Pinnies, pancakes, pink: everyone greets the new action hero! | Movie

LGoing to movie stars and the roles they play for moral or behavioral instruction is like looking at a broken mirror for help applying your eyeliner. In fact, the traffic between mainstream entertainment and its audience usually goes in the opposite direction: movies take so long to be made that what reaches the screen crystallizes trends and ideas that are already prevalent in the culture. By that calculation, two new releases – Thor: Love and Thunder and the Russo brothers’ shoot-em-up thriller The Gray Man – represent exactly the kind of action movie that the early 2020s deserve. What is festive for some, however, will for others look like a crisis.

In his fourth solo outing, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) now shares his name and even his crucial weapon with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) posing as the Mighty Thor. “Uh, that’s my hammer,” he says sheepishly. “And my appearance.” One theory for the etymology of the hammer’s name, Mjolnir, is that it comes from the Nordic word meaning “to grind” or “grind”. Which, of course, made the video an overnight sensation.

It is not only the hero whose former dominance is questioned. Even the gods have lost their authority. Zeus (Russell Crowe) is prone to inappropriate remarks and is hardly interested in anything other than the next orgy. The film’s antagonist, Gorr (Christian Bale), is not just a villain: he also exhibits micro-aggressions to compliment his macros. “You lost, Lady Thor,” he taunts Foster, appearing to be the type of person who still clings to words like “usherette” and “comedienne.”

Do not call her Lady… Natalie Portman as Mighty Thor.
Do not call her Lady… Natalie Portman as Mighty Thor. Photo: Jasin Boland / Marvel Studios

There’s a similar shift in gender dynamics in The Gray Man, who plays Ryan Gosling as a CIA killer known as Six. The many global locations and spectacular action sequences are as transparent a bid for comparisons to James Bond as the hero’s name: “007 was taken,” he says. But Six is ​​a different breed: relaxed, witty and, when not killing people, gentle. Called by a colleague while on the run, he is asked where he is exactly. “Emotional?” comes the deadly answer. During a fight scene, he triggers a scarlet flare so that the ensuing fists take place in billowing clouds of pink smoke. It’s like witnessing the climactic scenery of a camp magician in Las Vegas.

When his colleague Dani (played by Ana de Armas from No Time to Die) comes to his rescue again and asks if he is hurt, Six replies: “My ego is a bit bruised. I want the chance to save you ”- before he hurries to clarify that he does not want her to be in danger, just so he can come to the rescue. Struggle is no longer enough for this modern hero: he must also read like a feminist and be prepared to work with confident women without feeling maimed. Men who cannot meet these standards – especially Six’s sadistic pursuer, Lloyd (Chris Evans), who orders a female colleague to “shut up and go and sit in the corner” – are destined for the bone farm.

It’s fitting that Six should be played by Gosling, who has really put in the hours when it comes to helping the male action hero evolve. Along with the exhausting, ragged Crowe in The Nice Guys, he seemed delicate and fine-legged and as light on his feet as a ballerina. Though set in the 1970s, the picture showed Crowe’s old-school machismo running headlong into Gosling’s silly hipsterhood. Oddly enough, both men started their film careers in the same place and played violent, shaved fascists: Crowe in Romper Stomper, Gosling in The Believer. Yet their bird surnames always hinted at their contrasting personalities and where they might be headed: the soft, airy gosling so distinct from the unpleasant crow.

Gosling took on the historically female role in The Nice Guys: the ignorant sidekick who flutters and screams at the first sign of danger. He’s an actor who’s not afraid of being feminized, which in film terms means he can be made vulnerable (his Hamlet-like passivity man in Only God Forgives) or handsome (as in Drive, where his shiny, silky bomber jacket is reminiscent of Pink Ladies from Grease) or both.

For anyone who loves the codes of traditional film masculinity, Gosling must be a discouraging phenomenon. That makes it so much more delicious that next year he will be seen as Ken, who is on the run in the real world in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie. It’s impossible to say yet what the tone will be – Gosling said cryptically that “it’s not what you think it is unless it is” – but the Day-Glo images released so far by the actor with his feathery platinum cut, sleeveless denim jacket and tanned sixpack promises something parodic and loving. And it’s a sign of how ready the world is to see Gosling as Ken that the role is even referenced on screen in The Gray Man. As Lloyd orders his men to track down Six and “put a bullet in this Ken doll’s brain,” we witness in-film marketing for another, as yet unmade film – as well as acknowledging that Ken may be Gosling’s role was born to play.

However, even a necessary change in the landscape from another angle may appear to be an earthquake. If Hemsworth and Gosling – or Benedict Cumberbatch and Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Power of the Dog – represent the new face of screen masculinity, this could be dismal news for anyone worshiping the monolithic stars of the ’80s and’ 90s action movies: Schwarzenegger , Stallone, Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal. (Their modern-day equivalents, such as Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, have at least a pleasant light-heartedness.) Perhaps for these viewers, the appearance of Gosling and Hemsworth is similar to the appearance of the awake guys, now that the dreaded W-word is addressed against whatever the right wing chooses to arm in its false culture war.

