In The New York Times piece, writer Adam Sternbergh praises the action driven cinema of 80's (A time period where almost every Expendable thrived) and points to it as a signal of American dominance of the genre. But now he says thanks to a combination of CGI and lack of quality American stars, we have failed completely, or in his words:
Our great national product is now in laughable decline. As with many such problems, we, as a culture, throw money at it, and it eats that money, then spits back garbage.Sternbergh is assuming that our great national product is the actual action film, and he's wrong. Our real export is the ultra-charismatic American Hero, which is has been a constant since the early days of American film. You take the heavy hitters of "The Expendables," Arnold, Sly, and Bruce Willis and see that more than any movie in their body of work, it's their massive charisma that has carried them. Sure I love seeing Arnold kick ass as much as the next guy, but it's his perfect delivery of one liners that set him apart. Stallone is cool when he's popping out of mud walls and shooting bad guys with arrows, but it's the never give up "Rocky" spirit that makes him endure. And everyone who's seen "Die Hard" knows Bruce Willis's wise cracking cop John McClane really makes the film and to some extent his career.
And this export business of the American Hero is booming. We have The Rock, Vin Diesel, Channing Tatum, Mark Wahlberg, Will Smith, Jeremy Renner, Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, and Tom Cruise all continuing to prove that they can handle kick ass and rip off one liners with ease, and I'm not even including Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans because they might be considered non qualifiers because they're in super-hero movies, which apparently doesn't count, see Stallone's quote below:
You have the superheroes today which are possessed with all extraordinary powers; they can blink and a fireball comes out of there. It's great. And then you have a bunch of us which is just your basic male-pattern badness. … Kind of like hands-on action."Don't get me wrong, ya boy TPG loves his explosions, gun fights, car chases, battles, mayhem, and destruction, but really it ultimately comes down to the characters. The often praised "The Raid:Redemption" (which is incredible) is mainly just a 24/7 exhilarating brawl, with a very flat protagonist who barely even speaks. I mean this is a dude who blows up an army of henchmen by sticking a propane tank and grenade in a refrigerator, and doesn't even say "Stay cool." I need my dynamic stars ripping one liners man!
If you wanna get real deep with this whole thing, you can make a case that every generation of action stars contributes to the next. If younger stars grew up watching Stallone & Arnold, and in turn they grew up watching John Wayne & Clint Eastwood, who grew up watching James Cagney, who um, I don't know grew up watching real life strongmen fight at the OK Corral, then I'd say the American action star and his genre are far from dead and in fact are very healthy indeed.