Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Male Action Hero

Now for the men; I'm all about equal time on the blog. This is kind of a hard post to write because there are so many action heroes out there. Obviously I can't possibly cover them all, so I'll compose my list, starting with some of the one's who came earliest, and I'll leave it up to the rest of you to add your own choices. Where could I start but with Superman? He is kind of ageless though isn't he? Superman first appeared in the late 30's and has gone through more incarnations than any superhero I can think of. And why not? He was basically the superhero that started it all IMO. Not only was he meant to fight evil (as defined by the mores of the times) but he was beyond powerful. He was also the first costumed superhero which added to the mystique and seemed to define him as much as his powers. He has been the star of comics, television shows, movies and the topic of more than a few dissertations. If not for Superman would Batman or Spiderman exist? One can only speculate. The Lone Ranger may not be THE first, but the character goes back to 1933, first appearing on radio before appearing on television in the 40's. He was not a superhero like Superman, but he may have paved the way for powerful, though mortal, action heroes; and perhaps was the first to introduce us to the sidekick. Tonto may have had a large influence on the creators of famous sidekicks like Robin, though I suppose Dr. Watson deserves credit for coming first. And as a solitary crusader who wore a mask to hide his true identity, he had a thing or two in common with Superman. He was also described as a master of disguise which may have also influenced the creators of shows like Mission Impossible. Bruce Lee only lived until he was 32 years of age and yet he may have had one of the largest influences on the action film ever. Oddly, it was his last film, Enter the Dragon--released after his death, that made him famous. Perhaps it was his death that created the legend but he is still arguably one of the best martial artists who ever lived. His movies captivated our interest and opened the door to future stars such as Jackie Chan, Steven Segal and Jet Li. And his influence goes beyond the martial arts film. Virtually any current action star in any genre is now virtually expected to display some impressive martial arts skills. From movies like The Matrix to The Transporter, Bruce Lee's influence lives on. One of my all time favorite action hero's is James Bond. Created by writer Ian Flemming in 1952, Bond has had almost as many incarnations at Superman. The definitive super spy, Bond seems to have defined a genre. In films spanning over 40 years and 6 leading men (not including TV versions), Bond is endlessly fascinating regardless of whether or not we like the current actor portraying him. And while Sean Connery has long been held as the ultimate James Bond, Daniel Craig has delighted many by breathing new-- very muscular-- life into the character. While there are some action heroes like Bond who transcend time and manage to survive many actors in the role, there are other men who have made virtually whole careers on being known as action heroes. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a classic example of this. Already well known as a bodybuilder, Schwarzenegger gained some credibility as an action star (if not a great actor) in 1982's Conan the Barbarian before really bursting onto the screen in James Cameron's Terminator. And though the future Governator would occasionally try his hand at other genre's in movies like Twins, he still devoted most of his career, and success, to action films; building a resume that includes movies like Commando, The Running Man, Predator as well as two Terminator sequels. In a career very similar to that of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone has also been largely defined as a star of action films. Stallone first hit it big with the Academy Award winning film Rocky which he wrote, directed and starred in. Rocky was more the story of an underdog than a straight on action movie, but I believe the fight scenes convinced audiences that Stallone was more of an action figure than actor; later films like First Blood only cemented that impression. And also like Schwarzenegger, Stallone also made some attempts at films outside the action genre, with almost universally dismal results. (Stop or My Mom Will Shoot....) He had some success with films like Cobra and Cliffhanger but his legacy will definitely rest largely on the Rocky franchise. Harrison Ford is someone I need to mention for no other reason than he has created not one, but two iconic action heroes; Han Solo and Indiana Jones. George Lucas may have intended the hero of the Star Wars saga to be Luke Skywalker, but everyone I knew thought Han Solo was cool. And Harrison Ford was the action hero who could really act. He proved his ability in a number of dramatic films from The Mosquito Coast to Presumed Innocent. But luckily for fans he still kept his hand in the action genre with classics like Blade Runner, as well as more mainstream movies like Air Force One. There are so many characters and actors that fit into this genre that I could literally go on for pages. I think I'll spare you that. But this is a list I think is good to start with. These are the men who make it possible for people like The Rock to even have a career. Action stars do not need to be great actors (think Keanu Reeves), and they still have this ability to make us watch them. Maybe it's the fantasy of being invincible. Whatever the reason, we love to watch these guys in action, don't we?

20 comments:

cooltopten said...

Great post :) ,I agree that you get one Hero character who paves the way for other heros who are in that genre to come through.You can also see this in the way they dress ..take Matrix , then look at selene in underworld.Keep up the good work

DonkeyBlog said...

Hey, you missed out Ben Afleck! Remember Daredevil? ;)

Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator said...

You could write individual posts about each of these men.

All of these have had their great moments, even Keanu. Although I would say he peaked at Bill and Ted.

"The Rock" is a pretty good actor, too. I think he's smart enough to not overexpose himself and to try a few different things here and there. The Rundown was a pretty entertaining movie and he has a part in Reno 911: Miami, though I haven't seen that.

The Curmudgeon said...

I always thought that Superman was, well, boring... because he had a superpower for just about everything. But I'll gladly suspend disbelief for a 'real life' action cartoon like Gov. Arnold's "True Lies."

Stewart Sternberg said...

I think the problem with male action heroes is that they are too masculine. It doesn't look natural. When I look at someone like Dolf Lundgrun (did I spell that right?), it's obvious he's had pec implants. Then there's The Rock, who everyone thought was the heir apparent to Schwartzenegger---obviously he oils up. What real man does that?

Real men have distended bellies from beer drinking, real men slouch, real men have male pattern baldness. Real men..I mean REAL men don't run when they can walk, they don't fight when they can watch television, and while real men want to chase down the most beautiful woman they can find, they will settle for just about anyone at closing time.

