I’ve often imagined what Angelina Jolie films would be like if they starred Lucy Lawless. Tomb Raider was in a manner envisioned for the Kiwi television icon—it’s a film based on a video game character, who was in turn inspired and made possible by the groundbreaking heroine Lawless created the year before in the syndicated television epic Xena: Warrior Princess.
We forget now—after Buffy, Lara Croft and their increasingly pallid descendents—how recently women started kicking ass and how the ass kicking kick-started with Xena. If Lawless had played Lara Croft more girls would have taken up archaeology. As depicted by Jolie, raiding tombs looked like the most boringest job ever.
As Walter Matthau said of Lillian Hellman, Jolie is “as seductive as a large bowl of oatmeal.” She turns stealing cars, being a hitwoman, and even belonging to the orgiastic cult of Dionysius into chores to be approached with detached and botoxed disdain, and I’ve pined often, when Jolie pops up onscreen, for the non-ironic glee with which Lawless embodies eros and toughness.
I’m glad she’s back on TV. Lawless’s performance in Spartacus: Blood and Sand leaves no doubt that Alexander would have been a hit if Oliver Stone anointed Lawless as Queen Olympias instead of Jolie. Lawless is the brand, as they say, in this reboot of Spartacus, and for good reason. She retains the voluptuous beauty she had as Xena (now accented by a more colorful wardrobe) and more importantly, the bold shamelessness. Xena, which had low production value and likely necessitated the coinage of “cringeworthy,” charmed audiences because every time Lawless struck a well-placed, slapstick blow against evil, she broke out a brazen, infectious smile. Though Spartacus has inherited none of the lighthearted fantasy of Xena, Lawless is equally brazen.