Greetings and Salutations.
Many long years ago I had a website, filmtroll.com where I reviewed action movies and what I call Ass-Kick Films. I currently write for the wonderful anti-American Idol Website Votefortheworst.com. As an avowed action movie fan, heavy metal acolyte and sports aficianado, my spending too much time watching and thinking about Idol has started to make me feel less than manly. Since writing about Idol has brought me many more readers than I ever did at Filmtroll I know what people like, namely Paula Abdul drunk jokes and explaining why singers A, B and C suck. But in order to keep my sanity I am announcing the Filmtroll's triumphant return to the internet.
What are Ass-Kick Films? Well, pull up a chair and sit for a while. Let me tell you.
The Ass-Kick Film Beginnings.
Hollywood always had it's manly movie stars. Guys' guys that men admired and women swooned over. Clark Gable, Erroll Flynn, James Cagney. Manly dudes who made manly films, but were known to star in a lovey-dovey movie for women every once in a while, like Gone With The Wind and... Okay, not that many chick films, that's why I love those guys.
Then came John Wayne. The Duke built an entire film career starring in Westerns (the manliest of movie genres) and War Films (nearly as manly.) Movies for men and by men. In fact in the history of cinema no woman has ever purchased a ticket for a John Wayne film. True fact. Just a quick look at a list of John Wayne character names is a primer in manliness... Duke, Rusty, Quirt, Wedge, Genghis and Rooster. Can you name ANY modern actor that could pull of that resume? Can you name ANY modern actor that could pull off playing a guy named Duke, not once but SIX different times in six different movies? I didn't think so.
The '80s -- The Ass-Kick film glory years.
Skipping over 50 years of movie history to get to the gist of my history, I just want to mention some other Ass-Kick Film legends: Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, Bruce Lee, Woody Strode, Robert Mitchum and Lee Marvin. There are many more, but I intend to discuss each of them in detail in the near future.
Anyhow, I point to 1982 as a banner year for Ass-Kick films. Sure the biggest hits featured a weepy alien, Dustin Hoffman in a dress and Big Dick Gere getting his ass handed to him by Louis Gossett Jr., but some of the milestone '80s action movies also premiered.
Rocky III -- Stallone getting his ass handed to him by Mr. T.
Star Trek II -- William Shatner getting his ass handed to him by Ricardo Montalban.
48 Hours -- First Cop Buddy film.
First Blood -- Manly survivalist Rambo whupping ass on redneck cops and David Caruso.
Firefox -- Clint flying a super fighter jet.
The Dark Crystal -- First Ass-Kicking Muppet film.
Tron -- First Ass-Kick Video Game film.
Quest for Fire -- First Ass-Kick Caveman Film.
The Road Warrior -- Greatest Post-Apocalyptic Ass-Kick film (and an all time great Ass-Kick film)
Blade Runner -- Man, this year was awesome.
Oh, and a little film that I consider one of the all-time great Ass-Kick Films... Conan The Barbarian. It's also the first starring role for the King of the '80s Ass-Kick Film... Ah-nold.
With Conan The Barbarian, Arnold Schwarzenegger started his reign of terror, bringing his brand of brawny ultra-violent thrillers that dominated the box office. He launched the era of Action Movies featuring any actor with muscles and an accent, and became the biggest movie star on the planet. But his influence was greater than that. Action movies began to stretch the boundaries of what violence was permitted in films. I'm no gore-fiend, but if a guy gets shot and you want the audience to feel any impact from the violence he needs to do more than clutch his chest and keel over.
Yeah, growing up in 1982 was pretty good.
The Downward Spiral of Ass-Kick Films.
During the '80s and '90s the action movie was the king of the box office. The top movie stars had names like Arnold, Sylvester, Jean-Claude and Chow. The biggest movies featured guns, manly dudes with guns, and other guys with guns shooting at the manly dudes. I was in hog heaven.
But in 1993 Something strange happened. Arnold made an action film and it flopped. Last Action Hero was Arnold's first box office disappointment after 10 years of nearly unbroken success. After that something in Arnold changed. Possibly sensing an end to his film career one day, and contemplating his run for public office in the near future Arnold stopped pushing the envelope of violent action in his action movies. Feeling the pressure to always outdo himself Arnold hit a wall. After 1993 he started doubting himself and taking on less adventurous scripts, and ironically this led to worse and worse films. The nadir of his career was the one-two punch of awful kiddie films Jingle All The Way and Batman and Robin. Suddenly Arnold was no longer invincible. In his next two films he embraced his Christianity (once again looking ahead to politics) and made the truly terrible double-bill of Christian Sci-Fi dreck, End of Days and The 6th Day. Then he got a face lift. He made an attempted return to form with Collateral Damage and Terminator 3 but his heart wasn't in it. And you know, that face lift thing kind of killed his manly credibility. Now he's Governor of my home state of Coll-ee-for-ya.
