A scene from HaywireRecent years have brought several films featuring tough, female protagonists that out match their male opponents in every contest, whether they faceoff physically or mentally. Stars of this action subgenre have included Angelina Jolie, Kate Beckinsale and Milla Jovovich. But the vicious fight scenes in Haywire show former MMA fighter Gina Carano could match, and maybe even take, the best of them (at least physically).

Mallory (Carano) works for a private security company, which is code for mercenaries-for-hire. In the opening mission, the former marine uses her skills to lead a team and secretly rescue a man held hostage by armed criminals. She’s one of the best in the business, having built a reputation around her professionalism and success rate. However, someone’s decided it’s time for her to retire – permanently. When the assassination attempt fails she begins to follow the trail back to the source of the order, seeking answers and revenge.

The power and brutality of the fights between Mallory and her male opponents are astounding as they barely appear (or sound) staged. No mercy is shown on either side as the men, aware and wary of her abilities, often try to steal the advantage by employing the element of surprise – only to find themselves defeated in the end anyway. While the men can successfully overpower her using brute strength, she employs years of training and patience to be the last one standing. But not to be mistaken with Wonder Woman, she wears the evidence of her battles, including a severely swollen jaw and various cuts and bruises, throughout the picture.

Though the leading lady may be unfamiliar (at least to those unacquainted with the television series American Gladiators), most of the men are quite recognizable, such as Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton and Michael Fassbender. Each of them play an important, though relatively small, role in the narrative and half of them take on Carano one-on-one. Tatum’s character opens the film almost as confused as the audience about what is happening, but that doesn’t stop him from fighting Mallory tooth and nail. Similarly, Fassbender’s battle with the actress is convincingly about survival, which translates to a no holds barred throw down.

Director Steven Soderbergh brings his signature style to the picture, employing music, fast editing and flashbacks to tell the story. However, it doesn’t always work. The instrumental tunes similar to those used in Ocean’s 11 distract from the adrenaline-fuelled action on the screen. The artsy black-and-white sequence is also uncharacteristic of this genre, but adds a unique element to the picture. In any case, most of the stylistic elements are generally intrusive to the narrative, which is only really solid when someone is getting their butt kicked. At other times, the story slows to nearly a crawl, making subtle discoveries along the way. The most significant flaw is the forced exposition as Mallory explains previous events to an uninitiated civilian on a whim; if necessary, this information would have been better relayed to her father.

Constantly being taken out of the film by mismatched music or technique made it a challenge to watch, but did not diminish the physical accomplishments of the actors (and fight coordinators).

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