Within film scholarship it has often been taken for granted that contemporary Hollywood action films are "dumb movies for dumb people" (Tasker 1994, 5), viewed as inherently conservative, superficially spectacular, and narratively simplistic. (1) Critics have traditionally not analyzed the genre with any rigor, preferring instead to level broad criticisms against its perceived ideological simplicity. Yet, for the past thirty years, action films have been some of Hollywood's top box office performers, both domestically and internationally, and thus deserve a more thorough and critical treatment than they have so far received. Surprisingly reflexive, often addressing the audience with an ironic knowledge of its own spectacular and repetitive nature, the action film is a rich site for the complex interaction of narrative, spectacle, and masculinity.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, a particular brand of film dominated Hollywood's output of action movies, a brand that Susan Jeffords has called the "hardbody film." Ruled by bodybuilder-actors, these hardbody films showcase hypermasculine characters engaged in various feats of heroism. While they fit firmly within the traditional Hollywood action/adventure genre, the hardbody films are notable for their insistence on depicting the unclothed male form. The films are also notable for their excessive violence and hyperbolic action sequences, and the hardbodied protagonists dominating these films perpetrate both the violence and action of the narratives with superheroic glee.
While some scholars have focused specifically on the hardbody action genre (Tasker 1993; Jeffords 1994; Berg 1996; Neale 2000; Lichtenfeld; Gallagher), this genre has not yet received a thorough, systematic description of its formal elements. The primary goal of this study is to demarcate the features of the hardbody action genre, noting in particular the sub-genres/cycles within the genre and the conventions, themes, and motifs common to the films of this genre. This delineation of generic elements will be neo-formalist in nature, relying on a close reading of the film texts and noting the textual elements common to the hardbody films.
One of the most essential (and often most challenging) tasks of the genre critic is the delineation of the object under study. Although any attempt at creating a grouping of objects is, in a sense, somewhat arbitrary, determined by the needs of the scholar and suited to the objectives of the particular study, a grouping must necessarily be made, lest the study encompass every possible permutation of object combination. The approach to genre categorization that I will be employing in my analysis of the hardbody genre will be based on prototypes (Austin and Gordon; Grodal, 161-164). The prototype approach has its roots in Wittgenstein's concept of "family resemblance," which groups objects into families based on commonly shared features, none of which is either necessary or sufficient for inclusion in the family. This approach allows the genre critic to group films together in various ways, depending on what features are germane to the objectives of the study.
The hardbody genre, as I am defining it according to family resemblance, consists of those (usually very violent) Hollywood action films made chiefly between the 1980s and early 1990s that feature a central male hero as the lone protagonist charged with "saving the day." What is unique to this cycle of films is the focus on the body of the male hero, a body that is fetishized for its hard and sculpted muscularity and/ or its athletic skill and physical prowess. (2) These films also fetishize the weapons, vehicles, and other objects used by the heroes in their quests. Of interest as well is that many of these films have a very limited supporting cast and an under-developed or completely nonexistent parallel romantic storyline (an issue I will address below). (3) Stars of this cycle of films include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Dolph Lundgren. (4)
The Hardbodied Hero
An element central to the hardbody genre is its depiction (and fetishization) of the hard and sculpted male body. The ways in which the muscular male body is represented follow specific narrative conventions that are repeated across a large corpus of 1980s and 1990s action films; chief among these is the "feminization" of the hypermasculine body (Tasker 1993; Brown; Dyer 1997). In the hardbody genre, the camera treats the male body in much the same way as it has traditionally treated the female body: through excessively lingering shots, pans along the length of the body, and close-ups of specific body parts.
The feminization of the hyper-masculine body also raises questions as to audience identification with the hardbodied actors, as these films were created with a largely male audience in mind (Neale 1983; Savran). Chief among these questions are the possible (homo)erotic implications that a depiction of a feminized male has for a male audience and the ways in which this (homo)eroticism is diffused. Utilizing a psychoanalytic framework, Neale argues that "in a heterosexual and patriarchal society, the male body cannot be marked explicitly as the erotic object of another male look: that look must be motivated in some other way, its erotic component repressed" (Neale, 8). Neale is essentially asserting that the male audience member represses his erotic desire for the male body by displacing the eroticized look onto the scenes of action that motivate male spectacle.
We are offered the spectacle of male bodies, but bodies unmarked as objects of erotic display. There is no trace of an acknowledgement or recognition of those bodies as displayed solely for the gaze of the spectator. They are on display, certainly, but there is no cultural or cinematic convention which would allow the male body to be presented in the way that Dietrich so often is in Sternberg's films. We see male bodies stylised and fragmented by close-ups, but our look is not direct, it is heavily mediated by the looks of the characters involved. And those looks are marked not by desire, but rather by fear, hatred, or aggression (14).
Though Neale was writing in 1983, before many of the hardbody films were produced, his argument remains salient to the discussion of the hyper-masculine male body and the spectacle involved in its display in these action films. I will argue, however, that the hardbody genre succeeds in developing the cinematic conventions that allow the hardbody body to be presented as Sternberg presented Dietrich, albeit in a more "masculine" way.
In almost every film of the hardbody genre, the hardbodied hero undergoes some kind of physical pain, either through a strict, self-inflicted training regime, an enemy-inflicted scene of torture, or a self-inflicted torture of bodily repair (Tasker 1993; Savran; Dyer 1997). These scenes of pain are often interpreted as a means by which the male viewer can distance himself from the possible homoeroticism evoked from the displays of the male body:
Any delight that the male spectator might derive from watching Rambo's rippling flesh is mitigated by the fact that that same flesh is insistently brutalized and turned into a spectacle of pain which the spectator might be expected, if not to avert his eyes from, at least to wince at ... sadomasochism functions to facilitate the male spectator's disavowal of a homoerotic investment (Savran, 135).
The hardbody films take much pleasure in depicting these scenes of pain, which have their roots in traditional Christian iconography of passion and suffering, and the endurance of pain indicates a triumph of spirit over body in the hardbodied hero (Tasker 1993; Dyer 1997). This representation of pain also relates to the actual development of the hard-body. "Bodybuilding does also sometimes draw on Christian imagery. The activity itself involves pain, bodily suffering, and with it the idea of the value of pain" (Dyer 1997, 150).
