‘Bad Boys For Life’ and the Evolution of Male-Led Action Films

Images: Sony Pictures Releasing

Of all the reboots to happen in the last few years, Bad Boys was probably one that was least anticipated. Aside from its star power in the form of Will Smith, the franchise had been a modest success when its initial two instalments came out. When re-watching the first film in 2020, it is evident that the franchise’s themes, language and general attitude would have to change in order to reboot it successfully. This is no easy feat. The franchise depended on the charisma and chemistry of its two leads, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, who are mis-matched cops and best friends. It had actions sequences, profane language and the sexism in it was profound and offensive.

Cut to 2020 and things have changed markedly. The film opens with a car chase reminiscent of the first two films, but the chase doesn’t lead where the audience thinks it will. At the end, instead of facing the bad guy, Martin Lawrence’s character is facing personal developments in the form of his grandson’s birth. Whilst Lawrence’s character is happy to fall into the role of doting grandfather and loving husband, Smith’s character is not quite ready to admit that he is growing older. In this sense, the film is self-aware, as it recognises these characters have grown older, times have changed and they need to change with them. After a shocking event proves that Smith’s character is not immortal, both men are faced with the challenges that growing older in an action franchise can bring. 

This complex question is personified in the younger team who are tasked with an operation that Smith’s character desperately wants to be on. He is immediately on edge when he meets them, especially when he is faced with Charles Melton’s character, Rafe. He is a young, good-looking and arrogant character who serves to constantly remind Smith that he is not the hot shot young cop any more. Although initially the younger team and the two older men butt heads, they soon learn that working together as a team will allow them to utilise everyone’s skills and lead to success. Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible, arguably one of the most famous and successful action franchises in the world also made the same revelation around the time Mission Impossible 4 came out. Cruise’s inhuman abilities were not enough to ensure that he could fight the bad guys by himself. In time, and several movies, Cruise’s character learns that he needs to work in a team, as he is still a human and therefore not invincible. 

In earlier action films, there was always the emphasis on the main hero. Whether it was Jason Bourne or Jack Reacher or the previously mentioned Ethan Hunt. However, the franchises that have moved towards more of a group mentality are the ones who have achieved greater success, as well as longevity. Look at the Fast & Furious franchise as an example. The idea of ‘family’ is now at the core of every film that comes out of the franchise. Even one of the most famous lone action stars James Bond has learnt that he simply cannot do this alone. At one time these were men who would have been seen as gods who could never be defeated. Fall down and get back up again. It is no surprise that even superhero films focus on the idea of a team. Marvel’s Avengers or DC’s Justice League emphasise the importance of the group in being successful and no one man is able to do it all. 

Image: Paramount Pictures

Although it seems that male-led action films are evolving in this way, they still grossly under-represent female characters, characters of colour and those from other minorities. The controversy of the now infamous Avengers ‘women assemble’ scene is still fresh in our minds and Justice League only has one major female character, Wonder Woman. The most progressive example of recent years that comes to mind is Halle Berry’s character in John Wick 3 but even she was one of very few women in that film. It’s encouraging to see that the male heroes of action films are learning that they can’t do it all, but the film is still focused on them; their journey and their evolution. It’s time now for action films to consider that all people go through important journeys, not just male lone wolves.

by Aleena Augustine

Aleena is a Classics graduate who splits her time between High Wycombe and wherever the latest film or TV show she is bingeing is set. She enjoys watching rom-coms, coming of age films, animations and comedies featuring a strong female ensemble (thank you, Bridesmaids). Her favourite films are Before SunriseInside Out, Zodiac and When Harry Met Sally. You can read her blog, That’s What She Said and more of her writing at Music Bloggery.

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