Fans wait with bated breath for what they call the “Brenaissance”, or the resurgence of Brendan Fraser into Hollywood with Warner Bros’ upcoming movie Batgirl.
Brendan Fraser was recently in the news for joining the cast of Warner Bros and DC Films’ Batgirl. The actor will reportedly essay the role of the DC supervillain Firefly in the movie. Most remember Fraser as the impossibly charming adventurer Rick O'Connell in The Mummy franchise. The actor has several other credits to his name, but The Mummy films remain his most celebrated piece of work. The movie was decidedly pulpy, and Fraser’s O'Connell was frequently compared to the other fictional suave explorer, Indiana Jones.
With Fraser, Hollywood marked a new era of films where heroes were not defined by their toxic masculinity, but their inherent lovable nature. Journalist Rita Kempley coined a new term for this new crop of heroes — the himbos (the masculine version of the term bimbo), who were kind, affectionate, funny and clumsy, and somewhat unaware of their big, burly physique. Fraser found the sweet spot between hunky and hilarious for the first time in the Tarzan spoof George of the Jungle. Fraser played the dorky vine swinger, but his masculinity never comes across as threatening. It cut a different picture from the overtly masculine films of the previous years, with the Rambos and the Terminators. The film’s self referential tone, its slapstick humour ensured it appealed to both kids and their parents.
The 90s were Fraser’s years. The films, brimming with nostalgia, serve as a time capsule of the single-screen theatres. From Airheads to Blast from the Past, Fraser was part of major comedy movies of the time. In Airheads, Fraser, Adam Sandler and Steve Buscemi played three aspiring musicians who stage a radio station hijack in order to get their demo tape played on air. The madcap comedy was critically panned at the time of the release, but the film’s campiness has made it a pop culture artefact in the 21st century. Fraser channelled his naive and likeable personality in the rom-com Blast from the Past too. The film followed a man who learns to navigate modern life after spending 35 years underground to protect himself during the Cuban Missile Crisis. While the film flopped during its time Blast from the Past is hailed as Fraser’s one of the most underrated performances.
Fraser’s career skyrocketed with the release of The Mummy in 1999, which to date, remains Fraser’s most commercially successful enterprise. The film’s box office fate spawned two more sequels, 2001's The Mummy Returns and 2008's The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. With a physicality of a traditional Hollywood hero, Fraser was often reduced to being a sex symbol. A 2018 article in GQ described Fraser as thus — “He’d continue to take more traditional leading-man parts, [but] he ultimately found most of his success with his shirt off.” Fraser’s sex appeal was mined to its optimum in The Mummy franchise, along with his natural goofiness.
After tasting success with comedy and action, the versatile actor continued to break new ground with the Academy Award-winning drama Crash (2004) and The Quiet American (2002).
The countless action sequences had also taken a huge toll on the actor. He suffered serious injuries for years because he insisted on performing his own stunts. Fraser recounted, “By the time I did the third Mummy picture in China [in 2008] I was put together with tape and ice.” For seven years, Fraser had to undergo many surgeries, including partial knee replacement, back surgeries for his spinal cord and even vocal cord surgeries. The procedures severely limited his ability to undertake similar kinds of action roles. The trauma of being assaulted, his divorce with ator Afton Smith and his debilitating health condition made him exit Hollywood for over a decade.
After appearing in a few supporting parts, Fraser’s major comeback was in DC’s Doom Patrol in 2019. The show, said to have been intended to be a Titans spin-off, saw Fraser reprise his role from the 2018 show as the voice of the cyborg superhero Robotman. Doom Patrol became the decisive comeback role for Fraser. Fans could not have enough of the actor, and likened the role to Fraser’s own journey of remaining in stasis for years before reclaiming his position as a hero.
In the past one year, Fraser has landed some of the most lucrative upcoming projects — Darren Aronofsky's The Whale, Martin Scorscese’s Killers of the Flower Moon alongside Hollywood heavyweights Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, and Brothers, starring Josh Brolin and Peter Dinklage. This reawakening to Fraser is evidenced by the circulation of pro-Fraser tweets, archival pictures and videos in the interwebz. But for Fraser, none of the films are vanity projects. Neither does Fraser have the physique of a young bloke, nor does he have the agility to carry out intensive action sequences. But as Doom Patrol has proven, Brendan Fraser is no longer the loveable dork. What he is, is a versatile actor who continues to expand his range.