Along with the muscularity of the male hardbody, the physicality and movement of the body also provides pleasure, rather than psychological danger, for the male spectator (Anderson). Citing the existence of martial arts stars who do not necessarily have hyperbolically muscular bodies, Aaron Anderson asserts that:
To focus on the action hero's muscular nature denies the primacy of motion which is inherent in the genre's "action" nature. While an action hero or heroine's muscularity often contributes much to the pleasure of watching an action film ... in martial arts films the muscularity of an action hero's body plays a secondary role to the very fact of bodies in motion (Anderson, 2).
Anderson argues that the spectacular scenes of fighting convey important narrative information, expanding the viewer's knowledge concerning the personality attributes of the hero. And, just as muscularity implies rigorous and painful training, so too does martial arts skill. It is simply a matter of muscles versus motion, and both inform the narrative structure of the hardbody action film.
Much of the scholarship regarding the hardbody genre has been concerned with ideological issues, i.e., issues pertaining to race, gender, sexuality, and politics. The films of the hardbody genre have most often been used to interrogate issues of gender, specifically the representations of masculinity and the male hero, and the ways in which these representations confront a "crisis of masculinity" in contemporary American culture (Byers; N. King; Dyer 2000; Hoberman 2000; Gallagher). Of particular importance are the ways in which the heroes of these films provide models of masculinity, specifically the negotiation between active/male and passive/female traits of the heroes, and the ways in which this affects viewer identification with those heroes.
Aside from critiquing the ideological implications of gender in the hardbody action film, other scholars directly tackle issues of politics, viewing the hardbody films as reflecting the larger political concerns of the 1980s United States (Hoberman 1985; Jeffords 1986, 1994; Sweeney 1999). Susan Jeffords, in particular, draws strong analogies between the action film of the 1980s and the policies of the Reagan administration, arguing that the depictions of masculinity in the hardbody film directly reflect the ideals of masculinity as espoused by the Reagan administration (Jeffords 1986; 1994). These "hard body" films are seen as direct reflections of the 1980s cultural zeitgeist and are thus good reflections of the contemporary dominant ideology. Though some serious problems exist with drawing a direct correlation between Hollywood and politics (without demonstrating how that correlation is established), ignoring industrial and audience practices of the time, Jeffords's work can perhaps best be used as a metaphor for a coalescing of the "New Right" of the 1980s, illuminating the ways in which film, as but one cultural product, may indicate contemporary political trends.
The Hardbody Action Film: Genre and Sub-Genre
As previously (and broadly) defined, the hardbody genre includes those Hollywood action films produced during the 1980s and early 1990s that feature a hardbodied and athletically skilled male hero as the central protagonist. The basic plot structure of these films is typical of most canonical Hollywood action films: the hero is introduced, a triggering event (usually a calamity of some kind) occurs, the hero must overcome obstacles in order to prevent further calamities from occurring, and the hero saves the day, thus proving both his personal worth and the worth of the object/person/institution that was saved. The hardbody film deviates slightly from this formula in that it must include scenarios in which the hero may display his body in a way that the plot motivates; usually this is done through sequences of martial combat or choreographed fighting. Much more emphasis is placed on the hero's body and the display of the hero's physical prowess than is traditional in most contemporary Hollywood action films. (5)
The hardbody action film broadly follows three basic plot progressions (see Table 1), the first of which (the "developing hardbody" sub-cycle) begins with the training and development of the hardbodied hero and culminates with an exhibition of hero's newfound physical prowess (examples include Rocky, 1976 (6); Above the Law, 1988; The Beastmaster. 1982; Red Sonja, 1985 (7); Bloodsport, 1988; Kickboxer, 1989; Robocop, 1987; Solo, 1996; Universal Soldier, 1992). In this sub-cycle of the hardbody genre, the hardbodied hero begins as an untrained, relatively "soft" character who needs to be molded in order to fulfill his hardbody destiny. The opening scenes generally depict the hero's history, showing events that cause the hero to seek the development of his hardbody. These events are usually tragic (e.g., the murder of a family member, a severe injury), providing the motivation for the hero's quest and defining the hero's character. Deeply affected by this triggering event, the hero then begins honing his physical skills by devoting himself to a painfully rigorous training regime in which he tortures his mind and body into submission in order to rebuild it as an unfailing hardbody. Having completed his training, the hardbodied hero meets with another triggering event (e.g., a challenge from a former offender, the kidnapping of a loved one) and decides to put his newly formed hardbody to use. There follows a sequence of preparation for the final fight, and the final fight ensues, with the hardbodied hero, after enduring a severe pummeling, eventually besting his foe (and thus avenging his lost loved one, purging societal corruption, etc.).
Kickboxer, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, is an exemplar of this sub-cycle of the hardbody genre. The first act of Kickboxer begins with Kurt (Van Damme) assisting at the ringside of his brother Eric's kickboxing match; Eric is a champion kickboxer, and Kurt is his lesser-skilled training partner. Having bested all his opponents in the United States, Eric decides to go to Thailand, the "home" of kickboxing, to face the reigning Thai champion, Tong Po (Tong Po is a character classic to the hardbody genre as a whole: he is the evil, hardbodied counterpart to the hardbodied hero, and the climax of the film centers on their combat). Eric and Tong Po eventually fight, and Tong Po breaks Eric's back, paralyzing his legs. This action ends the first act of the film, serves as the triggering event for Kurt's revenge, and motivates Kurt's subsequent training.
The second act of the film is devoted to Kurt's training as a kickboxer and the development of his hardbody. (8) Motivated by his desire to avenge his brother's paralysis at the hands of Tong Po, Kurt seeks out the help of Xian Chow, a kickboxing master. Typical of most of the films of this sub-cycle, Kickboxer features an extended training sequence detailing the mental and physical pain that the hero must suffer in order to achieve his "hardbody status." The physical anguish experienced by Kurt is depicted in extreme detail as he proceeds to fell a tree using only the power of his kicks, endure clay pots breaking against his stomach, and undergo a rack-like stretching of his limbs. It is only through intense suffering that Kurt is able to purge the softness from his body and replace it with a machine-like durability. The second act of Kickboxer concludes with Tong Po issuing a challenge (the second triggering event) to Kurt to fight him in the "old way," which entails the combatants meeting each other with hemp-wrapped fists encrusted with broken glass.
