The other night I was enjoying a good old-fashion Pabt’s Blue Ribbon while watching an adrenaline-packed classic, Commando. While watching Schwarzenegger duel-wielding machine guns and being a bad-ass I realized something unnerving…the action hero is dead.
Let’s be honest, when’s the last time we saw an actor be the resident bad-ass, the over-the-top, shoots first ask questions later type of character every guy on the planet idolized and grew up watching? The action hero epitomized the American male; arrogant, strong, and well versed in females and the art of explosions. Growing up in the 90s we were blessed with the likes of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Van Damme, Seagal, heck even the Latin community had Antonio Banderas. Each actor would be in blockbuster movies that were short on acting, high on action.
What made Arnold and Stallone so wonderful to watch was a unique combination of horrendous acting mixed with over-the-top in your face action sequences that immediately made you forget about the below average dialogue being used all movie long. The action hero was the center of the 80s and 90s movie industry with Stallone and Co. paving the way for hulking, over-masculine lead roles. The action hero clearly filled Hollywood’s void for action along with American culture’s need for a leading man to be just that man; an amplified steroid-fueled beast specializing in terminating bad guys and seducing the girl. The action hero was as simply as I can put it, purely American. In my eyes the action hero at was the epicenter of how America is sometimes viewed and in turn views themselves.
Over the decades, there has always been a leading actor fitting the mold of a stone-cold womanizing killer. First, it was John Wayne, then Steve McQueen, followed by Clint Eastwood, after Eastwood passed the torch to Stallone and Co. we were left without a true action hero. The American culture has always adored such a role. Men would vicariously identify themselves with their favorite actor and women would be smitten by what else…his pure bred masculinity.
However, somewhere along the way in the 21st century, Hollywood shifted away from the muscle-bound likes of the Stallones, the Van Dammes, and the Governators of the industry towards a more ‘marketable’ ‘friendly’ role for leading men. The action realm of Hollywood has now been replaced with comic/video game inspired movies to fulfill our American desire for action-packed thrill rides. I’ll be honest, as a nerd I’m not complaining but as an action movie purist I’m a little upset by the lack of creativity and absence of a resident machine gun -wielding bad-ass in Hollywood. The milder form of action presented in comic/video game driven films is enjoyable, but as an American male I yearn for a non-stop, un-filtered action movie.
The action hero needs an over abundance of action and stellar special effects along with an audience with a passion for violence. I fear that somewhere along the lines the American population grew bored with the brand of action movies Hollywood was producing. Along the way the growing amount of teeny boppers took control and a demand for more of a skinny boy-band-esque, dare I say ‘non-threatening’ leading man took over. And subtly the action hero passed away without any of us ever taking note of it. The funerals of our legendary heroes were swept away by Californian politics, the Belgian abyss, and Rocky Balboa continuations cementing the end of a saga.
Nowadays the closest we get to an action hero is, Jason Statham. Statham is definitely capable of playing the bad-ass, over-the-top action role i.e., The Transporter series and his Crank’d movies. However, I can’t say he is a true action hero simply because Jason Statham can actually act. His work in a number of Guy Ritchie films along with some scene-stealing performances in a variety of American films (The Italian Job, Killer Elite, and The Mechanic) unfortunately takes him out of the conversation.
Although, the lone hope for my beloved action heroes is an on screen retirement home in the upcoming sequel of the wickedly entertaining, Expendables, where all our favorite action heroes from past decades share the screen with one goal in mind: to blow things up. As excited as I am to see Chuck Norris round-house someone’s face off I’m also extremely disappointed that it takes a collaborative effort from retired action-stars to produce a classic action film. No one has truly seized the role nor filled the void left over from Stallone and Co., even though I admire their combined efforts to bring an explosion and testosterone filled action movie to the silver screen.
Perhaps, after Hollywood is done (or better yet, America is) with the superhero phase, then maybe we’ll see the rise of another action hero. One more muscle-bound actor terrorizing the big screen with terrible acting, but winning us all over with his uncanny ability to walk away back turned, completely unfazed from a two block-sized explosion behind him. Who knows, maybe Justin Bieber will start using steroids over the next decade, then maybe we can see the bridge between fan-friendly and killing machine truly completed. Until, then I’ll continue drinking an ice cold American beer while watching my classic action heroes on cable T.V.