A Good Day to Die Hard: Age, Action, and the Masculine Hard Body
Rebecca Feasey / Bath Spa University

Bruce Willis

Live Free or Die Hard

Extant literature from within the field of film and gender studies examines the representation of the male action hero, paying particular attention to the spectacular body and the herculean physical performances of characters such as John McClane/Bruce Willis, Martin Riggs/Mel Gibson and Indiana Jones/Harrison Ford. And yet, at a time when these stars are returning to the action roles that made them famous, in some cases, several decades later, scholars continue to ignore and overlook the fundamental notion of age in their discussions of the hard bodied, hegemonic hero. After all, hegemonic masculinity has associations with physical prowess, sexual virility, social dominance and aggression, which are potentially at odds with the image of the ageing male. With this in mind it is interesting to consider the depiction of the ageing action hero in the popular and long running Die Hard series (1988, 1990, 1995, 2007, 2013) and consider the ways in which mature masculinity is either conforming to or challenging the hegemonic ideal.

I have suggested elsewhere that the hegemonic ideal is both impossible to create and implausible to maintain for the contemporary male, and as such, this figure of powerful masculinity ‘may only ever be embodied by mythical figures, legendary heroes and a very small number of men in society’. Therefore, it is interesting to examine the ways in which the most masculine of Hollywood genres presents the male hero in relation to the hegemonic ideal. The male driven action film is understood to be the most visually explosive and macho of Hollywood genres due to the spectacular sight of the hard male body. Indeed, extant research from within the field of feminist film theory makes it clear that it is the body of the hero that sets the tone for the action narrative. We are told that action heroes are ‘constructed almost exclusively through their physicality, and the display of the body forms a key part of the visual excess that is offered in the muscular action cinema.’1 It has even been suggested that ‘American action movies work hard, and often at the expense of narrative development, to contrive situations for the display of the hero’s body.’2

description of image

Die Hard

Extant literature on both the action hero and the hegemonic male routinely refers to issues such as class, race, sexuality, nationality and the body. However, little research to date focuses on the notion of age and ageing as a sign of difference to be studied in relation to the hegemonic male, on or beyond the big screen. One might suggest that a lack of research on the ageing action hero is unsurprising given the predominance of the thirty-something hard body to the genre in question, a genre that focuses on the physical prowess of the male body for the viewing pleasures of a youthful male audience.

That said, there currently exists a trend for older actors reprising earlier heroic and hard bodied action roles, be it Bruce Willis (52) in Die Hard 4.0 (2007), Dolph Lundgren (53) in The Expendables (2010), Arnold Schwarzenegger (55) in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Bruce Willis (58) in A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), Sylvester Stallone (60) in Rocky Balboa (2006) and (62) Rambo (2008) and Harrison Ford (66) in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). And there are currently rumours surrounding a sixth installment of the Die Hard franchise starring Bruce Willis.

description of image

Die Hard 2

Putting a fifty-something actor and character in the role of the pre-supposedly young adult action hero will of course lead to some negative commentary and ageist criticisms, and a wide range of news, magazine and review media were fast to challenge the appeal of the ageing action hero in the Die Hard franchise. Reviewers quipped that the latest installment of the series should read ‘Die Hard: with a bus pass’ or ‘Die Hard with a Hernia’. Commentators talked about John McClane ‘squeezing back into his sweaty vest and wheezing out a few more catchphrases’ and announcing that Willis is ‘so old that Die Hard 5 will have to feature a plot that largely revolves around a Werther’s Original theft in a haemorrhoid cushion factory’. That said, commentary on the ageing action hero was overwhelmingly positive, and the small number of negative reviews as seen here were more mocking than hostile to the presentation of the mature maverick cop.

