Escape to the Movies: Musclepocalypse

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Musclepocalypse

MovieBob explains where our action heroes have gone.

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Bob did you mix up your Escape to the movies review with Big Picture discussion videos again?
I agree with you though I never personally got what people liked about big muscly action stars and being an MMA guy I can tell you that that level muscle growth is actually a problem to real fighting. I think that people have gotten more saavy to what fighting looks like so having a guy that looks like HeMan is just cartoonish to them.

Seems like it could've been an episode of The Big Picture instead, but hey, I'm not complaining. Neither "Identity Thief" nor "Side Effects" seem that interesting, if their Wikipedia plot summaries are to be believed (My backup source of movie advice).

The Big Picture also came to mind when I saw this.

I think this comes across as a Big Picture episode because the movie itself is so boring as to have almost nothing to talk about.

Arnold and Jamie Lee Curtis need to get on a True Lies sequel. If Morgan Freeman, Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren can do RED, by golly those two can do a True Lies 2 (Tr2 Lies?).

Wait, what was that Zelda-ish picture with JJ Abrams and the Companion Cube at the end about?

You have a point Bob, but I'm not sure that I agree with you entirely. You're right about action-movies changing, instead of big muscular guys brawling we instead get smaller guys who fight with a heck of a lot more finesse (see The Raid: Redemption). But people still like and want to see movies like The Running Man and Demolition Man, even though the latest Arnold and Stallone movies bombed. My guess is that they bombed because people were scared that they would suck. I was one of those guys that were desperately hoping that The Expendables would be good since I missed the kind of action-movies that we got in the 80's and early 90's. But since Expendables was a major disappointment (to me) it kinda killed my hopes that any attempt at making a movie like that today would be any good.

Chebs:
Arnold and Jamie Lee Curtis need to get on a True Lies sequel. If Morgan Freeman, Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren can do RED, by golly those two can do a True Lies 2 (Tr2 Lies?).

2 True 2 Lies. That's gotta be it, right? =D

OT: If Die Hard 5 bombs, that will really be a surprise. R-rated action isn't drawing right now, but with an established franchise, it's different.

I think Bob sent in the wrong tape.
At the end I was still waiting for "I'm Bob and that's the big picture".

Guess it all just shows how unsubstantial the movie was.

I guess you could say their going out of style was just an unfortunate Side Effect of over saturation.
JJ Abrams just can't get enough of SPAAAAAAAAAAAAACE.

Pardon me for being captain obvious, but the fact those actions movies were hits and not now, might have to do with the fact the formula is 25 to 30 years old at this point. That would be like watching a movie from the late 50's in 1980, it's just a different era.

And honestly, I don't have a problem with JJ Abrams handling Portal. Think about it, JJ likes his big mysteries, Portal is a pretty good mystery since you're in the dark for most of the game. It could work. Keeping an open mind.

Chessrook44:
Wait, what was that Zelda-ish picture with JJ Abrams and the Companion Cube at the end about?

Valve has given JJ Abrams their blessing to make Half-Life and Portal movies.

...Yeah. Why always JJ Abrams? There are other great directors out there. Hell, Valve lent del Toro the voice of GLaDoS!

I always felt that Die Hard and Lethal Weapon were the movies that shifted the focus away from the kind of action films that Stallone and Arnold made. It's touched on briefly in the video but seriously: everything was just absurd explosions starring guys who generally didn't have much acting talent in stories that didn't have much going for them.

Whereas in Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, there are character arcs impressed on compact, narrowly-scoped stories, brought to life by people who actually DO have some acting talent. Once audiences got ahold of that and liked it, it set the stage for...well, a whole lot of really, really shitty imitators. However, there was always the occasional odd duck that borrowed from that tradition, and certainly the dumbed down films of the 80's had to branch out a bit in the 90s, at least until Michael Bay brought Baysplosions. Even then, the idea couldn't be killed-Jason Bourne films were smartly done, even James Bond got tweaked into a more interesting character. But, you know. Transformers.

Which ruled the roost until...the Avengers. Which leads us back to movies with heroes that have actual character arcs again (even if the scope of the film is much bigger now.) And so it goes.

So did we decide to use this week to escape from the movies, Bob? Oh well. I guess I can't complain about a Big Picture double feature too much.

