*Disclaimer: This editorial has no intellectual value whatsoever.
I am a connisseur of badassery. I love badasses. Badasses are not just people who are tough, who get beat up and take a beating; they are the ones with flair, the ones who say ‘don’t fuck with me’ and mean it for your sake, not for theirs. They are the ones with whom you do not wish to fuck. They have nothing to prove to you, for they are confident in their badassery.
Cinema is a medium for badasses. There are muscle-bound badasses like Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel, and Jason Statham. There are the gentlemanly badasses, as in Alan Rickman, Jeremy Irons, and Patrick Stewart. There are the wonderful female badasses like Anjelica Huston, Diana Rigg, and Helen Mirren (Do you note a contemporary lack of true female badasses? I do). There are the reluctant badasses like Bruce Willis. There are finally the all-around badasses like Samuel L. Jackson, who is simply a badass by virtue of breathing. But all are badasses, because their eyes say ‘don’t fuck with me’ even as their lips say ‘don’t fuck with me.’ Of course, someone always fucks with them and therein lies the fun of it all.
But I am afraid that the way of the badass is being threatened, by those who were sworn to protect it. There are far too many badass-wannabes in our world today who think that all you need to be a badass is a lot of muscles and a few pithy one-liners. I blame the films of the 80s, which gave us some great action stars but paved the way for testosterone fueled dumbness. The problem right now with contemporary badasses is that they have too much testosterone, and not enough flair. They are also trying to be the badasses of yesteryear, rather than being confident in their own badassery.
You know who Michael Caine was trying to be when he did The Italian Job? He was trying to be Michael Caine! Only he was Michael Caine. So he’d already achieved his goal. Compare his performance to the testosterone-infused remake with Mark Wahlberg and Mr. Statham. While the film is all right, Wahlberg and his male compatriots are just trying too damned hard. There is nothing effortless – and by extension nothing elegant – about them. You know who is effortless? Donald Sutherland. But he dies in that movie.
Nor is this really an issue of age – this is not about aging in your badassery. Sutherland was a badass when he played Hawkeye – that’s in MASH, for the cinematically illiterate – at the age of 35. Caine was in his mid-30s when he did The Italian Job. Yet Caine continues to out-badass Christian Bale, froggy voice and all, just by stepping onto the screen. Bale is trying too hard to let us know how much of a badass he is – I have a deep voice! I’m tortured! Look! I can do push-ups! I’m AWESOME! So again: Caine is not just a badass because he’s Michael Caine; he’s a badass because he never tried to be anyone else.
We’ve become too testosterone fueled for our own good. While I respect the badassedness of men like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwartzenegger, they inaugurated the belief that one has to be big and tough and muscular to be a badass. Not true. Case in point: Peter Cushing is more badass than Chuck Norris ever thought of being. Did Cushing ever shoot someone, stab someone, do insane tae-kwon-do kickboxing backflips? Nope. Y’know what he did? He fought Daleks, blew up a planet, silenced Darth Vader, fought Dracula, fought vampires, fought mummies, and came back from the dead several times. And he did it all without getting dirt on his three-piece suit. He’s the truest form of badass: the badass who does not have to look like a badass, who can silence you with a glance, a word, a clipped speech. He wouldn’t have a fire a gun at Chuck Norris. He would destroy Chuck Norris with a withering glance.
What’s awesome about badasses like Cushing, or Christopher Lee or Alan Rickman, is that they are badasses entirely by virture of their attitudes. Sure, sometimes they get into a fight, or fire a gun, but those are incidentals. They have nothing to do with their badassery. Arnold Schwartzenegger without a gun is about as scary as a pregnant man (You get the reference, I know you do). But Alan Rickman without a gun? He’s still mutha-fuckin’ Alan Rickman.
Hollywood is going through a period right now of looking back, of allowing some of its waning stars the chance for one last time in the limelight. I love those kinds of films – I am excited to see The Last Stand, I loved The Expendables, and A Good Day To Die Hard looks so freaking awesome – but they point out a dearth in the up and comers. Who will carry the torch when they’re gone? Alan Rickman and Ian McKellan can’t go on forever, although they will try.
What I would like to see is a scaling back on the testosterone and perhaps a bit refinement in the badasses of today. While we can all enjoy The Expendables and The Last Stand and Fast and Furious 15, there’s something to be said for a little culture in our badassery. Let’s face it: there is nothing more awesome, or badass, than a man who can destroy your soul without mussing his tie.