Whatever happened to action movies?

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An interesting and thought-provoking piece today over at about the unbearable heft of the latter-day action movie – as you may reasonably fear, it set me thinking…

The premise of Simon Brew’s feature is that contemporary action movies fail because they have concerns which are impossible to relate to – who, amongst us, will ever be called upon to duke it out with our giant robot buddies and face off against meaner, bigger robots in a tumultuous struggle to save our very planet?

There can be no inherent suspense or drama in a premise like that because we can’t relate to it – we can only behold it, with mouths wide and brains in idle, as one would take in a theme park ride.  As an audience, we’re hostages to which ever kitchen sinks the film maker chooses to lob at us (in 3D!).

It wasn’t always this way.

A man of thought and action in nice Tweed - that's what's missing nowadays...

Harrison Ford used to own the summer movie-going season by playing broadly plausible, fallible and identifiable action heroes who were at least as gifted with thought as talented with fists.   Indiana Jones, Jack Ryan, Dr Richard Kimble – not an indestructible, CG-assisted, weightless sketch drawing of a character amongst them.  If you wanted a moderately grumpy voice of reason who could kick your ass and fix your roof, Ford was your man.

I love a superhero movie as much as the next nerd but I have to confess that the last couple of decades have robbed the honest-to-goodness action movie of a lot of its impact – why would you pay your cash to see an actor in their thirties foil conspiracy and bust crooked cops when you can have a quippy stud in a unitard fling cars and thunderbolts at your barely believing noggin (in IMAX!)?

This isn’t a thinly veiled pitch for a return to the glory days of Shane Black penned, acerbic crime thrillers (Hell, even the Black-meister’s now writing and directing the third Iron Man for Marvel, which actually seems like a good fit), as that era had more than it’s fair share of unwatchable crap.  But it would be nice to balance out the CG juggernauts with smaller scale action fare which has a more human-sized premise to induce mayhem and reduce metropolitan property values for our entertainment.

Perhaps our collective world view is now so jaded that a nineties action movie can’t seem like anything but a quaint remainder of when film directors really had to blow things up with practical explosions as opposed to giving Chip, the ILM work experience guy a plate and letting him go nuts with his PC.  I’d like to think not – but a glance at this summer’s putative blockbusters-in-waiting is short on old school action heroes and big on funny book follies.

You’ve got your Jeremy Renner rebooted “Bourne” spin-off, soon-come Superman Henry Cavill in “Bourne”-like The Cold Light of Day and the unapologetically retro sequel to old school icon Sly Stallone‘s “The Expendables” to look forward to if you prefer to have your asses kicked by veterans rather than n00bs, but the real-world action is thin on the ground this year.

I’ll be honest with you – I love my Sci-Fi, horror and fantasy, but I miss the 80’s and 90’s lunk heads, heroes from a time when all you really needed to make it big in Hollywood was a dubious mullet, noxious reactionary politics and a million-dollar grin.

"Go on, mention 'Tooth Fairy' one more time..."

My point, and I think I do have one, is this – why the hell isn’t Dwayne Johnson doing this kind of stuff and being the biggest movie star in the world?

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1 Comment

Filed under Films, Geekery

One response to “Whatever happened to action movies?

  1. Ya know, this same thought passed through my head not to long ago. I miss me some good ol easy to watch fun action flicks. Ever since The Matrix it’s been all down hill. I would love me a good grizzled up antihero blowing stuff up in the theaters a good handful of times a year. Even something along the lines of Drive, which was a mindblowingly amazing movie.
    On a side note, you need to see a movie called The Raid. Best action/martial arts movie I’ve seen in years. You will not be disappointed, trust me.

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