Anyway... I definitely think that we are past the point where anyone's going to gain stardom based purely on muscle mass. I'm thinking that the old action icons would do best either sticking to their old iconic franchises or going for something that doesn't make their physique/manliness the focus of their acting.

the thing is that idea of "masculinity" was only ever found in the 80s and 90s. If you look before, after, and even DURING that era you still had the typical Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, James Dean, Paul Newman, etc archetypes in cinema because THAT was closer to ideal masculinity (which, oddly enough, is actually closer to Japanese masculinity). The 80s basically turned the brute archetype into the hero, but unfortunately also became an archetype known for ego, arrogance, and insecurity (a.k.a., for DOUCHEBAGS). It was more of a power fantasy than anything and it quickly ran its course, bringing us back to the REAL way action heroes should be done. Stallone's efforts to try and keep his 80s lunkhead stuff alive only goes to show just how irrelevant it's become and how insignificant it was even when it was around. Stuff like Die hard and Lethal Weapon just hell up BETTER due to having actual ACTORS in them.

Chessrook44:
Wait, what was that Zelda-ish picture with JJ Abrams and the Companion Cube at the end about?

That... was about this...
http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/121946-D-I-C-E-2013-J-J-Abrams-and-Gabe-Newell-Tease-Portal-Movie

OT: Did we see a pic of Arnold giving the "Heil Hitler" salute?

This is an interesting little video. Positing that special effects killed the action movie star.

I see his point, why bother going to Arnold or Stallone for the superhuman feats of baddass when we have a guy like Iron Man or Batman doing it technology and skill. They're more interesting to boot, they have flaws and feel like people. When you look at it this way it's inevitable that this would happen.

Ickabod:
Pardon me for being captain obvious, but the fact those actions movies were hits and not now, might have to do with the fact the formula is 25 to 30 years old at this point. That would be like watching a movie from the late 50's in 1980, it's just a different era.

And honestly, I don't have a problem with JJ Abrams handling Portal. Think about it, JJ likes his big mysteries, Portal is a pretty good mystery since you're in the dark for most of the game. It could work. Keeping an open mind.

He can't like his big mysteries that much since he keeps abandoning them for other projects (Lost, Fringe).

Since I only recently saw the first Die Hard, I can completely agree with this. I don't really want to see people who're so well-built and powerful that I can't relate to them. That's why I usually don't like anime.

A kind and merciful god would not allow Conan 3 to happen.

Ickabod:
Pardon me for being captain obvious, but the fact those actions movies were hits and not now, might have to do with the fact the formula is 25 to 30 years old at this point. That would be like watching a movie from the late 50's in 1980, it's just a different era.

And honestly, I don't have a problem with JJ Abrams handling Portal. Think about it, JJ likes his big mysteries, Portal is a pretty good mystery since you're in the dark for most of the game. It could work. Keeping an open mind.

They would have to make significant changes to Portal in order for it to work as a film. Portal works as a game because it's a story about the gameplay, rather than gameplay used to tell the story. There's no real arc or character to it, it's a puzzle game with an interesting sense of humor and that's about it. Nothing wrong with that, but in a movie you need to have narrative, and portal doesn't have it.

I don't have the apparent contempt Bob does for J.J. Abrams, but I get the grumbling. I don't think he has it in him as a film maker to pull off anything close to Portal's tone.

Jason Bourne would kick Iron Man's ass.

I'm surprised that there was no mention of the Jason Statham genre of movies. One guy being impossibly badass and murdering everything remotely antagonistic is kind of the new-age of action hero.

Daaaah Whoosh:
Since I only recently saw the first Die Hard, I can completely agree with this. I don't really want to see people who're so well-built and powerful that I can't relate to them. That's why I usually don't like anime.

Depends what decade of anime you're looking at. I would say most anime don't really have this trope, and haven't since those movies were popular. Japan tends to favor the more average looking hero, rather than the muscle-bound doofus.

Sounding as awful as it does, I can understand why JJ, mainly sci-fi from the looks of it, would be able to nab a Portal movie. If he somehow gets Zelda, however, I'll be convinced Hollywood is not just stupid as I've seen - they will be in need of an intervention before something psychotic and truly awful happens.

I never really bought that "macho-hero" BS anyway
Maybe because I grew in different era/location or maybe because I had computer games
My favorite games of childhood and early teens were RTSs and RPGs (C&C:Tiberian Sun and NWN in particular)
In those, skill and better weapons were edge of victory not beefing as much as you can
Hell, how much of Arnold-like looking orcs my character sliced in half because he knew how to deflect and parry
And how many of NOD cyborgs, stealth tanks and artillery I decimated not by stronger units, but by smarter approach
Closest things to macho-hero amongst GDI troops were ghost stalkers and they were often useless and sometimes even harmful
Basically brains and skills won over looks and physique
In fiction and in real life :)

Alakaizer:
OT: Did we see a pic of Arnold giving the "Heil Hitler" salute?

