10 Heroic Movie Vigilantes Image

Mad Max – Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2 (1981), Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max is a brilliant marriage between the vigilante genre, the western, and the apocalyptic action movie. The first film is rather the former, whereas subsequent films became progressively action-led, culminating in the explosive Fury Road. Throughout the series, Max has always maintained his initial intrigue – though he is broken by the murder of his family and left to drift alone across Australia’s barren landscape, something purely good remains in him, driving him to continue fighting evil wherever it arises. Mel Gibson still is Max, but Tom Hardy did a respectable job in Fury Road.

The Bride – Kill Bill Vol 1 (2003) and 2 (2004)

Nameless, lonesome, and on a path of revenge, The Bride (Uma Thurman) ticks the vigilante checklist. Tarantino took the archetypal traits and repurposed them for a female protagonist, which gives the film its feeling of novelty. As expected, Kill Bill is packed with nods to classic revenge/vigilante films. Given Tarantino’s evident love of Sergio Leone, The Man With No Name feels like an influence throughout, as are the samurai films of old, which are invoked by the Japan-set sword-fighting climax in Vol 1. Kill Bill is classic Tarantino – cine-literate with just enough innovation to stand out.

The Driver – Drive (2011)

Drive is essentially a western in Modern LA. It has a cool, fresh look, yet it remains thoroughly rooted in the tradition of the classics of old – especially Shane. Like Alan Ladd’s hero, Ryan Gosling’s strong-but-silent Driver offers a powerful and stylish update on the cowboy figure. He decides to protect a family against an external threat. Unfortunately, aside from a beautiful romance story, Drive doesn’t do anything groundbreaking narratively. Still, it proves that the emotional hook carried by this type of character remains strong regardless of the setting.

Joe – You Were Never Really Here (2017)

Joaquin Phoenix cuts his teeth playing troubled, lonesome men, just like Robert De Niro did in the 70s and 80s. Therefore, it is no surprise that his portrayal of Joe, a veteran on the hunt for a young girl’s captors, is reminiscent of Taxi Driver. Lynne Ramsey captures a similar spirit as Scorsese’s classic but with a weird, expressionist style that will alienate some and delight others. You Were Never Really Here is proof that there is room for experimentation with the vigilante.

Cassandra – Promising Young Woman (2020)

Though The Bride is the more iconic character, Promising Young Woman is a notably female perspective on the revenge genre, which probably owes to the fact that it was directed by a woman, The Crown star Emerald Fennell. Though her character only really becomes a vigilante in the final act, like her predecessors, Cassandra is motivated by vengeance and frustration at the ineptitude of the legal system, in this case, for its inability to punish abusive men. It is a powerful film and an exciting departure from what we expect from the archetypal vigilante.

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