In most cases, the former stars’ output in the recent, roughest years were absent from cinemas. Could JCVD be the artistic crest of a rebound? Stallone revived his signature roles in somewhat astonishing ways—surely his Rambo (2007) tells you as much about American self-hatred as There Will Be Blood (2007), but in half the time, while substituting pure action for artistic pretension, for better and worse. Elsewhere, Vern’s book-long career consideration Seagalogy seems to bespeak an interest in finally unearthing some of the allure of those action heroes taking the last proletarian stand of iconic multiplex entertainment. In a way, they were the last human axioms of cinema, at least in the tradition of the infamous claim for Charlton Heston made by Michel Mourlet in his classic Cahiers essay “In Defense of Violence.” (There may be a few circumstantial exceptions, but for the most part Hollywood now regards fantasy gnomes and merchandise as its axiomatic material.) Their mythic posturing was ideally supported by bare-bones narratives, often ridiculed and often enough full of ridiculous details: Who could forget the villain’s ultimate self-defeating taunt in Death Warrant (1990): He (“The Sandman”) kicks open a furnace door to scream “Welcome to hell!” in front of impressively blazing flames—into which he is promptly kicked by Van Damme.
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