Tuesday, March 06, 2007
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?