Sylvester Stallone in Rambo: First Blood Part II, released in 1985.
Sylvester Stallone in Rambo: First Blood Part II, released in 1985. Photo: Tristar / Sportsphoto / Allstar

So much was clear last year when Conservative MP Nick Fletcher raged against the prominent place of female heroes. Casting Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who, he insisted, had left young male viewers to look to Peaky Blinders for their role models. “Everywhere … there seems to be a call from a small but very vocal minority that any male character or good role model should have a female replacement,” Fletcher said. Also on his charge was the latest television incarnation of The Equaliser, which had made it possible to transfer a role previously played by Edward Woodward and Denzel Washington to Queen Latifah. It makes no sense to ask if the esteemed member of Doncaster had seen her travel hell in Set It Off, way back in 1996.

Fletcher’s broadside (which also targeted the female-led Ghostbusters and Daisy Ridley in the Star Wars sequels) shows that he is a figure who is not only opposed to progress and equality, but also to sensitivity: this is, after all, the same Member of Parliament , who sent letters to schools in his constituency, calling for a “pushback” against students who identified themselves as trans. But he is at least right in identifying a sea change. The old-fashioned macho movie hero and his admirers are currently in an unstable place.

There is the bodily fragility of various emblems of screen masculinity, such as Bruce Willis, who recently retired from acting after a diagnosis of the cognitive disorder aphasia. It’s only natural that the old guard falls away – James Caan, who embodied masculinity in all its conflict and toxicity in The Godfather, Thief and Freebie and the Bean, died this month, aged 82. And given how long and densely populated the Sopranos were, there will always be another actor from the mob drama who travels to the great Bada Bing! strip club in the sky; Tony Sirico, who played Paulie Walnuts, is only the latest.

One of the overarching themes of The Sopranos themselves was the idea of ​​(white) American men confronting their own extinction. Right from the opening episode, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) feels outdated. “Lately, I’ve been getting the feeling that I came in eventually,” he tells his therapist, Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). “The best is over.” The difference from a more progressive perspective, which Tony Soprano would never have allowed himself to accept, is that what represents death for one generation is possibility and evolution for the next.

The arguments around men giving ground to women, or somehow becoming less masculine in their pursuit of sensitivity and emotional intelligence, are as cyclical as they are absurd. They were forged in 1982 in Bruce Feirstein’s bestselling comic book story of masculinity, Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche (followed in 1986 by Nice Guys Sleep Alone). The figure of the caring, tactile New Man was widespread in the decade until, in the 1990s, it was obscured by the metrosexual who was part of the cultural currency when David Beckham wore a sarong and men began buying guillotines. and male lacquer. At the beginning of this century, the metrosexual was replaced by the brand JGE (just gay enough) to describe the hetero-men who adopt habits generally associated with their queer counterparts. Exfoliating, yes. Anal sex not so much.

“Metrosexual” was invented by British journalist Mark Simpson in 1994 – a year before James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) faced his most formidable challenge in the form of Judi Dench as M. In GoldenEye, she calls him “a sexist, misogynistic dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War ”, then boasts of its own“ balls ”.

It is not surprising that Feirstein – of Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche fame – was one of the screenwriters in that picture. Since then, it has become the rigueur for Bond films to destabilize their hero’s previously solid foundation. It’s a kind of stress test: how far can you bend Bond without making him any smaller than himself? The experiment reached its logical conclusion last year in No Time to Die, where the essence of Bond somehow became even more concentrated in the act of killing him.

That is the point where the masculine hero and his admirers now find themselves. Bond is gone. The Western is now quite queer. Thor shares a job with a woman. And one of the biggest action movies of the year is not only a consonant from being called The Gay Man, but also features a star who has collaborated in the glorious feminized makeover of screen masculinity.

Chris Evans as Lloyd in The Gray Man.
Chris Evans as Lloyd in The Gray Man. Photo: AP / Netflix

It turns out that the whole point of The Gray Man is to put the old macho myths to rest. At the end of the day, we learn that the course of Six’s life has been shaped by his personal war against brutal masculinity. As children, he and his brother were bullied by their father, who was determined to grow up as “macho men”; Six killed the old man and ended up serving time for that murder. When his last confrontation with Lloyd occurs, it is in a moonlit fountain; the mood is very Call Me By Your Name, only to fight instead of fucking: “Damn, it stings!” shouts Lloyd after Six has taken his first move.

It’s no spoiler to say that Six triumphs at the end of The Gray Man. But anyone who wants to be spared the exact symbolic nature of his victory should look away now. According to what a female spectator describes as “two troglodytes hitting each other”, it is Lloyd – the personification of toxic, archaic masculinity – that lies face down in the fountain. Macho is literally dead in the water. Nor is it a coincidence that The Gray Man and Thor: Love and Thunder ends with identical scenarios: a male hero taking care of a young girl whom he will probably now raise as his daughter. Thor even has a pinny on. He might be making pancakes, but I bet he wouldn’t say “no” to quiche.

Thor: Love and Thunder and The Gray Man are in theaters now. The Gray Man is on Netflix from July 22nd

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