The third act of Kickboxer focuses on the fight between Kurt and Tong Po. In a sequence typical to most films of the hardbody genre, the hero's preparation for the final fight is shown with great detail and care. Kurt is slowly shown donning his combat attire, carefully wrapping his hands with hemp and pine resin, and dipping his hands in the crushed glass. During this sequence, Kurt is shirtless, and the camera takes great pains to linger on his sculpted body, a body that is about to be beaten and bloodied. After carefully preparing for the fight, Kurt faces Tong Po in a final, bloody, kickboxing match. The final fight sequence lasts about ten minutes, and by the end of the fight, both combatants have been thoroughly bruised and badly cut by the glass shards attached to their fists. Kurt defeats Tong Po, thus avenging both his brother's injury and the rape of Xian Chow's niece that had taken place earlier in the film. As in most other films of the hardbody genre, Kickboxer concludes not with the hero embracing a romantic interest, but with the hero joining his male comrades in celebration of victory.
The second sub-cycle of the hardbody genre (the "repressed hardbody" sub-cycle) follows a former hardbodied hero, tamed by society, who rediscovers his masculinity and fights against the evil forces of the film (examples include American Ninja, 1985: Commando, 1985; Die Hard, 1988; Die Hard 2: Die Harder, 1990; A Force of One, 1979; First Blood, 1982; Rambo: First Blood Part II, 1985; Rambo III, 1988: Missing in Action, 1984; Passenger 57, 1992; Under Siege, 1992). The hardbodies of this sub-cycle are most often ex-military/ex-police/ex-special forces heroes who have settled into a daily routine of monotony, repressing their hardbodied masculinity. These films generally begin with a depiction of the hero bumbling about an office, with his family, in the city, or any other constrained environment, desperately trying to "fit in" and restrain the hardbody inside himself. It is made obvious that the hero is out of place, that he is not suited for this environment. Inevitably, something happens (a family member is kidnapped, the hero's place of work is attacked, or the hero is simply thrown into a violent and dangerous situation) that forces the hero to remember his hardbody skills and revert to his former hardbodied sell'. What follows is generally a series of events that showcase the athletic/military'/combat skills of the hero as he works towards achieving his goal. During the second act of the films of this sub-cycle, the hero, either through injury or setback, enjoys a temporary respite, which allows him to regroup and plan his final assault on the bad guys. As in the films of the "developing hardbody" sub-cycle previously discussed, the films of this sub-cycle end with a sequence detailing the hero's preparation for his final fight, concluding with the final fight itself in which the hero vanquishes his foe.
The "repressed hardbody" sub-cycle is perhaps best exemplified by First Blood, the first of four films featuring Sylvester Stallone as ex-special forces soldier John Rambo. First Blood opens with a long shot of Rambo walking down a quiet country road while the soundtrack is playing a peaceful, contemplative song. Rambo is on his way to visit another former soldier from Vietnam. After finding his friend's house, however, Rambo discovers that his friend has since died from a cancer attributed to exposure to Agent Orange. Rambo continues on into the nearby town called Hope, where he is confronted by the local sheriff, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy). Teasle, thinking Rambo a hippie/vagrant because of Rambo's long hair and relatively unkempt appearance, escorts Rambo out of town and asks him not to return. Throughout this encounter, Rambo is reserved, saying little and remaining non-combative. Rambo, however, defiantly returns to Hope where he is promptly arrested and thrown in jail. This imprisonment instigates in Rambo the memory of his POW experience, triggers the return of the repressed hardbody, and concludes the first act of the film.
In the second act, Rambo, fully embracing his newly expressed masculine hardbody, escapes from jail and flees to the mountain forests. What follows is a series of chases, ambushes, and gun fights; predictably, Rambo escapes them all. What is perhaps unpredictable, however, is that Rambo intentionally refuses to kill any of his would-be captors; he merely maims them instead. Not only does this establish Rambo's "honor," it also demonstrates his skill as a soldier: he can choose exactly how to harm his pursuers.
At the close of the second act, Rambo is taken for dead, and the forces pursuing him leave the forest. Rambo, however, is not finished. As is typical of most films of this sub-cycle, Rambo regroups, "gears up," and plans his final assault on his enemy, Sheriff Teasle. First Blood concludes with an explosive shoot-out between Rambo and Teasle in which half of the town of Hope is destroyed. Rambo eventually kills Teasle, but unlike other hardbody films of this subcycle, the authorities then apprehend Rambo and take him to a military prison. First Blood is an early film in the hardbody genre, so this plot variation may be due to initial experimentation within the burgeoning genre. The basic structure of the narrative, however, closely follows subsequent examples of the "repressed hardbody" sub-cycle.
The third and final sub-cycle of the hardbody genre (the "fully-formed hardbody" sub-cycle) is perhaps the most straightforward of the hardbody films, at least as concerns plot. These films consist of a series of continuous action sequences presenting the exploits of a hardbodied hero (examples include Cobra, 1986; Hard Target, 1993; Masters of the Universe, 1987; Predator, 1987; The Terminator, 1984; Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 1991; Judge Dredd, 1995). The hero comes to the film fully-formed; he is, and always has been, a hardbody. Throughout the film, clues are given as to the hero's past, but unlike the "developing hardbody" and "repressed hardbody" sub-cycles, the acquisition and release of hardbodied masculinity is never the focus of the plot. These films prefer to concentrate on the power and utility of the hardbody in dangerous and violent situations. The plot structure of the films of the "fully-formed hardbody" sub-cycle is very similar to that of the films of the "repressed hardbody" sub-cycle, with the chief difference being the first act of the films. The "fully-formed hardbody" films generally begin with an action sequence depicting the skills of the hero. The hero is then placed in, or asked to participate in, a situation that requires those skills. The rest of the film follows the hero's exploits, concluding with a showdown with his hardbodied nemesis.
