It was as far back as Luc Besson’s 1990 Nikita where the popularity for a lone wolf, female assassin/vigilante/superspy probably begun. There had been female action films and television before that. The seventies had Pam Grier and Tamara Dobson, in Foxy Brown and Cleopatra Jones respectively.
Those two movies were part of the blaxploitation explosion of the seventies and, outside of the black community and film buffs, are probably not as well known as the likes of Nikita and, more recently, Atomic Blonde.
The niche genre has been popular and lucrative with the likes of 2010’s Angelina Jolie starrer Salt, 2014’s Lucy, another Luc Besson effort starring Scarlett Johansson, and even 2011’s Hanna with Saoirse Ronan. Some of the films have been popular enough to have spin-off television shows; Nikita, Hanna, the female-led actioner being even more popular on television.
A film I watched recently on Amazon Prime, a departure from my normal Netflix obsession, was Peppermint starring Jennifer Garner. Better known for the poorly received and executed, early Marvel character film, Elektra, Garner probably got the Elektra gig on the back of her starring role in Alias.
The J. J. Abrams show ran for five seasons, with Garner playing Sydney Bristow, a woman recruited straight out of college to be a super spy. In the strangely named Peppermint, Garner is Riley North, a widowed mother. When her husband, Chris (Jeff Hephner), is offered a chance to make a lot of money by stealing money from the local drug dealer, he declines.
Unfortunately, the dealer, Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), finds out that Micky (Chris Johnson) plans to steal from him. He also believes Chris is in on the job. He tortures and kills Micky. Cortez (Ian Casselberry) is watching Chris. He tells Garcia that he knows where he is. Garcia says to kill him.
Cortez and his crew shoot Chris and their daughter, Carly (Cailey Fleming) as they drive by. Riley, who lagged behind because she was buying a gift for the daughter, watches as they get killed. She is grazed by a bullet as she runs to toward them.
After spending a month in a coma, she awakens and tells detective Stan Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr.) that she knows who killed her family. Carmichael’s partner, detective Moises Beltran (John Ortiz), warns him about getting involved with any case related to Garcia.
They apprehend three of the gunmen and Riley identifies them. Riley is visited at her home by Henderson (Michael Mosley), the lawyer for Garcia’s men. He offers to pay her off. She refuses. At the court case, aided by Judge Stevens (Jeff Harlan), Henderson gets the men acquitted. Riley is furious and gets arrested for contempt of court. She escapes and disappears.
Five years later she returns to LA and Garcia’s men start dying. She kills the gunmen, the judge, lawyer and goes after the drug houses. Detectives Carmichael and Ortiz find out she is back in LA and contact FBI agent, Lisa Inman (Annie Ilonzeh) who had been searching for her some years before.
They find out she has acquired a lot of military weapons and race to find her. Garcia also knows who she is after as well, needing to kill her as he is getting pressure from the Cartel drug lords. Riley continues to kill Garcia’s crew and then comes for him. He escapes and turns the tables on her, going to where she lives, amongst the vagrants and street kids, to find her.
Riley returns to her patch and begins killing his men, even though she is hopelessly outnumbered. She sees that detective Gallagher is a crooked cop. Garcia threatens to kill one of the street kids in order to flush her out. Riley comes forward. Garcia beats her up but is prevented by killing her when the police turn up in numbers.
Garcia kills Gallagher and runs. Riley catches up with him and kills him and disappears. Beltran finds her by her family’s graves. She is arrested. Beltran visits her in the hospital where she is recovering, handcuffed to the bed, still under arrest. He gives her a key to the cuffs. The end.
Peppermint is an entertaining film, with Garner demonstrating her action chops once again. At one hundred minutes runtime, the film hurtles along at a good pace, Garner a strong enough lead in a revenge thriller by numbers. Written by Chad St. John, the script is serviceable, hitting all the necessary beats and allowing for directorial flourishes.
Directed by Pierre Morel, the film looks good and the action sequences are well executed. With the story very much following the old school Chinese kung fu film formula – ‘I trained for five long years to avenge my family!’ – Peppermint is Jennifer Garner’s film. You believe that she would and could become a determined, killing machine in the mode of Linda Hunt’s Sarah Connor.
Attractive enough for movies, whilst also being androgynous enough to sell the violence of some of the roles she has been in, Garner is the sole reason to watch this film. That is not to say that the other actors are bad, far from it. It is just that, except maybe Juan Pablo Raba’s Garcia, the rest of the characters are not particularly interesting and are mostly there to die or advance the plot.
Peppermint – still have no idea why it called that – is a good enough action film. Not as good as Atomic Blonde, but way better than Tomb Raider. Worth a look.