Of course, you realize, none of the above applies in any way to James Bond.

mist1 said...

The last Superman movie turned me off of him. He needs a new designer (no more panties over tights) and to take care of that kid. He should get a decent job with benefits and settle down.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

That post could have been spread over three or four parts as there was so much to say.

Bruce Lee, by the way, played the sidekick of The Green Hornet.

Alex said...

Gotta add to Harrison Ford's CV the Jack Ryan character. Always good stuff, watching an 80 year old guy foil terrorist plots through his expertise as a pencil-pushing CIA analyst!

And, to be fair, people like Stallone make me just as sick as some of those over-the-top anti-femmes. The guy can't even talk, for chrissakes! Why give him lines?

The Governator is great because he always had a certain charisma (reaching its apex in action-comedies like True Lies). I still go to the theater for all his films, in hopes of being the first to hear memorable lines, such as: "I wahnt to go to Maaaahhhhs," "Eet's naht a toohmah," and "Nyaaaahgrgh!" I think of him much like I think of Sean Connery - little in the way of acting skills, but still great fun to watch.

And, as much as Stew was being a shit, I have to agree with him. I think we need to see more average joes playing action heroes. The stakes would be so much higher if we knew chase scenes had a maximum distance of five blocks before hero and villain started hacking up black stuff from their lungs. Imagine the tension if Darth Vader had taken Obi Wan's last beer from the cooler - there' no way he would have just sat there and taken it like a wasted prom date. Think of the amazing battles begun over dual claims of dibs on the drummy parts of the buffalo wings; and imagine the grudge that would be nursed for generations to come because one man was only allowed the wingies.

I see a whole new genre of action movies here. Where's my agent? I have a script to write!

SQT said...

Stallone's entree into Hollywood was built on a movie he wrote, directed and starred in. He probably wouldn't have had a chance otherwise. I always thought his unconventional looks and speech had a lot to do with why he ended up in action films.

Schwarzenegger does have some great lines. The tumor one from Kindergarten Cop being probably one of the best.

The male physique has gotten very over-exaggerated in movies. Though I have to wonder why Stu prefers women with muscles but thinks men shouldn't have the same overdeveloped musculature. No judgements, just curious.

Comic books seem to have started the trend of over exaggerated male/female physiques. There is no human way possible short of surgery or steroids to actually have those bodies in real life. Obviously some stars are attempting to duplicate the comic book standard but it makes most people look rather odd.

Stewart Sternberg said...

SQT..it scares me that Alex gets when I'm being a shit but you don't..or at least maybe you're playing coy. I have no problem with superheroes, male or female, looking like superheroes. Although I sort of like the idea of Spiderman being a skinny little guy, which is what he was when first penned by the great Steve Ditko.

Alex is right. I love ordinary guys doing extraordinary things. Hitchcock understood. Look at "North by Northwest" or "The Man Who Knew Too Much". The heroes in these films were just average guys who, by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, found themselves crashing into a world of danger and intrigue.

Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator said...

Harrison Ford used to those roles very well also.

As much as I may enjoy True Lies, there isn't a second that I think Arnold is a regular up over his head. That's not what you go to an Arnold movie for, though.

I think Steven Segall did the same thing, but degenerated it to an ugly level. Under Seige was pretty good, but he was smart enough to have good actors in the movie to act against. After that, it seemed like all of his action scenes involved him block punch, snap neck, repeat.

SQT said...

Stu

No, I'm not being coy. I also don't think you're being a shit. Sometimes I'm just not sure which part is a joke and which part is serious. Plus, the regular guy part actually makes sense. I think that's why I like Harrison Ford. Most of the time he comes across as a regular guy rising to the occasion.

Merry Munchkin Designs said...

I LOVE Superman! He is, truly the first and greatest of all Superheroes.

Harrison Ford? I have to say it, he can park his boots under my bed anyday!

Great post, thanks for the read!

jedimerc said...

You know, even in the comics, the heroes have evolved, meaning the big two: Superman and Batman, but we can take Spiderman, Green Lantern, the Hulk, Captain America (oh, what has Marvel done? ) Just looking at Batman and Superman over the years, you see the personalities of these action heroes evolve, even without actors to portray them (even though they have had more than their share of diverse performances, to say the least). Of course, that has more to do with the times an their writers, but it does speak to their longevity as well.

And James Bond will always rock (and I like the direction they took in Casino Royal, though I still have a soft spot for Sean Connery).

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

he sqt! i'm home again. you should see my pictures of charlie as the caped cruise-ader!!! he is wearing (only) a towel and he leaps out of the shower and scares the heck out of me! sigh... and i swear this is a true story! my life is anything but dull!

smiles, bee

SQT said...

Jedi

I think you have a really good point. It's really easy to get hung up on the physical aspects of the superhero since they've become so exaggerated. But we do forget that there has also been an attempt to further the characterizations. For example, Batman Begins vs. the late 80's- 90's Batman movies. I hope to see more like Batman Begins and Spiderman in the near future and fewer Ghost Rider types.

SQT said...

Hi Bee!

ShadowFalcon said...

What about Robin Hood, true its all made up and very historically inacutate but still and then there was Achilles the very first superman!

SQT said...

Shadowfalcon

I love all the Greek/Roman heroes and Gods. I was really into Greek mythology as a kid and couldn't get enough of stories like that of Achilles and Hercules. I remember reading about Zeus, Ares, Apollo etc. Achilles and Hercules were kind of like the first superhero's, with their half-God status. The God's even acted the part of the super-villain more often than not too!

crunchycarpets said...

In 300 you can't be a hero unless you wear really tight speedo's.