The Action/Adventure Film is one of the most popular genres in cinema. Virtually every big studio regularly releases films that fit into this category. These films are relatively easy to market to a wide audience and have consistently provided big studios with huge returns on their investments. The James Bond franchise is the most successful series of films in history and is part of the action genre. Film stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood, Chuck Norris, Wesley Snipes and Jet Li (to name a few) have the action film genre to thank for their hugely successful careers. The adventure film was never really anything new and goes back to some of the earliest days of Hollywood. It was a genre that was successfully transposed to the big screen from some very popular in literature; the works of Jules Verne come to mind. One of the famous early films is A Trip to the Moon, which can be seen as a loose adaptation of Verne‘s From Earth to the Moon.
The film adventure hero, mainly the archetype propagated by Hollywood, gradually took on a distinct shape of his own as more and more films came out. Due to film being a visual medium (in fact, the first films were silent and thus purely visual) the superficial characteristics of traditional hero archetypes came more and more to the front and by now have become a standard and mainstay of the male action hero. One does not need to look at any one film to see this at play, rather this phenomenon is prevalent over an entire spectrum. However, a good place to start would be the adventure serials that came out in the 1930s, by that point Hollywood was a booming film industry.
The action hero in these films was most often an Anglo-American male with the most basic male traits accentuated. Commonly these were: apparent facial hair, high physical strength and endurance, and sexual prowess. Later, as restrictions in the cinema-code became less puritan there was a steadily revealing display of male muscular build with the musculature of the hero steadily veering into the superficial with a body-builder, Mr. Olympia-look. At a glance, just think Bruce Lee of the 1970s (natural build result of ascetic motivation) to Schwarzenegger of the 1980s (artificially induced result of vanity). The hero’s sexual exploits also become more graphic with a high (sometimes absurd and even comic) dimorphism between male and female; the woman that the hero woos was often a coy, oversexed lass. Together with the overly macho male, it makes for an image that propagates the differences between male and female, instead of a profound unity leading to mutual respect.
Another key trait of the action hero is his “lone wolf” attitude. He does things his way. He is his own boss. Even if he is part of an organization, one with concise procedural rules, he still does things his own way and gets away with it. In fact, by the end, it has become commonplace for him to be applauded for what he was originally warned about – his recklessness. One of the first “rogue cop” films, Bullitt, has the hero facing the consequences of his tactics. It is not shown to be all his fault, others too were reckless, however the point is that all around recklessness leads to all around destruction. The case Lt. Bullitt was working on doesn’t get solved and the film ends with him looking glumly into a mirror, most likely reflecting on his ways. Dirty Harry was another popular film in the same style with a rogue cop protagonist. It came out in 1971, three years after Bullitt, and has a noticeable increase in sensationalism with many crooks being gunned down by the lead character. In contrast, Lt. Bullitt only fired two shots resulting in one death. Though, Dirty Harry also ends on a glum note with Detective Harry Callahan somberly reflecting on his job and on his actions – he even throws away his badge – the film, however, spawned four sequels with each one more destructive than the last and it was in the 1970s that the “lone wolf cop” archetype had become a mainstay.
John Wayne’s only role in a cop thriller, McQ from 1974, is also the lone wolf formula, but with some new details: not only does he gun down all of the crooks, but he acquires an illegal firearm for this purpose after he is kicked off the police force. And he’s supposed to be the guy we’re rooting for: one who is effectively an impulsive vigilante murderer on the loose. The Dirty Harry sequels are much in the same light, gunning down crooks and breaking skulls all while looking “bad ass.” It isn’t impossible to imagine a scenario where violence is necessary to end some wrongdoing, but these films’ stories are designed in ways that connote violence – physical, initiatory violence – as the inevitable answer to virtually all wrongdoing.
Lone Wolf McQuade
A perhaps perfect example of the Lone Wolf archetype can be found in the very aptly titled film Lone Wolf McQuade with Chuck Norris. It has all the characteristics that were described above. The “hero” J.J. McQuade is Texas Ranger who lives as a loner in a dirty trailer out in the desert; he is unkempt and rather arrogant. The film’s story is the basic good guys vs. bad guys deal that ends in a big shootout as well a martial arts duel between hero and villain. The film is not a standout movie in any way, it is just another product straight from the action movie assembly line at the Hollywood film factory. I only chose to talk about it since its name is so fitting to the archetype described in this post.
Take a look at one of the film’s promotional posters at right. That pretty much says it all about the film and hero right there. It makes a good guy out of a vanity obsessed brute and glorifies his acts of constant excessive force. His self-serving nature and macho image can also be seen as a corrupted image of Aryanism; he has some of the right traits, but virtually all the wrong motivations. He is a survivalist and self-preservationist. He doesn’t care about anything unless it comes riding up his driveway. He is disconnected from society in every way almost, except to serve his needs.
Storytelling has always been a human mainstay of introducing ideas into society and with the effective industrialization of film making in Hollywood, the introduction of ideas through story in the last 70 years has been going on overtime. The US Department of Defense even regularly helps productions that are military oriented and many of these promote the reckless Lone Wolf Archetype, which seemingly goes against military procedure. One film of note here would be the 1987 action film Death Before Dishonor, in which a US Marine goes on a vigilante rampage after some of his men are killed. Featuring cartoon cut-out Arab villains and, of course, innocent Israelis that are victims to Arab terror, the film is nothing but propaganda once examined rationally.
This archetype is meant to appeal to base human instincts, and especially pride, in order to sow discord in society. Weekend Warriors, Closet Commandos and survivalist types are undoubtedly influenced on some level by these kinds of films. It’s the much propagated “American can do spirit” that promotes individualism so much so that the message ends up being comprehended and acted out as arrogance. The aforementioned Chuck Norris has often made public his libertarian and Wild West orientated political views thus it is no surprise that he made his career playing like-minded characters. Upon rational examination the libertarian ideals that such an archetype preaches are almost pure folly. It’s as if the people believing in those ideals are denying the existence of a state and government. They want to be in their own little comfortable Hobbit-hole. “The Lone Wolf dies. It’s the Wolf Pack that lives.” Some are arrogant lone wolves, many are just naïve little pups, but both are effectively pulled apart by their own doing thanks to propaganda and thus prevented from uniting to achieve goals that benefit the noble in society and punish the ignoble.
The Lone Wolf is motivated by vanity, is bound to himself, lives by false honor.
He will DIE.
The Noble Warrior on the other hand: