“Do you expect me to talk?”
“No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die.”
These nigh immortal words are memorable for two reasons- one, they are deeply dramatic, and two, they are truly ironical. Who expected Bond to die? Who was actually surprised that the male hero of the movie managed to escape what seemed to be a perilous trap a second before a laser ray put an end to his nocturnal (and daytime) activities?
There seems to be one rule in Hollywood where heroes are concerned, albeit devotion to the rule can sometimes waver. The hero/heroine must not die. They can be shot, sure, but the bullet mustn’t stop them from saving the world from ultimate destruction. For instance, in The Hunger Games Katniss is essentially blown into the next movie, however, within seconds she is able to run through a dense forest and engage in a fight to the death with another tribute. Which she of course wins.
However, is it really such a bad thing that action heroes manage to defy numerous odds and make it to the end of the movie?
Films are not reality. They are merely mirrors, projections of the human imagination. And who, when reading an article about the bravery of soldiers, doesn’t imagine some infeasible way in which they could have survived? There’s also a great deal of satisfaction when the hero survives against the odds. If the world were as black and white as Hollywood depicts, the hero’s survival is a testament to the triumph of good over evil. If the audience engage with a hero, they will root for him through the film and will him to succeed. Avoiding death is part of that victory.
Of course, there are movies which take avoiding death to the extremes. There are numerous films in which the hero should have died but for some quirk of fate – for instance, she is shot in the street, rasping out her final words, willing her companions to go on without her when, huzzah, it turns out the bullet was stopped by a silver cross that her dearly departed finance gave her. Numerous directors have ruined many a movie through attempting to create a ‘dramatic’ scene in which the hero lies ‘dying’, only for them to ‘surprise’ the audience by holding onto life. In the case of Harry Potter, the hero evaded certain death at least eleven times. The miraculous recovery of action heroes means that it’s difficult to believe that they’ve actually died until the end of credits, when there is no chance of them returning. Just think of Professor Xavier from X-Men.
A further testimony to the unrealistic depiction of heroes is the capacity of certain heroes to endure pain, approaching near Herculean standards; this can ruin a film as it means the movie can become farcical. Smith managed to survive being thrown about by a homicidal robot. On top of the alarmingly high pain threshold, heroes seem to be blessed by good fortune. Just think of Alan Grant, of the Jurassic Park films- he was surrounded by velociraptors countless times yet, they seemed to find him unappetising meanwhile, had it been a lesser known actor, the dinosaurs would have wasted no time in devouring the unfortunate individual. While their inferiors are mowed down by deadly diseases, the heroes are capable of surviving the derailment of a subway train (Sandra Bullock, Speed). It seems rather unfair.
Another argument against the unnatural resilience of the stars of action movies is the old mantra that ‘heroes die young.’ It’s a poetically, classical idea that those who go to their graves young died for a cause; novels and plays have exploited this idea for centuries, it makes pieces of work memorable. The demise of the hero can also, provided that the script is award worthy, ensure that the movie resonates through the minds of the audience. The fall of a hero gives a film a deeper meaning, challenges the audience. Not to mention the shock factor. Surprise deaths add originality to movies and ensure that the audience will be talking about it later, if nothing more than to profess that they knew the hero was going to be shot.
So, to finish, should more heroes die in action movies? While there are undoubtedly arguments on both sides, I have come up with a scientific solution to this conundrum. The hero shouldn’t die if he’s named ‘James Bond.’
If not, they’re fair game.