Indeed, both popular and professional review literature seemed to form a consensus in their praise of the ageing action hero in the most recent Die Hard film. We are told that ‘age catches up to Bruce Willis’ everyman hero, and it makes him all the more appealing’ and that although ‘Bruce may be aging fast […] he still looks the part and plays John McClane so convincingly you reckon he could go on for ever’. In this same way it was said that even as a fifty-something balding male ‘Willis still reeks of hero; still ranks as someone who gives bruises as good as he takes ‘em; still rocks when he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time’. In this way, it has been suggested that ‘the aging body can work as an asset, just another challenge that our battered hero has to overcome’ rather than an unreliable or failing image of problematic or powerless masculinity.

Die Hard 1.0

Die Hard with a Vengeance

Indeed, some reviewers made the point that the franchise is based on the physical assaults on the male hard body irrespective of the film in question or the age of the actor at that time, and as such, it is the physical toughness of the body rather than its age that is of importance here. Therefore, although John McClane has aged during the life span of the Die Hard franchise, the character has always been middle-aged rather than youthful in the series. Bruce Willis was 35 when he made the original film, and thus already beyond a youthful image of masculinity. The point here then is that McClane always was and continues to remain a tough guy with a hard body that can withstand routine pain, repeated punishments and habitual brutality, and as such the ageing hero is not only accepted, but applauded, by audiences and critics alike. The fact that Bruce Willis is currently talking about making another Die Hard film before retiring from the franchise goes further to quash any suggestions about the deteriorating action body or the loss of hegemonic power for the heroic male.

At a time when the ageing body can be said to ‘represent a narcissistic affront to, even an attack on, the adult ego,’3 the ageing action hero remains potent and powerful rather than weak, unreliable or failing, which perhaps represents a less than realistic, and thus less than helpful, version of the ageing body.

Image Credits:
1. Live Free or Die Hard
2. Die Hard
3. Die Hard 2
4. Die Hard With a Vengeance

Please feel free to comment.

image_print
NOTES

  1. Yvonne Tasker, Spectacular bodies: gender, genre and the action cinema (London 1995) 35. []
  2. Ibid., 79. []
  3. Charlotte Herfray cited in Chris Holmlund, Impossible bodies: femininity and masculinity at the movies, (London 2002) 145. []

14 comments

  • Emily Ferenbach

    Perhaps another reason we’re seeing such a trend of aging male action heroes is that there’s not a group of young replacements who are known for their hard-bodied characters. It could be said that iconic male roles have shifted from an emphasis on an extremely masculine physique to a less overtly gendered suaveness. Watching the recently released trailer for The Expendables 2, I was struck that the film has pulled together seemingly every actor who made an action film in the 80s/early 90s without including some young guys who could extend the life of the franchise. Of course, that would be exactly opposite of the point. In a world where girls are swooning over Ryan Gosling, hardly a Schwarzenegger or a Rourke in his build, The Expendables celebrates a waning masculine ideal: the hard-bodied action hero.

    Chris Hemsworth and Sam Worthington seem to be the closest descendants of Stallone and Willis, but they are making their action films in a different environement. They are not the main draw of their projects, the franchises are. People didn’t go to the movies to see Hemsworth, they went to see Thor. Worthington similarly disappears into the various Titans movies and Avatar. Gosling, on the other hand, is the defining characteristic of Drive.

    Films rely less on marquee names to generate publicity, looking instead to established literary and comic book properties to pull in audiences. It will be interesting to see if the John McClane-like characters make a comeback, perhaps as fashion and other aspects of pop-culture cycle around they will, but it’d hard to see them having the same level of popularity when the individual whose body is being high-lighted is not as central to the film.

  • I too have wondered about the recent return of these once hard-bodied action stars and how age does not seem to factor into their appeal/disgust, and occasionally it may even add to part of the wise-cracks, much like it does with John McClane and the Die Hard franchise. Like Emily noted above, it is fascinating to speculate why there does not seem to be any “young” hard-bodies coming in to replace these older men. One example that does come to mind is Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in the X-Men franchise, but he too was already 32 years-old when the X-Men as released in 2000. Jason Statham can be thrown in here as well, although it doesn’t feel as if he could be considered a household name like Willis or Schwarzenegger.

