Whatever Happened to the Action Star?

It is a sad day when the action in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is not only better, but more plausible than the action in The Last Stand, Bullet to the Head, and A Good Day to Die Hard. It’s even more tragic what the former movie, a CGI-infested orgasm of blood and bad diabetes jokes, is more enjoyable than the work of Arnold, Sly, and Bruce. And yet worse still, when the film of a hot girl and a hot guy wearing leather clothing that wouldn’t be introduced for another two years has a better story with more character development and plot construction than the films of three action legends…something deep within your soul should be crying out right now. This is wrong.

In January, the Action Star Emperor himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger made his bold comeback in The Last Stand. Maybe it should have been a big friggin red flag when they not only cast, but promoted and put along side in posters Johnny Knoxville—especially when they also had OSCAR WINNER Forest Whitaker in the movie too. You’d think the posters might have, in top billing, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Academy Award Winner Forrest Whitaker, but apparently the Last King of Scotland has nothing on Jackass. Then the release date…January. The time of year when Hollywood either releases the strangest and most enjoyable indie darlings, ONE movie that rekindles our hope in film (thank you, Warm Bodies), a horror movie that is either horrendous or not too bad (Mama, you did okay), and then piles upon piles of shit. Basically, it’s the time to catch up on all the good November/December movies and Oscar nominations.

The Last Stand tried to be some kind of metaphor for Arnold’s return to movies. Yes, they called this story to mark the return of Arnold as the LAST stand, because someone in marketing is a fucking genius. And I’m sure some people out there loved it and refuse to accept that it was a very lukewarm movie. Not terrible. Not good. Just kind of…there. Some of the action was even pretty awesome, though I don’t think a near-70 year old man could fall off a three story building and just get up and start fighting again. But Arnold’s triumphant return? No…no…

And then Sylvester Stallone came back with a movie where he didn’t have to rely on a who’s who of action stars to fall back on. A solo film. A solo film that did nothing but prove he is no longer cut out for solo roles. Like the Rotten Tomato blurb suggests, this movie was basically two hours of “hey, remember when action movies were good?” It just left too much to be desired and made you wonder what happed to this once great powerhouse of a star…just like Arnold.

But Sly and Arnold, they’ve kind of gone off the radar a bit or did something crazy like become a governor (THAT is part of our nation’s history now. There is no undoing it). But Bruce? Bruce never left us. When his two brothers-in-action faded away, Bruce was there. It may not have all been great, but he’s had some good films in the last decade—Sin City, Lucky Never Slevin, and Red. And you know what, Live Free or Die Hard might have been PG-13 and not quite feel like a true Die Hard movie, but it was still good. It had more story and plausibility, even as he jumped onto a fighter jet, than the new installment has for nearly any scene.

And that’s what makes A Good Day to Die Hard so heartbreaking. We know Bruce can still deliver the goods—we’ve seen it. And I think he’s trying in Good Day.  But nothing in the movie gels. Things happen and then they stop.  Apparently Russia is involved.

It’s not like we haven’t seen good action in movies. Skyfall, Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, Amazing Spider-Man, The Hobbit, Django Unchained, Fast Five, Cloud Atlas, The Hurt Locker,  Looper…and dozens of other movies in the last FEW MONTHS have had excellent action sequences, and one of them even starred Bruce Willis! So who’s to blame? Do we blame these three men? Do we blame the directors? The studios? After most fans were let down by Live Free or Die Hard, you would think the studios would do everything in their power to make sure A Good Day to Die Hard had that classic DIEHARD feeling. Or that if Arnold was finally making his big screen return, it would be a movie worthy of such a thing. That film should have been an event, not a forgotten mishap. So maybe it was the studios. Or maybe the directors. Certainly the guy who just starred in Looper shouldn’t be held responsible for the failures if A Good Day to Die Hard. But then we do have to look at the three stars. Because they let it happen. They sat back and let this awfulness transpire. In the past month, we’ve seen Stallone make a joke of his own career, Schwarzenegger prove he shouldn’t come back to movies, and Bruce Willis rape his own legacy.

Is the action star a dead idea? Considering that the best role Bruce Willis has had in the last year was Moonrise Kingdom, a film where he had to rely on his own talent—and did a wonderful job, and that the actors delivering the best action, like Jeremy Renner or Daniel Craig, are also doing more serious movies (even if they are action-oriented like Skyfall), it seems that we’ve just outgrown this need for a hardcore action star. We can have actors that are both action starts and actors. And that’s a good thing. If we’ve learned anything from this trio of bland action movies, it’s that we’re starting to demand—in just the smallest way—a little more from our action moves.

Oh, nobody tell Jason Statham.

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