2015 is going to go down as a banner year for Jason Statham.
With three films under his belt (one of which is holding strong as the year’s top worldwide grosser), Statham’s hit a stride that’s unprecedented in his career. Certain critics have pointed to the DTV debut of Wild Card as a signal toward his decline; the exhaustion of Statham’s box office potential. But this assertion seems to disregard the actor’s record of switching back and forth between big and small pictures for the entirety of his time as a leading man. This is still the same guy who appeared in The Mechanic, Gnomeo & Juliet, Blitz and Killer Elite in the same year. If anything, we’re on the cusp of a Statham renaissance, as once the receipts for both Furious Seven and Spy are tallied, he’ll be able to make as many mid-range movies as he wants, all while periodically coming back to menace Dom Torreto and what’s left of his “family.”
The thing is: Statham realizes he’s on the top of the world. How else can you explain the star turning down the role of Bullseye in Daredevil (an idea so goddamn good it stings to know it’ll never be)? To be fair, we don’t actually know whether or not Statham said “no” to playing the man who never misses, but if the MCU cut off negotiations with Frank Martin, he certainly isn’t going to let us in on that fact. As Statham recently stated:
“A lot of the modern sort of action movies I see, Marvel comic sort of things, I just think any guy could do it. I mean, I could take my grandma, put her in a cape, put her on a green screen and they’ll have stunt doubles come in and do all the action. Anybody could do it. I mean they’re relying on stunt doubles, green screen and a $200 million budget. It’s all CGI created. To me, it’s not authentic.”
#Diss. While this statement could alternately be viewed as the Hollywood equivalent of a recently dumped lover refusing to admit he was ditched, it certainly helps dispel the baseless notion that Statham’s lost a step. So, with that nonsense out of the way, how do the trio of 2015 entries into the Statham canon* stack up? To be frank, they might all come close to cracking the Top Ten (at least the Top Fifteen), as each performance features Statham flexing a different acting muscle; one of which we may not have known he possessed until now.
Wild Card (d. Simon West, w. William Goldman)
Alias: Nick Wild
Total Head-butts: 2 (But one’s in SUPER SLO-MO so: 99)
Head-butt Victim: Two No Neck Mafia Goons
An odd reboot from a conceptual standpoint alone (a near beat-for-beat redux of a lesser known Burt Reynolds picture, complete with the same script), Wild Card is essentially a hangout movie masquerading as a straight ahead action vehicle. Simon West’s remake is peppered with one off appearances (from the likes of Jason Alexander, Stanley Tucci, Anne Heche, Sofia Vergara and Max Casella) that keep each scene feeling fresh and slightly off-kilter. It’s Statham’s ‘60s/‘70s character picture; a casual crime study in the same vein of Jim Brown’s The Score or Rod Taylor’s Darker Than Amber (which may be a more apt comparison, given Milo Ventimiglia’s villain feeling not too far off from a Terry Bartell type). In between, West deftly frames the fluid fight scenes, which might be the biggest shocker of all. Make no mistake; Wild Card isn’t the adrenaline fest you believe it to be (despite the fact that Statham kills a gaggle of guys using only a spoon), but when the violence does erupt, it’s handled with confidence. Funnily enough, Nick Wild is basically Bullseye outside of a comic book, as he turns everything around him (credit card, ash tray, etc.) into a weapon he can toss.
Perhaps most captivating of all is the fact that Statham was chosen to be placed at the center of this DTV anomaly, allowing the star to add yet another smooth criminal to his ever-expanding resume of wounded tough guys. His take on Nick Wild is unsurprisingly much different from Reynolds’ gaudily attired Mexican (that’s right, Burt once played a Mexican character). Statham keeps the ex-mercenary with a gambling problem just above a simmer, never letting the man of violence’s self-loathing visibly boil over. You could say he’s on autopilot, but it rather feels poised. Wild Card is somewhat a “for fans only” affair (the uninitiated will probably be left bored and scratching their heads), however Statham’s laid-back vibe is infectious and intriguing and never outstays its welcome. There will always be a tinge of disappointment associated with the film, as it was originally supposed to be the action star’s collaboration with Brian De Palma. Nevertheless, Wild Card is destined to gain supporters amongst those already devoted to the British badass.
Furious 7 (d. James Wan, w. Chris Morgan)
Alias: Deckard Shaw
Total Head-butts: 2 (1 The Rock; 1 Vin Diesel)
Head-butt Victim: 2 Received by Statham (by both The Rock AND Vin Diesel!)