    It could be that these Hollywood hard-bodies of the 1980’s and 90’s established such a foothold in the action genre that their characters when replicated by some other actors (like Chris Hemsworth and Sam Worthington), will always be seen as inferior to the “legends” of John McClane, The Terminator, and John Rambo. Even for boys growing up years after these films were released, the films featuring these characters were frequently shown on Saturday afternoons on cable networks (often edited), or were in the cabinets as part of their fathers’ VHS tape collections. With VHS in it’s prime during the 1980’s and 90’s, the genre was able to extend it’s life span as young boys rewound and re-watched scenes with explosions, blood, and gore repeatedly. It could be that there hasn’t been a large enough time span for the audiences of this genre to forget the past and would rather stick with the tried-and-true than experiment with someone else. After all, with the aging they could easily be considered the “father figures” of the genre.

    What can also be considered is the different attributes that one now may consider as elite in the action-star character. With Jackie Chan’s rise in the 80’s and 90’s, he wasn’t the typical hard-body seen in the blockbuster franchises, and rather capitalized on his martial arts skills and humor. Jet Li and Tony Jaa rode this wave. Technological savvy can also factor into this new set of attributes, as computer hardware found it’s way into homes and knowing how to crack a code has become desirable in the action star’s know-how (consider Neo from The Matrix and Ethan Hunt from the Mission Impossible franchises). Intelligence is gaining importance in the action genre more so than brute strength. With age could come intelligence?

    The film Lockout was just released (4/13) starring Guy Pearce, who typically does not do action work and physically has never portrayed a hard-bodied male. At 44, he put on visibly much more muscle than he usually carries, most likely to harken back to the action stars of the 80’s and 90’s. We’ll see how that turns out.

  • Thank you for this insightful look into the representations of male action stars’ aging bodies. Of the existing rationales you mention for this phenomenon, the one that most interested me was Yvonne Tasker’s: “the aging body can work as an asset, just another challenge that our battered hero has to overcome.” I’m drawn to this explanation because I think it best explains why the effects of aging are not merely hidden from action movie audiences, but are in fact celebrated as beneficial to the image of enduring [male] heroes. I don’t meant to say that that wrinkles and gray hairs are desirable in their own right, but rather that the prestige of age can in some cases be converted into [male] hero capital. Part of what I’m alluding to is the notion that as some men age, their physical attractiveness quotient increases. To step outside the action movie genre for a moment, I think a glance at a couple recent TV shows will demonstrate how this notion can be used to empower the aging, strong, male hero.

    In HBO’s polygamist dramedy Big Love (2006-2011), Bill Henrickson (played by Bill Paxton) the middle aged, male lead and almost-action-star is often depicted bare chested or even completely nude, and subjected to hard lighting that draws attention simultaneously to his tight overall physique and his deep, numerous wrinkles. In the first episode of the series, Bill–clearly past the midpoint in his life–begins taking Viagra to combat his recent bout of sexual impotency. This move to eliminate the detrimental effects of aging is symptomatic of Bill Henrickson’s character–that is, Bill is fundamentally tenacious (and usually triumphant) in the face of seemingly inevitable defeat. So, the aging process is an adversary for this hard-bodied hero, but one which serves the function of emphasizing his great strength and perseverance.

    The same is true for Don Draper, the towering, battle scarred (and middle aged) adman who commands the admiration of most of the other characters on AMC’s Mad Men. In fact, in this past week’s episode 504 [SPOILER], Pete Campbell, the youngest partner at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, struggles and fails to hide his lack of experience and general masculine prowess when compared with Don and with two even older partners: the silver fox Roger Sterling and the strict authority figure Lane Pryce (with whom Pete engages in a fistfight during this episode). Surely, the conflict between the maturing young Pete and his more experienced partners has something to do with what Nik has noted about the “father figures” above. But in any case, I think these two televisual examples follow the trend of muscular male heroes acquiring strength from the aging process. More importantly and disappointingly, I would find it difficult to argue that film/TV has embraced that same trend for aging female characters.

