Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Wussification of Hollywood

Did you ever wonder what happened to action films? Why are action films produced today so inferior to the cinema of yesteryear? Is the action film industry "dead"? The answer to the last question is of course not; action films have not gone the way of the Western or Musical into becoming a Hollywood oddity. So-called "action films" are still produced every year, but bear almost no resemblance to the early films of the genre. 

The "action film" originated from the popular Western films of the 1950's, basically taking the premise of a Western and expanding its time and geographic location from the 19th century American West to virtually anywhere. The tenets of the film remained the same however; a tough and intuitive leading man, an attractive romantic interest, an unsympathetic villian, and a struggle against difficult odds. For the several decades following the 1950's this pattern remained constant and as Westerns steadily declined in the American consciousness, action films exploded in popularity. Each decade was defined by it's biggest action star
1960's                                         1970's
1980's                                         1990's                                        
The nationalities, backgrounds, and motivations of the stars varied, but in the end they all embodied the primary action hero archetype: an unapologetic, macho character who got things done his way. With this in mind, I now give you the ascendant Hollywood star of today
Yes. Shia Labeouf, whose acting credits include Even Stevens and Holes has been singled out the by powers  that be in Hollywood to spearhead two of the most lucrative franchises in cinema: Indiana Jones and Transformers. These producers could not have made a bigger mistake.

Is it Labeouf's fault that he is a poor choice for action-oriented roles? Is he to blame for allowing Sam Witwicky to steal screen time from Optimus Prime? Actually no. The problem is that Hollywood doesn't produce action stars anymore; it produces actors who do action movies. Please, let me explain.

Actors and actresses today when interviewing to talk about their upcoming action films gush about how they "got in such great shape to do this film" and "how exciting it was to do an action film!". Dramatic actors, comedic actors, shitty actors all alike do action films these days, but Hollywood is virtually devoid of true purebred action stars. The thing that made Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone special was that it was odd when they didn't do action films. They never talked about getting in shape or how awesome it was to be in an action film when interviewing because being gigantic, muscular shit-kicking men was simply their role of choice. Action stars of yesteryear were terrible in tripe like Junior or Stop! Or my Mom will shoot!, and they knew it. Less obsessed with crossover appeal than today's actors, action stars of the past were content to remain in their natural genre. Arnold Schwarzenegger would never pretend to become a regular actor, but today regular actors are pretending to be Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Here is the current crop of other actors who have appeared in recent "action films"
All good actors in their chosen fields: cocky ladies man, psycho, and Boston townie respectively. But none are born action stars.And audiences know this. The paucity of "name" action stars in Hollywood has contributed to the relative decline of action movies in general. From 1988-2000 Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise, or Mel Gibson acted in one of the top ten grossing films in America every year. It was the appeal of these actors that drove box office grosses. Do you ever hear any of your friends today say, "We need to see the new Channing Tatum film! He's such a badass!" Nope.

The lack of a new generation of "name" action stars rising to replace the old guard has forced the stars of the 1980's to soldier on making films reminiscent of their heyday. Bruce Willis makes Live Free or Die Hard, Harrison Ford reboots Indiana Jones, Sylvester Stallone stars in The Expendables. These are all game efforts, but at what point does it become ridiculous to watch AARP-aged men beat villains half their age? The evolution of the sensitive, often internally conflicted may have given new opportunities to less-orthodox "action stars", but it has left many action fans (myself included) vexed at the lack of traditional action stars to satiate out need for mindless violence and unapologetic badassery.

Of course one could connect this alarming film trend to changing values in America and conclude that the action stars of yesterday are a relic that will reappear only in the American consciousness like Westerns; a curiosity more than a mainstream draw. I am not so pessimistic, because it appears there is one actor who is worthy of rising to the action star throne;
The Rock is the best choice to rise as the new action star of our generation because he bears so much in common to the greatest action star(perhaps) of all time; Arnold Schwarzenegger. A background in sport, lack of traditional acting instruction, self-deprecating humor, and a being physically imposing all make The Rock very much the throwback action fans are clamoring for and Hollywood frankly needs. If I would entreat Hollywood, I would be them to make at least one film a year that doesn't try to drown us in a message like Avatar or present political conspiracies like Shooter. Simply give us a film where a clear villain battles a badass man of action....and The Rock is that man

Of course, he would be if he stops making movies like Race to Witch Mountain
I digress. Hollywood, make this man the action hero American moviegoers not only deserve, but need.

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