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FRANKENSTEIN as ACTION HERO…

When I say Frankenstein what I’m really inferring is monster. For what else is the action hero but a kind of monster that is trotted out to battle other monsters?

Think about it; the rest of the time the action hero is berated by his superiors, barely tolerated by his fellows and considered an outcast by society at large. Sure, in the early days James Bond and Dirty Harry scored with some chicks, but it was never for a long term commitment. (And often resulted in a shortened life to boot.) But even in the 70’s, these were guys you didn’t necessarily want mingling with society. They were hunters. Their prey was human. If there wasn’t bad guys for them to go after one shudders to think what they would be up to otherwise. (For Bond especially I start to think of the old Laurence Harvey film, Welcome to Arrow Beach.)

By the 80’s film had integrated the Viet Nam vet as an action hero badge of honor, so we end up with the ultimate Frankenstein archtype: Rambo. Although the earlier heroes had somewhat of an intellectual element thrown in, (detectives, espianoge agents) there was to be none of that with this one and what it would do to the genre.

If you actually read the book First Blood, then you know that Rambo really was created very Frankenstein-like, by the military, with one purpose: Kill. He only knew to survive and care for himself in harsh conditions in order to fulfill his prime directive. With no war to fight and brought home to a place that wanted to ignore him it was only a matter of time before his fuse is lit and he goes off. (He isn’t as wiggy as Bruce Dern in Black Sunday or Coming Home, but he has a foot in that territory.) In the end Trautman pulls an Old Yellar on him because it’s the most humane thing he can do and it gets the military out of a jam expeditously.

But Rambo was played differently in the film and lived at the end. The message wasn’t lost that a thing created for action would gravitate towards action. This was even simpler than the Death Wish movies. That was a form of social fantasy. This was the start of Grand Theft Auto mentality.

You see the same thing with Lethal Weapon. While it had a plot going on, what really caught fire was waiting for Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs to periodically explode. (He too was a Nam vet, but that was downplayed for later entries in the series as it started to date Gibson.) Gradually the series turned Riggs into a bully. (So much so that by the end of the final film I wanted Jet Li to kick both Riggs and Murthagh’s asses and end the series like Shane Black wanted to with numero dos.)

Now, as long as we show everything from Frankenstein’s point-of-view anything is game. The Professional‘s Leon, Le Femme Nikita; 24‘s Jack Bauer routinely tortures, kills superiors, and like any good Frankenstein, wishes to destroy his creator/father. If we take the POV away from the main character wouldn’t we be just a bit concerned?

It’s not that I’m against action films or their characters. Hell, one of my favorite fictional characters is Batman. He’s certainly psychologically complex. Or, bonkers as Hell if you’re looking from the outside. What I’m looking for is throwing the cliche’s away. Not all of these characters need to be celebrated as heroes. Sometimes they’re just the right man (or woman) for the right job, or that their special brand of madness is needed to combat another that’s menacing society. They don’t need to be portrayed as big heroes walking into the sunset. Maybe they need to be shown to be monsters skulking off back to the darkness;letting the audience make up its mind about what they were, what created them and how they’re being used. (Just not Batman. We’re getting close to 70 years of his adventures and I think he gets a pass out of tradition.)

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One Response to “FRANKENSTEIN as ACTION HERO…”

  1. […] FRANKENSTEIN as ACTION HERO… When I say Frankenstein what I’m really inferring is monster. For what else is the action hero but a kind of monster that is trotted out to battle other monsters? Think about it; the rest of the time the action hero is berated by his superiors, barely tolerated by his fellows and considered an outcast by society at large. Sure, in the early days James Bond and Dirty Harry scored with some chicks, but it was never for a long term commitment. (And often resulted in a shortened life to boot.) Bu […]


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