  • Taking into consideration the aging male body I think we should remember these earlier hard masculine bodies were closely linked with political rhetoric and Cold War anxieties on the 1980’s. There was an increasing dialogue about the U.S. being ‘hard’ on communism and ‘fighting communism abroad,” which was linked with depicting masculinity as strong and powerful. Regan’s election and his years in office starting in 1981 stood in stark contrast with Carter’s presidency. Carter encouraged Americans to cut back domestically and his foreign policy made him seem weak and unfocused. The best example of his lack of power on the world stage may be the ’79 hostage crisis in Iran. The hostages were kept until 1981 – the day after Ronald Regan was inaugurated making the final statement that Carter as President held no power. In reaction to Carter’s “weak” image as a leader, Regan talked about ‘making America great again. Regan ran on the “its morning on America” platform, focusing on rugged individualism (perhaps epitomized by Rambo) and the recapturing of (white) masculine power as well as re-inscribing the importance of the nuclear family. This rhetoric was cultivated in mainstream popular culture I’d argue through the hyper-masculine movies that idealized the male body (ex. Rocky Balboa, Terminator, Indiana Jones, etc,). These Hollywood films were a stamp of masculine power and stood as a national product to be circulated both domestically and globally even after the Cold War ended in 1989.

    Nik, I thought your inclusion of the tech savvy male dominated narrative movies is right on point. Moving through the 1990’s and 2000’s the mastery over ones body is trumped by the ability to master technology. This transition so to speak marks technology as a site of struggle for power. Since Communism is dead, the global political threat today can’t be combated with the old images of hard bodied (white) masculine power. Instead these men and their bodies although aged are lasting representations of power (for some reason I always think about Harrison Ford and his role as the strong male hero regardless of age). This brings me back to Jermey’s point about aging men have, “the prestige of age can in some cases be converted into (male) hero capital.”

  • Hi Rebecca. Thanks for this column – it’s particularly interesting to read about the critical reception of the ageing action hero.

    I would argue that a new hegemonic ideal for masculinity in contemporary popular cinema is negotiable via the paternalisation of the ageing hero. While McClane was always a father from the first entry in the series, it is only with Die Hard 4.0, a product of latter day postfeminist culture, that fatherhood becomes central to both his characterization and his narrative, and this is similarly true of the others that you mention. Martin Riggs’ character and narrative are paternalised in Lethal Weapon 4, as are those of Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

    Also, while I agree with you that ageing masculinities have flown relatively under the radar of scholars of popular cinema relative to the current flurries of activity and interest in ageing femininities (i.e. Janet McCabe and Deborah Jermyn’s recent symposium on ageing and female celebrity at Birkbeck in London; Jermyn’s Celebrity Studies special issue on Female Celebrity and Ageing; the new Women, Ageing and Media postgraduate summer school at the University of Gloucestershire etc.), they haven’t been wholly ignored and overlooked by scholars. Philippa Gates does significant foundational and terrain mapping work on the cycle of ageing action hero movies under your purview in ‘Acting His Age? The Resurrection of the 80s Action Heroes and Their Aging Stars’ in QRFV 27:4 (2010), 276-289. Sarah Godfrey and I also speak to masculine ageing a little bit as part of our discussion of resurgent protective paternalism in popular film and television after 9/11.

  • So I’m going to comment on this article, not so much as a scholar but more out of genuine personal interest because:

    1.) I’m guy that likes action movies.
    2.) I work out for my health, but also to try and achieve the hard body that Feasey seems to refer to so much.
    3.) I’ve struggle to achieve that aforementioned hard body because I’m getting older.
    4.) And by older, I mean that I’m old enough to have seen the original theatrical releases of every first movie from all of the franchises mentioned in this article.

