Action in cinema: the hero, the villain, the choice

By Coty Levandoski | 4/14/10 11:01pm


About a week ago marked the anniversaty of the beginning of the “Bourne” film and novel series as years ago David Webb made his way into the delivery room, no doubt in a flurry of throat punches and head kicks aimed at the nurse on duty.

The “Bourne Identity” has breathed into a genre of film that has been losing steam as Schwarzenegger and Stallone both began accepting their social security checks.

The formula for action films had been worn thin: man’s daughter or wife is kidnapped or killed; guilty party must pay. It worked for a while. Steve Segal and Charles Bronson made a living off of doing their horrible B-movies, which could have been partially to blame for the over-saturation of the market.

But what’s saving these films isn’t a change in narrative or new plot points but the way in which the filmmakers are bringing these adventures on-screen. Instead of car chases, explosions and David and Goliath-esque fight scenes against the villain’s second in command, we have corporate espionage, meticulously choreographed fight scenes and an uncertainty of the bad guy, whether it’s the red herring, the main character or maybe no one at all.

Wide shots of huge explosions have been replaced by frantic frames and close-ups that do their best to give you the feel of an actual fight to the death. The “Bourne” movies and “Taken” are both prime examples of this new norm, and both have perfected it. The stunts have become a hybrid of throwback, McQueen-era car chases mixed with an ever-evolving art of pyrotechnics and special effects. Stuntman Mike would be happy.

One thing that hasn’t seemed to change, however, is the casting of no-risk actors that can fill the menial role of an action trilogy star. Shia LeBouf, Taylor Lautner and even Sam Worthington, who I love dearly, could be interchanged in most of their own roles and it wouldn’t change the movie much. Screaming, grimacing, snarling, with a touch of coy and repeat.

That’s normal I guess; Harrison Ford was never meant to get an Oscar for “Indiana Jones” nor Willis for “Die Hard,” no matter how much Michael Scott may disagree with me. Arnold in “Kindergarten Cop” though, I’ll never forgive the Academy for passing that over.

I think what draws us to action as a collective audience is the chance on any given day that a set of scenarios in which even the most average of Joes can be the hero and get the girl. While trying to realistically assess how we’d react in these harrowing situations, we are granted with the opportunity to decode what type of people we really are at our cores. Are we cowards, enraptured with greed with a propensity for corruption? Or are we steadfast, honorable and heroic, whether at the store or taking a test?

Regardless of what side we fall on, or maybe even in the middle of both, we’re all human. We can all just as easily return that wallet we found at a party as we can walk into a bank and ask to make a withdrawal. We can save the day, or we can bring about the night.

Go to the movies, and figure out if you’re the type of person who begins them or the type of person who ends them.

clevandoski@lanthorn.com

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