The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Scarlett Johansson
I've been meaning to write up a Good/Bad/Badass on Scarlett Johansson for awhile now, but I kept putting it off in order to time the column to CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, which opens this week and once again sees Johansson as the now iconic Black Widow. While often celebrated for her extreme good looks, in my opinion she's an incredibly underrated talent, a fact which will become immediately clear to anyone who takes the time to peruse her IMDB filmography.
Despite her young age, Johansson's been acting for over twenty years, with her having started off in Rob Reiner's NORTH and playing Sean Connery's daughter in JUST CAUSE. Her first real performance came a few years later in Robert Redford's THE HORSE WHIPERER, followed soon by a couple of really solid films she made as a teen, including Terry Zwigoff's GHOST WORLD and Joel and Ethan Coen's THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE.
Her first real, adult role came in Sofia Coppola's now iconic LOST IN TRANSLATION opposite Bill Murray, followed in quick succession by high-profile parts in GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING and her three Woody Allen movies, MATCH POINT, SCOOP and VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA. When Emily Blunt was forced to vacate the role of Black Widow in IRON MAN 2, there were plenty of naysayers who couldn't see Johansson in the part, but she proved them all wrong. While it's definitely the part that's made her bankable, she's gone on to take a variety of interesting roles, and even took the time to launch a very respectable career in music, with her whiskey-soaked vocals lending themselves well to a variety of interesting tunes. While Johansson seems focused on the lucrative action genre for the time being, her talent is immense and while Hollywood arguably isn't as star-driven as it used to be, Johansson's an exception to that rule.
This is a weird one. While HER is my favorite film of hers, the fact is that was a vocal performance so I can't list it as her finest work. I have a similar issue with LOST IN TRANSLATION, which I think of as a classic, but Bill Murray is just as essential an ingredient as she is. However, UNDER THE SKIN, a movie I was only cool on initially, is all Johansson. Playing a murderous alien sent to seduce (and devour) men, Jonathan Glazer's movie plays on all Johansson's strengths, from her beguiling beauty to her physicality and more. She manages to make her character somewhat empathetic, even though she's entirely murderous, and the scenes where she tries to experiment by adopting human sexuality and compassion helps this part rank among the best performances of the decade.
One movie of Johansson's I didn't especially like was HITCHCOCK. People were pretty easy on it when it came out, with Searchlight even launching an Oscar campaign, but to me it felt like a SNL sketch gone long. Anthony Hopkins didn't fare well at all as Hitch, but Johansson also felt sorely miscast as Janet Leigh, an actress she doesn't resemble in manner or looks, and it felt like she was only added as another name to throw above the title. This is Oscar bait at its most uninspired.
While Luc Besson's LUCY was a box-office smash, critics mostly panned it. That's a shame, as LUCY does in ninety minutes what the more ponderous TRANSCENDENCE tried to do in two hours plus, with Johansson perfect as the innocent courier who briefly becomes an action bad-ass, only to transcend even physicality, basically becoming God by the time the credits roll. It's all very silly, but it's Besson's best film in years and Johansson is ideally cast.
While Jon Favreau's IRON MAN 2 ranks among the worst Marvel movies, no one can deny Johansson was immediately iconic in her limited screen-time as Black Widow. As an early naysayer, I remember being thoroughly won over by the end of her first hand-to-hand fight, as shown here...
5. MATCH POINT
4. GHOST WORLD
3. UNDER THE SKIN
2. LOST IN TRANSLATION
Johansson's probably going to wind-up playing Black Widow for a long time, but action fans can also look forward to her controversial starring part in Rupert Sanders' GHOST IN THE SHELL adaptation.
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