Jack Bauer's always been an action movie superhero, but have the "24" writers been reading those Chuck Norris-style facts about him across the internet? The safety of America seems to rest in his arms a little too knowingly. The world has gone to shit in the two years that Jack has been in the hands of the Chinese government: terrorist attacks have happened all across the country, and America is apparently several signatures away from becoming a police state. Now that he's returned, complete with a Die Another Day-esque entrance, the greatest emotional drama that the show has to offer seems to be questioning whether or not he still has the ability to break faces and take names. Even when the final whammy of the four-hour block comes around (highlight for spoiler: Valencia (California) gets nuked), it happens immediately after he breaks down and decides that he's had enough. That'll teach you to quit, Bauer.
Will it keep going like this? Is the series out-and-out condoning the use of Middle Eastern "internment camps"? We'll have to see where this season takes us.
Anyway, now that Sylvester Stallone's sappy, nostalgic Rocky Balboa is shuffling out of theaters, it makes me realize that 2007 is seeing an uprising of older stars, returning to their most popular characters of decades past. Why now? The short answer: video games.
Rocky Balboa is, after all, dictated by the idea of a video game. Although Sly was clearly inspired by the computer-determined outcome of a filmed sparring match between Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano, Balboa is convinced back into business by a genuine CGI simulation between the current champ and the former champ in his prime. But, y'know, despite all of the old jokes everyone kind of forgets the "in his prime" part. The Rocky series had been stale since Rocky IV--something that Stallone seems to acknowledge in his in-film comment "that's probably the '70s"--so why create this film, which is just another retread orchestrated as a funeral procession? Because technology told him that it was possible? Pride obviously brought Stallone himself into the training room and the ring, but I'd love to know if any computer manipulation was involved in the making of Rocky Balboa. Oh, and don't forget that Rambo IV will be headed our way, too.
Indiana Jones IV is closer to fruition than it's ever been, or so they tell us. I'm the one person in about a thousand who really enjoyed Firewall, but it was its manic pace and Harrison Ford's authoritative technobabble that really sold it for me. But was the film meant to be some kind of plea that the 64-year-old Ford was still capable of performing Indy's antics? In that case, it was a pathetic attempt: Ford can still look angry and wax philosophic better than anybody I know, but one wrestling match with Paul Bettany doesn't cut it. Although I hope that Spielberg will stick with stuntmen, with Lucas in the wings I fear that we'll be seeing a lot more CGI than what a peek into the Ark of the Covenant requires. Think of that moment in Star Wars: Episode III when Count Dooku leaps off the balcony, but blown up to feature-length status.
Most telling is Clint Eastwood voicing Harry Callahan for a Dirty Harry video game alongside Laurence Fishburne and Gene Hackman (!). I've got nothing against it on principle; as much as the sequels avoid the confrontational political debates of the original Dirty Harry in order to turn Callahan into a superhero (not unlike Jack Bauer, natch), I'm a fan of Magnum Force and The Dead Pool. But what confuses me is that Eastwood has spent the last decade and a half--since Unforgiven, of course--avoiding Harry like the plague. It's understandable, considering his advancing age, but he seems more annoyed in the sense that he's passing himself off as "better" than the material: the complaints that he lodged when he apparently fought to make Million Dollar Baby (the suits kept bringing up Dirty Harry 6 as an alternative). Not to mention that the now-forgotten half of his two Iwo Jima films, Flags of Our Fathers, seemed to be enough of an indignant response to heroic iconography that maybe, just maybe, we'd get the point that he didn't want to be called "Dirty Harry" anymore. But despite his protestations of being a "serious" filmmaker now, the Dirty Harry video game reveals that Eastwood really would like one more shot at the title.
What does it all add up to? Walter is right when he mentions in the FFC '06 Top 10 that filmmaking has gotten a little too advanced for our own good, but the result doesn't end with the democratization of art. The older generations of filmmakers are turning their own art--films, video games and beyond--into one last stab for relevance in the form of a sickly nostalgia piece. The original films are there and will remain there in the same sense that sequels can be ignored, but there's no doubt that failed attempts leave a bad taste of desperation in our mouths, knowing that our final exposure to the characters that we grew up with (as we know them) will be an unconvincing plea against their own obsolescence, as Rocky Balboa turned out to be. I don't mean to be a defeatist about it, but it's not like the track record has been good thus far: for every brilliantly seething Ray Liotta in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, we get at least one feeble, unrecognizable Sean Connery and an aggressively mediocre re-imagining of From Russia with Love. Unlike what Rocky Balboa implies in its final moments, Hollywood stars don't really fade away anymore--everyone witnesses the descent.
And yet as filmgoers, sometimes we can't resist, because we can't do anything about the silent hosanna that invades our brains when we hear the news, that constant hope that it'll be good, or even that wish that our personal favorite character will be next on the list. As for me personally: it's no big secret that Darkman is one of my very favorite films--it's one of the few movies that totally submits itself to the world of comic books, and it even acts as a sly criticism of Tim Burton's Batman--so I wouldn't mind seeing Liam Neeson step back into the bandages in some form or another. Neeson is past the age of 50, but Darkman begged for some extension beyond one film, and the direct-to-video sequels were just travesties. (Bill tells me that an R-rated cut of Book of Love executes one of the most hilariously speedy endings imaginable; I would counter that with Darkman III: Die Darkman Die.) All I want is one brief detour off the "high road" that he's been on since Schindler's List; a return to his roots.
Are there any film series/characters/actors you're dying to see back in the saddle, despite your misgivings?