'Jack Reacher' Star Cobie Smulders Is Helping Change The Fate Of Women In Action Films
Historically, the action flick has not been a great place for women. In a genre overwhelmingly starring men, it's long been accepted that explosions, car chases, and shootouts are ingredients best served with a hearty helping of testosterone. And ever since the days of Bond's bikini-clad sidekicks, women in these films have often been used to fulfill a damsel in distress trope, exist as a sexual conquest, or simply act as an easy-on-the-eyes intermission from smoking guns. But in 2016's Jack Reacher sequel, Never Go Back, Cobie Smulders offers something whole-heartedly refreshing: A character who is the equal — if not more physically and mentally skilled — than her male counterpart. (Minor spoilers below.)
"Tom Cruise isn't Usain Bolt, but he's close. He's one of the fastest human beings on the planet. Scripted, my character had to be faster than him," Smulders tells me. "This is a woman who is his equal. She's as confident and as able to get the job done as Reacher is."
Smulders plays Army Major Susan Turner, who is arrested for treason in the film's first scenes. While her arrest prompts Cruise's Reacher to spring into action and bust her out of jail, Turner saves Reacher's butt more times than he saves hers, and never while wearing a bikini or a push-up bra.
As a woman who loves action movies, I've come to expect certain offenses from these films. Going into a screening of Jack Reacher, I was on the look out for three things in particular. First, I expect to see the female love interest, Smulders, in her underwear. Second, I expect to see a love scene between Smulders and Cruise. And third, I hope — but don't have my fingers crossed — that Smulders' Turner will address alleged difficulties women face as members of the military. After all, she's a Major, and as docs like The Invisible War claim, it isn't easy being a woman commanding a mostly male squad. And yet surprisingly, the film proved me wrong threefold. Well, almost.
There is a scene that involves Turner in her bra, but somehow, Smulders isn't sexualized at all. The scene comes after Reacher and Turner escape from prison and are holed up in a hotel room. They are exhausted, sweaty, bleeding, and very much in need of medical aid and a hot shower. So when Smulders does remove her shirt — you know, to check for broken ribs — it makes sense. It isn't glorifying nudity, it's just practical. And she isn't wearing a lacy black push-up contraption, either, a detail that was important for Smulders: "For the bra, I was like, 'It's just going to be a nude bra, a totally regular bra,'" she says. "We wanted it to be realistic for what would make sense in that situation. We weren't trying to glamorize anything."
The 34-year-old actor also expressed that removing her shirt in the scene was voluntary. "No one's going to say, 'I think you should take your shirt off in this scene, Cobie,'" she says. "It was like: it's hot and sweaty, so I would just take it off and like... clean my armpits. That's just what you would do as a human being, and so that's what we ended up doing in the film."
For many action films, this scene of getting undressed would be the perfect segue way into a sex scene, and yet, the film swerves away from the familiar beat. "The expected thing is to have these characters hook up," Smulders says. "We actually shot a love scene, and when everybody saw the film with that scene in it, it was just more interesting to see that they didn't [have sex]."
This isn't to say, though, that Turner and Reacher never get it on. "We leave it open ended. Maybe he would give her a call, check in, and take her out next time he was in town," she reasons. But she also explains that during the actual action of the film, the stakes are too high to pause for sex. And understandably so. "I just don't think it felt right to see them take a break from reality. They were always on the move, always strategizing."
Smulders showcases her impressive skill set throughout the film, but the film's best moment comes when Turner blows up at Reacher, reminding him that just because she's a woman, she doesn't need to stay away from the action. Turner recalls sexism she faced climbing the military ranks in the movie, and urges Reacher not to treat her with the same misogyny. "It takes a very strong, very determined woman to be able to rise to the position of Major," Smulders says. "Another really cool thing is we made Susan Turner a graduate from Ranger school, which is one of the most difficult programs in the military. While we were shooting, there were two women who had graduated for the first time in the history of ranger school. That was really exciting and inspiring for me."
Not only is Turner an incredible character to see in action films, she's a wonderful portrayal of a woman in any genre. So if Tom Cruise decides he's had enough of the explosions and gunfire — hey, it could happen — perhaps he should pass the torch to Smulders. After all, Major Susan Turner is more than equipped to handle the gunfire. And the misogyny.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back hits theaters Oct. 21.
Images: Paramount