Both The Equalizer 2 and Skyscraper came out recently, and after seeing both, I was wondering what the heck happened to action movies.
Some spoilers for those movies follow.
As it is, I know the 80s and 90s era of action movie is basically long gone. The time when an R-rated action movie could come out with a big marquee star known pretty much exclusively for action movies is over. Studios these days want more movies to get a PG-13 rating to maximize ticket sales. That means less blood and less f-bombs.
But somehow, it seems like good action movies are harder to come by. Sure, superhero movies could arguably have taken their place, but they aren’t quite the same. The one-liners, the largely practical effects, the idea that a guy with a gun and a karate chop could save the day, these things don’t come out as often as they used to, and when they do, they seem…different somehow.
Many of them these days seem to star legitimate actors. Denzel Washington and Liam Neeson are making action movies these days, and these guys were doing much weightier work before. The closest we have to a Stallone or Schwarzenegger now is Dwayne Johnson, though he seems to spend a lot of time in more family friendly fare, and Stallone actually wanted to be a more legitimate actor before he got sidetracked into seemingly endless Rambo and Rocky movies.
I think part of it is the loss of great action movie directors. James Cameron is off dropping a new movie maybe once a decade from the looks of things. Paul Verhoeven’s own brand of weird suffered from a few disappointing flops that audiences may not have realized were satire. And John McTiernan, well, he has his own problems. Antoine Fuqua and Rawson Marshall Thurber just aren’t one of those guys.
That was slammed home for me during both Skyscraper and both Equalizers. The former never had me thinking there was any real weight to anything, that any of the explosions would come close to hitting the Rock, or anything along those lines. The latter were poorly plotted, with cliche moments coming back. I knew Pedro Pascall was the villain in Equalizer 2 without really thinking too hard because there were only something like two people it could be and one of them was barely in the movie. The only other option would be to pull out a brand new character, and that just wasn’t going to have the emotional resonance of Denzel Washington realizing he’d been betrayed by an old friend.
Granted, there was no emotional resonance anyway, but you get the idea.
Maybe superhero films are all we have right now. Maybe we don’t need actors who are only really good at tossing off one-liners and looking like they’re actually putting effort into avoiding an explosion. There are still exceptions, like the quick action of Mission: Impossible, the cartoon physics of The Fast and the Furious, and the darkly imaginative John Wick films to keep the genre alive for now.
Then again, a lot of those old movies weren’t very good either.