Okay, good, I'm not the only one that raised an eyebrow at that. Anybody know the story there?

Also, I'm shamefully surprised that Bob had a shout-out to Chinese New Year at the end there. He's always seemed just so...white that I wasn't expecting him to acknowledge something like that.

To quote Krusty: "Free comedy tip, slick: the pie gag's only funny when the sap's got dignity."

Let's recall Demolition Man for a moment. That movie has an almost identical basic premise to that of Last Stand: an aging fish-out-of-water action hero saves a town in an oldschool ultraviolence kinda way, using antiquated technology and with an official comic relief sidekick. The difference? Demolition Man, silly as its universe was, took itself completely seriously. Last Stand and Bullet to the Head, on the other hand, don't seem to respect their subject matter, so why should their potential audience either? Put those action stars, or some other similarly ridiculous dudes/ladies in a big action movie and actually try to take it seriously (not post-modern, not ironic, not intentionally 'so bad it's good', but really an actual action movie), then see whether or not their era is over.

I also can't help but wonder if that which thrived as "mainstream" can't do the same as "guilty pleasure". It's one thing to go to "The Expendables" because, hey, list o' names. It's another to go see one of those guys alone in a "80s style" movie with little to no sense of irony; it begins to feel like clinging to the past, or holing up in a cigars-and-cognac club where women aren't allowed.

But then, I can't entirely explain the success of Jason Statham. (And heck, I enjoy some of those movies.)

I feel like Bruce Willis's star is set to take a down-turn any day now, too, though, in part for some of the reasons MB describes: yes, the first three "Die Hard"s had him playing an everyman, but the most recent one and the upcoming one seem to want the audience to just accept it on faith that he's recognizably, visibly bonded in Hero Armor and his "This Man Is The Answer To All Our Prayers" turn in the new G.I. Joe movie reinforces that image. Perversely, as Willis approaches sixty, his action roles are insisting all the louder that we take him less as "everyman" and more as "icon", and I don't know if that's going to stick.

Man, I'm relieved they bombed. Hadn't followed them, hadn't heard how well they did or didn't do, so this just plastered a happy grin on my face. I won't go so far as to say I wished their 'roid hero flicks never worked, but goddamn that was some dumb, formulaic drek. Getting nostalgic for it would be like wishing for the Segal or Van Damme formula martial arts movies to make a return. Ugh. The very least Hollywood can do is invent new dumb formulaic drek.

If that's the whole shtick with Bruce Willis how come in the 4th one (and probably in the 5th one) he turned into someone that is unfazed about killing dozens of dudes and effectively "Jason Borne-ing" level of stunts for the movie?

I think the recent trend has to do with the age of the people involved more than things changing.

Arnie for example got very old, he's not built like he was in his prime anymore, and that kind of shows. You can't have him tear off his shirt for the climactic hand to hand battle with the main villain and go "OMG", and really Arnie being able to carry off the whole "I'm superhuman, but I'm real" was kind of his appeal. He's a decent actor, and pretty smart, but don't forget he was also a living prop. It's also notable that Arnie became famous not just by playing an over the top action hero, but doing it in some rather creative science fiction settings. It's been long argued that James Cameron was as responsible for Arnie's success, as he was himself. If you look at Arnie's straight action movies like say "Raw Deal" you'll notice they haven't exactly been among his best. The big movies that made him famous were as unreal as he was, "Total Recall", "Predator", "The Terminator", and others. His most recent movie bears more resemblance to his relative failures than his big successes.

In Arnie's case you have to also remember that information technology has grown since his heyday. Arnie always had a reputation for being something of a macho jerk IRL, there were articles about him in connection to movies like "Pumping Iron" that are negative, with titles like "Arnold The Barbarian", but there was really only so much of an audience this kind of thing could reach and bombard you with, his exploding popularity made the people singing his praises a lot louder than his critics. Arnie comes back from a relatively divisive political career, and gets in trouble for banging his maid under the table... everyone hears about all of this stuff, and I think that very much influanced his performance in a way it never could before.

With Stallone it's a case where he's also still built, but again is showing his age, and they have largely had to gloss over his decreasing physical abillities. When the appeal, like Arnie, is that your action hero looks like he could really do the stuff the character does, combined with decent choreography, it loses a lot when your living prop no longer fits the bill.

Something like "The Expendables" succeeds because while the props involved are aging, you get to see them all together, and they share the burden of carrying the movie. The star power also lets you forget how terrible a lot of the choreography is and the tricks they use at specific moments so you don't ever clearly identify the actor doing something, since they are using more stunt doubles. There were always stuntmen involved, but I think it showed a lot more here than it did before, and it's something people realize is going to be a problem when an aging Sly or Arnie tries to carry a movie entirely on their own, your going to be paying mostly to see someone pretending to be Arnie doing an action movie... and people catch onto that kind of thing.

