As I write this, Black Sabbath has just announced a new album and tour. David Bowie has released a new single after more than a few years in isolated retirement. The Who, the Rolling Stones, and even Paul McCartney are still out there rocking. It’s obvious that you can never be too old to rock and roll, but we’ll find out if the same is true of action heroes, after the jump.
Return to the 1980s
This week, Arnold Schwarzenegger takes on the Mexican drug cartels in The Last Stand, in two weeks, director Walter Hill has Sylvester Stallone back kicking butt in Bullet to the Head, and next month Bruce Willis returns to the screen as John McClane in A Good Day to Die Hard. It’s like it’s the 1980s again, isn’t it? Well, that may be the problem.
The 1980s were two to three decades ago. All three of those movies, along with the last Indiana Jones flick from a few years back, and even the two Expendables movies, all have one thing in common – they’re not about action stars in action movies, they’re about aging action stars in action movies. And it seems to be a trend.
James Bond is the granddaddy of the action hero franchises, and Sean Connery is the original movie James Bond, going back to 1962, baby. If anyone is an aging action star, it’s him, and the truth is, the man has never stopped. Once retiring from the series, he returned twice, once with Diamonds Are Forever, which in itself was not a long jump, but then again several years later with the non-canonical Never Say Never Again. The latter was a rough remake of Thunderball sprinkled with age jokes, but it was never true.
Connery continued as an action hero for several years to come. Whether it’s Entrapment, Outland, as Ramirez in the Highlander films, Indiana Jones’ father, or as the protagonist in the suspected aborted James Bond script The Rock, Sean Connery is the man, and he always pulls it off with elegant, but tough bravado and class. He’s my number one.
Speaking of Indiana Jones, with Harrison Ford, we go from one extreme to the other. Only twelve years Connery’s junior at seventy, as exciting as Sean is to watch on screen, I find Harrison Ford hard to watch. Both physically and mentally, I think the man has given up. I remember not being able to enjoy Firewall because I kept worrying he might fall and break a hip.
Whereas I couldn’t imagine Connery being thought of as an old man, Ford can easily slip into that role. Han Solo is ready for a walker. The entirety of the last Indiana Jones film (refrigerators aside) was spent saying he was too old for this, and grooming Shia LaBeouf as his replacement. I think the next Indy is as iffy as the next Star Wars. Harrison is even more curmudgeony than I am.
Off screen, Governor Arnold may have made numerous comments about retirement and being old and tired, but on the screen, outside of a few comedies, he neither says it nor acts it. This week’s The Last Stand represents a move in the old man action hero direction, and I believe this may have been a calculated one on Arnold’s part. He can still walk the walk, and I can’t wait to see him kick ass again, but I think he thinks he needs to acknowledge it.
The Last Stand, opening Friday, has Arnold as the sheriff of a small town who has to stop a fugitive leader of the Mexican drug cartel when he comes through town. The film is directed by quirky cool Korean writer/director Kim Jee-Woon. I myself think this is the beginning of a new cycle for the Governator’s film career. He is the action hero, aging or not, and is certainly not too old to rock and roll.
I was keenly unaware of Bullet to the Head until I started seeing the ads on television, and I have to admit, they made me laugh out loud. Sly makes popcorn movies, flicks that are fun. He may have started out with the Oscar winning Rocky and Rambo raising awareness of Viet Nam aftermath, but for the most part, Stallone is the king of the action films, and he makes them fun. Say what you will about Judge Dredd, Tango and Cash, or Demolition Man, but they were damned fun, and I watch them whenever they’re on.
The Walter Hill directed Bullet to the Head is based on a French graphic novel about the unlikely pairing of an assassin and a detective brought together by a mutual enemy. Teamed with the much younger Sung Kang in the cop role, Sly has a fresh sounding board for old jokes, snappy dialogue, and memorable one-liners. I am so looking forward to this one. The movie opens on the first of February.
The first Die Hard was waaay back in 1988, and marked the beginning of a long and proud career of action heroics, peppered with comedies, the mix of the two have been Bruce Willis’ trademark. John McClane in the Die Hard films is as funny as he is tough, and as Willis has gotten older, so has McClane, and the humor has turned more toward the Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon vibe – “I’m too old for this shit!”
Willis’ John McClane returns to the screen in A Good Day to Die Hard on Valentine’s Day, sure to cause arguments among many couples that weekend. I hope there’s a good rom com out at the same time to balance things out. Back on topic, this installment of Die Hard, the fifth, has more of an Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull vibe, in that Willis is pulling a Danny Glover, and he’s accompanied by his now adult son, who’s ready to take on the mantle.
I personally don’t think that’s needed, unless of course Bruce Willis wants out of the franchise. He’s only fifty-seven after all, and as tough, if not tougher than the other guys on this list. Bruce Willis as John McClane, or in any other action hero role, is the bad ass with the smart mouth, and he’ll be rocking for quite some time to come.
Are these guys too old to rock and roll? Nah, not yet. Sometimes it’s a matter of giving up. Heck, Charles Bronson was playing the game well into his seventies and beyond. It seems to me that folks like Harrison Ford have already given up in their head.
It is notable to mention that the ladies of action don’t seem to age, they just get tougher. Pam Grier, Linda Hamilton, and Michelle Yeoh are the baddest mothers of them all. Seems like nobody is too old to rock and roll. As for everyone else, well, at least they’re not Steven Seagal, doing ‘reality’ shows.