Bring Back the Beef: Modern Cinema’s Tiny Action Stars

Boiling Point

It’s Expendables week and if you’re anything like me, you couldn’t be more erect. There’s just something about a bunch of hulked up dudes, rippling with muscle, dripping with sweat, kicking ass, and wrestling each other that just really appeals to me, ya know?

“No homo.” ~ The Lonely Island.

But seriously, putting aside the disappointment in the first film (I still dig it, it just could have been way better), there is something great about seeing all the biggest action stars of the 80s and 90s back on screen again in a big way. Notice my word choice here – biggest. Big. Emphasis on size.

These dudes are no joke. Sly Stallone could be retired and playing golf Palm Springs, but instead he’s working out and putting guys half his age to shame on the screen. Likewise, Terry Crews, gigantic and scary. Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the biggest of all time. Dolph Lundgren, Jean Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris – dudes that all flexed serious muscle on screen.

Why do people get so excited about these guys making their return to the silver screen? Simple. Our action stars today are lacking.

To put it simply: Where’s the beef?

Calling the modern action star “tiny” may be a bit of a stretch into insulting territory, but there’s no denying the modern hero takes up a lot less space on the screen. It’s not to say that smaller guys can’t be ass kickers – Jet Li obviously is awesome, while Bruce Willis always had a sort of everyman’s body, and the cream of today’s crop, Jason Statham, maintains his swimmer’s physique.

But damn it, where’s the beef? Where have all the gigantic cowboys gone? Movies are bigger than life, in character, scope, and proportion. The beefy man-mountain has mostly disappeared. Our only buff stars are Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson, both of whom who seemingly turn out equal amounts of family comedies and action movies.

Looking at the current crop of heroes, we get a lot of small guys, like Matt Damon, Will Smith, Sam Worthington, Taylor Lautner, or Gerard Butler. I don’t want to take anything away from their decent beach physiques, but none of these guys look like they can walk into a room and destroy every dude in it, or flip a car over. Or do a split in their underwear.

I mean, for crying out loud, we’ve got Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an excellent actor, with two action movies upcoming. Christian Bale got big for Batman Begins, but opted for a much leaner Wayne in the other installments. Tom Cruise, all 5’8″ of him, is playing Jack Reacher, a character described in the books as being 6’5″ and 250lbs, capable of tossing grown men around like rag dolls. Basically, he was written as an even bigger Arnold Schwarzenegger and he’s being played by a pip-squeak! Robert Downey Jr. is awesome as Tony Stark/Iron Man, but the metal does all the heavy lifting, not the man. Daniel Craig as James Bond has an admirable physique, but when it comes to power bombing thugs, he’s got nothing. We even live in a world where Seth Rogen was a super hero.

People, movies, and tastes change over time. That happens. We had an 80s action era that was the domain of the dominating beefcake. We left that behind for smaller guys and “realism.” With all the excitement over The Expendables films, I say it’s time for the second coming of the bodybuilder. Chris Hemsworth is an imposing Thor and Chris Evans bulked up and won the heart’s of everyone as Captain America, but The Hulk stole The Avengers and they don’t come bigger than the Hulk!

We need the return of true muscle – guys who look like they can break necks, flip cars, and rip a dozen men apart with their bare hands. When Schwarzenegger tells you he’s going to punch through your stomach and rip out your spine, you believe him because he looks like he could do it. If Will Smith said it to you, you’d probably just take his basketball and laugh as his over protective mother (Mistress Xenu) shipped him off to Bel Air.

Maybe I’m alone on this one, but with The Expendables fever catching, I don’t think so. Where is the streetwise Hercules? We need a hero. He’s gotta be strong. And he’s gotta be fast. And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight. I need a hero and he’s gotta be larger than life. Or else I’ll be past my boiling point.

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Robert Fure is many things: horror expert, ruggedly handsome man of the world, witty prose composer, and writer of his own biography page. Beneath the bravado is a scared little boy, ready to grow into an awesome man and make lies about a scared little boy inside of him. Wait a minute...

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