There was a time, somewhere around the ‘80s and ‘90s where we couldn’t move for He-Men. On screen, in popular culture, in magazines, our faces were plastered with the images of strong, serious men, all of whom were uncannily nifty with a gun. We’re talking Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course. It’s not to say, though, that since this cultural period, there has been a drought of action heroes, quite the contrary. They certainly don’t make them today like they used to, however. Whilst a movie hero may be gifted in 2015 with the power of super coding skills and natty computer awareness, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was all about brute force and one liners.
It seems that times are a-changing and whilst we are certainly looking towards a more technological period in popular cinema, we are also looking back to simpler, more action-heavy times, too. And who better to herald this cinematic movement than the original actors themselves? Despite all being on the other side of middle age, multiple action stars of the ‘80s and ‘90s have decided to take up the reigns once more and plunge themselves right back into the heart of the action scene. Whilst films like R.E.D. achieved something like a renaissance for the older action star, it did so with its focus very much on the characters’ ages, concerned not with the fact that they were still remarkably adept with a headlock but rather, that they were getting too old for the game. And where’s the fun in that? We want to revel in the apparent impossibility of the feats of these actors, not be reminded of the fact that they might have a bad knee. For if they are able to maintain superhuman strength, then maybe there’s some hope out there for the rest of us.
Hot off the press is the news that Harrison Ford is set to return in a Blade Runner sequel, 33 years after Ridley Scott created the inimitable original. Although we have not yet reached the ‘future’ depicted by the original (set in 2019), the Blade Runner sequel promises to be set some decades on from the first film, offering us yet another undoubtedly unrealistic portrait of our own future. Ford will return as renegade Replicant Hunter Deckard, undoubtedly tasked with another impossible mission that his morals won’t let him carry out. Whilst Ford is no stranger to returning to an original franchise years after he first starred in it (look at Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), his appearance in Blade Runner has sparked bigger excitement than other roles. Not only will Ford have to take down the evil in the dystopian future, he will have to make it look seamless. Here’s looking at you, Ford. When you see the future, don’t forget to find out how the film went down.
Before this cinematic bombshell was even announced, there came the news that Arnold Schwarzenegger will return for Terminator 5. Playing perhaps the most famous cyborg in the world, Arnie’s performance will apparently be focused very much on the unavoidable: He has become somewhat older than his original incarnation. Of course, we all know that cyborgs don’t age; they managed to skip that fact, somehow. In order to cover up his identity and ‘age’ alongside the other humans in the film, Arnie’s cyborg is said to have been disguised under human skin and hair which ages. Underneath, then, it’s still the same mega-human cyborg. The package has just changed a little bit.
Of course, there is one actor who has made his fortune and name out of the fact of being a slightly senior action star. Liam Neeson’s early career looked somewhat different to the ball-busting filmography he has carved for himself over the last few years. Hitting the film scene in 1978 depicting Jesus Christ in Pilgrim’s Progress, Neeson went on to star in The Mission, Husbands and Wives, Schindler’s List and Les Miserables, amongst other dramatic works. His performances, whilst hugely varied, tended to focus on the intensely dramatic, deeply thought through and considered, rather than anything else. Despite starring in the Star Wars reboot, it wasn’t until 2008’s Taken that Neeson became the action star that he is today. His entire career now seems to circulate around the much-quoted dialogue from the Taken movies, which now follows him in various guises around his press tours. As soon as Neeson toted a gun, the world seemed to forget about his early career. Whilst this has spelled great things for Neeson, the question remains, where will he go from here?
Bruce Willis makes up our He-Man pack, closing off the act with a deep rooted masculine sensitivity. Out of the group, Willis is probably the most action-experienced, having starred in the Die Hard series, Pulp Fiction, Sin City, Red and The Expendables films. That’s a lot of stunts racked up over the years. Of course, he now uses his action star status to his own benefit, accepting similar roles with a somewhat tongue in cheek edge. Whilst he is no doubt more adept than the majority of us in Red and The Expendables, the films play on the actor’s ageing in the dialogue, having his character exclaim here and there about a sore hip or some such. We don’t buy it for a second, of course, but by showing that Willis is even a smidgen self-aware, the film makes us warm to his character even more. He feels the same way that we do and he can wield a gun with style! Willis is so lasting because he plays into our sense of false hope so sweetly.
Whilst the action heroes of the ‘80s and ‘90s have changed somewhat, they’re still being packaged the same by the film industry. And this is remarkably to their benefit. We recognise the faces we knew from all that time ago still going strong and somewhere, deep inside of us, we know that we could still be action stars, too.