In the 20th century, the blonde fervor increased. Anita Loos published her 1925 novel 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' (later turned into the classic '50s film), and after the brown tendrils of cinema's great silent actresses, the '30s dropped a tantalizing bomb. Blondie Jean Harlow starred as sexpot Lola Burns in 'Bombshell,' becoming the first 'blonde bombshell' and ushering in a wave of tow-headed cinematic seductresses from Jayne Mansfield to Marilyn Monroe. For years, the double-B's reigned, though a new millennium and a Judi Dench film attempted to end the reign with 'The Last of the Blonde Bombshells.'
But instead of the end it was just cinematic limbo, as the new and improved blonde bombshells gained power, throwing aside the essential seduction for a characterization much closer to the phrase's warring roots.
These days, blonde bombshells have more fun not between the sheets, but in moments of strength. And it's not just a matter of muscled prowess.
As the new millennium crashed upon us, small-screen Buffy went to college and not only battled baddies, but found her inner intellectual rock star and dealt with the growing evil magic bursting from her best friend. On the big screen, Reese Witherspoon gave us the next 'Clueless' by taking the blond fashion fiend and giving her a Harvard education in 'Legally Blonde.'
Film and television had begun to re-frame the dumb blondes and bombshells into capable women who mixed old-school attraction with new school modernity. In 2003, The Bride took it a step further, making the unnamed female into an object of power desire rather than purely sexual desire in 'Kill Bill.' It might have been Quentin Tarantino's love letter to star Uma Thurman, but it was also a changing of the guard. (Reframing sexuality in warrior mode was tackled this year with 'Sucker Punch' as well, to much less success.)
As with most big societal changes these days, the war-centric change was most felt on television, with Buffy's reign leading into the detective awe brought on by Veronica Mars, the all-out toughness of a blond, female, butt-kicking Starbuck in 'Battlestar Galactica,' Rose Tyler kicking off a fervent revitalization of 'Doctor Who' and Sookie facing vamps on 'True Blood.' (Though, sadly, 'The Vampire Diaries' saw its blonde lead replaced with a Canadian brunette.)
But even through the last 10 years, there's been a sense of beauty and sexuality as the blonde bombshell became a warrior of muscle and mind ... until 2010. Chloe Moretz introduced the idea of pint-sized pieces of power as she stole the show as Hit Girl in 'Kick Ass' and then upped the ante as the troubled young vampire in 'Let Me In.' But it was another youth who really changed things.
Jennifer Lawrence burst onto the scene as Ree in 'Winter's Bone,' earning herself an Oscar nomination as the formidable girl from the Ozarks raising her family and trying to find her missing father before the law takes their land. As we discussed earlier this year, her power was completely desexualized and never over-the-top. Rather than creating a character who could never exist in our reality, she was a piece of reality, her power emanating not from swipes of the sword, but teaching her young siblings to hunt, skinning animals to keep her family fed and facing irascible drug dealers with unending courage.
She was a blonde bombshell of realistic power, and the perfect gateway to Saoirse Ronan and 'Hanna.' Out this week, the Joe Wright ('Atonement') film merges reality with larger-than-life fiction without ever falling into sexpot tropes. The film takes Hit Girl and re-imagines her without the bright colors and ridiculous comic backdrop. Hanna is an isolated snow dweller taught by her father to be the perfect assassin -- strong, intelligent, multilingual and focused. She is sent out on a deadly mission by dad and is soon slapped with revelations not only about the world at large, which she had only read about in books, but also her own existence.
As a 16-year-old assassin, she's not exactly a relatable figure, but Hanna's otherworldly presence and warring power come from a realistic place. Like Ree, she's a product of her surroundings, a girl with youthful urges who is forced to grow up early and quickly. She hunts prey for food, but is drawn to the magic of youthful ignorance. Existing outside of the sexualized pressure of media, she dresses sensibly -- this isn't Buffy fighting in PVC pants, or Kate Beckett running after bad guys in stilettos -- and she might have stunning blue eyes and blond locks, but she engages us with willful, unstoppable charisma rather than bustiers and skin-hugging ensembles.
Hanna's life is sad, but her journey is wildly engaging, and is, most certainly, a bombshell of action. Maybe that Dench film is wrong. It isn't that the blonde bombshell has disappeared, but that she has shed her sexually dependent skin and come to signify warring, youthful strength over stunning sexiness, finally finding the true power of her moniker.
A Moviefone.ca original.