    So I’m approaching this more as a action movie fan, and I’m going to bring my personal perspective as a dumb guy who watches these movies, and (to be fair) I’m not entirely sure if I understand Feasey’s definition of the hegemonic masculine ideal, but I can’t seem to reconcile my personal viewing experience with the author’s fixation on the physical hard body aspect of her perceptions of the male action hero.

    Feasey’s thesis seems to deal with the effect of aging on her hegemonic masculine action-hero ideal, but I’m getting hung up on her original ideas of physicality in action hero.

    She states, “After all, hegemonic masculinity has associations with physical prowess, sexual virility, social dominance and aggression, which are potentially at odds with the image of the ageing male.” Where does she establish this idea? I can see how masculine youth might be associated with physical prowess and sexual virility, but I’m not quite with it on the social dominance and aggression part of it.

    She also states that “The male driven action film is understood to be the most visually explosive and macho of Hollywood genres due to the spectacular sight of the hard male body” and also that “We are told that action heroes are ‘constructed almost exclusively through their physicality”

    These are statements that are at complete odds with my own childhood memories of movie going. In my memory, there were three action heroes of note that I associated specifically with physicality and those were Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, and Jean Claude Van-Damme.

    But there were an equal number that I can think of that weren’t associated with their physicality and those were Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, Charles Bronson, and Steven Seagal, to name a few.

    You could even add in Michael Douglass in Romancing the Stone, and there was always the curious example of Sylvester Stallone who has and had an impressive physique but was known primarily for his meathead drawl.

    These were actors and characters that impressed me more with their attitude, wit, resourcefulness, and courage than with their bodies and physiques. I am with Feasey on the idealization of the physical resilience of the male action hero, and his impressive ability to absorb punishment especially as they get older, but the other aspects of physical fixation that Feasey discusses are foreign to me.

    What I remember about Bruce Willis is his ability to make light of a high stress situation in the Die Hard movies. What I remember about Harrison Ford is the reluctant hero persona that he embodied that was so refreshing at the time. What I remembered about Charles Bronson was his effortless presence and sense of danger. It definitely wasn’t his pecs or his abs, or his deltoids.

  • Rebecca, after reading your post I started to think about the role that female “love interests” occupy in relation to the aging male body in the action movies and franchises you describe. As you note, “hegemonic masculinity has associations with physical prowess, *sexual virility*, social dominance and aggression, which are potentially at odds with the image of the aging male” [emphasis mine]. While some franchises have eschewed the problem of depicting their aging star’s sexuality by removing potential love interests all together, e.g. Live Free or Die Hard, others have instead continued to pair the older male hero with young women while desexualizing their relationships. Suggesting ageist undercurrents, none of these films pair the aging male star with an aging female love interest, but some of them also seem to struggle with how to “attractively” display the aging male hero’s sexuality with a younger woman.

    In particular, the pairing of Tom Cruise and Paula Patton in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Sylvester Stallone and Gisele Itié in The Expendables comes to mind. Both films awkwardly call attention to the difficulty of reconciling these young, attractive, nubile women with their aging male heroes. While the films revel in depictions of their female star’s bodies, they also seem aware of the potential threat those highly sexualized bodies pose to the aging male hero, by potentially calling into question his virility. At the same time, neither film seems to want to prove his virility through overt displays of his aging sexuality.

    Instead, they strike a balance in which the male star acknowledges the female love interest’s attractiveness through chaste displays of affection. In Expendables, a passionate kiss at the end of the movie is replaced by a decidedly less sexy hug. In Mission Impossible, Tom Cruise’s character is given an absent wife in order to explain his lack of interest in Paula Patton, but during an espionage scene in which Patton’s character is “forced” to wear a low-cut dress displaying her décolletage, Cruise is permitted a sexualized kiss under the guise that he is playing his part in the ruse. Both films thus allow the aging male star to recognize the female “love interest’s” sexuality, thereby affirming his continued virility, without the threat of consummation.

