18th February 2013

We need a hero!

Dylan Wiggan looks at the state of action stars

If you were to take a cursory glance at the listings of your local multiplex lately you would  be forgiven for thinking there was some sort of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ theme taking over your cinema. It seems, back-to-back for almost a month, we have been forced to watch geriatric thesps hobble around the silver screen.

So what? you, probably, ask.What’s wrong with old people acting?’ you, might, add.

Well, my engaged reader, nothing per se. Old people obviously have great roles in films. Personal favourites of mine include septuagenarian, nerd royalty and Coronation Street enthusiast Sir Ian McKellen AKA Gandalf. How much people shouting ‘YOU SHALL NOT PASS!’ at him annoys him will be something I look forward to learning if we ever meet.

There’s Clint Eastwood too. He, despite making himself look as relevant as a floppy disc with his infamous Republican Party conference appearance last year, still has that Dirty Harry vibe when he acts. I’m not sure if it’s his grisly voice or deadly stare, but something about his performances in the likes of Gran Torino makes me think he could still jump off bridges onto moving buses, or scare ‘punks’ by questioning them how lucky they feel.

But these actors are not the problem. The problem lies in that particular 80’s action hero that just refuses to politely fade off into the sunset.

It all started with Sylvester Stallone. In 2010 he assembled the ‘ultimate’ line-up of (mainly) old action ‘super stars’ in one film, The Expendables (a full two years before The Avengers).

As you’re probably aware the ‘beefcakes’ included Sly himself, Dolph (Russian guy from Rocky IV) Lungren, Jason ‘The Stath’ Statham, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and a confused looking Jet Li. Messrs Bruce ‘Yippi Kay Eh’ Willis and Arnold ‘Get to the chopper!’ Schwarzenegger, though heavily featured in trailers and posters, only briefly cameo-ed in the film.

It came out and was a big hit which lead to a sequel, The Expendables 2. Joining in on the fun of killing and blowing things up this time was the man who spawned a million jokes, Chuck Norris and muscled-Belgian, Jean-Claude Van Damme with also beefed up roles for Willis and Schwarzenegger.

This film was a hit too and now plans are afoot for a third instalment of the new franchise. Now this would be all well and good if the films were not terrible. And it is this that is precisely my problem with the ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ festival happening at my Odeon.

Sly’s ensemble pic seems to have inadvertently created a subgenre of old man action films (cleverly dubbed ‘geri-action’ online). In the past month The Last Stand, Bullet to the Head and A Good Day to Die Hard (starring Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis respectively) have all come out to the general annoyance of cinema goers. All were generally panned by critics, and only Die Hard was anywhere approaching a hit.

This may have started with Expendables but the underlying problem here is perhaps not that Arnie ‘came back’ like he always threatened, but that he was able to. There is a dearth of new action heroes in Hollywood, forcing us to rely on ageing figures from the past, figures that unfortunately just aren’t up to snuff anymore. Newish faces like The Rock or Vin Diesel have not really made transition into superstar status, whilst 90s breakouts like Tom Cruise, Will Smith and Matt Damon are starting to get on in years too.

So, like Bonnie Tyler before me, I’m calling for a hero. He doesn’t have to be larger than life, but I just hope they can save the day on their original hip.

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