With "The Expendables" it's also noteworthy that along with the musclemen who knew some decent choreography, you also had some pretty skilled martial artists. Jet Li, Jason Statham, and Dolph Lungren (believe it or not) all have pretty substantial martial arts backrounds, there is a reason why they had Dolph fight Jet Li for one of the big scenes in the first movie, and it was also one of the fights where you got to see the most of the actors, being sure it was actually them doing the stuff.

To be honest there is still a market for this, kind of thing, but a new generation of action guys never really appeared, and it's easier to use computers than it is to actually find a bodybuilder who can act. Likewise, one also has to remember that the most successful movies of the genere tend to have some wierd spin to them, the movies where a muscleman just beats up a bunch of derivitive criminals with poorly written justifications have generally not been the ones that made stars out of the action heroes, generally forming the filler in these guy's careers.

For a while I thought Vin Diesel might actually be the second coming for the genere, but he generally wound up making some terrible desicians on what movies to do.

I also think political correctness affects it as well. I know I say it all the time, but the bottom line is that when you let liberals run rampant, you wind up with a situation where nobody can be the bad guy anymore. This leads to really having to stretch things to try and make it so the bad guys don't offend anybody. When people actually get press for saying movies like the last, terrible, crysal skull based "Indiana Jones" movie were bigoted for making the bad guys Russian, you know there is a problem. You have people fight criminals nowadays people will scream it's insensitive to whatever culture is the target no matter how close to the truth it might be ranging from blacks (gangstas) to Italians (the mafia). When all you have to do is drop an "ist" or an "ism" to get a platform and five minutes of fame, people will look for any excuse to do it. This means that by definition any kind of "reality grounded" action movie has real problems since it has to stretch what is already a fairly weak premise even further... like it or not, you can't have an action movie without bad guys to get beat on, and those bad guys have to be a group the audience believes represent a credible threat.

Let's say today I decided to make an "old school" Arnie epic, meaning I'm going to use a combination of reality and crazy fantasy stuff. I cast our old geezer of a hero as a retired general having come back from decades of service to his old home in Texas, which happens to be terrorized by Mexican drug smugglers and illegal immigrants, a group which is not only untouchable because of their numbers and guns, but because they are a bunch of Santa Muete cultists (the saint of killers) based loosely on the real deal, with the skeletan emblems with the gaudy jewelery on them and everything. The leadership having magical powers, and there being an actual manifestation of "Saint Death" running around doing the bidding of the cult leader. As a result you have Arnie come out, beat up a bunch of gang members, make a political statement (kind of contrary to some of what he stood for in office) by loading a bunch of immigrants into the back of the van and dumping them over the border and threatening to shoot them if they come back, intoning "problem solved" or other typical deadpan one liner as he does, before eventually getting the irritation of the cult's leadership who send some guys with super-powers after him. Arnie sends off a message to some buddies that work in a goverment lab (since he was a general and all) and goes to war with them, doing pretty well despite their powers (I mean he is arnie) but ultimatly being on the losing end. After hiding to recover from injuries a shipment of super weapons arrives for the general and he heads out and unleashes science fiction firepower on the rampaging cultists. The leader however gets upset at this point, channels his god, and you have the big showdown between it and arnie, with laser beams flying all over the place, and a finale invoving bone crushing hand to hand combat which arnie loses, before lowering it into an ambush near the border (turns out he called some military friends who also have super weapons, he was just holding it off for them to arrive) before decimating it, throwing the carcass over the mexican border in front of a bunch of watching cultists and the illegals he tossed out before, before intoning "consider yourself deported" end credits role.

In short epic, politically irreverant, cheeze. The exact kind of movie guys like Arnie are supposed to make, and which tend to be utter bombs, or explode into popularity where the sheer stupidity of the thing winds up making it even more epic. Half the point of such movies are also to give the mainstream seemingly simple solutions to problems that are more complicated in reality by way of escapism. Nobody is going to solve problems like illegal immigration or the border drug wars with a bit of two fisted head busting, but it's nice to put your brain into neutral for a while and pretend. You can then laugh about (and think highly of the movie) when things get too deep on an issue you can defuse it by saying "Consider yourself deported" with an Austrian accent for a laugh. :)

ThingWhatSqueaks:
A kind and merciful god would not allow Conan 3 to happen.

A kind and merciful God wouldnt have let the reboot happen...

*Edit*

I wonder... would this be a good movie for guys like Arnie and Sly?

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