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Film

25 years of 'Con Air' - A wild ode to 1990s chaos

@Russellisation

The late 20th century was a hotbed for bombastic pieces of blockbuster cinema, with the 1980s having demonstrated that Hollywood had become very serious business. Characterised by the ‘high-concept’ film, with spectacular yet simple plots and striking marketing that extended from posters and TV adverts to T-shirts and lunchboxes, popular blockbusters began to be churned out by the industry, leading to consistent success.

Action-packed, loud and exciting, the decade was defined by the likes of Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, Aliens and Die Hard, with each film being heavily marketed thanks to merchandise deals that saw products line the shelves of department stores across the world. Building on the increasingly commercial industry of cinema that flourished in the 1980s, the ’90s became an era defined by money, mega spending and special effects as the industry swelled under the weight of its own self-created grandeur, inviting the wild and the wonderful. 

Subsequently, the ‘90s are known for producing some of the most eclectic action movies of all time, showing off Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sci-fi adventure in Total Recall, Keanu Reeves’ high-octane pursuit in Speed and Nicolas Cage’s wild mile-high convict thriller, Con Air

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Having just gone on parole, the former US Ranger Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) enters onto a plane filled with some of the most comical incarcerated villains on the planet, including serial killer ‘The Marietta Mangler’ (Steve Buscemi) and the insane maniac Cyrus ‘The Virus’ (John Malkovich). As the plane takes off, it is revealed that the security guards have taken some hilarious liberties, with the prisoners quickly taking control of the aircraft and the fate of all those onboard. 

Sporting flowing blonde hair, Cage plays a rugged Messiah-type figure, fixated on saving everyone he can and bringing these crooks to justice, despite his stint in prison having recently finished. With the mindset of a possessed patriotic Hollywood action star, Cameron Poe doggedly pursues Cyrus and his goons, channelling his former life in the police force as he demands justice. 

Something of a dream role for Cage, the actor told GQ in 2018, “Cameron Poe was really a fantasy as a young boy in Long Beach California growing up a skinny kid who read Incredible Hulk comics”. Creating the character who was the “uber version” of the actor, becoming the “southern badass” he never was, Poe embodies one of Cage’s most definitive roles, eliciting all the wild rage of the actor himself. 

Named “the jazz musician of actors” by the influential filmmaker and artist David Lynch, Cage finely toes the line between experimental innovator and cinematic provocateur, refusing to abide by the standard methods of Hollywood performance. Starring in Con Air just two years after his Oscar-winning role in Leaving Las Vegas, Cage is the perfect action hero to take the starring lead. Bringing his own idiosyncrasies, Cameron Poe feels like an impossible force of nature who retains all the hardiness of Die Hard’s John McClane with 10x the charisma. 

Matching the energy of the insane band of villains, Cage’s character proves to be the perfect agitator for this wild ‘90s ride, directed by Simon West. In a decade of action cinema that can be characterised by bombastic speed and dynamism, Con Air remains a classic of the era, showing that great action movies can thrive with the perfect balance of melodrama, sincerity and pace.