Hollywood is constantly battling the argument that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Maybe they've even beaten this argument like a dead horse at this point. While it feels like more and more action movies are getting made these days, especially in the climate of politically charged movies for the "thinking" audience, most of the ones that dominate the markets belong to our caped crusaders. With Avengers: Endgame now (technically) the number one grossing film of all time, and three other movies in the same franchise on the same top ten list, its easy to see why we are in such a saturated market for superhero flicks. That being said, I'm a die-hard Marvel fan and am not afraid to admit it. It seems that there's a lot of hesitation with old-school and independent film fans to accept the positive reviews and overall financial successes of these films, probably due to the influx of them in the last ten years.
But Marvel movies succeed for their wit, thrills and overall performances. And what makes these performances so special is the diverse cast of actors and their dedication to the roles. These actors extend from new hires and discoveries along with old-school favorites. Robert Downey Jr.'s Hollywood comeback started with his blast back onto the big-screen in Iron Man. Now 12 years later and a multitude of movies and spin-offs, we were announced that Ms. Marvel, a famous Muslim hero in the MCU would be played by the young Iman Vellani. There's been a real balance between the studio's choice to find new actors and re-hire old ones for major roles, and it seems like it's harder to find an actor on the big-screen who didn't at least cameo in a major Marvel motion picture (I'm looking at you Matt Damon.) When it comes to Marvel movies, as long as canon if closely followed for the sake of fan acceptance and commercial hype, no newbie is truly off limits for a role.
So this lengthily brings me to my main argument: Why don't non-comic book features (pun maybe intended) follow suit? Some of the most successful action movies of the last ten years have chosen old faces to fill out the young-person's role. The Taken trilogy, which put Liam Neeson so far back on the map it's hard not to see his face somewhere, made over 900 million dollars in the box office. Antoine Fuqua's bad and then decent Equalizer films blew away the R-Rated film stereotype of under-scoring at the theaters, with two films collectively making almost 400 million despite not belonging to any original series or canon. Denzel Washington is electric and terrifying, which elevates the movie, despite making audience's ponder his age factor during some of the movie's more demanding stunts. Then the big elephant in the room of course is the now-trilogy, with already two more planned sequels: John Wick. Now there's no reason to justify continuing to see Keanu Reeves shoot up baddies for the most personal reasons, to which no audience needs an excuse for. Keanu Reeves is an old dog, 56 years old to be exact. He can punch, shoot and out-stunt the best of them though, to this day, and there's really nobody else with that all around talent on screen today. Sure he's no Oscar winner like Washington, but dammit he's wholesome! He's doing it for the puppies!!!
This article could be re-purposed and focused in a sense to why Hollywood loves remakes on top of their desire to make comic-book movies or re-explore the franchises that fans would have thought not possible to continue. The truth is that some of these films are remakes, but the three I mentioned above are purely original new ideas that just worked. The main reason these films are so popular though is because of the original faces not ideas, and that's what makes us feel comfortable with them. Older audiences are going to return to the theaters because of the fact that their 80's or 90's icons are back and returning for "just_one_more_job_and_then_I'm_out" that turns into jobless prospects for our unlikely heroes. Perhaps new-comers are turned on by the fact that these older actors have experience and real appeal, and make it seem like the caring fathers or husbands or old friends can really kick ass if pushed just far enough. Liam Neeson has been in at least four non-Taken action films since 2010, and continues to be a top choice for the original action film idea. If anything it's more surprising to see a new-comer over a classic action star in anything made in the last ten years, or at least anything as closely successful. What's even more unfortunate is the underwhelming results to awesome female-led action movies such as Tomb Raider, Atomic Blonde and Alita: Battle Angel to name a few. Is overall deep-rooted sexism following a need for a male action protagonist in a modern action movie to be successful?
Perhaps it's slightly based on the machismo-need for a male lead in any action film. There's also the issue with casting someone new or baby-faced and losing the appeal of a classic, reliable actor for enjoying a new release. Maybe there's the issue of running dangerously close to the "Young Adult" franchise genre, that's good for younger audiences but not taken seriously enough as a genre for hardcore action audiences. So old people are in control? AGAIN?!
Well the new action movies are dangerous territory due to the reliance on the MCU, remakes or re-visits of older franchises that Hollywood loves to milk. It seems more common to see young people sprout from horror films, representing the innocence of our heroes in the face of an older evil presence. My theory is that even outside of the love for classic action films, there's always a risk re-introducing an old actor back into the driver's seat of a high octane vehicle. Taken took a risk with Neeson, one that paid off tenfold. Nobody wants to take a risk on a newcomer to anchor a big budget flick when it could mean sinking the film's success or even worse, the prospect for the young actor to do more.
Perhaps more and more we are going to see a drought of new original action movies, which is unfortunate, but is what comes at risk with rising and dipping trends. There's simply too much to see (even right now) and the desire to stick comfortably with what's going to be a safe bet over a risk. So let's give it up to Marvel movies, and Disney in general. The inclusivity of their films, and their goals to stretch beyond the familiar, bring a caveat of new, young, and diverse actors under their wing. Who's to say if they will all be giant A-league action heroes in ten years, or if we will have the same sense of deja-vu coming for us even further down the road when we hit a trend again with returning aging actors. In the meantime, congrats Iman Vellani! thanks again Disney! and go take a nap Liam Neeson! (mostly kidding).