I’m a child of the 80s. That means that I was lucky enough to be exposed to the hyper-violence of the movies of that time during my formative years. Does this mean that I grew up into an emotionally malformed freak with a penchant for blood? Yup.
Don’t freak out. I’m not a psychopath or anything like that, at least, I haven’t been diagnosed as one. I just happen to like my action movies tough, like a man! I want explosions, car accidents and bullets whizzing through the air. I want the everyday folk to be protected by a tough as nails, no-nonsense hero with a hair trigger. I need a clearly discernable bad guy with motives that I can understand, such as greed or world domination. All that remains to make the film perfect is the establishment of a type of arena for our two foes to fight it out in, be it a skyscraper, grocery store or hockey arena. It doesn’t really matter where the action happens, as long as it is conducive to propelling the violence forward.
Let’s not forget about the lost art of the one-liner. No action movie is complete without a couple of decent quips from our hero. It makes the violence of the film feel less severe and more of a childish revenge fantasy that we can all live out in our heads. Who hasn’t wanted to stop someone from committing a crime and drop a clever comment. Imagine this, you are standing in the grocery store and you see a man steal a purse from an elderly woman at knife point. As this evildoer runs towards you, you grab a banana and jam it into his eye socket, puncturing his brain and killing him instantly. As you nonchalantly return the purse to the thankful victim, you utter, in a disinterested tone, “I don’t think he found his shopping experience very ‘appealing’.” Pure awesome.
You know what else goes good with all of this violence? Sex! As a heterosexual male, I want the obligatory sex scene/boob shot with the female lead actress, sexualized violence be damned. The sex scene works as nice respite from the violence. It gives our hero a chance to recover from his or her injuries and seek comfort in the arms of a lover. The rush of surviving a near death experience is very near the thrill of sex so it is not so surprising then to find both instances together in action films.
When I watch a movie, I want the bad guys to get what they deserve and then some. Let’s face it; in real life the good guys die sometimes. Horrible things happen all over the world and there is very little that can be done to stop it. That’s what makes these old movies
such as Die Hard (1988) and Robocop (1987) so special. Here, we are treated to larger than life heroes that help us forget that in real life bad things happen, that sometimes the bad guys win.
The best action movies provide us with a hero that doesn’t care about rules. For the hero, it is permissible for the character to feel physical pain but he or she must completely immune to the traumatic effect of killing dozens of people. Delving into the negative psychological effects of their violence would remove the viewer from the fantasy. Who wants to watch Robocop sit in the bathtub crying because he shot a rapist in the penis?
These heroes can spill blood, spout one-liners and kill everyone in sight. They are veritable killing machines, intent only on righting a wrong. Nothing can stop them, no matter how badly beaten they are or how dire the situation. Unlike real life, they always find a way to get the bad guy.
Obviously, action movies still exist in contemporary times but most of them lack the grit of their predecessors. Movies now have traded in their hard R-rated action for the more family friendly PG-13 rating to raise viewership and profits. Recent Die Hard entries and the remake of Robocop come to mind.
There is hope though; you just have to look a little bit harder. Dredd, The Raid: Redemption and John Wick are just a few of the recent movies that embody the spirit of the action film. These films tell us that it is okay to want to take revenge. They let us live in the spirit of fantasy where wrongs can be righted through any means necessary and that just sometimes, it’s okay to shoot a rapist in the penis.