The shockingly sudden succumbing of Steve McQueen to mesothelioma at the age of 50 did not seem like a game changer in 1980, but an argument can be made that a part of the movie business itself died with the King of Cool. From the ashes of McQueen’s untimely death rose a phoenix with the unlikely name of Schwarzenegger and his ineptitudinous emoting ability forever changed the course of the action hero.
Action movies are where bored actors go to get lazy and pick up a big paycheck. The stone-faced actor committed to two hours worth of expressionless performance had existed before McQueen’s death, but without McQueen’s yin for Eastwood’s yang, the vacuum was created and the chasm has only gotten bigger. Which is why there is a certain type of delicious irony in the fact that the actor most recently mentioned as a candidate for portraying Steve McQueen in a biopic is about to verge headlong into the world of action movies.
Can Jeremy Renner not only play Steve McQueen, but channel his emotive spirit to bring back the action hero who actually seems to be feeling something during his adventure?
Renner’s star rose in record time. Just a few years exist between Renner’s supporting roles in movies like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and 28 Weeks Later and his ascension to actorly stardom in The Hurt Locker and action movie icon in The Bourne Legacy.
This article is being written in the wake of Renner’s shot at transforming the role of the action movie star. It is not yet known for sure if Renner will follow the lead of Bruce Willis in steadfastly refusing to display the full range of his talent or whether he will bring an antithetical sense of the subversive to the role of action hero.
Indications from his jocularly anti-establishment Hawkeye in Thor and even his more mundane Hawkeye in The Avengers indicate that we may be on the verge of witnessing a tidal shift of the kind that took place when Steven McQueen died.
Let’s hope that we recognize the momentousness of this event at the time. Had we done so when McQueen died, we may have avoided the Schwarzeneggers, the Stallones and, to a greater extent, the Van Dammes.