Hollywood is a cyclical beast.
Remakes probably are the most obvious example. When studios run out of original ideas, the audience ends up being subjected to the same stories told time and time again, but with different actors. One of the main problems critics had with last summer’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” was the film’s similarity to Sam Raimi’s original “Spider- Man,” especially because it had only been five years since Raimi’s “Spider-Man 3” came out.
The same idea can be applied to recycled concepts. During the last year, and more specifically the last month, audiences have been treated to (or subjected to, depending on your view) an ’80s action resurgence. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “The Last Stand,” Sylvester Stallone’s “Bullet to the Head,” and Bruce Willis’ “A Good Day to Die Hard” all push the same concept: these stars are now old, and they’re dealing with high tech weaponry, but they can still take the bad guy down with brute force. I am man! Hear me roar!
The problem is, these movies have been box office stinkers. Stallone’s “Expendables” franchise has been successful, and I have little doubt “A Good Day to Die Hard” will be successful, since it is part of an established franchise. But other standalone movies have simply washed away.
Perhaps audiences are getting tired of the joke? It probably isn’t very entertaining to be reminded that you are aging. Or perhaps the audiences who grew up with hardcore, R-rated ’80’s action simply want more substance? ’80’s action is known for its blood, gore, and excessive swearing, but not for solid plots.
I for one couldn’t stand “Bullet to the Head.” Stallone’s voice muffle has only become worse with age, and it’s incredibly hard to hear half of his dialogue. Writers can only pursue the corrupt cop trope so much before audiences get wise to it — a mole in the police department is pretty much a mainstay of cop movies nowadays.
I think the R rating hurts the series to a much higher extent than other factors. “Rambo” and “The Terminator” were standards for 80’s action. They were established franchises, not weak attempts to bring back hardcore action. Teenagers, the crowd these movies need to excite in order to jumpstart aging careers, aren’t impressed because they can see much glossier action films every other week, and the R rating keeps them from at least buying a ticket. They might sneak in, but they can’t give the studio their money.
The true test will occur next week. The last “Die Hard,” “Live Free or Die Hard,” carried a PG-13 rating. “A Good Day to Die Hard” returns to franchise roots with an R rating, which means many of Willis’ original mannerisms can be present where they weren’t during the last film. If the film is successful, it could be proof that R-rated action is still marketable, but I would still have my qualms. “Die Hard” is an established franchise, so that will draw out moviegoers who wouldn’t have wasted their time on “Bullet to the Head.”
The closest thing to success Hollywood has had with these classic action films recently is the “Taken” franchise. The film didn’t pursue heavy plots, or jokes about how old its main character was. It simply got down to the nitty-gritty and let Liam Neeson run around Paris and scream “Where is my daughter?”
I’m not saying I want franchises such as “Die Hard” to disappear. Although it’s a ’90s movie, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” represents ’80s ideals very well, and it is one of my favorite action films. I WANT Schwarzenegger to be successful. But until studios learn to balance the corny “I’m too old for this” jokes with decent action, one-off films such as “The Last Stand” just won’t be successful.