Is Anna Valarious the worst action heroine of all time?
Posted by Richie on July 2, 2008
Faux Action Girl
A supposedly modern heroine who, under closer scrutiny, doesn’t live up to her reputation. An Action Girl with very low standards you would never hold a male hero to: a Faux Action Girl. She’s established from the very beginning as a powerful, capable hero… and never does anything heroic. She has a well-grounded reputation as a strong fighter in her field… and always fails in the line of battle. Her talents and skills are well known to fellow characters but rarely if ever seen by the viewers.
Quoted from the TV Tropes Wiki. I assure you, escape is quite impossible.
“It’s nice”, says Kate Beckinsale of her character in the Van Helsing DVD extra features, “That she’s not just wearing a pretty dress and fainting. She’s not a damsel in distress”. Kate, you just filmed Underworld; why do you think this is somehow an abberation…?
In celebration of the release of Wanted (which, on the basis of the trailer, is Fight Club +Guns -Self Awareness), Rotten Tomatoes has listed the 25 best action heroines of all time. Yes, the first visible comment is somebody complaining that the list should have men on it as well, why do you ask? But as I am reliably informed by popular internet humour sites, not to mention Something Awful, being positive about stuff just isn’t entertaining. I therefore pose this list’s anti-matter universe duplicate: Who is the worst action heroine of all time? The one that immediately comes to my mind is Anna Valarious, Kate Beckinsale’s character from Van Helsing. This didn’t cross my mind the first few times I saw it (I bought it for $6 and believe in getting my money’s worth), since it’s bad in so many other ways that Anna’s utter uselessness becomes background noise amid lines like “Of course, this must be what happens when vampires mate…”. Yes, of course.
The thing about Anna is that the filmmakers are labouring under the delusion that she’s a modern action heroine who’s re-writing the rules of the action/horror genre by not being a damsel in distress. Problem one, as I mentioned above, the same actress had just been in Underworld, in which she got to slaughter vampires and throw herself off of buildings every five minutes. And Underworld‘s whole aesthetic was obviously influenced by The Matrix, in which Trinity was awesome enough to make the entire world go into slow motion while she kicked people in the face. Not to mention other movies which came out around the same time, like Resident Evil and The Fifth Element, had women beating crap up, and Buffy had just finished its run on TV. Oh, and Kill Bill. I don’t bring these up as proof that everything’s dandy when it comes to women in action movies, or that – to quote Roger Ebert – men have been “emasculated off the screen”, but to point out that the simple existence of women in action roles was an industry standard by this point, even if (as often happened) they weren’t treated very well by the narrative. In order to make them worthwhile, the movie has to actually do something worthwhile with them, and this is where we run into Problem 2: Despite the posturing and stunt work, Anna actually is a damsel in distress whose role in the plot is completely passive. I know, because I kept track. With a pen.
#1: ANNA VS. A WEREWOLF
As much as I appreciate closeups of Kate Beckinsale’s arse, there is a time and a place for these things, and it isn’t fighting a werewolf in 19th century Romania. Only, rather than actually fighting the werewolf, she just distracts it, causing it to fall into a cage which is the hoisted into a tree and shot at by everybody other than Anna, who just stands there doing nothing. There’s no reason for her not to have a gun, and you’d think it’d be advisable, what with the fucking werewolf, but she doesn’t. The werewolf then escapes and chases her – a gun would have been handy here – cornering her on a clifftop and leaving her defenseless until her brother rescues her. Almost as if she’s some kind of… damsel in distress. Her brother then heroically sacrifices himself to protect her, and then, as if to underline how useless she is, her response is to look miserable and ask for God to protect them, because obviously she can’t do it herself, having only a dozen riflemen and the capacity to make silver bullets at her disposal.
DUDES = 1
#2: ANNA VS. THE SEXY VAMPIRE BROADS
Van Helsing appears and offers help, to which Anna replies “I don’t need your help”, even though she explicitly asked God for help last scene. Either it’s just shit characterisation, or she’s putting on a tough act to impress people, in which case she’s useless and self-destructive. Three Sexy Vampire Broads then swoop down from behind her, but she’s saved by Van Helsing, just to make sure we know she does need his help, and that her prior attempt to disarm him was wrong and would have gotten her killed if he wasn’t all awesome and surly like. Her reaction to the ensuing chaos is to scream “Everybody inside!”, which is where everybody’s going anyway, but never mind. As Van Helsing protects everybody, she stands around doing nothing until she’s captured by a Sexy Vampire Broad and… rescued by Van Helsing, again. Who gets a face full of her crotch.
Anna spends the rest of the scene running around urgently, which, to the naked eye, makes it appear she’s actually involved in the fight. In actuality, she’s… just running around. After being capture by a Sexy Vampire Broad again, she stabs it in the foot! It drops her! Has Anna actually succeeded in doing something right? No! She’s immediately picked up by a different Sexy Vampire Broad and rescued by Van Helsing again. Van Helsing does this by shooting that Sexy Vampire Broad through the ankle as well, by the way, but he does it properly. In her one attempt to escape from the vampires without Van Helsing’s help, she hits her head on a tree and falls over.
