Thursday 18 July 2019

Act your age...

Sharon Stone
Sharon Stone

At 64 Harrison Ford is going to reprise his role as action hero Indiana Jones... and he's not the only oldster making a comeback in a franchise film. KIM BIELENBERG reports

It is the last stand of one cinema's last great action heroes. At the age of 64, Harrison Ford is once again stepping into the role of Indiana Jones, the laconic all-action archaeologist who stormed the box office in the '80.

Ford has insisted that he is still fit enough to continue to play Indiana Jones - 17 years after he last donned the fedora, despite the fact that he uses a senior citizen's pass when he goes to the cinema.

Can the granddad, who will be 66 by the time the film is released, still cut it as the charismatic bull-whipping hero who jumps across chasms and tackles killer reptiles and evil Nazis?

Ford is not the only action hero who is attempting another stand at the box office with a hero and a film franchise whose best days seems to be well behind him.

You might have thought that Rocky Balboa, the boxing hero played by Sylvester Stallone had retired, punch-drunk and obese, to run a bar somewhere and drink himself into oblivion. But courtesy of Sylvester Stallone, aged 60, he too has defied the ageing process, stretched credibility beyond breaking point and is making yet another comeback in the ring in Rocky VI.

Stallone is also reprising the role of the musclebound and monosyllabic Vietnam vet, Rambo. Poor old Rambo hasn't gone on the rampage with his machine gun since 1988.

Not to feel left out, 51-year-old Bruce Willis is also back with trademark dirty vest and guns blazing, shooting the latest instalment of his Die Hard franchise, Live Free Or Die Harder.

Along with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has wisely reinvented himself as a successful politician, the threesome seem to belong to another era, where the action hero conquered all.

Somehow, it is hard to imagine senior citizen Ford hanging off the edges of cliffs with a lithe beauty in tow in his upcoming movie, provisionally titled, perhaps jokingly, Indiana Jones and the Ravages of Time. According to some rumours, rather than casting him alongside a starlet who could be his daughter, Ford's character will be reunited with girlfriends from the original movies.

The ravages of time have certainly played their part in diminishing the appeal of Ford and his heroic contemporaries. Although he has been rarely short of work in his post-Indiana incarnation, his appeal as a leading man has declined.

One Hollywood observer compared the latter day Ford to a vast oil tanker trying to change direction. While he has always been decent and solid as a leading man, he has become cumbersome, even a shade uncool.

By placing their faith in Ford, Stallone and Willis, studio executives are taking a major gamble. Ford has hardly had a blockbuster hit since Air Force One in 1997, while the box office values of Stallone and Willis have also plummeted.

Age is not the only thing that has withered the appeal of the traditional Hollywood action hero. The whole idea of the action hero - the hard, brooding stoic with a willingness to kill - is itself unfashionable.

The American film writer Sharon Waxman recently pointed to the decline of the traditional Hollywood macho man: "Once upon a time, very long time at that, the American leading man had a square jaw, a glinty gaze and an imposing physique.

"That has changed. The new generation of Hollywood's leading men are soft of cheek, with limpid stares and wiry frames."

"We have a lot of pretty guys running around with six-pack abs, but they lack authenticity and credibility," complained movie agent Robert Newman in an interview for The New York Times. "When Steve McQueen took his shirt off, he's thin, he's not ripped. There's a hardness about him because of who he was."

One theory about the decline of the muscular Hollywood alpha male puts it down to 9/11. According to this view, audiences have sought more complex heroes to reflect their fears and concerns. But, in truth, the decline of the action hero was in train well before 9/11.

Actors such as Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro blazed a trail for a more anti-heroic male lead as early as the '60s and '70s.

According to Mike Goodridge, American editor of the movie publication Screen International, the days of muscles and guns and ready quips are firmly in the past. Audiences prefer an alternative action hero - a cheeky, untrustworthy comic character like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean.

While Rocky and Rambo may just be too far-fetched and kitschy to enjoy successful comebacks (most of the original films have have hardly stood the test of time), Indiana Jones was in a different league. In his role as the intrepid archaeologist, Ford did not just rely on brawn, but had a certain comic poise that may serve him well in the next sequel.

Besides, studio bosses may just feel that another Indiana Jones film is worth the gamble, since Ford has starred in seven of the 20 top box-office films of all time.

Sean Connery, who incidentally played the father of Indiana Jones in one of the previous films, has shown that a star can enjoy success returning to a role many years after he left it.

Twelve years after his previous appearance as 007 in Diamonds are Forever, a more portly Sean Connery returned to the role in 1983 in the unofficial Bond film, Never Say Never Again. Connery may not have had the physical presence of earlier films, but he made up for it with a certain tongue-in-cheek humour.

Male actors still have a much longer shelf life than most of their female counterparts, but the differences in movie longevity may not be as great as they once were.

While the ageing male lead with younger female love interest seems to have declined, some mature female screen sirens have begun to enjoy success in middle age. Sharon Stone was called back to reprise her role as the flashing temptress in Basic Instinct II in her late 40s, while Kim Cattrall's career hit its peak with Sex and the City when she was well into middle age. Desperate Housewives has also shown that the life of a female star need not end at 30.

So why has Harrison Ford left it so late to resurrect Indiana Jones? Since 1992, five well-known Hollywood scriptwriters have written screenplays, including Christopher Columbus, who wrote three of the Harry Potter movies, but the producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg did not agree on a on a script.

In trying to revive their careers as action heroes, Harrison Ford, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis may care to follow the teachings of John Wayne, who was still cutting it as an all-American hero in his 70th year: "Talk low, talk slow and don't say too much."

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section