The badass has a rich history in American cinema. The badass is a loner and he is not to be trifled with. The badass drinks too much and has an ex-wife. Regrets? He has a few. But that’s the life of the badass. Clint Eastwood and John Wayne perfected the Western Badass. We could argue for days about whether Bruce Willis in Die Hard or Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon made a better Cop Badass. Humphrey Bogart is the undisputed Private Eye Badass.
The past decade has seen the emergence of two more badasses by my count. The first is the maverick Stickup Badass. There is only one and his name is Omar Little from The Wire. But the other, I believe, began in earnest with the Bourne movies. Matt Damon gave birth to the CIA Badass. Liam Neeson upheld the tradition in the Taken movies. Denzel Washington has codified it with The Equalizer.
There are a few rules that are specific to the CIA Badass.
The CIA Badass has a shady background in – you guessed it – the CIA.
This is obvious, but needs to be stated because the suits at Langley don’t even want to know what this guy did! Jesus Christ, man, we could lose our jobs just talking about it now! We, the audience, then have free reign to project any and all skills onto this badass. He can take an instant inventory of the pertinent details of his surroundings and formulate an attack plan. That’s textbook. Ability to kill five men at once in less than thirty seconds? Of course! I mean, he’s from the CIA. Black Ops! Do you know what that means? No, of course you don’t. It’s vague. That’s why it’s totally badass!
The CIA Badass is fastidious and austere.
The CIA Badass dispenses with bad guys with the humorless efficiency of an accountant doing taxes on April 14th. Excess words and possessions would only slow him down.
The CIA Badass has done some things he is not proud of.
How can you be a CIA Badass and not have killed a bunch of innocent people in Latin America or the Middle East or, like, somewhere else? The CIA Badass probably made friends with a local who he then betrayed and had executed along with his family. He was just following orders. That’s when the CIA Badass first started wondering what it is we’re doing here. It’s probably why he finds it hard to get close to anyone.
The CIA Badass has a vaguely European adversary.
The adversary is either German or Russian (Turkish if you’re feeling saucy). The adversary is strong and well trained. Granted, the CIA Badass’s adversary is never as well trained as he is. It’s as if the CIA Badass went to the Harvard of Badass and his adversary went to Cornell. Sure, they’re both in the Ivy League, but come on. Is there really a question about who’s going to come out on top?
In The Equalizer, our adversary is a Russian hit-man with a British accent played by Marton Csokas (who tried to kill Jason Bourne in The Bourne Supremacy). He’s covered in prison tattoos and looks like a cross between Kevin Spacey and Hitler. He’s menacing and looks like he enjoys sipping espresso in his Aston Martin, but clearly he is no match for the badass.
The CIA Badass is still walking away from explosions without looking.
Yeah, it’s a cliché but who the hell said that a cliché can’t be completely badass?
The CIA Badass never loses a step. That’s how ingrained his skill set is.
The CIA Badass’s last mission could have been 15 or 20 years ago, but he’s as sharp as he ever was. Is the badass being played by an actor who is almost sixty? No matter! He’s quicker than each of the Russian bodyguards who’s sole purpose in life is to kill people trying to get to his boss.
It’s his CIA training that saves his life every time! That and regular colorectal cancer screenings. Even the Russian mafia knows that it’s one of the most preventable cancers. Seriously, if you’re over 50, talk to your doctor. Badass!
The CIA Badass is trying to save a girl.
She’s an innocent drifter who got mixed up with the wrong people. The CIA Badass can help, but he can’t get too close. If he gets too close, godammit, she might get killed! Don’t you remember the tragic elements of your back story?!
The CIA Badass has a contact who is still in the CIA.
“Look, I can’t give you much but here’s a small but vital piece of information that furthers the plot. Now, you have to leave mysteriously,” said the CIA contact.
Look back at Washington’s career. Besides Glory and Malcolm X, he played a ton of cops. Good cops. It makes sense that he’s graduated to the role of the wise, skilled protector. An iconic actor deserves to epitomize an iconic role.
Oh, and how was The Equalizer? I think you know the answer.