Looking Back On, And Forward To Nikita

June 3, 2010

While I’ll probably never be able to choose between The Professional (or “Léon” for all you anal-retentive purists!) and The Fifth Element, as to which is my favorite Luc Besson movie, it seems his most enduring contribution to the world of pop culture will forever be his sexy spy thriller, La Femme Nikita (or just “Nikita” for all you anal-retentive purists!). Twenty years later, there’s still a demand for beautiful, highly trained women who refuse to be pawns in international spy games. Even J.J. Abrams’ Alias owes a good deal of credit to Nikita. Not only are we getting a new series based on the Besson film, but even ABC wants to remake the series that put Jennifer Garner on the map. So if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to take a look back at Nikita in all her forms and iterations.

Nikita (1990)
When your cast includes Tchéky Karyo and Jean Reno, you’re already dealing with highly toxic levels of “badass”. Throw in the French-fueled sexiness of Anne Parillaud, some stylish gunplay, and you’ve got quite the fun little action flick on your hands. Yanks can crack jokes all they want, when the chips are down, Frenchies can kick all sorts of ass. I knew all bets were off during the police interrogation scene at the beginning of the film, in which a detective asks Parillaud’s drugged-out Paris punk her name, to which she responds by stabbing him in the hand with a pencil and defiantly screaming out “NIKITA!!!!!”. Of course this scene is almost immediately followed by her receiving a death sentence for murdering a cop, and sobbingly calling out for her mother during her faked execution. It was that conflict within the character that would drive the rest of the film, with several scenes of her struggling with her new life; finding freedom and empowerment in it, as well as questioning the morality of her actions.

Point Of No Return (1993)
Americans remaking foreign films is nothing new, nor is doing it so quickly after the original films. But I actually have a soft spot for Point of No Return. Yes, they missed a golden opportunity to include the Exposé song of the same name on the soundtrack, and yes, it’s a shot-for-shot remake that made little to no effort to add to what Besson did with Nikita, but I feel like that’s part of the fun for me. This isn’t like Gus Van Sant remaking Psycho. That film was already a long-standing cinematic classic that furthermore hinged on its shock ending, and the directorial flair of Alfred Hitchcock. When your intent is to blatantly copy what that film did, you’re really missing the point. Le Femme Nikita, as great a film as it is, didn’t really have that air about it. And much like that cast of that film, Point of No Return gets points for having its share of heavy hitters. I actually prefer Gabriel Byrne as Bob to Karyo. Not only was he able to pull off cold and menacing (I still wince when he shoots Maggie in the leg after she tries to escape), but he balances that out from time to time, being personable and inviting in a few scenes. Not to mention the inclusions of Anne Bancroft and Harvey Keitel, who effortlessly took on Jean Reno’s part as Victor the Cleaner. And a fun bit of trivia, before Bridget Fonda was cast, the lead was offered to Julia Roberts! Now that would have been funny! (in the worst way possible!)

La Femme Nikita: The Series (1997 – 2001)
For a show that was produced for the USA Network, could La Femme Nikita be more Canadian?!?! Catching up on the series on DVD, it’s baffling to see random Canadian actors credited as “special guest stars” as if American audiences would know who the flying fuck they were! Hell, I doubt even Canadian audiences even gave a rat’s ass! I don’t think any of them were screaming excitedly at their televisions during that one episode when the guy who played Lacroix on Forever Knight was on! But that’s the beauty of Canadian-produced shows, there really are countless towns and cities that can double for other countries, and it’s gotten to the point where they can double for whole other planets, as evidenced by repeated use of the same forest landscape on Stargate SG-1! In any event, the makers of the series decided Nikita could stand to be a bit more butch, and hired Amazonian Aussie actress Peta Wilson, thus securing a strong lesbian fanbase for the series. The sexual tension between her and her handler Michael always seemed to be rivaled by the tension between her and a slew of female guest stars, including Gina Torres. To be fair though, every character on that show was horny as all get-out, and countless operational decisions were motivated by sexual frustration and romantic jealousy. That’s a lot of bullshit baggage to be carrying around when you’re supposed to be focused on saving the world!!! The showrunners ultimately went on to produce another little spy show you might have heard of . . . I think it was called 24, or something like that?

And now we’ve caught up to present day with CW’s new offering, Nikita (Are you anal-retentive purists happy now?!?), which comes off a bit like a pseudo-sequel to the USA series. This time around, we’ve got Margaret Quigley (better known as Maggie Q) in the title role, having been on the run from the covert agency, Division, for the past few years, and now wants to wage war on them. I’ll give them points for the casting, ’cause I’ve yet to see a Maggie Q movie were she ISN’T kicking somebody’s ass. But Shane West in the Michael/Bob role is gonna be a tough pill to swallow. He’s no Tchéky Karyo, or Gabriel Byrne, or even Roy Dupuis! He still skews very young to me, and even younger than Q, which would make no sense if he was supposed to be her former handler. What’s next, we’re gonna cast Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane? (oh, wait. . . .damn). Still, it should be worth checking out.


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