But absurdity is only part of the problem here. CIA agent Evelyn Salt (played by Angelina Jolie) has no other personality traits besides the fact that she’s highly trained in all kinds of elite skills.
Cinematic depictions of spies devoid of engaging personalities are no novelty. In fact, with the exception of James Bond, more often than not, cinematic spies tend to provide more authenticity when they are not weighed down with personality traits at levels best left to proverbial used car salespeople and late night discount electronics peddlers.
David Denby of The New Yorker had this to say regarding Salt’s personality:
Jolie’s unending stare says that Evelyn Salt is impervious; her cool lies in how little she responds to what happens to her. She’s an advanced fighting machine, an attempt at instant myth. I find her iciness repellent, yet she certainly dominates the movie.
“No other personality traits” and “iciness”? Damn it, Evelyn Salt, why won’t you smile more? You’re a woman for goodness sake; it’s about time you started acting like one! Running for your life or halting nuclear annihilation rarely affords one the opportunity to present their most engaging selves, yet, somehow Evelyn Salt is asked to rehab her personality into something more recognizably female - lest she be mistaken for an “advanced fighting machine”. We certainly wouldn’t want that. What would the neighbors think? Curiously, in Jason Bourne or Jack Ryan, the level of somberness and technical proficiency is considered a refreshing departure from previous characterization of spies, which seemed to involve more bed hopping and hobnobbing than actual intel gathering or plot thwarting.
Salt is certainly not without flaws. To quote famed film critic Pauline Kael, “Great movies are rarely perfect movies.” Salt isn’t even great, but it is quite good, which is fine. As a summery, action thriller, it doesn’t have to be. That said, remarks regarding Evelyn Salt’s personality are not productive critiques of the film’s deficits, particularly when they are based on extremely flawed, essentialist notions of gender. A far bigger concern is the way in which Salt traffics in reductive Cold War tropes, and positions Russian baddies as two dimensional enemies, who the audience is expected to dislike merely because they are Russian. It’s uninspired writing and far more toxic to the overall enjoyment of the film than Salt’s unwillingness to giggle and jiggle while kicking all kinds of ass.