There was another earthquake that rocked the manly action film industry. In 1994 a movie featuring a fancy lad and a sassy, tough-talking chick who fall in love while riding the bus was the surprise hit of the year. Speed featured Keenu (misspelling intentional) as the "Action" hero who get this, disarms bombs. He doesn't SET them. To add further insult to injury, Keenu drives a bus and a sled, has trouble beating the fat, aged, one-armed Dennis Hopper in a fist fight AND Keenu doesn't shoot ANYBODY the entire film or visit a titty bar. What a crock.
The Wuss-Kick film was born.
Sure True Lies was still the #3 movie of 1994 raking in $146 million at the Box Office but Speed was not far behind with $121, and while True Lies also cost $115 mil, Speed's budget was a meager $30 mil. Yeah, anyone who could do math knew the days of Arnold's awesomness were numbered. The studio heads who earned billions of dollars by riding the brawny backs of the action movie stars asked themselves, "Why do we need to pay the Arnold's and Sylvester's of the world their $20 million asking fee when we can cast nancy-boys with shiny locks who make a fraction of the salary of the Big Guns?"
Rise of the Wuss-Kick Film
For some reason Hollywood Movie execs decided that they would screw up a perfect formula. "Men see movies. Men love action movies... Why don't we make action movies for GIRLS. We'll make even MORE money." Following on the heels of Speed were such Wuss-Kick film hits as:
Goldeneye -- Fey Irishman Pierce Brosnan is James Bond.
Waterworld -- Big Kev Costner has webbed feet, and drinks his own pee. And Dennis Hopper once again is supposed to be a threatening bad guy.
Bad Boys -- Will Smith and Martin Lawrence play bickering cops and life partners in Michael Bay's devastation of the Buddy Cop film.
Mission Impossible -- Tom Cruise pretends to be a superspy as he limp-wristedly slaps villains without mussing his perfect hair.
And the movie that signalled the end of the Manly Ass-Kick film as we know it:
Charlies Angels -- Because who better to kick ass than four foot tall Drew Barrymore and gawky dancer Cameron Diaz? Lucy Liu also deserves blame as an unbelievable action star, but gets a reprieve because of Kill Bill.
The Return of The Ass-Kick film.
Which brings us up to the present. Despite Hollywood's best efforts, dudes didn't stop going to see movies, they just stopped going to see action movies. And for the most part they stopped making great Ass-Kick films. The permissiveness in violence that '80s action movies began continued in horror films, and that moribund genre returned with a vengeance. Now the #1 dude movies were torture-porn films like Saw. But I'm not a horror fan and Horror films provide a different emotional thrill than Ass-Kick films. A faceless, unstoppable killer picking off nubile teens is not really my idea of Ass-Kicking. A horror film where the victims fight back is kind of defeating it's own purpose. The heroes of horror films are supposed to die, not perform feats of courage and daring.
So where does that leave us? For a good chunk of the '00s, up to 2009 the action movie was subsumed into the revived and incredibly popular Comic Book movie genre. The heroes have powers, but they have weaknesses too, and they fight diabolical villains. In fact the point of most Comic Book movies IS the ass-kicking.
Notable New Breed of Ass-Kick films:
Lord of the Rings -- Fantasy Ass-Kicking, a direct descendent of the Conan films.
Matrix -- I know, Keenu kicks ass, finally. First Sci-Fi/kung fu/Ass-kick film.
Miami Vice -- Brutally violent, but awesome re-imagining of the '80s action TV show.
Bourne Identity -- I know, on paper it's hard to buy Matt Damon as a superspy kicking ass, but to quote The 40 Year Old Virgin "Y'know, I always thought that Matt Damon was like a Streisand, but he's rocking the shit in this one!"
The Future of Ass-Kick films.
2008 was a pretty good year for Ass-Kick films. Iron Man and The Dark Night brought the Comic Book movie to a new level of quality and popularity. The Wrestler was not just the best Ass-Kick drama of the year, it was the greatest wrestling movie of all time. Gran Torino features a septuagenarian Clint Eastwood still Kicking Ass. Kung Fu Panda was an Ass-Kick kiddie cartoon. Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace feature a rugged brute of a James Bond in Daniel Craig that harkens back to the hard-boiled Ass-Kicking spy of the Ian Fleming novels. The Inredible Hulk -- Okay, that one was pretty wussy. Hollywood still put out it's fair share of wuss-kick films... ahem, Twilight. But it showed that Ass-Kick films are still viable and are still getting made. Huzzah!
I was entertained by this week's Taken, an old-fashioned Ass-Kick film starring Liam Neeson. And I'm looking forward to The Watchmen, and I'm still trying to catch a screening of Pathfinder featuring Vikings vs. Aliens. I mean, Vikings versus Aliens... what's manlier than that?
Thanks for enduring my rambling dissertation and predilection for RANDOM capitaliztions and run-on sentences. That's just how I write.
So, I guess in summation.... I'm excited about movies again, and even more importantly I'm excited to write about them again. Now if you're excited about reading mey writing about them again, then we've got synergy.