I came to the 90’s action party late.
Sure, I watched a few Arnie movies as a kid, but those were the blatantly child-friendly movies. I’m talking Kindergarten Cop and Jingle All The Way, fun romps to be sure, but nothing to prepare me for the awakening I had last year.
It all began when John convinced me to watch his favourite films from the 90’s (and a few from the 80’s). I decided to indulge my husband’s nostalgia. How was I to know it would end in an movie obsession that would leave me with a classic-action-movie-sized hole, never to be filled? I’ve had a hard time identifying what it is about these action movies that is still so appealing, so I thought I’d write a post trying to figure it out.
They’re Intensely Optimistic
I recently watched Sicario. It was an intense action (/crime/thriller) flick that follows the story of Kate Macer “an idealistic FBI agent [who] is enlisted by a government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico”. While it was certainly a thought-provoking and well-executed film, it was also reeeaaaalllllllllyyy depressing.
Have you ever noticed that? Some of the “best” films out there also happen to be the ones that leave you feeling like you’ve been punched in the gut. Perhaps it’s the gritty realism of contemporary films that sets them apart from previous action films, but that realism also prevents them from being a true escape from real-world troubles.
If you go back and watch almost any 90’s action movie you can go into it knowing your protagonist won’t come out of his adventure emotionally scarred. Instead, you know he’ll just rampage across your screen, kicking butt and taking names.
The Good Guys are Good. The Bad Guys are Bad.
In the 80’s and 90’s, the good guy would always win, often in over-the-top ways that defied the laws of physics. Then the new millennium brought more and more self-aware action films, where loved ones could die along the way and the antagonists actually had legitimate backstories.
Action films today have to be conscious of what came before them. It’s just not advisable to ask your audience to take one-dimensional characters seriously anymore – even though the Expendables and Transformers franchises keeps on trying.
Even the superhero genre, which was able to hold onto the good guy/bad guy dichotomy a fair bit longer than other action films, is beginning to change. This year Deadpool killed it at the box office, which will probably prompt a new wave of self-aware and sarcastic superhero films.
They Offer a Wide Array of Ridiculous One-Liners
There are few times I’ve laugh harder than when I hear a line like this,
The puns are my favourite, but I thoroughly enjoy any one-liner that is both epic and ridiculous at the same time.
Yet somehow, I just don’t enjoy this type of humour when it shows up in contemporary action films. I have a deep and burning hatred for the Transformers franchise, for example, despite their use of one-liners
Although, in all honesty, my hatred for this franchise might be a result of Bay’s use of women as sex props, rather than his use of one-liners.
They Allow You to Vicariously Enjoy Being a Badass
Maybe it’s because I’m watching these movies as an adult and not a more impressionable little girl. Maybe it’s because I’ve always imagined myself as an amazing fighter in my head. But as I’ve gone back and watched these movies I’ve (almost) never envisioned myself as the female side-kick. Instead, I imagined myself as the (primarily) male protagonist, mowing down henchman after henchman with little effort.
I’m not saying I want to bring back the action movie style of the 90’s. I actually really appreciate how film has evolved to reflect back on itself in a critical way. However, some days I just want to imagine myself as an unstoppable hero, someone who can save the day while still having fun. I’d like to introduce my kids to that imaginary world too, preferably before the more thought-provoking and gritty world of Neo and Jason Bourne.