The 2000s were initially something of a stale period for action movies, since over-the-top, car-chase- and explosion-heavy action films like Mission: Impossible 2, Charlie’s Angels 2 and Bad Boys 2 brought little new to the table, although this period also saw the beginning of some great franchises like The Bourne Identity. The comedy in ‘action-comedies’ now seemed forced, and the aging stars of the 80s and 90s could not recreate the magic of their younger days. The stage was set for another takeover, this time from the French and the Thai. Films like District B13 introduced the dynamic art of parkour (a gymnastics- and athletics-based method of navigating through urban obstacles on foot), and the audiences loved it. In fact, just as Hollywood tried imitating Jackie Chan’s antics in Police Story (see the opening scene of Tango and Cash), parkour was featured in several future action films, ranging from Casino Royale, Prince of Persia, The Tournament and The Incredible Hulk.
At the same time, the hard-hitting and brutally practical fighting style of Muay Thai showed the ubiquitous and flowery kung-fu styles the door with the release of the Thai blockbusters Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong. This was followed by the rise of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)-based hits like Universal Soldier: Regeneration and the wildly popular Undisputed 2 and 3. Suddenly, names like Tony Jaa and Scott Adkins became household names among action movie fans, and even though Tony Jaa was unable to continue with his extraordinary success, Scott Adkins quickly became known as an authentic martial arts star still in his prime. Other than their practicality and popularity among fans of the UFC sport, MMA and Muay Thai saw resurgence mainly because they did not require a level of skill and flexibility that kung-fu experts (who often trained from a very young age) have, and were therefore the fighting methods of choice for actors without a martial arts background as well as several wrestlers such as John Cena, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Steve Austin who attempted (with varying levels of success) to break into mainstream cinema.
That is not to say that it was curtains for old-school practitioners of established martial arts. Donnie Yen, already a star in the same league as Jet Li back in Asia, put his Wing Chun moves to devastating effect in the hits Ip Man and Ip Man 2. Jason Statham, perhaps the premiere action movie star these days, too specialized in good old karate and kickboxing, although he can lately be seen to rely significantly on his Transporter success and his overall tough-guy image in many of his movies. With the release of the cult hit (and incredibly influential) The Raid in 2011, audiences were treated to yet another new Asian fighting style: Silat, a highly practical and aesthetically amazing martial art from Indonesia.
Soon, however, it would be time for Marvel and DC Comics to launch action-heavy adaptations of their comic book heroes and villains. While heavily reliant on top-billed actors and actresses, million-dollar special effects, humor and fan-base of the comics, the effort put into the action sequences in these big budget flicks must not be sidelined: many of the fight sequences in the Batman trilogy, the Wolverine films and The Avengers (along with their origin movies) are often worth viewing again on Youtube. Even relatively smaller comic book adaptations like Watchmen, RED and Kick-Ass found considerable success. Comic book movies can seldom be seen as purely action films because their success (at least in the box office) can often be guaranteed even without excellent fight sequences. Similarly, mega-franchises lik e the Lord of the Rings saga and Star Trek, while often boasting of decent action scenes, are really outside the scope of a discussion on action films.
Remakes, sequels to near-forgotten franchises and attempts to recreate some of the guns-and-knives glory of the 80s and 90s were common in the 2000s and 2010s, with Die Hard, Terminator, Predator, Rambo, Rocky and Universal Soldier sequels, a Robocop and Total Recall remake, and attempts by veterans Stallone and Schwarzenegger to return to the silver screen cigar-chomping and guns blazing in The Expendables trilogy, The Last Stand and Sabotage. While all these have had varying levels of box office reception (and generally neutral to poor reviews), one thing is for sure – unless the fans see something they haven’t seen before, unless the action scenes don’t leave them on the edge of their seats, such attempts may recover their budgets, but will not necessarily be seen as good films. Much can be learned from this by the nascent and promising film industry in Pakistan, which gave an incredibly good surprise in the form of Waar (if several weaknesses in the story, some clichés and a terrible climatic fight scene can be forgiven) and can make internationally acclaimed films if it learns from the many that have been produced over the years.