I don’t normally write about films I haven’t seen. Certainly I don’t review them, because that’s the wrong thing to do. You can’t review what you haven’t seen; all you’re talking about is others’ perceptions, not your own. However, this is not a review, and I am not the target audience. This is merely contemplation of a pop culture phenomenon, and most of us are qualified to write those.
The thing to keep in mind is that the reason I don’t like action movies is not that I think I’m above them in some way. Yes, I find them boring, but I’m also aware that there are movies I love that other people find boring. If it’s live action and Disney from the 1950s through the 1970s, I’ve almost certainly already seen it, and I’ve almost certainly already seen it at least a couple of dozen times. I find those movies entertaining, and I don’t find action movies entertaining. That’s all down to personal preference, and taste is not the same as appetite and therefore not a question of morals. So it’s not that I don’t understand why action movies exist but more a contemplation of one particular series.
Nine people’s names appear on the first poster. Altogether, as of the release of the first movie, they had made 299 movies. (Caveat–I did not go out and eliminate overlap. Yes, I know both Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren were in Rocky IV and I’m therefore counting it twice. Figuring that out for every movie all of them have been in was considerably more effort than I mean to expend!) So this is (here, we’ll leave out overlap) the three hundredth cumulative career movie of these nine guys. I have seen, as of today, 34 of those movies. (Plus about the first twenty minutes of Bridesmaids and similar other bits and pieces.) While that’s better than ten percent, that’s a clear indicator of Not This Film’s Audience. However, I’ve seen a lot of trailers, and posters for this and the sequels, and what with one thing and another, I get that this is a thing and there’s nothing I can do about it just because I can’t be bothered.
Though it has made me rather wonder why it’s a thing. Let’s face it–these guys are a bit past their primes. The average age was fifty; the youngest guy on the poster was forty-two. While I admit there is no actual maximum age for blowing things up, there’s an age at which kicking people in the head starts to seem a little improbable. With very few exceptions, these are not men known for actual acting ability. Two of them have acting nominations from the Academy, but one of those nominations is as old as I am and the other, let’s face it, was for what was considered to be a career comeback that promptly led to this. So they’re old to kick people in the head, and most of them are not really considered able to act, and yet they’re planning a fourth movie–and a spin-off that Sigourney Weaver is Definitely Not In. What’s the deal?
Okay, there’s the explosions thing, I grant you. Explosions are mightily popular, and I’m pretty sure you could get fourteen-year-old boys to line up in the theatre for a movie that was just 103 minutes of explosions with no plot or even actors. Though this was rated R, so you’d have to hope for enough seventeen-year-old boys, I suppose. I’m honestly surprised no one has come up with that idea yet, and if someone then makes that movie and sells it, I’m demanding royalties.
Still, I don’t believe that’s enough, and not just because Sylvester Stallone is not actually a stupid man and wouldn’t be bothered writing that script. (Remember that his other Oscar nomination is for original screenplay.) He’s smart enough to see this film as something that would succeed, so there had to be something there. My belief is that, in addition to the blowing of things up, this series of films intersects at two peculiar pop culture axes that mean they were almost in a way inevitable.
The first, not new, is the power of nostalgia. while you watch Sylvester Stallone blowing things up alongside Dolph Lundgren, you can remember having watched Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren whaling the tar out of one another in Rambo IV, if you enjoyed Rambo IV. You can’t even really necessarily say that you’re remembering these guys in better movies, because while some of their previous movies were quite good, I’m going to have to play the Stop or My Mom Will Shoot! card. And the fact that one of these guys was in a grand total of five movies before making it on the poster. He’s also the only one of the lot I’d never heard of, making him a nostalgia miss for me. But for males my age, this is a cavalcade of movies surreptitiously watched on cable when parents weren’t home in the late ’80s. There’s a strong market for that.
The second I think is newer. These days, it seems as though a lot of people seem to think that making a reference and making a joke are the same thing. There’s a laughter born of “I recognize that thing!” I believe this is why Family Guy is so popular. (Not a new observation, I admit.) The Arnold Schwarzenegger character (he’s not on the poster and therefore not in the above calculations) is said to want to be President, and it’s funny, because he was governor! He says Stallone’s character loves playing in the jungle, and that references Rambo II! (A movie I’ve actually seen, because I was forced to for a class.) You don’t have to worry about making the references funny, because making the references is enough.
I’m probably oversimplifying, since this entire piece is built off tangential exposure and IMDb. I admit that. I don’t know, for example, why Eric Roberts isn’t on the poster but this Randy Couture guy is. However, it seems to me that pitches don’t much involve plot anyway, not for action movies. When this movie was sold, I think it was probably sold based on nostalgia and the weird “reference equals joke” thing we have going of late. And clearly, it worked, or anyway something did, because the whole thing is still going.