Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Action Movies: The Evolution Through My Eyes - Part I

Action movies take up a huge part of my mind, and something I do think about on a daily basis. I have grown up with this genre like a lot of other people, and it has heavily influenced my movie taste and my life. I think growing up I saw action a lot differently to a lot of people I knew, because when I was 10 I saw Stallone, Arnie, Lee, Lundgren as my GODS. Religion wasn't a big part of my life, I didn't really care or understand the teachings of Christianity, but I could tell you the moral of each one of Stallone's movies and how they could be used in every day life. Growing up as a girl and loving action movies made me a target for bullies because I wasn't into horses. The closest I had gotten to a horse was seeing the horses head in the bed scene from the 'Godfather'. Throughout primary and secondary schooling, these GODS of mine, really saved me and I found solace in their films. 'Enter the Dragon', 'Kickboxer', 'Rocky', 'Rambo', 'Predator', these films made me feel invincible, safe and most of all accepted and normal. Watching an array of action movies and it's sub-genres since I was a little kid made me see a clear film evolution It was an evolution of viewing and experiencing something so kick-ass, but for a long time I felt no one else understood the genre or loved it as much as I do. But now that I am an adult it is so awesome being able discuss and fire up over certain films and trade fun facts about the films and the genre with like-minded people .

Action is a genre which has heavily changed since it was first introduced to Hollywood's first action star, Douglas Fairbanks. Action films have come a long way, and have had many different stars who helped revitalise and define the genre on a whole new level which had never been done previously and has never been topped since. A lot of the success from certain action films and it's sub genre's are the films which paid close attention to the time they were produced; everything about them was relevant. There was an obvious decline in the late 90's because the genre was becoming stale and nothing new or exciting was being released. But now it is 2015 and the action movies are back, obviously they can never recapture the glory days of the 1980's to the mid 1990's but this is the closest they have been.

There are a lot of different sub genres of  Action which have come from different countries which have definitely influenced Hollywood and made them step up their game in terms of the films of they are producing. Action is a genre which has just been around forever, and there has been many successful franchises which have come out of it, and there has also been some major flops too. Action is a genre which critics and audiences alike are not as forgiving as the die-hard fans out there, which is a shame because it is a genre which knows exactly what it is, and it knows exactly what it want's to portray, but sometimes they are given so much money they don't know what to do with it, and then other times they barely have any money in their budget so the film doesn't appear slick, so critics do not notice the heart that it does have. Action is a genre where a lot of it's based on how it looks and if it has one liners which make you laugh, it isn't a genre you are supposed to take seriously. But having said that if action movies make you emotional, then I think that is pretty damn awesome that a film like that can push you to that level. I cried when I watched the first 'Expendables' movie, and you can judge me all you want, but when Mickey Rourke is telling you a tale of heartbreak and regret you need to shut the hell up and listen and feel the emotion in his voice.

I find it particularly interesting to see how far we have come with action movies, and where the genre is currently going. Just like now we have our certain stars like Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and Jason Statham, the '60s and '70s consisted of Steve Mcqueen, Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson and Gene Hackman. It was these guys which defined the cop/action films which were action-packed, brutal but also they had incredible stories. These films had it all. And they still stand up as classic actors to this day, and their films will never be forgotten. People may not see those kind of films as action movies but they are, action isn't just about explosions and guys with big muscles; that is just pop culture trying to influence you and make you think that. If you watch as many action films as die-hard fans like myself you will be able to see the early influences, and see how they are utilised in films today. But the '60s and '70s cop/action films were influenced by the 1940's and 1950's Westerns. Sure visually the films may not look anything alike, and the time in which they are set may be different, but the premise is still the same; Bad guy take's what isn't his, good guy has to take it back. I know that is a very general story, but underneath all the other elements that is put in the film, that is the underlying key of the film.

In my own opinion the 'real' action films didn't start until the Bond Saga began in 1962 with it's first entry into the series, 'Dr No'. James Bond has come along way, had many gadgets, women, adventures and fought a colourful and dangerous selection of  super-villains. I think it was the Bond films which proved to film makers, and writers that ANYTHING can be put on screen, it doesn't matter how unrealistic or unbelievable it is. The Bond films always moved with the times too, they were fresh and relevant. I mean sure Roger Moore may have overstayed his welcome a little bit in portraying Bond, but for a while he was so kick-ass.
There have been different actors portraying Bond and while some where more successful than others, there is one of them who is the most underrated of them all; T-Dalt AKA Timothy Dalton. It is a real shame that he was in only 2  Bond films as I would love to have seen his character go on a lot more adventures because he is a serious Bond who's violence you can really get behind. He also played by his own rules...and when it does come down to it, isn't that one of the prerequisites for being an action star? Sure the other Bonds did too, but T-Dalt was just uncompromising;I like that. And I will say it 'Licence to Kill' is in my top 5 Bond films. I find that the Bond films could be just as violent as any other action film, but I guess seeing a well dressed man with a lot of class and style makes it okay for him to blow up stuff but it makes it a joke if Stallone does it. It's a lot of the same narrow minded morons out there whp love the Bond movies but hate the action movies which show a lot more muscle and machine guns. At the end of the day their goal is still the same, so why not love both? 

