Is a Garner renaissance upon us? And if so, should it come with such a particular set of skills?
In J. J. Abrams’s espionage thriller series Alias, Jennifer Garner solidified her status as a bona fide action heroine who donned disguises, kicked ass, and took names as a double agent for the CIA. The show lasted five seasons from the early to mid-2000s. Garner was nominated for four Emmys, and she won a plethora of other awards for her portrayal of Sydney Bristow, including a Golden Globe and a SAG Award. The role she played has also ranked as one of the most memorable and well-regarded female characters on television.
As great as it was, Alias unfortunately gave Garner her only memorable action role. She did have a short-lived stint as the Marvel character Elektra, though her talents were sorely wasted in the 2003 rendition of Daredevil as well as her own eponymous movie that came out two years later. Garner also had a role in Peter Berg’s slightly more grounded terrorist action thriller The Kingdom.
Garner really transitioned from television to film by landing a slew of comedies, many of them being of the romantic variety. Only one of these – 13 Going on 30 – is definitively amazing. Her other romcom efforts (Catch and Release, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Valentine’s Day) failed to capture any sort of acclaim. Eventually, Garner also became known for portraying awesome moms, notably in Juno and Love, Simon, amidst roles in several dramas such as Dallas Buyers Club and Wakefield.
After more than 10 years away from action roles, I don’t know if I necessarily envisioned Garner returning to the genre at all. However, her upcoming film Peppermint could hint at a sort of revitalization for her.
The new trailer for the movie, which is the latest action vehicle from Taken director Pierre Morel, features everything we could ever expect from a high-octane revenge flick. Peppermint tracks Garner’s protagonist, Riley North, and her quest for justice after the death of her husband and daughter in a cartel-related drive-by shooting. After the perpetrators get away scot free due to the intervention of several corrupt officials, Riley takes things into her own hands and becomes a vigilante to exact revenge.
Watch it here:
Perhaps the trailer reveals way too much about Peppermint’s relatively simple plot, but is it all that bothersome when this movie clearly aims to be a rollicking good time? Clearly, Morel has the action genre down pat with some slick set pieces lined up within the confines of an obvious black-and-white morality. He hasn’t really delivered on different archetypes in any of his action movies, so Garner’s character could very well end up similar to Liam Neeson’s in Taken and Sean Penn’s in The Gunman. Nevertheless, Garner, who goes through a variety of costume changes and haircuts and colors in the trailer alone, still cuts a cool silhouette in Peppermint as a woman hell-bent on wreaking havoc on those who took her family from her.
In this post-John Wick world that we live in, the similar undertones shared between the Keanu Reeves-led franchise and Peppermint cannot be ignored. After all, Reeves, who is another icon from 20 years ago, received a much-needed boost to his career after portraying the Baba Yaga. Even “Riley North” rings true as an alias (incredibly, the pun is unintentional) similar to “John Wick,” one that sounds a little too catchy to be real name but something we’re meant to remember.
In this regard, Peppermint could very well serve as a similar sort of adrenaline rush for Garner’s filmography, just as John Wick served Reeves, even as Taken served Neeson. Of course, despite being an erstwhile action star, Garner’s talents as a dramatic actor ought to also be celebrated. Her work in Wakefield allows her to deliver a silent powerhouse performance, but is woefully underwritten in favor of Bryan Cranston’s unlikeable protagonist. As the anxious mother-to-be and the well-adjusted support system in Juno and Love, Simon, respectively, Garner commands the screen as the mom you wish was your own, yet she isn’t the protagonist of those movies.
Upsettingly, Garner ultimately suffers from the eerie predicament that many forty-something-year-old actresses find themselves in – the ones who are merely relegated to the roles of mom or wife, and that’s it. Naomi Watts has been in a similar predicament despite the amount of work she has lined up at any given time.
So as trope-filled and repetitive as action movies can be, the stark shift in genre will no doubt prove to be a welcome change of pace that Garner hasn’t seen in a long time. This will hopefully remind the masses that she can be transformative onscreen. Nevertheless, part of me also wants more for Garner and doesn’t just want to be reminded of Sydney Bristow whenever she’s on screen. The catch-22 situation of her starring in an action film is thus evident – is she stuck in the past or heralding a new era for herself?
The fact that Garner can feature in Love, Simon and star in Peppermint in 2018 alone signals a kind of versatility that Hollywood should employ more frequently. Furthermore, she has a voiceover role in an upcoming animated adventure comedy called Wonder Park that’s due out in 2019. But if action movies really are the default mode of rebirth in the film industry, let’s hope that it actually leads to something great for Garner.