The Last Action Heroes: The Triumphs, Flops, and Feuds of Hollywood’s Kings of Carnage

Crown. Jun. 2023. 352p. ISBN 9780593238806. $28.99. FILM
Empire editor de Semlyen (Wild and Crazy Guys) maintains that the 1980s and 1990s witnessed a box-office reign of hyper-masculine, warrior-type film stars. This marked a return from Vietnam-era defeatism, led by frequent rivals Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. This genre encompassed equally taciturn Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris, inscrutable Steven Seagal, exuberant Jean-Claude Van Damme, and introspective Bruce Willis. The author also mentions other successful action figures of this era, including Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Charles Bronson, Al Pacino, and James Caan, most of whom were considered for the lead in Die Hard; Willis got the role. Beginning around 1993, a change in cultural trends moved toward a gentler U.S. and gave precedence to the more demographically different Jurassic Park sequels and more dialogue-driven Batman movies, where false muscles under full-body suits supplanted the need for massively gym-toned protagonists. De Semlyen astutely observes that women-led movies recently have seen Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lawrence, and Michelle Yeoh join the earlier efforts of Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton.
VERDICT This helpful overview of ’80s and ’90s action films also ventures into the forgotten subsequent film failures of the far-from-invincible men stars, guiding readers to films to avoid or to reevaluate.
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