The ’80s and early ’90s represented a landmark moment for action films. The films from that era presented patriotic stories with quietly strong heroes who defied societal rules to seek justice.
These men looked like men. They were rough. They got hit, they bled, they cursed, they only shaved every other day. These heroes were played by underrated actors who dominated American culture beyond the screen: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis to name just three.
These actors were staples of their genre, their country, their sex, etc. But film changed as the year 2000 drew near. Suddenly people wanted to see big special effects and superheroes as opposed to broken down men saving the day. Batman, Spider Man, the X Men; these were the heroes of tomorrow. Actors began to look less masculine. Soon, Shia Labeouf was a heartthrob along with Taylor Lautner and all those other guys who have never purchased a razor and shaving cream.
Meanwhile, Willis, Stallone and company continued to push out their testosterone-fueled entertainment for the small crowd that demanded it. No one could take the torch. Then came the British sensation Jason Statham. He is arguably the only man of his generation to be playing the old school action while his colleagues choose to play the “dramatic” roles and scoff at movies like “The Transporter” and his newest outing, “Safe.”
Statham’s films feel invigorating for anyone nostalgic for the days when Rambo and Rocky were considered men as opposed to those guys from the “Twilight” series. His newest feature, “Safe,” feels like a film Willis would’ve cranked out in the ’80s. Statham’s other films like “The Mechanic” and “The Killer Elite” feel no different. He plays quiet, but physically strong characters who keep a gruff of facial hair, a bad attitude and scoff at the weaker men around them. These men defy the odds and save the day, and I love every second of it.
Statham, however, is the only one of his generation really filling this movie genre. He’s the leading man when it comes to the old school action film movement. Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel seemed to be in similar positions for awhile until Johnson began making family films and Diesel got caught making franchise fare as a sort of apology for “The Pacifier.” (it’ll take a lot of “Furious” film to make up for that one).”
Statham is the lone wolf. The field is so dead, in fact, that people like Stallone and Willis still own it, while Liam Neeson helped fill the void with “The Grey” and “Taken.” Even an cagey veteran like Clint Eastwood will occasionally give us a “Gran Torino.” But these men will be gone soon or move on to other things (think Stallone is old? Imagine him ten years from now). Will Statham be the only one left to carry the action movie torch?
For now, it seems that way, but we shouldn’t have a problem with that. In a world where the shaky cam has taken over and people care more about costume than character, Statham’s films stand out. They feature stories of redemption where real men save the day. Conservative film buffs should flock to see his films, but do they?
Statham’s latest has brought in under $10 million so far, and his other recent films haven’t fared much better. They succeed based on their home video sales and low production budgets. Maybe people have moved on from the old school action flick. “Lockout,” another film to hearken back to the one liners and muscles of the ’80s, hasn’t even brought in $20 million yet. And Mel Gibson’s “Get the Gringo,” which is being hailed as a classic macho film of Gibson’s past, skipped theaters altogether.
The commercial success of “The Expendables,” “Taken,” and “Gran Torino” offer a glimmer of hope for action fans. The audience is out there. We are ready to fight back, so what are we waiting for?
Two things: story and acting. “The Expendables” gave us a plethora of old-school stars and a classic ’80s storylines. “Taken” gave us a great central performance from Neeson and a brilliant setup. “Gran Torino” offered up the same.
Statham has managed to flash his charisma in his burly character roles, but his more recent work has hinted he can stretch his dramatic muscles a little bit. Audiences come out for stories, not just for action. Statham will probably have his first chance to really break out when everyone gets a glimpse of him playing a famous literary crook in next year’s “Parker.” It’ll give him the chance to play someone besides Jason Statham. Also, actors like Stallone, Neeson, Eastwood and Willis still own the manly image because they defined it, and as long as they are around everyone else shall live in their shadow. It may be a big shadow, but there’s hardly anyone there. Statham is all by his lonesome.
We want the old school action. It’s out there fighting the good fight, and Statham is almost ready to take the lead. His new film, “Safe,” is good enough, but we need something more. Once we see him work more than just his charm on screen maybe then he can take the torch still held by the ready to retire Stallone and company. Let’s root for him. He’s the only one out there still giving us the films conservatives crave.