  • Thanks for the great post, Rebecca! It might be compelling to view age’s role in portrayals of masculinity through some of the genres with which the action film hybridizes, overlaps, and intersects. For example, fantasy franchises like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter offer a unique take on the powerful male figure that turns several hegemonic ideals on their head. Unlike in the typical action film, mythology, characterization, and narrative often share center stage with stunts and effects. As a result, less emphasis can be placed on the male’s brawny physique and athleticism, especially in a fantastical diegesis that allows sorcery to compliment or even take the place of brute strength.

    In both franchises, audiences commit to an elaborate fantasy world with high stakes and unlikely heroes called upon to defeat the ultimate evil. When Galadriel tells Frodo “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future,” LOTR, like Harry Potter, assigns heroism to a childlike figure who appears catastrophically out of his league rather than a hyped-up, muscular specimen or superhero. Although Frodo is an adult, hobbits are presented as children due to their size and their unfamiliarity with lands and people beyond Hobbiton. Thus, both franchises rest on the shoulders of childlike heroes, contrasting the hegemonic male paradigm that dominates the action film.

    Furthermore, two of the most powerful characters in the films are not just middle-aged, but downright old. Granted, Gandalf and Dumbledore assert a great deal of their strength through wizardry, but in both cases, their age is seen as an asset and even a weapon. The wisdom and experience of age puts both characters in positions of authority and control. In a fellowship with traditional he-men like Aragorn and Boromir, Gandalf emerges the leader, not only because he is a powerful sorcerer, but because he has seen more, been through more, lived more. His old age is part and parcel to his masculinity. The same can be said for Dumbledore, who acquired a seat of great power and influence as Headmaster of Hogwarts through years of experience.

    Perhaps this kind of aged action hero can only exist in the realm of fantasy, where magic can compensate for the lack of youthful virility. However, these franchises still provide interesting examples of characters whose masculinity seems to grow with age. It’s worth mentioning that a homosexual actor, Ian McKellen, portrayed Gandalf and J.K. Rowling has identified the character of Dumbledore (played by Richard Harris and later Michael Gambon) to be homosexual as well. This certainly undercuts normative notions of traditional masculinity, suggesting a new, broader definition for maleness (a concept discussed in above comments). The two wizards also fall into Hannah’s discussion of “paternalisation,” as both resemble father figures to the films’ central protagonists.

    Exploring masculinity in genres that flirt with, but don’t necessarily rely on, action can reveal some compelling representational trends as well as dichotomies.

  • Thanks for the great post, Rebecca! It might be compelling to view age’s role in portrayals of masculinity through some of the genres with which the action film hybridizes, overlaps, and intersects. For example, fantasy franchises like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter offer a unique take on the powerful male figure that turns several hegemonic ideals on their head. Unlike in the typical action film, mythology, characterization, and narrative often share center stage with stunts and effects. As a result, less emphasis can be placed on the male’s brawny physique and athleticism, especially in a fantastical diegesis that allows sorcery to compliment or even take the place of brute strength.

    In both franchises, audiences commit to an elaborate fantasy world with high stakes and unlikely heroes called upon to defeat the ultimate evil. When Galadriel tells Frodo “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future,” LOTR, like Harry Potter, assigns heroism to a childlike figure who appears catastrophically out of his league rather than a hyped-up, muscular specimen or superhero. Although Frodo is an adult, hobbits are presented as children due to their size and their unfamiliarity with lands and people beyond Hobbiton. Thus, both franchises rest on the shoulders of childlike heroes, contrasting the hegemonic male paradigm that dominates the action film.

