who-companion sort of way.

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    4. No worries :) There were just too many to contemplate if everyone was included - which is a good thing, of course!

      Good point - by companion standards, Leela was fairly action-y!

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  3. Didn't at least one of those "lost legion in Scotland" films that came out in the last couple of years have a donkey-kicking heroine? I think Centurion, since it wasn't using Rosemary Sutcliffe as source material, but I'm not sure.

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  4. That would probably be this one., which you only vaguely remembered at the time, apparently, and therefore even more vaguely remember now! I have never seen it, so my memory is vaguer yet.

    Apparently, though, Aishwarya Rai is the donkey-kicker in this one.

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    1. Yes, I think you must be thinking of Mira in The Last Legion DmX. There aren't any women in The Eagle, and Centurion has a very problematic relationship with its female characters (one is an evil barbarian, the other a housewife).

      Aishwarya Rai is an excellent donkey-kicker, Eowyn Syndrome aside!

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    2. I actually think DmX is probably thinking of Etain in Centurion, who is a kick-ass villain.

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  5. "Could she take on Batman? No. He'd distract her by yanking off one of her earrings. This is why Catwoman doesn't wear earrings."

    LOL!!!

    You could add Keira Knightley in the most recent King Arthur since it's still the Roman Empire (albeit the end). And she definitely kicks some donkey!!! ;o)

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    1. I wondered about including her, but she was rendered ineligible because, while they all wear ridiculously revealing costumes (as do the men in some cases) just strapping a belt around your breasts is a bit too far and reduces the ass-kicking-ness of the character!

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  6. That's definitely quite a good way of looking at these characters.

    As a comics fan, I'd say the reason Batman can hold his own against pretty much anyone is his brain. The man's always thinking ten or twenty moves ahead, and always has contingencies for his contingencies. Hard to deal with that...

    As to the Black Widow, I loved her in the movie, and very much in the comics as well. There's an alternate reality miniseries called 1602 featuring the characters in that year in Europe, and she's described at one point as "the most dangerous woman in Europe". Very apropos.

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  7. I'd suggest Mina Harker from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (yes, I know, appalling film) and I'd heartily recommend to Buffy fans Sarwat Chadda's YA books about Billi SanGreal, who is a 15 year old girl inducted into the Knights Templar- Devil's Kiss and The Dark Goddess. Great post, Juliette!

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