From swashbucklers to superheroes: Action movies in the 80’s and now
Action genre was certainly one of the most flourishing during the 80s: at that time many movie stars, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stallone and many others, were depopulated. If we think about this macro genre, we need to be aware that there were other related subgenres.
“Terminator” (1984 – James Cameron) and “Die Hard” (1988 – John Mctiernan) are both action movies, but totally different between one another in many factors. The first belongs to science fiction, while the second to a cinema with a more realistic plot. I also took these two examples because both films are the initiators of a film saga. Now, we can analyse the differences between the first and the last chapters.
The world has changed in so many ways since the 80s. Therefore, being cinema the mirror of what we live, including fears, it has adapted to the times. In the first chapter of “Die Hard”, John Mclane tries to avert a siege by an armed group. The real aim of the German criminals is to take over the money kept in the vault of the building. He is one against all, despite the protagonist telling the outside police his moves.
Instead, if we take in analysis the fourth chapter of the saga of Len Wiseman, “Live Free or Die Hard” (2007), we immediately notice a crucial difference: the cyber terrorism. Today this practice scares a lot and is much more common than the 80s. Could it be present in the 80s cinema? Of course, but in science fiction movies to a much lesser extent. This aspect is precisely linked to the fears that we all live: that of hacking, of cyber terrorism.
Some fears do not change: For example, the nuclear holocaust present both in the first “Terminator” and in the last called “Terminator: Dark Fate”, filmed in Hungary. But the attitude changes. In the 80s, the Cyberpunk aesthetic film trend started, and the 1984 “Terminator”is a great example. Instead, the last chapters have no longer that experimenting ambition in this kind of cinematic current. They are much closer to the likely action cinema, while the cyberpunk current of “Blade Runner” and the first Terminator remains imprinted in the 80s. This provides for a different choice of costumes, hair and much more.
An interesting feature of new action heroes, as well as superheroes, is humour. It was really rare to find action actors in the 80s that were very self-ironic. While humour is a very important component in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most profitable action cinema ever. Even in the rival DC Universe is present self-irony, while in Terminator, in “First Blood” (1982) this component is really rare.
Remakes are another tool that we have to compare 80’s action cinema with today’s. If we think of the cult of the 80s “Conan The Barbarian” (1982 – John Milius) we remember a character decidedly more ambiguous than the one represented in the remake of 2011 by Marcus Nispel. In addition to a completely different aesthetic, Schwarzenegger’s Conan did not initially seek revenge, but he found it by chance.
He was happy to steal and give himself to a comfortable life full of futile pleasures: he meets the feeling of revenge by mistake, due to a chance encounter. This definitely makes him a more charismatic character than the one played by Momoa in the remake: a man always in the right with an iron moral.
If we speak of gain, there is no race between the action cinema of the 80s and the current one: the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with its ironic action heroes, has completely bypassed every movie.