Predator is a particularly good example of the "fully-formed hardbody" sub-cycle. The film opens with the crash landing of an alien vessel in the jungle, and from there, Predator wastes no time in immersing the viewer in a series of action sequences. Immediately following the alien crash scene, the film efficiently introduces us to all the main players. Some U.S. soldiers are ostensibly being held hostage in an unnamed Central American country, and a tactical unit, led by Dutch (Schwarzenegger) is being sent in on a rescue mission. Each member of Dutch's team is presented to us, but we are never specifically told who these men are. The only information that the film provides is that they are not "the regular army" and that they are "the best." Contrary to the "developing hardbody" sub-cycle, the hero(es) of the "fully-formed hardbody" sub-cycle come to the film in full swagger, their characters ready to fight. The brief exposition at the beginning of Predator gives the audience all the knowledge it needs to follow the upcoming plot; these soldiers are hardbodies, and they are "the best."
Ten minutes into the film, the team is dropped into the forest, each member displays his weapon of choice, and they soon discover that they are not merely on a rescue mission. A lethal alien is in the jungle (the Predator), hunting the humans who are unfortunate enough to find themselves there. Slowly, in a series of small conflicts, each member of Dutch's team is killed, leaving Dutch as the only survivor.
Having narrowly escaped the Predator, Dutch enjoys a temporary respite during which he creates an elaborate trap in the jungle for the Predator and prepares himself for the final showdown. The last act of the film is comprised of the fight between Dutch and the Predator, and typical of most final fights in the hardbody genre, it is a long and bloody battle, and both combatants endure large amounts of pain. Dutch predictably defeats the Predator, and the film concludes with a large explosion, which kills the Predator, thus confirming the ultimate power of the masculine (human) hardbody.
Conventions, Themes, and Motifs
The method of grouping that relies on family resemblance reveals a surprising unity of conventions, themes, and motifs in the (roughly fifty) films of the hardbody genre that I have analyzed here. Because of this unity, the hardbody films can usefully be considered a coherent genre, and considering them as such allows the critic to illuminate specific trends and concerns expressed by the texts. A majority of these films express similar concerns about masculinity and the male body, individualism, success through pain, and the value of hard work. What follows is a detailed list outlining the ways in which the films of the hardbody genre depict those concerns.
1) The Male Hardbody on Display
As previously noted, the films of the hardbody genre prioritize the depiction of the unclothed, physically sculpted male body and fetishize this hardbody Jr. spectacular and excessive ways that are normally reserved for female characters. In utilizing these cinematic conventions, the male hardbody is coded as a location for erotic desire, as demonstrated by Figures 1 and 2 from Universal Soldier. In these figures, we see the naked backside of Luc (Jean-Claude Van Damme), which seems out of place in an action film targeted towards a primarily male audience. (9) In the scene from which Figure 1 was taken, the camera pans slowly up the body of Luc, beginning with his feet and ending with a shot of his sculpted back, a camera movement normally reserved for nude female forms. As the target audience for the films of the hardbody genre is primarily male (and U.S. culture strongly devalues male homoerotic desire), shifting this eroticism becomes a central concern of these films. (10)
2) Scenes of Torture, Pain, and Training
Almost all of the hardbody films feature scenes of the hardbody in pain, either through torture or a punishing training regime (as previously described in the "developing hardbody" sub-cycle). These depictions of pain serve to displace any (homo)erotic feelings that may have been evoked by the display of the male hardbody, and the depictions also show the strength, toughness, and physicality of the sculpted male form. The ability of the hardbody to endure pain denotes a congruent strength of mind and willpower. As in Christian thought, the hardbody films view the body as a vessel, a tool with which to accomplish goals. Pain is something that the mind must endure in order for the hardbody to reach his goals, and a failing of the body indicates a similar weakness of the mind/spirit. In the context of training sequences, the pain of the hero reaffirms and propagates the American ideology of moral growth through physical toil and suffering; in other words, "no pain, no gain." The hardbodied hero is able to accomplish his quest and defeat the bad guys because the hero values hard work while his enemies display a preference for short cuts.
Scenes of pain also reinforce the notion of the body-as-tool through depictions of injury and bodily self-repair. The films of the hardbody genre view the body as primarily mechanical; the body can be sculpted into a statuesque form, trained to be an infallible weapon, and repaired if it should sustain any damage. (11) The Rambo character perhaps best exemplifies this tendency. Throughout all three Rambo films, much emphasis is placed on the superb training that Rambo has received and the perfection of his body as a weapon. His body is viewed as a product of the American military, and in First Blood, Colonel Trautman (Rambo's mentor/father figure) states that "God didn't make Rambo; I made him." In Rambo III, Trautman makes similar reference to the creation of Rambo and even uses the analogy of a sculptor: "We didn't make you this fighting machine. We just chipped away the rough edges." Rambo views his body as a mechanical apparatus, impervious to pain and to be treated like a machine, and this can be seen in Figure 3 (Rambo III) in which Rambo performs a gruesome self-surgery after sustaining an injury in combat.
This ideal of body-as-machine finds its logical extension in the prevalence of robots and cyborgs in the films of the hardbody genre. Many of the hardbody films contain robots or cyborgs as main characters (e.g., the Terminator films, Cyborg, RoboCop, Solo), and these mechanical beings take the attributes of their flesh-and-blood counterparts to the highest level. As such, the robots/cyborgs in the hardbody films can be considered the "ultimate" hardbodies. These ultimate hardbodies are literally machines, tools created by humans for specific purposes. Robots/cyborgs feel no pain, are fanatically goal-oriented, and do not quit until they are physically unable to do so. These mechanical heroes, however, lack the flesh-and-blood heroes' ability to withstand and ignore pain and fight through it stoically--an attribute essential to the ideology of the hardbody. Nonetheless, the robot/cyborg hardbodies embody the mechanical efficiency for which the flesh-and-blood hardbodies strive, albeit without the physical suffering that is so essential to the corporeal ontology of the hardbody.
3) Jungle and Industrial Settings
Most of the films of the hardbody genre take place in either a jungle (e.g., American Ninja, Missing in Action, and Predator) or industrial setting (e.g., Cobra, Die Hard, and RoboCop). As most of the hardbodied heroes are former soldiers with training in guerilla warfare, these maze-like environments provide the perfect milieu for the hardbody to demonstrate his skills in stealth combat. These locations also evoke the labyrinthine environments of Vietnam, reinforcing the importance of Vietnam to the plot and characters of these films. Many of the films either include former Vietnam soldiers (e.g., the Rambo films and Universal Soldier) or take place in Vietnam itself, centering on the rescue of American POWs (e.g., Missing In Action, Rambo). These films represent, in a sense, a process of reclaiming victory from the American defeat in Vietnam. These hardbodies, the true heroes of Vietnam, are finally being allowed to achieve the victory that the ineffective bureaucracy of the American government refused them (Jeffords 1994).