Quick caveat: this writer isn’t a huge fan of the Fast & Furious films. According to Twitter, this mere matter of personal taste makes one both a racist and out of touch (though, as a rep screening guy, I’ll accept the latter). It’s not that they’re bad movies, per se; it just seems like there’s some slight revisionist history going on regarding the franchise as a whole once the back half saw an uptick in quality. So when I say that Furious Seven is my favorite in the series, die-hards can take that assertion with a grain of salt. It contains all of the F&F ingredients that were initially appealing (melodrama, unbridled machismo, homoeroticism, shit blowing up) and adds a gonzo sensibility that seemed to keep growing from Fast Five on. There’s a joy to watching The Rock charge down a highway, firing an oversized chain gun, which is contagious due to its cartoonishness. Also, the introduction of Kurt Russell (sipping all the finest beer the world has to offer), as government agent superhero Mr. Nobody was certainly a masterstroke (watching him make that bucket of Corona appear from thin air caused even this non-fan to giggle). But the main attraction still remains the stunts, as watching these super-charged vehicles get dropped out of airplanes and jump between Abu Dhabi’s glass strongholds is never less than thrilling. The series has now gone so big that you’re not really sure if they’ll be able to top themselves whenever Energetic Eight (or whatever the fuck it’ll be called)drops. But it’ll certainly be a ball to watch them try.
One way they could: by unleashing Statham even more than they already have. Statham is both the most perfect and most obvious choice to play Deckard Shaw – the seemingly invincible big bad of the seventh F&F picture. Not only does he get a show stopping early fight with The Rock (which, along with scheduling conflicts, unfortunately knocks the superstar out of the entire second act), but his final face off with Vin Diesel becomes a literally earth splitting affair. More than maybe any other series, the Fast & Furious franchise recognizes the inherent qualities of action stars and amplifies them to eleven. Be it Vin Diesel’s ethnically ambiguous chumminess or The Rock’s Adonis-amongst-mere-mortals physique, each and every director who has come on board finds a different way to place these defining characteristics at the forefront. For Statham, it’s blunt braggadocio; his ability to literally enter a scene and smash it to pieces with his intimidating presence. During these last three sequels, the Fast & Furious films transformed into something akin to a gear-head’s Avengers, desperately in search for a super villain to match their diverse, rubber-peeling heroes. As usual, Statham provided.
Spy (d. & w. Paul Feig)
Alias: Rick Ford
Total Head-butts: 2 (1 Statham, 1 McCarthy)
Head-butt Victim: Tuxedo Thug; Rogue Female Agent
Melissa McCarthy is a movie star who is wholly aware of her public persona, and she’s all the better for it. Throughout her career, McCarthy’s shown herself to be quite the capable actress (Gilmore Girls), as well as a scene-stealing clown (Bridesmaids). Yet Hollywood seems to want to keep her in a box (as our own illustrious Managing Editor, Meredith Borders, quite deftly points out), in which she has sadly found comfort from time to time (it’s hard to excuse one of the worst offenders, Tammy, which she co-wrote/produced while her husband directed). Spy is Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig’s line in the sand picture – a bold comedic statement that the actress is done playing the dowdy and looked-down upon (but is still gonna sling profanity with the very best of them). With Spy, McCarthy proves she can branch out into any arena (including action) and kick the shit out of anybody in her path, all while being glamorous at the same time. Spy is a good fucking movie; possibly one of 2015’s best. Outside of merely working like gangbusters (and featuring killer turns from Rose Byrne, Allison Janney and Miranda Hart), Feig’s film has an amazing subtext regarding recognizing one’s own agency and wielding it against those who put them down. For all of the lip service paid to Fury Road being the most “feminist” mainstream motion picture of 2015, it might actually be Spy that remains the most inspiring in this regard once New Year’s Eve rolls around.
Matching McCarthy’s keen sense of self-awareness is Statham, whose Rick Ford (potential cousin to Tom?) seems to be a commentary on his own action marquee idol image. Ford is the ultimate braggart, screaming about how he once convincingly impersonated Barack Obama in front of the US Senate during an assassination attempt. Statham is incredible in the role, as he asserts that he can not only play in the Apatow-style riffing sandbox, but dominate as well. We always knew that Statham could be funny, but he’s never been this out and out verbally ambidextrous (even his wise-cracking Guy Ritchie thugs are muted). As an added bonus, Statham gets to portray the ugly flipside of the international man of mystery, shamelessly skeeving on women whenever McCarthy’s formerly deskbound field agent isn’t with him. Every guy in Spy is a creep – sometimes hilariously so, as is the case with Peter Serafinowicz’s “Italian” lothario. But nobody else pops on screen with McCarthy quite like Statham, as the two square off to shout filthy phrases at one another like they’re firing machine guns (plus they both get to head-butt someone!). It’s glorious, and hopefully proof that Statham is embracing the speedily evolving nature of his supporting career.
*Apologies, as “The Head-butts of Our Lives” was temporarily lost during the BMD transition, but will be back soon!