For all intents and purposes, Jason Statham has been an action star since 2002, when Fox released the Luc Besson-produced The Transporter
. Yes, more hardened film fans knew him from his Guy Ritchie work and from his supporting role in The One
(a Jet Li vehicle from late 2001, the first of three times he would spar with Jet Li onscreen). But for general moviegoers and action junkies, Statham was introduced as Frank Martin eleven years ago as of October 11. In that time, Statham has arguably become the king of an all-but vanished genre. He is basically the last action hero, the lone movie star known primarily for kicking ass in a non-fantasy and non-period setting. But nine years is a long time to toil in the underbelly of grind house B-movie cinema. He's had the occasional high-end picture (The Bank Job
), supporting roles in A-level studio thrillers (The Italian Job
) and flirtations with the big time (playing the second lead in The Expendables
). But nine years since he literally kicked down the door to stardom, Jason Statham remains pretty much where he started.
So why hasn't the biggest pure action star of his generation eventually found his way to bigger and better things? Call it bad timing, or the misfortune of being a star in the wrong era. Just as George Reeves became a television star at just the wrong time (after the studio contract era but before the 'playing against type is cool' era), Jason Statham is an action star in a time when pure action pictures are all-but extinct. He is a B-movie action star in an age where A-movie action pictures don't get made anymore. In the 1980s, Arnold Schwarzenegger could move from B-movies like The Running Man, Raw Deal, Red Heat, and Commando to more A-level features like Predator and finally Total Recall in 1990. Steven Seagal could go from Hard to Kill and Marked For Death to something like Under Siege. But big-budget, R-rated, non-fantasy action pictures are more-or-less extinct in the post-Columbine era. As I've noted before (HERE), the post-Columbine crackdown on marketing to younger audiences has all but completely put the kibosh on big-budget, R-rated action pictures. There really isn't a bigger, more 'mainstream' action vehicle for Statham to graduate to. Studios don't make A-level action thrillers anymore.
Today the 'stars of tomorrow' get their PG-13 sci-fi/fantasy/comic book franchise, which is something that Statham is arguably not suited for and/or already too old to do (since the studios generally want a younger guy who can do 2-3 sequels before he's 40). Statham is stuck forever doing Out For Justice
because studios no longer make Under Siege
. If he truly desires 'bigger and better' (and who is to say he's the least bit unhappy about his relatively long career and aforementioned typecasting?), he has little choice but to try more pure thrillers like The Bank Job
(easily his best film), take supporting roles in other people's big-budget vehicles (such as Dwayne Johnson's supporting turns in Get Smart
and Fast Five
), or make a PG-rated family film where he ends up in some kind of kid-centric situation (IE - Vin Diesel's The Pacifier
For better or for worse, Jason Statham is the undisputed king of a genre that no longer has an upper level to aspire to. The kind of films that turned Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, or even Steven Seagal into megastars no longer exist. We can debate whether or not that is a tragedy. But it will be interesting to see what Jason Statham does now that he has reached his potential in the genre that made him an icon.