Avengers Assemble may have broken the cinematic mould by throwing together Marvel’s favourite characters, but it’s all a bit sanitised in comparison to what Sylvester Stallone’s likely to be throwing our way over the summer.
While Iron Man, Hawkeye, The Hulk and friends keep the world safe from a vengeful Asgardian demi-God with an English accent (the true hallmark of cinematic villainy), the Expendables are returning for a second helping of R-rated and questionably-scripted carnage.
Although Expendables 2 may well be a hit, the studios are under pressure to give their action heroes some personality and appeal to the kids. Marvel’s output is distinctly family-friendly and Avengers Assemble has the mighty Joss Whedon as co-writer, as well as director. It’s a shame the quality control doesn’t keep up in the wider action genre. Gone are the days when John McClane actually brimmed with personality as he threw Hans Gruber off the roof of the Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard.
Of course fans of 80s action cinema will be aware that the stars of the era were genetically engineered in a secret laboratory seven floors beneath the Pentagon. The super computer designed to prepare them for glittering careers on the silver screen developed a malfunction early on that was never quite repaired by the Studio Bosses in Hollywood; there was plenty of brawn but not quite so much going on in the brains department.
To survive and find an audience in modern times, Hollywood will need new, younger heroes capable of sentient thought and potentially even conversational skills. The science bods will come up with their new plan beneath the sands of Nevada in Area 51, as they select the best prime slabs of beef from the cattle ranches of the central US. The first Studio Boss will arrive for her demonstration, striding purposefully into the lab and barking furious orders at stressed-looking scientists she doesn’t know.
A Troubled Genius sporting a lab coat, a mop of unruly hair and various nervous tics greets her with a smirk: “Greetings, stern Studio Boss! We took the best slab of beef we could find and after seven weeks in make-up, look what we have created!”
Studio Boss stares in wonder at the slab of beef, which, through the intense and gruelling make-up session has been transformed into a six-foot hulk of a man clad in combat boots, camouflage trousers and a flak jacket that barely contains his muscular frame. He has a crew cut hairdo, a snarl etched on his face and delicately balances A Very Large Gun. Electrical probes stick out of his ears and nostrils.
Troubled Genius cries: “We call him… Blaze Calhoun! He’s an improvement on the 80s action hero model because all they could really do was quip and offer some clunky exposition every now and then. We’ve enhanced Blaze by stimulating him with electrical impulses to make him cry on cue! Blaze… what do you think?”
A colleague of the Troubled Genius flicks a switch on a battery pack, making Blaze’s face twitch and choke back tears as he cries out through a vaguely Eastern-European accent: “I catch bad guys but I always break the rules! I’m a maverick, a loose cannon, a rule-breaker, a lone wolf, a born leader, a menace to society; an unpredictable, trigger-happy, go-getting, shoot-first-ask-questions-later, thinking-outside-the-box born cop! I’ve got internal affairs and the Mayor’s Office wanting to suspend me for being so damn good at my job!”
Blaze takes his Very Big Gun and fires into the air, writing ‘I Shoot Therefore I Am’ in bullet holes in the ceiling.
Studio Bosses slowly claps her hands. She likes what she sees. Blaze Calhoun is the same but somehow different. He’s nothing but a piece of meat, but he saves the world, one generic terrorist and drug-dealer smack-down at a time. He’s big and strong. He’s a maverick who somehow has a strong moral compass and he’s not afraid to flout the law to protect it. He loves his unfeasibly attractive wife and small, vulnerable seven-year-old daughter, but he’s also married to his job and feels the need to commit regular hideously violent acts of revenge.
Most importantly, Studio Boss feels audiences will somehow relate to Blaze on a superficial level.
She smiles at the Troubled Genius: “Can we work on his ‘I’m very upset and choking back tears’ facial expression? At the moment he just looks constipated…”