the academic action hero

Previously I’ve discussed my love of lady action heroes. This week, a shout out to one of my other favorite character types: the academic action hero!

Probably the best known of these is Indiana Jones, though there is a tendency for the current era of filmmakers to forget what made him so appealing. He was Harrison Ford in his sexy charming scoundrel prime, yes, but he wasn’t a generic chisel-jawed action dude. He was an archaeology professor whose primary goal was to collect artifacts for a museum!

(Sidenote: It was a different era. I won’t get into the politics of stealing relics from other countries for Western museums.)

When we’re rooting for Indy we’re rooting for academia, for the preservation of knowledge, for public access to history rather than hoarding by private collectors or, you know, supernatural exploitation by the Nazis. He survives his adventures because he lacks greed and because he spent a lot of time studying before setting out. When the series imploded with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it was (amongst MANY OTHER REASONS) due to a misunderstanding of Indy as a character. Suddenly he’s mumbling out a backstory about his days in MI6. What?? We don’t need him to be a British secret agent. He isn’t James Bond. He’s an archaeologist and that’s cool enough.

In my opinion there aren’t nearly enough well-read subject experts in the action genre, but a few gems spring to mind. One of my favorite characters in general, and a solid heir to the Indiana Jones legacy, is Evy Carnahan from The Mummy.

Evy is a glorious academic nerd, and she is undeniably the hero of the movie. Rick O’Connell goes along for the ride and tries to come to her rescue after she ransoms herself into Imhotep’s clutches, but ultimately the day is saved thanks to Evy’s knowledge of Egyptology and her ability to swiftly translate hieroglyphics. Five years earlier, Daniel Jackson saved the day by translating hieroglyphics in Stargate, but he did not do it with the adorable charm of Evy Carnahan.

I would even lump the Ghostbusters into this category, because they started as a trio of college professors applying their theories in the field. Ray and Egon’s technobabble and droll reference to books like Tobin’s Spirit Guide are just as entertaining as Venkman’s “Let’s show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown,” or Winston’s “When somebody asks you if you’re a god, you say yes!”

Other examples of subject experts include Alan Grant and Ellie Sadler, John Constantine, Hermione Granger, even Doc Brown if you want to go that route. I love them all! Academic action heroes face supernatural and human threats, and they persevere not just through physical action, but by using their wits and their knowledge. I will always adore a great action sequence (Indy and Evy get plenty of those, too), but there is a special place in my heart for the professors and librarians and field researchers of the genre.

So do your studying!