A blog about movies and filmmaking.

Today’s action heroes, yesterday’s replacements…

In Actors on June 3, 2009 at 4:59 am

So, there was a discussion started this week – initiated by Dan Trachtenberg from The Totally Rad Show and then broadened in a post on /Film – about who today’s action stars are in relation to the stars of the past. (Examples were Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, as the new Arnold Schwarzenegger, etc.) And while I know that this is just a fun game, to test out how and where people place the icons of today (if we really want to consider Shia LaBeouf an icon), I kind of have this itch to call the whole argument false. 

First of all, the whole game changed for action movies in 1987 and 1988. These were the years that the pumped up, over-muscled performers gave way to almost as immortal, yet more realistic action heroes. Namely, Sergeant Roger Murtaugh and Martin Riggs, in LETHAL WEAPON and Officer John McClane in DIE HARD. These two movies spawned and became the formula for pretty much every action movie we’ve gotten since. In these movies we saw the every-men of Danny Glover, Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis do things that had until then been reserved mainly for the over-buffed bodies of Arnold (who really came on the scene in 82 with CONAN THE BARBARIAN, and it’s sequels, then into THE TERMINATOR.) and Sylvester Stallone, who obviously became famous with his Rocky movies and gaining action star acclaim with his John Rambo character. 

If anything, I see Schwarzenegger as the end to an era. He was essentially any and all action star up to that point, stuffed like a sausage into one over-developed and highly refined, person. If you think back to the bigger stars of cinema’s history, the cool guys, the ones who’d shoot to kill and look good doing it; those were usually guys that really didn’t have much more to bring to the table, other than what they looked like and how they presented themselves. I don’t know that anyone can really argue that Humphrey Bogart or Steve McQueen were actually great actors. And as much as I love Clint Eastwood, he’s really only got the scowl and the gravelly voice but beyond that…what? So, all this boiled up and gave us Arnold Schwarzenegger, the perfect specimen of 1980’s tough and indestructible. I mean, this man could never be someone that was a normal guy that got caught up in an unusual circumstance. He’s a special forces commando, of course he is. He’s a spy working for a gang-leader on Mars, makes perfect sense. A Machine from the future, bent on destroying humanity? I could have told you that. A normal police officer, on vacation? Um, yeah, ok; don’t buy that. It was a hard enough concept to take in TRUE LIES where he was living the double life of a spy and a normal husband. I mean, how can you be married to that guy and not think that he’s something a little more than a computer salesman or whatever his cover job was? IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE! And that’s why Arnold will never, and can never be replaced or duplicated or have anyone overtake his thrown as the “King of Action”. I mean, he even made a movie called THE LAST ACTION HERO!! 

Stallone, I see as the sort of go-between. Because he started out – in mainstream movies – writing his own script, which was made; got him quite a bit of attention and he’s profited from that ever since. He does have a modicum of talent (as has only been exhibited a number of times – I’d say mostly recently with 1997’s COP LAND and more recently with ROCKY BALBOA, which I thought really brought the most depth to that character after the previous five films), and has been able to use both to play a number of roles. And unlike Arnold, he’s a little more believable as an “every man”. 

So, then, bringing this back around, we get to the new wave of action. And that leads us to our current crop. We’ve got “The Rock”, Statham, Butler, LaBeouf, Vin Diesel and Matt Damon (as the examples, I remember being given from the other examples.). And I have to say that they’re mostly all talented people who have just found their way into working in the action genre. They’re not really anything special, they can play pretty much any role and be anyone. That’s the epitome of John McClane. 

The one standout, and the only one I can really say falls in line with one of the “previous generation” is Vin Diesel. And in comparing him to one of the past icons, I have to say he’s the new Stallone. He gained attention by originally writing and directing his own movies; which lead to him getting cast in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, and then the RIDDICK movies and the little known gem THE IRON GIANT, before then going into XXX and FAST AND FURIOUS territory. I’ve not seen FIND ME GUILTY, where he’s not supposed to be an action star, but I think that with the right role, sometime in the future, we’ll see some Stallone-caliber performances (interpret that however you want).

But, pretty much everyone else; they’re all Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson.


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