Monday, August 23, 2010

by Steven D. Greydanus @ The National Catholic Register:
"Last weekend saw a lopsided box-office collision of two very different types of action hero: In one corner, The Expendables, an old-fashioned 1980s-style action-fest drenched in testosterone, adrenaline and blood; in the other corner, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, starring Michael Cera as a geeky slacker with mad video-game-style combat skills.

It’s a stark illustration of how much the action landscape has changed. A quarter of a century ago, action heroes were musclebound, lantern-jawed he-men like Schwarzenegger and Stallone who weren’t afraid to get down and dirty. Even more vulnerable heroes like Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis, who actually got hurt or scared and made mistakes, were still two-fisted tough guys.

The musclemen of the 1980s may have been an exaggeration of an earlier masculine ideal, but prior decades were hardly lacking in virility. Broad-shouldered, chiseled icons like John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Sean Connery, Burt Lancaster and so forth might not have been built like Schwarzenegger or Stallone, but they were no pantywaists. Not all male heroes of yesterday necessarily fit that brawny mold—there was also room for more sensitive types played by the likes of Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda—but there was plenty of brawn to go around.

The situation today is markedly different. Many action movies today star youthful-looking actors like Matt Damon, Orlando Bloom, Brendan Frasier and Leonardo DiCaprio. Even comparatively older stars like Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt still come off as aging boys rather than manly men. There’s Tobey Maguire’s gawky web-slinger and Robert Downey Jr.‘s immature playboy techno-warrior. (Notably, Damon, Maguire and Downey all play heroes who in one way or another find themselves with awesome powers that they must learn to use and/or don’t understand at first.) William Shatner’s signature role now belongs to boyish Chris Pine. Earlier this summer there was a sequel to the Schwarzenegger vehicle Predator starring Adrien Brody, of all people.

With few exceptions—Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman—it’s hard to think of a leading man today who could credibly go toe to toe with Rocky or Indiana Jones. A participant at Arts & Faith puts the blame on The Matrix, which transformed Keanu Reeves from a pasty computer geek into an instant superman by digitally uploading kung-fu skills into his brain. With its video-game milieu, The Matrix in a way set the stage for Scott Pilgrim..."

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