Tuesday, October 30, 2012

On the Graying of the Action Hero

Film critics have been famously unkind toward the actors playing James Bond as they got on in years, with Roger Moore getting the nastiest treatment of all after the release of A View to a Kill. (Simon Winder's description of Moore as having looked "like some burst-open yogurt found at the back of the fridge" is more graphic and creative, but not really harsher, than much of the commentary printed at the time.)

Moore was fifty-seven then. Today the leads in big-screen action films are often older than that, from Liam Neeson in films like the Taken series, to Bruce Willis in later efforts like Red and the upcoming Die Hard 5 (A Good Day to Die Hard), and the ensembles featured in the Expendables films (with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone both well past sixty, and Chuck Norris over seventy).

This is not totally unprecedented, of course. John Wayne, for instance, played the action hero well into his sixties', and Sean Connery did it even longer than that (as Allan Quatermain in 2003's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Nonetheless, what was once exceptional has become routine. It might well be a reflection of twenty-first demographic change, a response to an audience which is on the whole aging, and finding its fantasies changing alone with it (their preferred Gary Stu, like them, getting on in years) - as well as Hollywood's ever-more aggressive capitalization on nostalgia (the sole basis for Stallone's cinematic career for most of the past decade). It may be that the trend has been reinforced by a widespread view of the younger males who have long been the mainstay of the action audience as fickle ticket-buyers.

Still, I doubt this will affect the Bond franchise. A reconception of the films which has the lead character getting older, in which we see Bond, like the heroes of those other, newer franchises mentioned above not pretend to be anything but a gun-packing senior citizen. The idea of Bond as eternally thirtysomething may be too firmly set in audience's imaginations for that, especially given Bond's casanova image (something '80s-era action heroes never were, and do not have to live up to now), with mainstream opinion ever-less forgiving attitude toward this aspect of the character making it more rather than less of a problem. Likewise the milder adjustment of a greater tolerance for the aging of the actor in the lead role. Perhaps, as suggested some time back, Craig will end up making another five Bond films - but even given his present popularity in the role, that seems rather a stretch. (Indeed, there is already chatter about who will be the next Bond, with the old game of tossing about names apparently well underway already.)

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