02 August 2019

Rambo: Ass Blood

Okay, okay - stay with me here. I saw Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (2019) and those impressions are probably coming soon, but one thing that really stuck with me was the trailer for Rambo: Last Blood (2019). Yeah, it looks terrible, but it got me thinking about stuff. Like, a lot of stuff, so here it is, Internet. Your first non-Pop music post all month. First, let's watch that again:



Trailer I guess has been out for a few months, but I haven't really caught it. For some reason it didn't seem to have a lot of buzz. I think that's wholly to do with what we're writing about today. John Rambo and Sly Stallone have fallen down that slippery hole of Old White Men Action Wish Fulfillment Fantasy Movies. Have you not heard of this trope? Well, let's say hi to our friend and originator of this whole deal, Nicholas Cage.

I first noticed The Cage dipping around Ghost Rider and NEXT in 2007. But that's really not that outrageous. Superhero movies were very much a thing and NEXT isn't all that ridiculous for where he was in his career.

But then suddenly Bangkok Dangerous (2008) turned into Knowing (2009) and Drive Angry (2011). The Cage descended into the realm of Netflix Streaming with one-word titles. Stolen (2012). Rage (2014). Arsenal (2017). The Trust (2016). The Trust is actually pretty good. In between he still had a handful of challenging, offbeat roles in Joe (2014), Army of One (2016), and Mandy (2018), but since then has churned out Outcast (2015), Pay the Ghost (2015), The Runner (2015), Between Worlds (2018), A Score to Settle (2019), Before Death (2019), and Against the Odds (2019). Those last two aren't even real.

A lot of these films have a similar theme. They're relatively cheap, Direct-to-DVD (or Direct-to-Streaming) films about a vengeful broken old white man avenging something. Probably a daughter. Cage is weird enough as an actor that some of these movies rise above the script and are watchable. Still, it felt like the start of a weird trend. Older actors, struggling to find relevance in their careers have increasingly turned to churning out this trash. And none are quite like Liam Neeson.

It started innocently enough. I even made a bit post about how Zeus dreamed he was Liam Neeson at night. It was all good and fun, but that was now seven years ago. He hasn't really turned back since. In fact, it seems like his real-life persona has doubled down on this insanity. A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014) is actually awesome, but certainly fits the mold of world-wearied white man avenging the women he's lost in his life. Again, there is a descent here. Taken 3 (2015), Run All Night (2015), The Commuter (2018), and Cold Pursuit (2019) all fit into this realm. I was actually pretty pumped for Cold Pursuit, because the trailer is bonkers and I have no idea what tone they're going for.



It's almost at the point of self-parody, except that it takes itself too seriously to ever dip into a true parody of the genre, which would in itself be somewhat inspired brilliance. Liam Neeson has proven to be a trailblazer for older dramatic actors finding renewed relevance. Enter John Cusack.

John Cusack. What the fuck, John Cusack. In a post-Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) world he has somehow become a Direct-to-VOD icon. Drive Hard (2014), The Prince (2014), Reclaim (2014), Arsenal (again!), Blood Money(2017), Singularity (2017). It's wish-fulfillment that Cusack fans can envision themselves reclaiming (no pun intended) some of their old world, prove their relevance, and rescue some daughters.

This doesn't stop here. Bruce Willis is killing VOD. Now, this is a man of action credentials, one of the biggest stars in the world. Why is he appearing in Extraction (2015), Marauders (2016), and Reprisal (2018). At this point, I would also like to say that if you've seen or even heard of any of these movies, I'm very impressed with you. I consider Willis among that Expendables "Big Three" that has a franchise to fall back on. For Bruce, it was Die Hard for a long time, but maybe even with A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) he realised he was sullying the good name and legacy of the franchise?

Sly Stallone seems to have no fear of this. He's more than happy to return to the Rambo or Rocky universes, although when he did the latter in Creed (2015) it was so artful and natural that he probably should have earned an Academy Award. That's high standards. But he also has his share of trash lately. Is Escape Plan becoming a franchise? There's a third one due out this year for some reason. Other than that he has Backtrace (2018) and Bullet to the Head (2012). Not too bad of a trash resume. You know, beyond the VOD Escape Plan movies he's making once a year for some reason.

Then there's Arnold. He's actually one person who stands out as different from all this. This video actually describes his rise and current career pretty well. I kind of think back to Last Action Hero (1993) as a sign that Schwarzenegger was always actually pretty canny about all this nonsense. He remains elevated by sticking to theatrically released movies, without descending into too much revenge fantasy. His return to the movies have been punctured with Sabotage (2014) and Aftermath (2017), but also Killing Gunther (2017) and Maggie (2015). None are very good, but at least weird and interesting.

He does keep going back to the Terminator well for some reason. That movie is just on another level blockbuster-wise than Rocky or Die Hard, though. There's just a more world-shaking stakes involved. Of course, there hasn't really been a good Terminator movie in over twenty years, but for some reason that franchise still has some goodwill. Well, maybe not after Genysis (2015). I can't see Dark Fate (2019) doing...well anything.

If we look at other old white actors who peaked in the 90s it's crazy how everyone has pretty much relied on their one franchise to now make in perpetuity. Tom Cruise settled on Mission: Impossible. Harrison Ford is turning out for new Indiana Jones and Star Wars, although the latter certainly doesn't revolve around his involvement. Keanu Reeves is the only one to say, "Screw that, I'm John Wick now!" and has made an iconic recurring role for himself deep in his 50s.

Since he has a movie coming out this weekend, let's take time to dive into this "Old White Actors Save Young Daughters" trope a little more with a movie that best epitomizes this concept: Jason Statham's Homefront (2013). This is a movie made explicitly to exploit middle white male American fears of losing control over what they've had control of for so very long: every aspect of their families lives and in many ways, the actual entire world itself. It's nice to go to these movies and see cranky fathers relevant and useful again, instead of some scary Latin American transsexual. Actually, I really want to see a Latin Transsexual action movie now.

There are quite a few more examples out there. Dolph Lundgren cranks them out. Frank Grillo gets into it. Check out Ethan Hawke in 24 Hours to Live (2017) or Antonio Banderas in Security (2017). This was just me scrolling through Netflix for two minutes. And I don't mean to totally trash direct-to-VOD movies. I saw Triple Frontier (2019) earlier this year and dug it. Sometimes the movies elevate beyond their sources. But I also think that the onslaught of cheap, emotionally exploitative White Man protection fantasies is distinctly correlated to our political climate. And not just Trumpism, but the underrated massive culture wars we're experiencing right now. It's tough to fight for your place in society, but it's got to be fun to watch John Cusack shoot some black drug dealers who kidnapped his daughter.

This brings us back to Rambo: Last Blood. It saddens me that Sly doesn't even seem to realize the satirical element and raw PTSD emotions of First Blood (1982). Rambo is now no better than anyone in Arsenal or The Prince. Oh well.

What do you think? Am I crazy or is this a disturbing trend? What kind of films will Chris Hemsworth be making in thirty years?

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