4) Fetishization of Weapons and Vehicles
Just as the films of the hardbody genre fetishize the male hardbody, they also fetishize the weapons and vehicles used by the hero. (12) This fetishization of both bodies and machines by the hardbody films follows a consistent internal logic; both things are viewed as tools, they have a hard and mechanical appearance, and they are uniquely suited to fulfilling a specific purpose (usually to cause death). Weapons, vehicles, and other tools are also depicted with many of the same filmic techniques as the hardbodies, namely through fragmented close-ups, quick cuts, and lingering shots. The hardbody films also personify weapons in such a way that the weapons become pseudo-characters, and these weapon-characters function as sidekicks to the hardbodied heroes, defining the heroes and fleshing out their personalities. In Predator, for example, each character is assigned a particular weapon that reflects his personality; e.g., the swaggering Blain (Ventura) wields a mini-gun and the "native American" Poncho is identified with a knife. To the extent that these weapons and vehicles take on special symbolic meaning within the narratives of the hardbody films, they serve as examples of Thomas Schatz's conceptualization of genre iconography (22-24). More specifically, the weapons and vehicles owned and employed by the hardbodied heroes become extensions of the characters' subjectivities, saturated with generic meaning. That is, the weapons and vehicles become condensations of the heroes' symbolic function within the narrative, and just as the white hat of the Western hero conveys ideological information that connects it to its various incarnations in other films of the genre, so too do the weapons and vehicles of the hardbodied hero convey information reliant on their previous ideological employment in other hardbody films.
Cobra (starring Stallone as Marion "Cobra" Cobretti) provides perhaps the most illustrative example of character identification with a weapon or vehicle and the iconographic function of these objects within the narratives of the hardbody films. Throughout the film, Cobretti is identified by his pistol, which is emblazoned with the image of a cobra, as seen in Figure 4. This pistol serves as an extension of Cobretti's personality, and his excessively violent use of the weapon earns him a reputation as a maverick cop. Cobretti is also frequently shown cleaning the gun, caring as much for the weapon as for his own body. Cobretti drives a particularly idiosyncratic vehicle, a modified 1950 Mercury with a personalized license plate reading "AWSOM 50." As Cobretti is a police officer, his use of a personally-owned 1950 Mercury is highly unusual, bringing increased attention to the car itself. The villain in this film, the Night Slasher, is also identified with a particular weapon, a knife. The film frequently shows the Night Slasher sharpening his knife, and the wounds left by the knife on his victims become his signature.
In each of the three sub-cycles of the hardbody genre, the film depicts the hero carefully preparing for his "final fight." In this preparation sequence, the hero gathers together all of the weapons and tools he will need in order to emerge victorious from his final battle, further fetishizing the weapons themselves. Like the clues in a mystery story, the weapons in the preparation sequence all become integral to the hero's victory, and a weapon or tool is not generally shown unless the hero will use it in his final fight. By fetishizing the weapons and tools in this way, the film creates anticipation for their eventual use, and the viewer familiar with the genre can take inventory of the weapons and await the havoc about to be wreaked by them. (13)
5) Individuality and Liminality
The films of the hardbody genre emphasize the individuality of their hardbodied heroes. Drawing on the vigilante/revenge movies of the 1970s (e.g., the Death Wish and Dirty Harry series), the hardbody films often pit their heroes against corrupt or overly bureaucratic institutions. These institutions have become bloated, ineffective, and often complicit in illegal activities, and the "renegade" hardbody must rely on himself and his own moral code to restore justice to both himself and, by extension, society at large. In order to accomplish this task, the hardbody must often break the Law in order to restore the Law. As such, the hardbodied hero is, like his Western and Noir forebears, a liminal figure; he moves about in both the "civilized" and "uncivilized" worlds, yet he is a true member of neither. Relying on his own unorthodox and violent methods, the hardbody must act in an uncivilized manner in order to mete out justice to those who have escaped the civilized justice of society. Having fulfilled his duty, the hardbodied hero either returns to his uncivilized roots (as in Rambo) or attempts to reintegrate himself into civilized society (as in Under Siege).
The hardbody films also highlight the individuality of their heroes by eliminating any semblance of a heterosexual romantic subplot between the hardbody and a female counterpart. Although there are a few exceptions (e.g., Red Sonja, Under Siege, the Die Hard series), most of the hardbody films have an underdeveloped or completely absent secondary romantic storyline and an expendable supporting cast. As in the classical Western, the focus is solely on the hero and his quest; his personal triumphs over evil overshadow any interpersonal achievements he might attain. (14)
6) Final Showdown
Drawing again on their Western precursors, the films of the hardbody genre prominently feature a shootout or final showdown during their final acts. Usually this consists of a "final fight" between the hardbodied hero and his hardbodied evil nemesis, and it sometimes begins with an assault on the compound of the evil hardbody (as in Commando and American Ninja). The parallel between the "good" hardbody and the "bad" hardbody is established at the beginning of the film, and the narration of the film intercuts their dual storylines, concluding with the merging of the storylines in a final showdown. The defeat of the evil hardbody at the end of the film signals both a personal, moral victory for the hardbodied hero in particular and a victory for Justice in general.
7) Reflexive Humor
A sizable group of the hardbody films (notably those starring Schwarzenegger, especially Last Action Hero. 1993, and those made during the end of the genre's lifecycle) are quite reflexive, acknowledging and subtly mocking their own themes, conventions, and motifs. This self-referentiality is generally done through comedic one-liners, spoken by the hero during action sequences in what might seem like inappropriate times for humor (e.g., in Rambo III when Rambo narrowly escapes from an explosion and Trautman asks him how he is, Rambo responds, "Well done"). These stabs at humor indicate a playful willingness of these films to wink at their audience, acknowledging the excesses in their depiction of spectacle and the improbability of any human surviving such spectacular sequences of action.
