Not far from the inner-urban, affogato-belt enclave where I spend my days, I wandered past the local IMAX cinema complex, nestled as it is in the bowels of the state museum. Staring down at me, from a billboard about the same size as the screen the film it promoted would be projected onto, was Tim Riggins.
Over the course of five seasons of Friday Night Lights, Taylor Kitsch and his array of wistful sighs and mournful glances had given me something of a moral headshot. Tim Riggins, early on, served the dual role of the fairly contemptible, possibly racist jock stereotype that any sports show requires, and the obligatory eye candy intended to attract a certain slice of the 15-34 female demographic that ordinarily wouldn’t be caught dead near a show about football.
But it wasn’t long before the show brought me around. Tim Riggins was a guy who had been beaten down by being the beautiful one. His inability to value women due to their sheer volume and availability led him to pine for the one he could not sway (coincidentally played by the one actor with an even more limited range of soap-ready sighs and glares). The ease with which his looks had got him as far as they had left him a peculiar brand of optimistic fatalism and Kitsch, while hardly a modern Brando, imbued his character with an unusual, brooding grace, a character that was enhanced, not diminished by its actor’s limitations.
When it all wrapped up, I had high hopes for Taylor Kitsch. I didn’t expect many of the FNL alums to go on to big things, but I thought he had it in him to knock my entirely uncharismatic countryman Sam Worthington off the action hero perch he has inexplicably glommed onto.
But, looking up into John Carter’s deep, sorrowful eyes, I could only see Taylor Kitsch crying out, the silent, tragic lament of an action hero whose time has not yet come.
We live in an era today when the action hero doesn’t quite exist. Or at least, no one really knows how they want their action heroes to be. This explains the rise of the hyper-bland Worthington in recent years.
Elsewhere, another antipodean he-man, Chris Hemsworth, managed a fairly hulking, personality-free stint as Thor, raising the possibility that the modern action hero is the teen boy equivalent of Bella Swan, a blank human canvas upon which young viewers may liberally smear their own self-image, the wish-fulfilment of the movies very nearly made fleshly.
It was only a short step from Matt Damon’s monastic Jason Bourne to what we face today, but it’s a gobsmackingly far cry from the action hero golden age (my abiding love of Jason Statham notwithstanding). Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, Lundgren, Norris, Van Damme; these were ridiculous, larger-than-life vectors for testosterone delivery who personified the ludicrous notion that one man could storm a heavily guarded Russian/Korean/Iraqi/Russian military camp and begin to rack up body counts approximating cricket scores, emerging unscathed and virile.
They reflected, perhaps, a particularly American notion of Reagan-esque faux invincibility – a flag waving, chest beating interpretation of Cold War militarism that was justified when Gorbechov tore down that wall. But more likely they simply represented a superhero rendered semi-human, appealing to the teenage boy in all of us. Especially teenage boys.
So, on the action hero continuum from Dirty Harry to today, where does Taylor Kitsch come in? His time seems not to have come. John Carter appears destined to go down in history as an all-time flop, and the less said about Battleship the better.
Kitsch may be the first genuine postmodern action hero. An action hero for whom the adjective ‘soulful’ is regularly applied (along with ‘wooden’, granted) really doesn’t qualify as an action hero at all. His sad eyes and generally sullen demeanour seem to stand as a critique of the condition he finds himself in.
“I am on a battleship, having been promoted to lieutenant despite general insubordination, and I am now the last line of defence between humanity and a race of giant space slugs. This is stupid”
Either way, I tip my hat to Taylor Kitsch. The man who made me sympathise with the beautiful jock. As I stared into John Carter’s eyes, I saw Taylor, the action hero of 2024, mutely bemoaning his fortune in sticking with Peter Berg.