Death of the Action Film

Death of the Action Film

Adam Sternbergh in the New York Times:

Then again, the films themselves did plenty to hasten their own irrelevance, as their winks turned into ridiculous tics. Just one turbocharged decade later, we had Schwarzenegger in “Eraser,” saying, “You’re luggage,” to an alligator he just shot in the mouth, and the genre’s journey to cultural jokedom was complete.

Of course, other things happened. The ’80s ended. Reagan ended. The prosperous, largely peaceful yet nonetheless anxious ’90s began, and steroidal Stallone got bumped aside by Harrison Ford in “Regarding Henry,” fretting over whether he’s a nice-enough lawyer. The unexpected global superstardom of Schwarzenegger convinced Hollywood that his successor should be Teutonic, or at least exotic, which forced us to suffer through Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme. There was the brief and erroneous coronation of Vin Diesel. More recently, “Live Free or Die Hard” paired the aged Bruce Willis with the fresh-faced slacker-dude Justin Long, in what seemed like an unfortunate “before and after” comparison of American cinematic masculinity.

Eventually the shirtless commandos gave way to men in tights. Superheroes flew in and colonized the Cineplex, draped not in a myth of lethal exceptionalism but one of nonlethal nonexceptionalism — the regular kid who flowers into a hero through a spider bite or a cosmic ring.

And from the technical end, computer animation gobbled up everything, chewing it all into weightless pixels. American action films now are merciless spectacles splashed on a green-screen canvas — Shia LaBeouf flying around on wires like Peter Pan in front of spasmodic robots who aren’t really there, while entire cities, also not really there, collapse in on themselves. Ultimately, the American action film, like a fish that can’t stop eating, wound up choking on its one reliable virtue: excess.

Full piece here.


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