While Bond after Bond film was being released in the '60s, a sub-genre of film was slowly coming to the surface - yeah that's right it was the 'dirty cop film'. 

Clint Eastwood has firmly established himself as a western actor; guys wanted to be him and women wanted to sleep with him, but I think his career became more relevant when he portrayed unorthodox cop Harry Callahan in the downright violent and brutal 'Dirty Harry'. I know I said T-Dalt played by his own rules in the Bond films, but it was Eastwood who rewrote the 'Playing by Ones Own Rules' syllabus. I think it was a huge gamble making this film, but the timing of it couldn't have been more perfect. Because the '60s was in my opinion a bland era for cinema, sure things were becoming a little more 'risqué', but it was a lot of drama filled movies with a tonne of talking and not much else. And while people were happy to watch the Bond movies and watch films starring John Wayne no matter how boring and stale they were becoming, 'Dirty Harry' just blew everyone out of the water in 1971. This isn't what the film world was expecting, however the '70s later proved it was indeed an intense and raw decade for film, and 'Dirty Harry' proved that it indeed was just that.  But Eastwood wasn't the only one having success with the dirty cop films, it was the unsung hero of Italian Spaghetti Westerns; Franco Nero. Nero is highly underrated and I have found that a lot of people have forgotten him, or haven't even bothered to see what he is about. He has had many successful westerns such as the original 'Django', 'Texas Adios' and my personal favourite 'Keoma'. I found Nero to be an incredibly intense actor, who has these eyes which would just draw you in, you could tell just by looking into his eyes, he had seen some shit, and each tragedy he had endured was pushed through in all of his characters whether they were Spaghetti Westerns or Italian Cop Films which are known as Poliziotteschi. His characters were often violent, but it was directed, not just violent for the sake of it. If you haven't seen any of his dirty cop films you definitely need to check out 'Street Law' and 'High Crime', trust me you won't regret it.  He is definitely one of the most grittiest action heroes that has being uncovered and I am so fortunate to have been able to see his movies, even if I had to stay up late on school night to watch them.

It was these 'dirty cop films' which eventually lead to a new breed of vigilante's in cinema, and they were spawned in the 'Revenge films' or also titled 'Rape Revenge Films'. A lot of people don't consider this a sub genre of action, but action is such a broad title. The 'revenge films' out there become categorised with exploitation and horror because of films like 'The Last House on the Left' and 'I Spit on Your Grave'.

I know there is a lot of people out there that do believe that revenge films are violent for the sake of being violent, in some cases that is true, and it's merely just for your entertainment, but I'd say 98% of the time the protagonist has a goal to seek justice in any means necessary, because if the law can't handle it....they will. Revenge films are not the typical action style that a lot of people typecast, so there isn't many explosions or men trying to kill Russian crime bosses before they take over the world. I find that the action and violence is very emotive whether it's conveyed through an intense  car chase, a deep stab or ten to the chest, or even several bullets to the head. Revenge flicks are often bastardized and seen as trash but there has been many great revenge flicks since 'Death Wish', such as 'Dead Man Shoes', 'Kill Bill', 'Inglourious Basterds' 'Hard Boiled', 'Get Carter', 'Harry Brown' and 'The Crow',  just to name a few. See revenge films can be still have a great story and still be violent, despite what a lot of people think, so give this sub genre some damn credit.

The '70s wouldn't be complete without the greatness that was Bruce Lee. While his career in films was tragically cut short, no one can deny his influence and how it still stands up today. Can you imagine the films he would have made if he was still alive?  Bruce Lee was in several films which still stand up today as some of the greatest martial arts seen on film, but the stand out one for me is 'Enter the Dragon'. That film is flawless in my eyes because it has it all. The script was simple, to the point and it wasn't lousy, and there was some decent acting in it with actual emotion behind it. And the fight choreography was spectacular. Martial arts films were a popular genre of the 1970's but and there was a lot of spoof martial art films, or ones with terrible dubbing but great martial arts sequences like 'Shaolin Drunken Monk' starring Gordon Liu. Obviously no one will be able to touch Bruce Lee in terms of skill and agility but we have had great martial artists since him who have put their stamp on the genre and made it their own such as Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Sonny Chiba, Gordon Liu, Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais  just to name a few.

Action films need to be given the credit and appreciation they deserve because they have earned their 'merit' badges just as much as the other genres. I know I talk a lot about action movies in my articles and in my twitter posts, but the thing is the action genre has been scathed by bitter critics and by audiences who don't believe in turning off their brain for a couple of hours and enjoying something that is so different from everything else. Action is a genre I will always fight for and I will always give it the exposure it deserves in as many articles as I can. What is so evident with action movies is the evolution, and seeing it spawn so many sub genres and go off into so many paths and avenues to create something so unique, that it will always have it's place and be remembered one way or another. 

Part II will be coming soon, trust me I will need a whole article to just dedicate it to the 1980's ,which were the golden era of the action genre.