Dwayne Johnson being cast in an action movie is not what you’d call surprising news. Yet it’s news nonetheless – as per The Hollywood Reporter, Johnson will be starring in Seal Team 666, likely as one of a team of Navy SEALS who exterminate otherworldly threats, Men in Black-style. Naturally, they happen upon an evil far powerful than they’ve ever experienced before, have to save the world from certain destruction, and so on and so forth. The premise comes from a similarly-titled book by Weston Ochse, while Johnson’s Hercules screenwriter Evan Spiliotopoulos will be handling screenplay duties.
Seal Team 666 seems almost impossibly predetermined to be quickly forgotten; another biceps-and-bazookas romp with a few dashes of CGI demon thrown in for good measure. Perhaps it’s the lingering taste of R.I.P.D. in the public’s mouth. Perhaps it’s that the Dwayne Johnson/demonic influence combo was tried once before in 2005’s Doom, which ended up in the same landfill as all our other discarded video game adaptations. There is, however, a silver lining- Seal Team 666 may not provide anything drastically new or different (although it just might, for all we know), but its mere presence may secure Johnson as the action star this decade truly needs.
For all the young twenty-somethings like myself, there were no modern action heroes to cling to while growing up. By the time I hit my teenage years and was ready to see musclebound men shooting holes in slightly less musclebound men, folks like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were already well past the cusp of middle-age. One could always pick up an older flick, and that was often the best option. But when headed to the movie theater, the only choices were men practically eligible for the senior discount.
Yet even as personality-driven action films have been pushed aside for property-driven ones – comic books and sequels now sell a film just as much (if not more) as the stars contained within – the 2010s still have their share of action heroes. Of course, there’s Johnson, whose career has mirrored Schwarzenegger’s to a surprising degree. Both men rose to fame through a sport that prioritizes brawny physiques above all else, and leveraged that fame to nab a few action movie roles. Both have a handful of fish-out-of-water family comedies to their name – for Schwarzenegger, Junior and Kindergarten Cop; for Johnson, The Game Plan and Tooth Fairy. Johnson’s bizarro-huge muscles even landed him the starring role in next year’s Hercules, the same role that, with Hercules in New York, introduced the world to a swollen, 22-year-old Schwarzenegger with essentially zero grasp of the English language.
There are others, of course. Jason Statham has spent the last few years churning out an endless string of shoot-em-ups with one-word titles: Homefront; Parker; Safe; Blitz; War; Chaos; etc. Liam Neeson rebranded himself as the world-weary yet ruthlessly efficient badass after Taken found success. But the heroes of yesteryear refuse to cede the spotlight. Stallone and Schwarzenegger are fast approaching 70 and show no signs of stopping; with The Expendables, they’ve created the Frankenstein genre of the “old man action yarn,” and are shoehorning themselves into what should be Johnson and company’s finest hour. Statham may play a part in The Expendables, and the Fast and Furious series may give Johnson and Vin Diesel the opportunity to butt their bald heads, yet they’ve nonetheless been sidelined in some second-string action movie purgatory.
As our own Samantha Wilson eloquently put it, there’s an image problem to be found in our aging actors, and it’s no different for legitimate thespians like Kevin Kline or Robert DeNiro than it is for mindless murder machines like Sly Stallone. The action films that brought these men to stardom were symbolic of the decade they came from. The ’80s were a time of excess, and the heroes of First Blood and Conan the Barbarian were nothing if not excessive; hulking monstrosities of men bathed in cartoonish gore. Between Johnson, Statham and Neeson, there’s far less of a common thread. We, as a people, need someone to define us and the time we live in- solely, of course, through action movies. Seal Team 666 may not be the definitive motion picture event of its time, but supporting it over the next geriatric action revival might be worth more than you’d think.