Some of the hardbody films are self-referential even during the earlier stages of the genre's development. For example in Commando, Matrix (Schwarzenegger) at one point says "I'll be back" to the kidnappers of his daughter, a reference to the iconic line spoken by Schwarzenegger in The Terminator and, later, in Terminator 2. Later in the genre's lifecycle, when sequels start to become very prevalent, the films begin to acknowledge their own repetitiveness. In Die Hard 2 McClane (Willis), finding himself in the exact situation as in Die Hard, says, "Oh man, I can't fucking believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?" Die Hard 2 then, predictably, plays out the exact same scenario from the first film (but this time in an airport and on an airplane), although the film makes the audience aware that McClane knows he is in a sequel, perhaps allowing the repetitiveness of the film to be easier to digest while injecting humor into the formulaic narrative. (15)
Progeny of the Hardbody Film and Conclusion
The hardbody film, as I have described it, died out in the early 1990s. As I stated previously, this could be due to many factors, among them the advancement and availability of relatively inexpensive digital special effects. As with any product of mass culture, shifting cultural concerns and ideologies also played a role in the evolution of the hardbody genre, and beginning in the mid-1990s, Hollywood no longer deemed the hardbody film a viable financial investment. The action film began to take on blockbuster status, focusing more on science fiction and fantasy plots rather than "real-life" war combat, e.g., Independence Day (1996), Men in Black (1997), Armageddon (1998), and The Matrix (1999).
The 1990s Hollywood action film, perhaps for marketing reasons, also began incorporating more dramatic and romantic elements into its plots, e.g., Titanic (1997) (16) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). Gone were the lone hardbodies, individually saving the world. The action hero became more developed, often having a family and a wife. These films also incorporated a romantic subplot, and, as in most Hollywood films, the 1990s action film concluded with the hero saving the world and earning (or retaining) the girl.
Buddy films also became much more prevalent in the 1990s, though they were also present (and successful) in the 1980s, e.g., 48 Hrs. (1982), the Lethal Weapon series and, to an extent, the Die Hard series. (17) In the 1990s, however, the buddy film completely eclipsed the hardbody film, adding an element of humor and effectively creating a comedic sidekick for the hardbodied hero. Toward the end of their hardbody careers, some of the hardbody stars began making these buddy films in order to remain viable in a shifting industrial environment, e.g. Stallone in Tango and Cash (1989) and Schwarzenegger in Red Heat (1988) and True Lies (1994).
In the early 2000s, superhero films began to take over the box office, and these films, in many ways, are direct descendants of the hardbody films of the 1980s, e.g., the X-Men series (2000, 2003, 2006), the Spider-Man series (2002, 2004, 2007), and The Incredibles (2004). Both the hardbody film and the superhero film feature a protagonist with special "powers" whose duty it is to save the world. As with the hardbody hero, the superhero is a liminal figure, struggling to fit in with "normal" society while at the same time moving through a world of violence and death. Unlike the hardbody hero, however, the superhero splits his/her personality through an alter ego in order to negotiate the two worlds. Also, as with the hardbody hero's weapons, the superhero has unique abilities that define him/her, reflect his/her personality, and aid him/her in a quest to save the world. Unlike the hardbody film, the superhero film generally features some kind of romantic subplot, and this may be due to the comic book heritage of most superhero films or contemporary industrial demands. While the relationship between the hardbody film and the superhero film is a tangent to my current project, it is one that nevertheless warrants further research and analysis.
The consistency of conventions, themes, and motifs, similarity of plot structures, and commonality of production companies and hardbodied stars among these hardbody films supports the grouping of these films into a genre. Though the genre was relatively short-lived, preceded by the vigilante films of the 1970s, thriving during the 1980s and early 1990s, and finally replaced by the special effects action/adventure films of the late 1990s and contemporary times, the films of the hardbody genre, as I have attempted to demonstrate, were remarkably cohesive throughout their roughly fifteen-year lifespan. Examining the films as a unified whole can prove to be a fruitful task for the genre critic.
Appendix A: Figures
Appendix B: Tables Table 1: Sub-Cycles of the Hardbody Genre Developing Hardbody Repressed Hardbody I. Character Depiction of Repressed HistoryBackground Hardbody II. First Triggering Event Triggering Event III. Training Sequence Hardbody Released; Series of Fights IV. Second Triggering Event Temporary Respite; Planning V. Hero Prepares for Final Hero Prepares for Final Fight Fight VI. Final Fight Final Fight Fully-Formed Hardbody I. Depiction of Hardbody/Display of Skill Hero Placed in II. Dangerous/Violent Situation III. Series of Displays of Skill IV. Temporary Respite; Planning V. Hero Prepares for Final Fight VI. Final Fight
Appendix C: Film Corpus
Above the Law (1988), Andrew Davis
Action Jackson (1988), Craig R. Baxley
American Ninja (1985), Sam Firstenberg
Army of One (1993), Vic Armstrong
The Beastmaster (1982), Don Coscarelli
Bloodsport (1988), Newt Arnold
Boiling Point (1993), James B. Harris
Breaker Breaker (1977), Don Hulette
Cobra (1986), George P. Cosmatos
Code of Silence (1985), Andrew Davis
Commando (1985), Mark L. Lester
Conan the Barbarian (198l), John Milius
Conan the Destroyer (1984), Richard Fleischer
Cyborg (1989), Albert Pyun
Death Wish (1974), Michael Winner
The Delta Force (1986), Menahem Golan
Demolition Man (1993), Marco Brambilla
Die Hard (1988), John McTiernan
Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990), Renny Harlin
Die Hard. With a Vengeance (1995), John McTieman
Dirty Harry (1971), Don Siegel
First Blood (1982) Ted Kotcheff
A Force of One (1979), Paul Aaron
Forced Vengeance (1982), James Fargo
Hard Target (1993), John Woo
Hard to Kill (1990), Bruce Malmuth
Invasion U.S.A. (1985), Joseph Zito
Judge Dredd (1995), Danny Cannon
Kickboxer (1989), Mark DiSalle
Last Action Hero (1993), John McTiernan
Lethal Weapon (1987), Richard Donner
Lionheart (1990), Sheldon Lettich
Lone Wolf McQuade (1983), Steve Carver
Masters of the Universe (1987), Gary Goddard
Men of War (1994), Perry Lang
Missing In Action (1984), Joseph Zito
Non, here to Run (1993), Robert Harmon
Out for Justice (1991), John Flynn
Passenger 57 (1992), Kevin Hooks
Predator (1987), John McTiernan
Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), George P. Cosmatos
Rambo III (1988), Peter McDonald
Raw Deal (1986), John Irvin
Red Sonja (1985), Richard Fleischer
RoboCop (1987), Paul Verhoeven
Rocky (1976), John G. Avildsen
The Running Man (1987), Paul Michael Glaser
Solo (1996), Norberto Barba
Sudden Death (1995), Peter Hyams
The Terminator (1984), James Cameron
Terminator 2. Judgment Day (1991), James Cameron
Timecop (1994), Peter Hyams
Under Siege (1992), Andrew Davis
Universal Soldier (1992), Roland Emmerich
Anderson, Aaron. "Kinesthesia in Martial Arts Films: Action in Motion." Jump Cut: a Review of Contemporary Media 42 (December 1998): 1-11.