    Furthermore, two of the most powerful characters in the films are not just middle-aged, but downright old. Granted, Gandalf and Dumbledore assert a great deal of their strength through wizardry, but in both cases, their age is seen as an asset and even a weapon. The wisdom and experience of age puts both characters in positions of authority and control. In a fellowship with traditional he-men like Aragorn and Boromir, Gandalf emerges the leader, not only because he is a powerful sorcerer, but because he has seen more, been through more, lived more. His old age is part and parcel to his masculinity. The same can be said for Dumbledore, who acquired a seat of great power and influence as Headmaster of Hogwarts through years of experience.

    Perhaps this kind of aged action hero can only exist in the realm of fantasy, where magic can compensate for the lack of youthful virility. However, these franchises still provide interesting examples of characters whose masculinity seems to grow with age. It’s worth mentioning that a homosexual actor, Ian McKellen, portrayed Gandalf and J.K. Rowling has identified the character of Dumbledore (played by Richard Harris and later Michael Gambon) to be homosexual as well. This certainly undercuts normative notions of traditional masculinity, suggesting a new, broader definition for maleness (a concept discussed in above comments). The two wizards also fall into Hannah’s discussion of “paternalisation,” as both resemble father figures to the films’ central protagonists.

    Exploring masculinity in genres that flirt with, but don’t necessarily rely on, action can reveal some compelling representational trends as well as dichotomies.

  • I found this article to be very interesting and two action stars that first came to my mind were Robert Downey Jr and Liam Neeson. I first look at Robert Downey Jr, who is definitely older than the new boys who seem to be taking the field, as mentioned above, Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans, but is also one of the most popular action stars today. When he first started acting in the 80s he was known for romantic comedies, dramas. But today, when he had his comeback he is now an action star best known for Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes. These two characters are very different in their attempt to achieve the “hegemonic ideal”.

    For Iron Man, he doesn’t necessarily have his own physical prowess, in fact he has a fatal flaw, but he gets his abilities from a suit of his creation. He is shown to be virile, constantly sleeping with women, and known to be a playboy, also exuding his social dominance. And his villain is a terrorist type, something not unseen before in the action drama, but it is not necessarily his strength that beats his enemy, but his ability to outwit him. In Iron Man’s case, it is definitely a battle of wits and money, rather than about his body.

    To argue against that, Sherlock is shown to have a great physical prowess, boxing shirtless for fun, and he seems to be a one woman man, always in love with Grace Adler. His enemy is usually an equal, intellectually and physically, and he has to call upon both of these strengths to win.

    What I’m coming to is I think that the action hero is possibly changing, he is more than just a macho fighter, today he is seen to be smart, clinical, and think things through. Even in the case of Liam Neeson in Taken, his body might not be in exceptional shape, he’s older, but he’s smart, he knows what to do, and he gets his daughter back through force and using skills he’s picked up during his life. Even today, when Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis are returning to the screen as their favorite action characters, they are given a sidekick, usually young, to show that they may be older, but they’re wiser with more life experience which will help them win. It’s no longer just about the body.

  • I would agree with the article’s premise that even though we are seeing ageing male action heroes, their depictions of male masculinity don’t challenge the hegemonic ideal.

    An idea embedded in the article that I found particularly interesting is: “the body of the hero sets the tone for the action narrative” – if this is the case, what kind of action film would have as its hero a person, man or woman, whose body did not seem to be capable of enacting the through-line of most, if not all action films: the good guy fights through many, mainly exterior, physical obstacles to finally beat the bad guys in the end.

    What would an action film that more subtly engaged with the ageing male body look like? Would the hero still win at the end? Is it still possible to have a conventional heroic narrative if the hero’s body is a possibly unreliable one? Isn’t this taking away from the particular pleasure of this tried and true narrative type?

    I am not a particular fan of action films, so perhaps I am an unreliable commentator, but I do understand that part of the particular pleasure of the action film is the components that make up its genre type, ie. hard bodies, getting through spectacular challenging situations, blowing up stuff and people to reveal their strength to win and beat the others in the end.

