Bonding Buddies: A Brief History Of The Bromance
- by Leo Stableford, 26 February 2016
I don't need to tell you that the remake of "Point Break" we recently had inflicted upon us was a misbegotten waste of time and effort. For a film made nearly a quarter of a century after its original a domestic box office $15 million dollars shy of its predecessor tells the story better than I can.
So, what went wrong? Well, there is an argument that 1991's Point Break represents that cinematic chimera "The Perfect Movie". Remaking those is never a good move in the first place. It isn't just that the Reeves/Swayze action movie vehicle directed by action director giant Kathryn Bigelow was a great action movie in its own right. It is one of a very small number of extreme sports movies that actually works. Not only that but the central tortured bromance between Reeves' Johnny Utah and Swayze's Bodhi came at a critical time in the evolution of the bromance concept.
1991 was a shade before the word bromance even existed in any real sense, it would be the mid-2000s before it became a common portmanteau. So 1968 would appear to be the pre-history of the term, yet this is where we find one of the greatest bromances in cinema history between Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
This is one of the great things about the bromance. It's a concept that exists outside of time, you can identify them as far back as you care to go. Shakespeare knew the value of a good bromance: Brutus and Caesar, Macbeth and Banquo, you could even argue that the really important relationship in Romeo and Juliet was, in fact, between Romeo and Mercutio.
Even so, it's only since the late 80s that modern culture has really embraced the bromance fully. To be clear here I am discounting any "mentoring" relationships here. The relationship between Daniel-san and Mister Miyagi is not a bromance. I would also argue that hero/sidekick relationships cannot count, so no Batman and Robin. Bros are responsible for themselves, if they sacrifice for their friend it is from a basis of equality, that's what makes the bromance so beautiful.
I'm going to steer well clear, for these reasons, of Star Wars. It's odd that sometimes the bromance cannot take focus. Clearly Han and Chewie are pals, but is Chewie Han's partner or his sidekick? Han clearly controls the purse strings and Chewie doesn't appear to have much of a say in, for example, hanging about with the rebels for years after the Battle of Yavin. And Han appears to prioritise Luke in this time over his furry partner in crime... don't even get me started on Lando.
No, best to leave that heapy mess where it lies and move on to firmer ground. With the exception of Butch and Sundance Hollywood appeared to have some problem with pitching the perfect bromance in the 70s and 80s unless the participants were actually brothers, as in 1980's The Blues Brothers.
Contrast this with the unfortunate menage a bro of Star Trek Kirk-Spock-Bones and you see the problem. Sometimes things could get, uncomfortable. Who doesn't feel sorry for Bones in that whole Wrath of Khan/Search for Spock debacle. Finally Bones has Jim to be best buds with due to Spock's untimely death and rather than being allowed to become Jim's new broseph is possessed by the mind-meld phantom of Spock leading to a massive quest to bring back to life his bro rival. When three get into a relationship one is often given the cold Vulcan neck pinch, alas poor Bones, no wonder he was cranky.
In '84 and '85 we saw an early blossoming of that holiest of nerd pairings the science bros. Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis effortlessly communicated how men can bond over proton streams and apocalyptic events involving gods made out of confectionery in 1984's Ghostbusters. A year later Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith tried to broaden their horizons using an Acorn Electron, bra-based headgear and a Barbie doll in Weird Science.
Anthony Michael Hall would go on to bring bro power to the salvation of psychic John Smith. On television Johnny benefitted from the sage wisdom of his physical therapist Bruce, a character not present in King's darker original. Anthony Michael Hall's co-star, seeing the great work his colleague was doing in the area of bros took on the science part by becoming a professor. Ilan Mitchell-Smith became an academic with extensive knowledge in the field of medieval chivalry. This probably means he doesn't really wear bras on his head very often any more.