Austin, Bruce A. and Thomas F. Gordon. "Movie Genres: Toward a Conceptualized Model and Standardized Definitions." Current Research in Film: Audiences, Economics, and Law, vol. 3. Ed. Bruce A. Austin. Norwood, N J: Ablex Publishing Corp., 1987. 12-33.
Berg, Charles Ramirez. "Ethnic Ingenuity and Mainstream Cinema: Robert Rodriguez's Bedhead (1990) and El Mariachi (1993)." The Ethnic Eye: Latino Media Arts. Eds. Chon A. Noriega and Aria M. Lopez. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. 107-128.
Bordwell, David, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson. The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.
Brown, Jeffrey A. "Gender and the Action Heroine: Hardbodies and the Point of No Return." Cinema Journal 35.3 (Spring 1996): 52-71.
Byers, Thomas B. "Terminating the Postmodern: Masculinity and Pomophobia." Modern Fiction Studies 41.1 (Spring 1995): 5-33.
Cawelti, John G. Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories in Art and Popular Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.
Dyer, Richard. "Don't Look Now: Richard Dyer Examines the Instabilities of the Male Pin-Up." Screen 23.3-4 (1982): 61-73.
--. White. New York: Routledge, 1997.
--. "Action!" Action/Spectacle Cinema. Ed. Jose Arroyo. London: British Film Institute, 2000. 17-21.
Gallagher, Mark. ActionFigures: Men, Action Films, and Contemporary Adventure Narratives. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
Grodal, Torben. Moving Pictures: A New Theory of Film Genres, Feelings, and Cognition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.
Hoberman, J. "The Fascist Guns in the West: Hollywood's 'Rambo' Coalition." Radical America 19.6 (1985): 52-62.
--. "Nietzsche's Boy." Action/Spectacle Cinema. Ed. Jose Arroyo. London: British Film Institute, 2000. 29-34.
Jeffords, Susan. "The New Vietnam Films: Is the Movie Over?" Journal of Popular Film and Television 13.4 (Winter 1986): 186-194.
--. Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era. New Brunswick, N J: Rutgers University Press, 1994.
King, Geoff. New Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
King, Neal. Heroes in Hard Times: Cop Action Movies in the US. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999.
Lichtenfeld, Eric. Action Speaks Louder: Violence, Spectacle, and the American Action Movie. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004.
Neale, Steve. "Masculinity as Spectacle: Reflections on Men and Mainstream Cinema." Screen 24.6 (1983): 2-17.
--. Genre and Hollywood. London: Routledge, 2000.
Reid, Craig D. "Fighting Without Fighting: Film Action Fight Choreography." Film Quarterly 47.2 (1993): 30-35.
Savran, David. "The Sadomasochist in the Closet: White Masculinity and the Culture of Victimization." Differences 8.2 (1996): 127-152.
Schatz, Thomas. Hollywood Genres: Formulas, Filmmaking, and the Studio System. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1981.
Sweeney, Frank. "'What Mean Expendable?': Myth, Ideology, and Meaning in First Blood and Rambo." Journal of American Culture 22.3 (1999): 63-69.
Tasker, Yvonne. Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre and the Action Cinema. New York: Routledge, 1993.
--. Action and Adventure Cinema. New York: Routledge, 1994.
(1) Note that Yvonne Tasker is not leveling this criticism at the movies themselves but commenting on traditional opinions of the Hollywood action movie.
(2) Note that I am using the term "fetish" in a loose, rather than strictly psychoanalytic or Marxian, sense.
(3) As Bordwell et al. demonstrates, most classical Hollywood films employ a dual storyline: one story focused on the "main" action and the other focused on the heterosexual romance of the protagonist. The climax often involves the concurrent resolution of both storylines.
(4) See Appendix C for the film corpus of this study. In creating this corpus of films, I attempted to be as inclusive as possible, selecting Hollywood action films (chiefly produced in the 1980s and early 1990s) that featured a lone male hero as the main protagonist. These heroes are similar in their hardbodied appearance and/or physical and athletic prowess. This corpus is also based on the films examined by the other scholars subsequently cited. In order to facilitate selection of the films, I looked at the body of work of specific stars (e.g., Schwarzenegger) and production companies (e.g., Cannon Films). Because of space and time constraints, I will not be able to discuss each film in detail. I will mainly use the film corpus as a means of discovering narrative/thematic patterns within the hardbody genre, and from there I will choose exemplar films to use as case studies in my larger discussion.
(5) In the late-1990s, digital special-effects technology developed to the point where it could be incorporated with an adequate amount of verisimilitude for the effects to be "believable." At this time (and because of its digital nature), the technology also became inexpensive enough for it to be incorporated into most Hollywood action blockbusters. Though the spectacular nature of the hero's body continued to be exploited, the spectacular nature of the digital effects surrounding the body began to garner the attention of the camera. Whereas the hardbody films of the 1980s would feature close-ups and fragmented shots of the male hardbody, later action films would use the same camera work to present special effects. The films of actor Vin Diesel, a contemporary hardbody, display this preference for special effects to a fetishized male body (e.g., Pitch Black (2000), David Twohy; The Fast and the Furious (2001), Rob Cohen; xXx (2002), Rob Cohen; The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), David Twohy). Though the body of Diesel is featured prominently in his films, it is not the focus of the narrative as are the bodies of the hardbody films (See also, for example, The Scorpion King (2002) and Casino Royale (2006).