    Perhaps a more complex approach, which would certainly appeal to me, would engage more with the reality of the ageing body. Would he (or she) have to use more of his wit and intelligence to find his way through the physical obstacles thrown in his way? Would the protagonist have to face more interior obstacles as well as the more common exterior ones?

    My question remains though, if a large part of the pleasures of an action film are the spectacular re-enactments of the conventions of its genre, would the addition of a more complex, or more human hero remove it from the specifics of the action genre and so remove some of the pleasure associated with it?

    I guess, by association, I could argue that a possible pleasure that is a part of the broader pleasure of the genre itself (as we know it) is this very experience of viewing (and re-viewing) a narrative that repeatedly re-enforces this hegemonic ideal.

  • I agree with Feasey’s assertion that “at a time when the ageing body can be said to ‘represent a narcissistic affront to, even an attack on, the adult ego,’3 the ageing action hero remains potent and powerful rather than weak, unreliable or failing, which perhaps represents a less than realistic, and thus less than helpful, version of the ageing body.”

    HBO’s Bored to Death does a splendid job of portraying this struggle realistically. Its most loved character is George Christopher, the 60+ silver fox played by scene-stealing Ted Danson. A huge part of George’s identity is wrapped up in his virility–he speaks fondly and often of his sexual history.

    He’s thrown into crisis when he’s diagnosed with prostate cancer, faced with the inevitable decay of his very masculine body. The possibility that it might leave him impotent or incontinent is terrifying to him, and this anguish is focal in several episodes.

    The article states “hegemonic masculinity has associations with physical prowess, sexual virility, social dominance and aggression, which are potentially at odds with the image of the ageing male,” which is certainly true. George’s use of viagra and his insecurity in a few instances at not being able to perform sexually are used to humanize him and carve out a more realistic individual, whose heroic/adventurous action later are then viewed themselves as attempts to repair the damaged masculine ego, rather than simply the innately heroic pursuits of a superior male specimen.

    The article also points out that “the hegemonic ideal is both impossible to create and implausible to maintain for the contemporary male, and as such, this figure of powerful masculinity ‘may only ever be embodied by mythical figures, legendary heroes and a very small number of men in society’.”

    This is, in my opinion, the central concern of the show, placing three realistic (if occasionally caricatured) man-children in the shoes of detectives, investigators, soldiers, and other archetypally masculine and heroic situations, and revealing the various ways in which modern men fall short of these fantastic expectations.

  • Walter White is a parody of the recent trend of aging male action heroes. While “the ageing body can be said to ‘represent a narcissistic affront to, even an attack on, the adult ego,’” Breaking Bad goes out of its way to show Walt in various stages of not-too-toned undress. In the first episode, we saw way more of Bryan Cranston than we probably wanted to- running around in his tightie-whities wielding a gun. The Harrison Ford’s and Brad Pitt’s of the world may portray a “ageing action hero [who] remains potent and powerful rather than weak, unreliable or failing” in order to “represent a less than realistic, and thus less than helpful, version of the ageing body”, but Walter is portrayed similarly for comedic and even pathetic effect.
    As the article points out, the ripped aged hero presents a “hegemonic ideal…both impossible to create and implausible to maintain for the contemporary male”. Walt at least, even when toting a gun, represents this. He isn’t out of shape, but he is failing. HE is old and sick, and we’re allowed to see it.
    In answer to Bruce Willis, Walt is an aging male figure whose mind and morals (or lack there of) are his weapon, not his muscles. These at least make sense, and provide a pleasant, realistic alternative.

  • Gina Avila_UCLA Extra Credit

    3. The writes poses an interesting argument that suggest men in Hollywood who have made a name for themselves as hyper masculine action hero’s can continue to make movies in action films even if they have aged which is quite the disparity when compared to women actresses. The irony stems around the reality that their characters are always given much younger female counterparts as love interest; as women in Hollywood are hardly afforded the same benefit. Unlike masculinity which measures males physical strength, femininity is simultaneous with beauty, dependency, an air of navete which coincides with youth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *