Action Hero, The Rock,

“It had a knife even…”

The quote I am using for the title of tonight’s rant was said by Alfred, the young witness to a violent event in ‘Lethal Weapon’, and was all about getting to the root of the identification of the perp via the medium of tattoo. Spoiler alert, it was Gary Busey…though why Alfred didn’t just say it was the bloke who was in the original ‘Point Break’ and who also did a rather toothy Buddy Holly impersonation*. (And that’s important * so check it out at the end of the rant.) It turns out the tattoo had a significant meaning for it was ink of a specific design and is only ever worn by those who have earned the right to do so…or bull-shitters…or delusional wannabes.

The ‘Roger, that’s a special forces tattoo’ revelation was only one of many that I have come to encounter from Tinsel Town over the years of my movie consumption and has got me asking if all American males spend time in the elite wings of the military like John Rambo did? The answer is, of course they don’t, but that hasn’t stopped the proportion of male leads in action films that are state trained killer vets from being around the 176.82% mark.

Recently I watched ‘Rampage’ all the way through to the end. Why I stayed to the end I’m not sure, maybe my meds need adjusting? In this creature feature, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson plays a primatologist who, aside from his full-on full-time job, obviously spends the remaining hours of his day in the gym lifting small cars and growling into mirrors. At one point during the film Mr Rock is captured by an agent of the government (Negan from ‘The Walking Dead’ blessed with a ‘Gone with the Wind’ accent and an alliance system in a state of easy flux) and we are privy to some heavy-handed exposition from which we learn that he, Dwayne, was in ‘The Special Forces’ of some kind way back when and was really, really good at it…apparently. I think I involuntarily sneered in the darkness at this juncture.

I understand why Hollywood has to grasp this cliché because if the heroes don’t have an elite military background they’re going to be pretty feeble and easy game for whatever it is they are up against be it giant flying wolves or two thousand badly trained and incompetent soldiers of the cannon fodder regiment. How would the chap have any idea how to use all the weaponry that dubiously becomes available to him, in addition, to expertly drive tanks and pilot helicopter gunships if he wasn’t the ultimate warrior?

Time and again this is the go-to plot element that action movies gravitate to and I am starting to grow weary of it. People who are experts in things are expert in things because they spend a majority of their time training for it and then later actually doing it…a lot. If you’re going to be the best primatologist on the planet I assume it would take up quite a chunk of your time learning about primates and then pushing those studies forward as you break new boundaries with your unceasing, focused dedication to your speciality. Not much time left for keeping your hand in with previous Special Forces training I would have thought.

And then there’s the fact that within any discipline people are experts in a facet of the subject, not the whole spectrum. A primatologist is surely a specialist within the sphere of zoology or biology, knowing a great deal about apes but pretty much jack shit about snails. The same goes for the world’s Special Forces, they will be broken down into specific areas, sniping, explosives, communication, medical, etc. and I’m sure the list is far more extensive than that. So the fact we have one male lead who can do all of anything military, or even vaguely military, to an expert level is highly unlikely and highly annoying.

Another thing about being an expert is that you have to continue to apply and learn your specialisation through an unbroken timeline because expertise is a fluid and evolving thing that changes with lessons learned and the employment of technological advances. It could be argued the bowmen at Agincourt were some of the Special Forces of their day but what use would they have been on the beaches of Normandy or in the jungles of Viet Nam? Skills also tend to dull the less they are used, anyone who can swim knows this because even a short break from constant length ploughing makes it harder to do when you dip your toe back in the water.

I understand that action films would be far less action-filled if the cold light of reality was shone on the male lead and it would be a pretty short film too but can we please have a less lazy system than ‘getting out of every situation’ employed.

“Can you fly that heavily armed helicopter?”

“No, obviously not, I’m a primatologist, not a whirlybirdologist. Give me the manual and enough time I would be able to make a chimpanzee shove a banana up the exhaust vent. Whoa, here come the bad guys…ow, I’ve been shot!”

“Don’t worry, that bloke over there invented medicine and was trained by Jackie Chan in the one-inch death punch and has mastered the art of invisibility etc. etc. etc…”

To be honest I think it is because I am a jaded jogger on the final straight toward the graveyard that I am finding more and more to be annoyed with in films, TV, books. They say there are only seven story plotlines (or three or five, it’s disputed) and in my time I must have seen them all many times over in various guises or with the slightest of twists and I can pretty much guess what is going to happen, and how, a majority of the time now. I know when you’re young and have less exposure to these things, the first time viewing of something new to you is exciting and wondrous and I envy you that but remember this, one day you will be as old as me and you will be as miserable too so don’t get used to the fresh originality because soon a 90-year-old wheelchair bound Interior Decorator with a suddenly revealed long ago SAS background is going to turn the popcorn in your mouth sour and have you forming a mob to demand your money back from the ticket kiosk…just make sure you have an ex-Special Forces chap with you in case things get nasty. Look around, the chances are there will be one sweeping the floor or fixing a vending machine or talking in a sign language largely made up of flexing biceps to a large albino gorilla.

*Doing some research for this rant to verify Gary Busey did actually play Buddy Holly in a movie and it wasn’t just a false memory, I came across a clip in which Mr Busey comes out as a Hambone artist and slaps himself a few times. Not having heard of a Hambone artist before I went a-Googling and basically, it appears to be someone having a mental breakdown, with physical manifestations, in a semi-musical fashion. I found it a little weird but also irresistibly mesmerising, check it out yourself and then look into the bleak historical beginnings of Hamboning.