They don’t make new action stars like they used to, which I suppose is why we still use the old ones. The recent adventures of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Liam Neeson, Harrison Ford, Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis get a right old examination and no mistake, guv.
We’re starting off with the poster boy for dual-wielding a bus pass and a machine gun…
More than anything it was Sly’s return to the Rambo franchise that started this crazy train rolling, or at least shuffling. Taken as an action film, it’s competent if unrelentingly bloodthirsty. As a comment on the internal strife of Myanmar it’s comically ham-fisted, and when juxtaposed with the aforementioned bloodthirst it provokes a curious mix of adventure and disgust.
However, the real reason we’re in the state we’re in is The Expendables and its sequels, as Sly teams up with Jason Statham and, well, by the third instalment pretty much everyone who has ever made an action film. The first instalment suffers from a strange mix of tone, at points wanting to be taken seriously as Sly helps out an island in the grip of a military regime, mixed roughly equally with people being dissolved by gunfire in a way that makes Commando feel restrained.
The second instalment drops the certification at the same time as upping the body count and treating itself a little less seriously as they fight Jean-Claude Van Damme’s forces of evil. There’s a better level of familiarity between the many stars, and in particular the bromance between Statham and Stallone is rather less forced, making for a more enjoyable experience all round.
The latest, at the time of recording, is another ramp up from two, a central part of the gimmick being finding a new generation of Expendables which largely defeats the purpose of the exercise, in our opinion, certainly when the new team is much less charismatic than the old team. It’s not so much of an issue though, as before long all hands are at the pump to smite evil Mel Gibson. Clearly a subscriber to the “more is more” philosophy, you could argue it’s all a little too much, but it remains an enjoyable action flick.
Aaaaaaah, Aaaaaahnie. Our second favourite celebrity U.S. Governor, after Jesse Ventura. He’s now clearly back from the political arena and back in the big-budget blockbuster game with Terminator: Genisys, as discussed on a recent podcast, but he has other tricks up his sleeve.
In particular Escape Plan, starring alongside Stallone as he helps Stallone’s professional prison escapologist bust out of a ludicrously over-designed double-plus max-max-maximum security prison after he’s double-crossed and left to rot for reasons that ultimately bear little scrutiny. There’s the kernel of a great idea for a film here, which is why it’s so disappointing to see it fall so flat. Stallone and Arnie have little to no chemistry together, which largely scuppers the film, and the frankly silly nature of the prison doesn’t help immersion. Despite all this, it’s not a bad film, just a roundly mediocre one, but that doesn’t mean we can recommend it to you.
We also briefly touch upon The Last Stand, as Arnie plays a small town sheriff taking the titular stand against a drug lord who’s running through his neck of the woods. It’s surprisingly decent, given that Johnny Knoxville is in it.
We’ve spoken about actors who stepped away then came back to the action arena, but Neeson is a surprising beneficiary of this trend, coming late in life to the out-and-out action film, in particular of course the Taken trilogy.
The first outing was a surprise success, with Neeson wading his way through the Parisian underworld after his daughter is taken by a gang of people-traffickers. A film where some quite nasty violence is both the point and the appeal of the film is going to be divisive, but for the majority of our opinions it’s pacy and punchy enough to be compelling, albeit with a dismal level of dialogue and minimal plot.
Taken 2 is, to a large extent, much the same but in Istanbul, somewhat more sanitised, and much more stupid. Which makes it rather disposable, all things considered.
Taken 3: Live Free or Take Hard is a rather different beast, as Neeson becomes the hunted after he’s framed for the murder of his wife. He must go on the lam to clear his name and find the real killer in what’s a nice change of pace, but so contrary to the point, if there is such a thing, of the Taken series that it’d be better as a completely different film. Not terrible, but it does have Dougray Scott in it, so set your expectations accordingly.
It’s not all from the mind of Luc Besson though. Run All Night is a surprisingly effective thriller, with Neeson as a washed-up, alcoholic ex-Mafia hitman, estranged from his son but who nevertheless puts himself on the line to protect his kid after he’s framed for a murder that puts him in the way of that there Mafia. Okay, it’s not going to win any awards for originality, but a motivated cast put in uniformly good performances and it moves along at a fair old clip, which makes for very pleasant watching.
Of course he’s shown up in Expendables 3 already, but the main thrust of his inclusion here is for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which shows how badly things can go. It’s a film with plenty of problems, from ropy CGI to dismally realised characters, but the underlying shaky foundation is Ford himself, who neither looks the part nor apparently could be bothered to wake up for the part, mumbling his way through the film disinterestedly. Not one of anyone involved’s finer moments.
Denzel’s another guy on the same path as Neeson, with more action outings post turning 50 than before then. The main item for discussion here is The Equalizer, which Scott and Drew find to be a perfectly serviceable action outing enhanced by Denzel’s innate likeability, whereas Craig finds it a desecration of the memory of Edward Woodward. But he’s outvoted, so there.
While you would have to be a hard-hearted individual indeed not to appreciate Our Brucie, even this podcast can’t deny that A Good Day to Die Hard is a pretty poor outing on nearly every level, and while most of the blame goes to everything around Willis rather than on him, it still makes for a poor film. Providing a lot of action and no reason at all to care about any of it, this is a marked drop in quality for the franchise.
There’s much more reason to be positive in both R.E.D. and R.E.D. 2, comic book adaptations with Willis as a retired agent that just does not seem to be allowed to lead a quiet life. While Willis does display some charm, you could argue he’s a touch miscast as the grounding influence for the likes of John Malkovich to vamp off, but it certainly doesn’t stop both outings being an awful lot of fun.
We’re aware that the title of this podcast could be construed as somewhat pejorative, but we don’t intend that. We approach these guys with love, even if we try not to approach quite a few of the films unless forced to.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues discussed today, please hit us up on Twitter (@fudsonfilm), on Facebook (facebook.com/fudsonfilm), or email us at email@example.com. If you want to receive our podcast on a regular basis, please add our feed to your podcasting software of choice, or subscribe on iTunes. If you could see your way clear to leaving a review on iTunes, we’d be eternally grateful, but we won’t blame you if you don’t. We’ll be back with you soon with our Mercenary: Absolution commentary special, a recent Steven Seagal nightmare, but until then, take care of yourself, and each other.