(6) Though in many ways Rocky might be considered the "ur-text" for the developing hardbody sub-cycle, it also lacks many of the features of the later hardbody films, notably an extended (visual) focus on the hero's body. Though the physical development of Rocky's body is essential to his success as a boxer, the film does not display his body in the same manner as later hardbody films (i.e., through lingering close-ups and slow pans). Rocky does, however, set the standard for the training montage typical of so many later hardbody films. As such, it is best to consider Rocky as an early template for the developing hardbody subcycle, a template that becomes further refined throughout the 1980s.
(7) Red Sonja, a spin-off from the Conan films and starring Brigitte Nielsen as the titular heroine, is an interesting entry into the hardbody genre because of its focus on the hardbodies of both Sonja (the heroine) and Kalidor (the hero, played by Schwarzenegger). Sonja is the main protagonist of the film, and her trajectory follows roughly that of the other protagonists of the "developing hardbody" sub-cycle: she experiences tragedy early in life (rape, the murder of her family), she endures a rigorous training regime, and she exacts revenge on her nemesis (the evil queen who wronged her at the beginning of the film). Sonja, however, unlike the other hardbodied heroes, does not undergo an extended sequence of pain/torture. Aside from the aforementioned rape at the beginning of the film (which is only spoken of and not shown), Sonja's body is not subjected to the same amount of pain as the other heroes of the hardbody films, perhaps due to the ability of her body to be an acceptable site of eroticism. Red Sonja is also notable for its inclusion of a relatively strong romantic subplot involving Sonja and Kalidor, and unlike most films of the hardbody genre, Red Sonja ends with the union (and kiss) of Sonja and Kalidor.
(8) Films such as Above the Law and Solo compress the training sequence into a montage included in the exposition regarding the hero's background. The rest of these films focus on the use of the hero's skills rather than on the acquisition of those skills.
(9) Establishing the target audience of a specific group of films is a sometimes tricky affair. Though I am not aware of any empirical data that supports my assertion that the target audience for the hardbody films is primarily male, these films fit within those genres traditionally associated with an implied male audience--namely the action/adventure, western, and science fiction genres. Additionally, the hardbody films confront issues of masculinity and reinforce specific ideologies of masculinity. As such, their performance of a specific type of masculinity might be one way in which these films are working through a specific cultural problematic of the 1980s United States. From this ad hoc basis (and for the purposes of this essay), I am arguing that the hardbody films were produced with a heterosexual, male audience in mind. This is not, however, to deny the possibility of other forms of desire, specifically female or queer desire. In fact, the conflict between the ubiquity of the eroticized male body in the hardbody films and these films' largely heterosexual male audience is an issue of great importance when analyzing the hardbody genre. However, for this essay, l am bracketing off the pleasures of alternate audience readings of the films and focusing on the (dominant) heteronormative male reading.
(10) Very generally (and perhaps somewhat reductively), fetishized depictions of the female form in mainstream Hollywood films (i.e., through lingering camera shots, "posing," and close-ups of body parts) are followed by scenes of nudity, sex, or some other romantic interlude. When the male body is fetishized using the same techniques, however, violence, pain, or some other punishment to the body follows. It is a stifling of erotic excitement (in the case of male bodies) rather than a continuation of that excitement (in the case of female bodies).
(11) The soldier Blain (Jesse Ventura) in Predator exemplifies this concept of the body-machine when, after sustaining an injury, he says, "I ain't got time to bleed." As an interesting note, I Ain't Got Time to Bleed is also the title of a political book by Ventura, who served as the governor of Minnesota from 1999-2003.
(12) Along with fetishizing the weapons and vehicles themselves, the hardbody films also fetishize the jargon used to describe the weapons and vehicles. Characters use highly specialized terminology (which the viewer cannot be expected to comprehend fully) in their descriptions of weapons, adding to the mystique of those weapons. The use of this specialized jargon is also appealing to those viewers knowledgeable of the conventions of the hardbody films as it activates such knowledge and rewards the informed viewer. Additionally, perhaps part of the appeal of the hardbody genre to its male viewers is the implicit masculinity of much of the contemporary discourse surrounding computers and other technological "gadgets." It seems that much of the rhetoric concerning technology is aimed at a male audience, and through its inclusion in the hardbody films, this technology of weapons and other gadgets can add another layer of pleasure for the spectator.
(13) As a reader of this essay noted, the motif of preparing weapons and tools for the final fight has its roots in Fred Zinnemann's The Day of the Jackal (1973) and television's Mission Impossible series.
(14) Compare the hardbody hero's lack of heterosexual coupling to the Western hero's lack of coupling. As with the Western hero, the hardbody hero, because of his violent, anti-social actions and his liminality, is denied the right to heterosexual romance. "The western hero of the classic period is largely developed through his complex and ambiguous relationship with society. Whatever romantic involvements he may have, the classic western hero's role as a man-in-the-middle between groups that represent the old and the new West is far more important than his relations with the opposite sex. Indeed, in many classic westerns there is relatively little romantic interest of the sort that was so important to Wister and Grey. Instead, the plot concerns situations in which the hero finds himself both involved with, and alienated from, society" (Cawelti, 248). As with the Western hero, the hardbody hero straddles the boundary between civility and barbarism, and the violence perpetrated by the hardbody prevents him from being integrated fully into society.
(15) The Die Hard formula of "hero trapped in a blank" would be revisited in films like Passenger 57 (a plane), Under Siege (a boat), Speed, 1994 (a bus), and Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, 1995 (a train).
(16) Directed by James Cameron, Titanic shares a lineage with the rest of Cameron's oeuvre. Cameron directed some the highest grossing action films of the 1980s and 1990s including The Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), The Abyss (1989), Terminator 2 (1991), and True Lies (1994). Of interest as well is that Cameron worked extensively with Schwarzenegger, the biggest hardbody star of this era. Titanic thus appealed to those fans of Cameron's previous work as well as those fans of romantic dramas, contributing to its enormous box office take.
(17) The first two Die Hard installments feature a minimal pairing of the hero McClane (Willis) and his sidekick Sgt. Powell (Reginald Vel Johnson). Though Powell assists McClane, he does so from afar, never really engaging in the type of heroics as McClane. Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995) is a better example of a buddy film. Throughout the film, Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson) is by the side of McClane, and it takes both of their brains and brawn in order to save the city. See G. King for an excellent analysis of this film.