Monday, August 16, 2010

Where Have All the Heroes Gone?

This isn't a review of The Expendables. Frankly, I haven't even seen it yet. I did hear that it has completely blown away the Julia Roberts film Eat Pray Love. It's not that I don't love Julia Roberts and it's not like I don't like a good "self-discovery" film, but my heart will always belong to the action, explosion-packed, car chase, gun shooting film genre. Heck, I watched Live Free or Die Hard (2007) and Blue Thunder (1983) over the weekend just to get my fix.

But let's face it, Bruce Willis is 57 and Roy Scheider died in 2002 at the age of 75. Our classic film heroes from the 1970s and 80s aren't getting any younger. For that matter, Sly Stallone is 64 (and up until the Expendables, his more recent films haven't been doing so well) and Arnold Schwarzennegger, who along with Bruce Willis, had a cameo in The Expendables, just turned 63 a few weeks ago. Why are old guys still making action films. Is it because there are no young guys to step up to the plate?

The younger action heroes that immediately come to mind are Christian Bale from the Batman films and Terminator Salvation (2009), Johnny Depp from the various Pirates of the Caribbean films (On Stranger Tides comes out next year), and Leonardo DiCaprio from the recent hit film Inception. Also, with the power surge of super hero films that have been recently released and those coming at us in the next few years, we can hardly say that we have no young, kick ass actors out there to play these parts, so why haven't people like Stallone and Willis either retired or gone on to play older guys in character roles (imagine Stallone as Don Vito Corleone in a remake of The Godfather (1972))?

We have young guys playing action roles but frankly, they're not legends. Maybe the concept of the legendary action hero has disappeared. We used to consider action heroes with a sense of awe. Not in the way that people might drool over Johnny Depp or Leonardo DiCaprio, but these heroes were "men". I know that sounds sexist, but they were a sort of role model for the inner hero in the average, ordinary guy. Sure, we weren't about to grab a gun and go blow away an army single handedly, but these were the "ideal" men. Men of courage against overwhelming odds and often, saving the world, even while half bleeding to death, with a sense of humor and some "killer" one-liners. These guys used to be everywhere. Who didn't admire John Wayne, Rock Hudson, Kirk Douglas (yes, Michael's Dad), Michael Douglas, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, and on and on and... Where did they go?

The actors are there but perhaps the allure has disappeared. Today's action hero is less a hero and more a guy in a suit doing heroic stuff. We are entertained but we're not awed.

However, we're still awed by our aging classic heroes.

Today is the 33rd anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll and even people who weren't even born 33 years ago are commemorating his death and celebrating his life. Did we run out of musicians in the 21st century? No, but we may have run out of legends.

I don't think you have to die to be a legend and I don't think you have to get old before you become a legend, but you have to possess something that younger actors and other celebrities just don't seem to have today. Yet, is it a lack in them or in us? Maybe as a society, we've lost the ability to generate those feelings any more and we only feel them for older stars by way of nostalgia (and a weird sort of nostalgia if you are in awe of someone you never experienced while they were alive). I can't really decide which way it runs, but there must be a reason that a film like The Expendables not only gets made in the first place (and studios don't make films unless they expect to make a lot of money on them) but does amazingly well at the box office.

Has Elvis left the building?

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