According to Hollywood and its demographic cinema box office soothsayers, the only people who have the ability to purchase tickets to and actively watch an action film are men and teenage boys. They believe that women, for the most part, cannot watch these films - unless their boyfriends, husbands, male friends, etc. have explicitly gave them entrance to the theater or made the magical DVD player start the film.
Either way, it is assumed that men are the ones with the keys to the magic that is "boom and vroom." Hollywood types with these lofty gendered assumptions are most definitely incorrect. Women also enjoy action films, especially the new growth of the hyper-masculine action narrative. The hyper-masculine action film refers to a post-Die Hard
genre where road narratives depend on cars that do the unimaginable, such as the Fast and Furious
franchise, and the action film is expected to have either Jason Statham
or Guy Ritchie
Women Like 'Em Too
Before an analysis of this new subgenre is explored, a case for female viewers must be established. One of the reasons women like and, horror of horrors, enjoy
hyper-masculine texts is because they are so close to melodramas. Yes, boys, melodramas. The melodrama, a genre that typically is associated with strict female viewers, has almost the same construction as the hyper-masculine action film. As tears flow in a melodrama, bullet casings rain down in action films. The desire the female lead in a melodrama has for the male lead equals the desire a man has for his car or phallic weapon in an action film.
A Freudian case could be made for the obvious symbolism of the action film explosion as orgasm. Emotions in both genres are hyperbolic and beg the audience to join their emotional journeys vicariously. Moreover, a case for the popularity of this genre for women is the fact that Jason Statham (Transporter
) is the action film's Paul Rudd
. Men want to be him, and women want to be with him. Guy Ritchie, the poster director for this genre is the Douglas Sirk (a famous melodrama director of such classics as Written on the Wind
) of hyper masculine texts such as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
, and RocknRolla
. All of these factors should add up to box office gold in the eyes of Hollywood.
Lots Of Violence, Ridiculous Weapons & Fast Cars
The issue that comes hand in hand with enjoying these films is how to negotiate feelings on the representation of other women in these films. While watching Statham in "Crank," and soon to be Crank 2: High Voltage
, the "Transporter" franchise, Death Race
, The Italian Job
, "Snatch," and "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels," it is hard to ignore supporting female characters. Whether in the form of prostitutes, throwaway scantily clad women, or even Warden Hennessey of "Death Race," women are rarely depicted as active, positive women in this genre. Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen
) comes the closest in these films in regards to power and control. Her use of this power is what motivates Jensen Ames (Statham) into his journey of revenge. Even as a negative power, her role did not help "Death Race" in the box office. Why "Death Race" arguably flopped also calls into question the lack of enough racing within the film. When you question where the blood, gore, gratuitous violence, and fast cars are, at 20 minutes into the film, you know there is a problem. While plot should matter to an extent in all film, the hyper-masculine action genre comes with an assumed contract between producer and the audience member: lots of violence, ridiculous weaponry, fast cars that can defy gravity and fuel requirements, fast editing, intense soundtracks, and attractive men and women.
The somewhat anomaly to this subgenre is Guy Ritchie's "Rocknrolla." It definitely fills the required conventions with gangster-like activities, weapons, cars, violence, foul language, and the attractive male twisted hero with a ridiculously unbelievable name, One Two (Gerard Butler
). What sets it apart is the positive representation of a gay male character and a stronger female role, Stella (Thandie Newton
). These facts are more than likely tied to the fact that "Rocknrolla" was unnecessarily panned by critics.
Moving away from the Statham/Ritchie end, there lies the sleeper hyper-masculine road narrative franchise that is "Fast and Furious." Most fans of this series, author included, like to think of it as a trilogy, striking the abomination that was Tokyo Drift
from memory as Terminator
fans do with Terminator 3
. What makes the three films successful, most notably the recent record box office numbers accumulated by the release of "Fast and Furious," is the devotion to equal amounts of character development and unadulterated fun. Viewers cannot get enough of nitrous and the gorgeous imported cars with illegal modifications. It is difficult to leave the theater and not try to push your Honda to illegal speeds or race the 70-year-old man in the 1981 Cadillac at your first post-"Fast and Furious" stoplight. This franchise, and the aforementioned hyper-masculine action films are not meant to bring in Academy Award nominations, and this fact sometimes confuses film critics. The point of these films, and why they are enjoyable for men and women, is their hyperbolic, fantastical nature. They are not meant to be relatable. They are created so we, the viewer, can live through these experiences too, without getting arrested for grand theft auto or illegal use of firearms.
If you have not had the chance to see any of the above films they come highly recommended, especially for women who might never have given them a chance.
Story by Sarah Lafferty
Starpulse contributing writer