I think you have only touched on the tip of the iceberg here. Certainly the recession has played a part in what we are seeing in the film industry. With ticket prices over double what they were during the 80’s, people have to be much more choosy when deciding which films to see in the theater, and which to wait for on video, or even forego at all. I, myself, have been subjected to this. I actually missed seeing EXPENDABLES 2 in the theater because I simply couldn’t find a time when I could afford it (or get away from the family life, but that’s a whole other issue).That got me to thinking, what is it that is missing? I think there are three elements that have nearly killed the action movie.
But related to that is the film quality. It really has gone down. These days we are deluged with very pretty movies with no substance. A lot of flash, and no story, plot, or originality. Remakes, sequels and reboots seem to be the only things that Hollywood can produce. Add to that the fact that so many stars pretend to be action stars, but really don’t have the legit cred to do so (I refer to this as the David Carradine Syndrome).
And finally, the Internet. It has effected the action film genre in many ways. Critics are everywhere, and anyone with a blog can play at it (present company excluded, of course). Action movies have always been the whipping boy of critics. But, back in the day, they were relegated to print and TV. Now, they are all over the place, spreading their skewed reviews like a plague. Look at JOHN CARTER, for example. Critics panned it before even seeing it. And unfortunately, people listen to them. The other way the Internet has made things worse is cheap availability. Whether it be piracy, or just NetFlix streaming, people are more apt to see an action movie (or just about any movie, for that matter) when it is most cheap and convenient for them.
I think the heyday of the Action Star Power is indeed over. We had a good run, though.
1. No Action Stars - There are actors, and there are Action Stars. When I was in high school, I wanted to be an Action Star. Not an actor, an Action Star. I wanted to make Action films. I wanted to beat up, blow up, blow away and cut down bad guys. Unfortunately, there are very few actors who are dedicated to this sort of film. I mean, truly dedicated. They all want to do an Action movie here and there, mainly for the payday, but in the end, they just want to be artists. And while I think that is perfectly fine, it does leave a gap that isn't getting filled. And then there are the phonies. The ones who have no Action cred, but are "taught" Action skills that can be faked on screen with fancyu editing and stunt-doubles (again, the David Carradine Syndrome). They get the part because of their name, but they are NOT Action stars. The true Action Stars are relegated to B-movie status and DTV movies. And while many of these movies are fun to watch, they suffer from low budgets, and hack directors looking for a quick buck. Which leads me to the second problem...
2. No Action Directors - When I say "no" I mean very few. And the ones who are good at directing Action movies, don't do it enough. And when they do, something always goes terribly wrong (usually because some witless suit with a Producer credit makes changes that suck). So, the majority of Action movies are made with 2nd (or 3rd) rate directors, who use gimmicks and shortcuts to make their films flashy. But in the end, the story suffers. And yes, story and plot are important in Action movies. I don't want to just watch two hours of some muscled lunk do nothing but punch, kick and shoot, no matter how pretty it is. I need there to be a good framework to hang that on. I need to care about the Hero, despise the Villain, and cheer when the Henchman gets blown away. And that's what a plot and story are for.
3. Pussified Society - I'm just going to say it. Americans are just too PC and wussified to handle real Action movies these days (IMO, YMMV). They want to pretend that movies are made to serve a higher purpose. To promote some feel-good social agenda. They don't want to offend anyone, so they dumb down the action, and play up the "humanity." Ok, fine. Humanity in your hero is great. And there is room for that sort of thing (in fact, I needs to be in there). But it can't be the focus of the story. An Action movie needs to be focused on the ACTION. Yes, it's good to know why my Hero is shooting forty bad guys with an M-60, but he needs to be shown doing it. And it needs to be graphic and satisfying. Action movies do serve a purpose. They let us live out our violent fantasies without actually hurting anyone. It's a vicarious existence, and it is essential for modern man. We are still violent animals beneath our veneer of civilization, and Action movies allow us to experience that release without consequence.
Let me close by saying that these are generalizations. There are exceptions. Some good Action movies get made by good directors, starring good Action Stars (Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel, and of course Sly, Arnie and Dolph). But these are the exceptions, rather than the rule. Will real action movies make a comeback? I don't know. But one can certainly hope.