To recap, she has to be rescued by Van Helsing three separate times in the one scene, and would have died (twice) if Van Helsing hadn’t refused to listen to her. He doesn’t need her help at any point, and all she does is cause problems for him. She’s not a damsel in distress, though! The DVD said so.
DUDES = 2
#3 ANNA VS. SEXY VAMPIRE BROADS (INDOORS)
Anna’s on her own and defenseless, like some kind of damsel in distress, because Van Helsing’s been knocked over by a vampire. “I hope you have a heart”, says Anna to an advancing broad, “Because one day I’m going to drive a stake through it!”. This doesn’t happen, of course, because Anna is rendered powerless by having her upper arm grabbed. Two broads then advance on Anna, licking their lips, getting us ready for some hot softcore girl-on-girl vampirism. Van Helsing saves her, though.
DUDES = 3
#4: ANNA VS. VAN HELSING
Anna prepares to go hunt Dracula, stocking up on as many weapons as her ridiculous corset will accommodate. Van Helsing’s having none of this, and sprays her with knock-out gas. According to the commentary track, the scene originally involved him knocking her out by punching her in the face. For her own good. Test audiences reacted badly to this, for some reason.
ANNA = 0
DUDES = 4
#5: ANNA VS. A DIFFERENT WEREWOLF
She actually has a gun this time, but the shot misses and Van Helsing saves her, the silly moppet.
ANNA = 0
DUDES = 5
#6: ANNA VS. VAN HELSING VS. A WEREWOLF VS. MORAL AMBIGUITY
The werewolf is actually Anna’s brother, so she stops Van Helsing from shooting it and it gets away. Van Helsing then shoves her up against a wall, starts choking her (Actual dialogue: “You’re choking me!” “Give me reason not to!”) and then says he’s going to kill her brother anyway. This is meant to make him into a dark, morally-ambiguous character, except moral ambiguity doesn’t work if the character ends up being right 100% of the time. Barging in to her life, ignoring what she has to say, knocking her out, choking her and trying to kill her brother are, as far as the movie’s concerned, justifiable actions, and he’s never called to account for them. That’s not ambiguous, it’s disturbing.
ANNA = 0
DUDES = 6
#7: ANNA VS. SOME DWARF THINGS
Anna gets to do something by kicking a gas mask-wearing dwarf in the face and knocking it into a vat of bubbling liquid. This is literally the first time she successfully defends herself in the entire movie, it’s seven fights in and the assailant is 3′ tall.
ANNA = 1 (!)
DUDES = 6
INTERLUDE: ANNA VS. AN ARGUMENT SHE HERSELF MADE ABOUT HALF AN HOUR AGO
Upon meeting Frankenstein’s monster, Anna wants to kill it, but Van Helsing protests that there’s good in him and he must be allowed to live. This is the exact same argument Anna made to him about the werewolf, but because the positions (and, alright, sexes) are reversed, we’re expected to side with Van Helsing and think Anna’s intolerant. Can’t you just smell the moral ambiguity…? (No).
#8: ANNA VS. SEXY VAMPIRE BROADS, AUTOSCROLLING CARRIAGE BONUS STAGE
Anna’s alone and cornered by a werewolf until a heroic dude leaps in the last second and saves her. This character is really developing!
ANNA = 1
DUDES = 7
#9: ANNA VS. CLICHE HELL
Anna is captured by vampires, put in a cleavage-enhancing ballgown and lusted over by Dracula, whom she is powerless to resist. Hang on… damsel in distress… pretty dress… fainting…
Van Helsing then swoops down on a chandelier and snatches her away at the last second. Yes, really.
ANNA = 1
DUDES = 8
#10: ANNA VS. ME-OW!
Oh, Christ, it’s a vampire catfight / Ye Olde Jelly Wrestlinge match in which Anna and the remaining Sexy Vampire Broad paw and sniff at each other. Anna does manage to drive a stake through her nemesis’ heart, making good on the promise she made at the beginning of the movie. She also promised to destroy Dracula, save her village and release her brother from his curse, but what were you expecting by this point?
ANNA = 2
DUDES = 8
Anna saves the day by injecting Van Helsing with anti-werewolf juice, only he’s mid-transformation at the time and ends up killing her. The final scene… God… The final scene is Anna’s face looking down from heaven and smiling at Van Helsing. The guy who just killed her. And killed her brother. And ignored everything she said. And knocked her out and choked her when she wouldn’t do what she was told. For her own good. Yyyyyeeessss.
According to my results, Anna was a useless damsel in distress 80% of the time, standing up for herself a grand total of twice during the movie, even though she’s sold to us as a modern action heroine. This is not an opinion, it is a verifiable scientific fact, so nyah. Consider that another vampire movie form forty years ago managed to have a far more pro-active heroine without contriving to make her into a 19th century ninja, and you realise that something’s gone horribly wrong. Take away the posturing and the wirework, and you’re left with a character who belongs in something half a century earlier.