In the midst of the 80s being a nerd appeared to be the path to partaking in a successful and happy bromance. More manly, popular men looked set to always find themselves at odds over who was more manly. If they were friends they should be expected to find themselves united by the common pursuit of suitable mates. Probably they figured that when one of them died after an unsuccessful ejection from a fighter plane in a flat spin the arms of a woman might help their friend's get over the grief. Despite these solidly heterosexual portrayals of masculinity in 1986's Top Gun there's still that volleyball scene, a scene of mostly naked men engaged in vigorous physical activity accompanied by a song called "Playin' With The Boys" that has absolutely no kind of subtext whatsoever.
Even if there was a subtext we wouldn't have time to consider it much in 1987 anyhow. '87 was a year so jam packed with bro virtuosity it may as well be dubbed "The Year Of The Bro". A year crammed to the gills with deep and meaningful male bonding moments such as Dragnet, Innerspace, Lethal Weapon, Lost Boys, and Withnail and it was so filled with buddies and bros that even Arnold Schwarzenegger took note, releasing Red Heat and Twins in the following year.
This was the golden age of the bro. Kiefer Sutherland pumped out works like Flatliners, Young Guns and Renegades. He contributed so much to the cause he surely deserves some sort of medal for services to male bonding; a nice gold disc with the image of a fist bump embossed onto it. Not only that but where Arnie went Stallone was sure to follow pulling in famed lone wolf, loose cannon Kurt Russel in 1989's Tango and Cash. Even the man who would make a career out of being The One, Keanu Reeves, limbered up for 1991's Point Break with a turn as Ted "Theodore" Logan in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.
Point Break would prove to be the high watermark in the first wave of bro movies. The 90s was about to turn down an edgier indie alley. Tarantino, the golden boy of 90s cinema figured that your bro would no doubt turn on you once they had a bullet in the gut, or would turn out to be a psychotic hallucination who only talked to you in the bathroom, or would get shot by Bruce Willis coming out of the bathroom, or get turned into a vampire after accidentally slaughtering the hostage.
Not that the 90s didn't have its moments, Bad Boys and Die Hard With A Vengeance for example. However the tightest bromance of the mid 90s arguably took place between a toy cowboy and a plastic spaceman. 1998's Ronin was old school action which made the mutual respect between Robert De Niro and Jean Reno look like nostalgia. For a moment on Paper Street in 1999 Tyler Durden almost had us convinced that the only way to bond with another man was to smack him repeatedly in the face.
The 2000s gave the bromance some opportunities for revival. 2001 saw the first entry in one of the ultimate bro movie franchises, The Fast and The Furious. If that was too meatheaded for you the wilfully bizarre French action adventure The Brotherhood of the Wolf also brought us some ass-kicking bro based monster fighting.
Even so the aimless multiplex fodder of the early '00s saw the strongest bromance get back to basics and move to the small screen. When Supernatural debuted in 2005 who could have predicted that the show would explore brotherhood and bromances to the ultimate extent, where even the king of hell eventually wanted nothing more than to take a sabbatical (a black sabbatical?) to drink beer, shoot pool and sing karaoke with his favorite Winchester.
In the movies bromance moved from action to comedy (although not all at once) movies like Role Models, Zombieland and Pineapple Express culminated in the birth of the world's first bromantic comedy 2009's I Love You, Man.
In this environment it's no wonder that the old buddy movie formula from the 80s ended up eating itself with the comedy remake of 21 Jump Street in 2012. Science Broism, on the other hand has been co-opted by super heroes as fans spotted a little sumpin sumpin going on between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner in 2012's The Avengers.
There is no greater acknowledgement that we are in a time when the bromance is accepted as a mundane part of everyday life than the benchmark sisterhood movie 2013's Frozen. So this is where we find ourselves, on the cusp of a possible explosion of movies celebrating female relationships that don't involve falling out over poor relationship choices and your bestie dying of cancer. Is it any wonder that the second crack at Point Break is, well, pointless? And Broken.
What direction do you think the bromance movies are going? What are your favorite cinematic bromances? Let us know in the comments!
Tagged: movies & TV.