Having recently viewed “Gamer” it got me thinking about the current state and lack there of anything genre defining about present action cinema. Now if I were talking about DTV action films which now eventually star the long lost heroes of 80s action cinema (Van Damme, Lundgren, Snipes and Seagal) then formulaic action films still have a home market and subsequently made to order. But it seems as though any big budget films being made within the studio system at the moment seem to be harking back to the 80s heyday such as Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo follow up or the much anticipated “The Expendables”. Barring those particular entries the action genre seems to be on a downhill slide and when anything potentially different or possibly seen as a genre change it seems to be shunned by the public or in the case of most of Neveldine/Taylor’s input it tends to fall apart into a mess of a film. But these films are not without their original moments if a little over the top for some audiences tastes and when compared to the output of other genres such as horror (which itself is not without a fair share of rehashes and dulled down remakes) does seem to redefine itself through experimentation. Something which I wholeheartedly agree is down to the new wave of French horror filmmaking which is trying to break boundaries (both through taste and subject matter) but again this is something which aside from the Crank series and possibly the Bourne films very little of the action genre seems fresh or exciting.
But the action film genre still feels as though it is lagging behind ,granted “Crank” and “Crank 2” is a step in the right direction even though admittedly they are in fact self-referential and parodies of the action genre but is it enough to be considered genre defining? Well it is certainly not short on moments of complete and utter insanity which works for its favour but also partially against it at the same time. For instance the first “Crank” is almost new wave “High Concept” filmmaking, it contains references to 80s platform video games along with the use of projecting footage onto passing objects (an almost inventive use of split screen technology) and colourful slide shows to represent the more technical side of the human body which add a quirky tone to the rest of the film.
“Crank 2” seems to provide off the wall quirkiness and kinetic chase sequences in abundance, but where the first was a little rough around the edges its fresh take on the action film never felt forced. So at times with the sequel (and what seems to be the case with most reoccurring entries) it becomes too much of a good thing. It parodies the use of “Bullet-Time” where now even after all of the pretenders have had their shot, it still seems like old hat. It relies on to much puerile humour when injecting comedy into the mix while the use of a “Godzilla” delusion is personally a step to far, but with the context of the film allows it to partially work although not as successfully as hoped. It is almost as though both Neveline and Taylor have thrown everything but the kitchen sink (but to be honest I do think a kitchen sink appears at some point) in the film hoping that some of the quirky and more surreal moments help to boost it past the extreme excesses that the first “Crank” achieved albeit better its follow on.
The Bourne trilogy seemed to redefine the spy thriller, so to speak with its intense style, use of handheld stedi-cam techniques to heighten the unfolding action with bit editing to keep the thriller fast paced and edge of your seat. And although all three films are indeed great pieces of filmmaking, there is still the feeling of been there done that with the style towards the end of the series. It does truly make me wonder for a series of films to keep pushing the boundaries what lengths could they go to where it feels refreshing, exciting and new.
I truly do miss the days of the original “Lethal Weapon” and “Die Hard” both of which managed to achieve interesting stories, great characters that you rooted for, great scripts and faultless action sequences. It seems as though the action heyday was in fact the late 80s early 90s and with the exception of “The Matrix” which threw in a touch of religious debate and mysticism into the mix, very few action films now seem to provide something truly groundbreaking. The invention of “Bullet-Time” even lead to its eventual over use both in parodies and within the Matrix sequels. It seems as though the action genre realises that once they have a good thing, it is inevitably over used to the point of dullness. What is needed is an action film for the noughties and if ever there was a moment when Shane Black could unleash a new action beast among us it seems as good as anytime. But until that moment comes I will wait with baited breath, feet bloodied with half a smoked cigarette hanging from my lips with a dirtied vest sitting in the corner muttering “Yippie-ki-yay”