Romancing the Sword [re-post]

Image: Alita, Hellboy, Thor Ragnarok postersThe final release poster for Alita: Battle Angel is out and she’s holding some weirdly unidentifiable, but cool-looking sword. A 26th-century cyborg still needs a sword.

Cue Hellboy reboot and in the poster, the guy who carries an unfeasibly large calibre revolver is holding… a sword. As is… Transformer‘s own Optimus Primus Stove, a thirty-foot alien robot from another planet last seen wielding a dirty great sword, which presumably transforms into, I dunno, a roofer’s scaffold tower?

DC’s Wonder Woman has twirled a selection of sword blades across her three outings so far, while Suicide Squad‘s Katana is especially deadly with her haunted, err, katana.

Over in the Marvel-verse (MCU), both Guardians‘ Nebula (dual-weilding) and Thor‘s Valkyrie are pictured as sword-carrying kick-ass chicks (that’s a thing in action movies). Not forgetting Mila Jovovich in Ultraviolent and various Resident Evils. Or for the boys behaving badly, huge alternative Marvel hit Deadpool.

Are you getting the picture yet? In recent years, the TV and movie industries have evidently hit upon the old-fashioned notion of the sword as a cool and righteous addition to the hero’s armoury.

While knife crime terrifies us on the streets, we’re more than happy for a gung-ho action hero to slice their way through legions of stuntmen in the name of kinetic, up-close-and-personal combat.

You may say that the line of movie swords men and women never went away – Princess Bride and a never-ending legacy of Chinese and Japanese martial arts movies – both contemporary and historically set – provided the backbone to a continuum of screen swordsmen. George Lucas may have kick-started a revival in the West with light-sabre wielding Jedi Knights, but only after John Boorman’s Excalibur primed the pump.

Though tastes often changed, we still had the 60’s Crimson Pirate and 70’s The Scarlet Buccaneer. The sword remained a staple of B-movie delights from 70’s Samurai-Westerns, 80’s B-movie cheese (The Sword and the Sorceror, The Warrior and the Sorceress, Steel Dawn, The Beast Master, Arnie’s Conan and Red Sonja), through the Highlander franchise, and several American Ninja‘s. Indiana Jones was jumped by tulwar-weilding Thuggee in Temple of Doom, after his comedic cheat with his revolver against a swordsman in Raiders‘.

It was often difficult to spot any improvement in the production-line swordmanship of 90’s TV protagonists such as the long-running Xena, the short-lived Zorro, Highlander (again) and a couple of Robin Hood‘s. Braveheart rendered some hefty ‘och-aye-splat!’; Rob Roy went for Scottish grit; while an often-forgotten Marvel property called Blade gave the vampire a fearsome makeover.

Turning the Millenium we got futuristic curio’s like Equilibrium, but also mainstream fantasy blockbusters The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbitses. Various Batmen have taken on adversaries with swords through each of the re-boots, while Wolverine-in-Japan‘s poster showed Hugh Jackman with a katana – as if six built-in adamantium blades couldn’t do the job (in the movie itself, they did).

Somewhere in this glossy parade of aluminium toothpicks and clattery sound effects, some producers continued to make an effort to depict ‘proper’ sword-fighting. The Duellists is still held up as an historically accurate piece. By the Sword tried to make a proper contemporary fencing drama, but the stage fighting was still quite silly. Richard Lester’s action-comedy Three and Four Musketeers remain favourites – but two disappointing sequels reminded us that Dumas’ heroes could be lauded and abused in equal measure. The Man in the Iron Mask, the 90’s Surf’s Up Musketeer Dudes, to the recent cyber-punk Musketeers‘ Euro-pudding – although I liked the sheer brio of Mads Mikelson and Logan Lerman dualling atop Notre Dame Cathedral.

Leaping through Kill Bill, Clash of the Titans, Immortals, Momoa’s Conan and Gods of Egypt, we come full circle to our latest classic posters – and that’s just the short list that springs to mind – the good, bad and ugly of blade-carrying heroes and heroines. And it could have been a much, much longer list.

Meanwhile, archaeologists keep making the news by digging up astonishingly preserved Viking and Medieval weapons.

It all demonstrates the cultural significance and resilience of the sword as a weapon of honour – or not, in the case of Electra‘s Kirigi. The sword still has a mystique and innate symbolism of skill and power that no end of bullet-time Matrix shoot-em-ups (although Reloaded had a lot of martial arts sword-play) can match.

And we all like a good sword-fight, don’t we? RC

Post originally published on Catling on Film