The Action Hero Theory

There are two kinds of male action heroes -- the tough guy and the pretty boy.

The key to the tough guy is not what he does to other people but what other people do to him.

In particular: he can take a punch.

The defining feature of action hero stories is that the hero does get beaten up, and a lot.

Umberto Eco, writing in 1966's "The Narrative Structure in Ian Fleming" gives this formula:

The invariable scheme is the following:

  1. M moves and gives a task to Bond.
  2. The Villain moves and appears to Bond (perhaps in alternating forms).
  3. Bond moves and gives a first check to the Villain or the Villain gives first check to Bond.
  4. Woman moves and shows herself to Bond.
  5. Bond consumes Woman: possesses her or begins her seduction.
  6. The Villain captures Bond (with or without Woman, or at different moments).
  7. The Villain tortures Bond (with or without Woman).
  8. Bond conquers the Villain (kills him, or kills his representative or helps at their killing).
  9. Bond convalescing enjoys Woman, whom he then loses.

The action hero must be able to survive the torture.

It's why Harrison Ford was an excellent Indiana Jones, and why Shia LaBeouf shouldn't have been cast as his potential "next generation" replacement. LaBeouf -- at that age -- played a different type of hero, the "pretty boy" who out-wits the punches, and tap dances on the enemies heads. Different cliches apply for his type



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