In 2002's, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Collateral Damage bombed at the box office. Many pointed to the unfortunate proximity of 9/11 to the terrorism-themed action movie. But Collateral Damage had a bigger problem on its hands: an aging action star losing his appeal with audiences.
The same dwindling effect happened to Sylvester Stallone after three decades of success in action. The 10 years that followed his last original leading role, 2002's Avenging Angelo, were filled with sequels and fan fiction-like promises. Rocky Balboa, Rambo, the Expendables franchise — less heroic comeback than wish fulfillment. This weekend, he returns with Bullet to the Head in hopes of recapturing some of that dumb, fun magic.
As a fan of both Schwarzenegger and Stallone's clobbering work — Commando and Rambo: First Blood Part II being stand outs — I'm sad to admit that at 65 and 66, respectively, the ball busting duo may be over the hill for entertaining action movies. Don't get me wrong: they're as ripped as ever. What they're missing is the "roar." While Stallone has packed so much muscle on for Bullet that his veins are literally being pushed up against his skin, both he and Schwarzenegger are going through motions in their latest vehicles (the Governator returned to solo stardom with The Last Stand). Audiences need goofy, brutal entertainment in their lives, but no longer can they be delivered by the hands of the legends. Nostalgia isn't powerful enough to empower them.
Luckily, the two have a successor.
Few people (including myself) saw model-turned-actor Jason Momoa in the final seasons of Baywatch or as Ronon Dex on Stargate: Atlantis and thought, 'Hey, this guy could be the next Stallone!' But after his turn as the vicious Keegan in Bullet to the Head, standing side by side with a man he's described in interviews as being a personal hero, it's clear the actor has the physique and light-hearted attitude to accept the torch. He's multi-faceted — in the right ways.
Schwarzenegger and Stallone aren't in the same category as Oscar winners, but they do have a talent few posses. Besides being structurally sound for pulling off stunts and choreographed fights, they get the humor of their moves. That's why it was never surprising that Schwarzenegger followed an alien gore-fest (Predator) and a futuristic deathwatch (Running Man) with Twins, or why Stallone thought Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was a good idea (I swear its not his fault). Momoa shows off the same attitude with Keegan. While he's evil, he's gleefully sadistic. We could picture him on the other side of it, rattling off Commando-like one-liners as fast as the bullets blasting off from his pistol.
Or he can play it straight. There's a reason Momoa was a logical choice for the 2011 remake of Schwarzenegger's Conan the Barbarian. He appears to pack the brute force of the Austrian bodybuilder and can do it with a stone cold face. That was obvious from Momoa's work as Khal Drogo on HBO's Game of Thrones, but there, the surroundings were far too serious. Thrones is engrossing and layered. As a flagbearer for potential escapism, Momoa needs to be the draw, a superhuman we know can triumph regardless of the setup. The sillier the scenario, the more faceless the baddies, the better the stage for an actor like Momoa to smash his way to stardom.
I wouldn't want Schwarzenegger and Stallone to disappear — in fact, during Comic-Con, I was enthusiastic over the possibility of Schwarzenegger trying his hand at another comedy — but when it comes to beating the living crap out of goons and leading the next big, nearly direct-to-DVD franchise, my chips are on Momoa. Conan may not have soared at the box office, but don't blame that one on the guy who delivered: with the right part — the ones still going to our heroes from the '80s — Momoa could inspire a whole new generation of action fanatics. And give me a reason to hoot, holler, and munch popcorn for 90 minutes.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
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The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.