Steven Seagal is unintentionally hilarious. Above is how he runs, which is just strange. He flaps his hands and doesn’t pump his arms so much as allow them to wiggle back and forth like vestigial wings. Seagal wants to play the hero but his “heroes” always end up being guys that fight with an absolute brutality that rivals and cinematic villain. He breaks bones and kills his opponents with no regard to the devastation he causes. The best analysis of this may actually come from Run the Jewels, who are big fans of Seagal. But what’s even funnier is watching him get fatter and lazier as his career continued. At first he seemed fast and fought in a new way with his Aikido skills. But fast forward to today and a surprising number of his fights literally take place while he’s sitting. Let’s track his “progress” as a martial arts movie hero.
Above the Law (1988)
Seagal got his start because he started training people in L.A. including his future agent, Michael Ovitz, who put together a lean action movie. Low budget, it relied on martial arts action. Seagal seemed like an interesting tough guy. He had a lean physique here. Not huge muscles like Stallone or Schwarzenneger at the time, but he had a form of martial arts we’d never seen on screen before. There’s a few hallmarks of Seagal that are apparent right away – he pretty much NEVER gets hurt in his fights and he’s absolutely brutal to his enemies, going after the groin and why settle for punching a jerk at the bar when you can break his nose? He’s also ex-CIA which applies to at least half of the characters in his filmography. Also, while Seagal is a white kid from the suburbs of Detroit that was half Irish and half Jewish, his characters are frequently tough Italians or have Native American or Japanese heritage or were raised in Japan or Black neighborhoods. In this one, he’s a tough Italian who was raised with a lot of Japanese people in his community. It’s also the only time he was ever honest about his hair. If you look, he has a horizontal hairline that’s thinning. After this he suddenly got a fuzzy widow’s peak that is locked in place like a helmet.
On Deadly Ground (1994)
Seagal was starting to put on weight at this point so he began covering it with big clothes. Here, he wears a lot of heavy jackets. Also, he adopts another culture. Supposedly he’s part Native American in this one. It’s about a guy who really cares for the environment so he brutally murders a bunch of corporate oil bigwigs who are willfully polluting. Seagal tries to impart a lesson to a jerk at a bar by beating him senseless.
The Glimmer Man (1996)
Seagal steadily put on weight but this was the point at which he started wearing bizarre clothing choices to disguise his belly. He wears a gold mumu or something in this movie. Once again, he’s a former intelligence operative. Once again, he adopts another culture, this time being a Buddhist (who still kills a shockingly large number of people). Also, the soundtrack includes two of his (terrible) original songs, which he works hard to include whenever possible. Also, he really never gets so much as a scratch when fighting an army of opponents. They just walk up once at a time to get violently thrown by a wrist lock or get in surprisingly non-tough slap fights.
The Patriot (1998)
Seagal’s movies go direct to video and he never really goes back in any meaningful way. From this point on, the titles of the movie are generic phrases that are hard to remember. He starts getting backgrounds that are completely implausible: here is his a doctor, an immunologist. Somehow he’s also a weapons and fighting expert, too. And even though he’s a doctor, he has spent a lot of time with Native Americans and learned better cures with herbs.
Seagal spends a LOT of time sitting down from here on out. This movie really only has one significant fight scene and it’s not until the end. Also, like a lot of fights moving forward, these take place in the dark. A lot of dark. Seagal likes to be cloaked in shadow, probably because it helps disguise that he’s become pretty fat. Just watch the trailer. You’ll only see Seagal fighting towards the end in that blue/black hallway. He spends most of his time as a bomb disposal expert (and he practices Zen) and he’s second-billed to Tom Sizemore. Ouch.
Out for a Kill (2003)
By 2003, Seagal has perfected his lazy action hero style. Let’s see, in this scene Seagal is covered up by a big jacket in a dark room full of shadows. He starts the fight sitting down and doesn’t really have to move. He uses a stunt double for all the footwork. Yup, he’s got it perfected. It’s a steep drop in decent action from this point forward.
Out of Reach (2004)
Seagal plays a former intelligence officer (check) living in Alaska on a wildlife refuge (check) and he really likes to wear a huge trenchcoat (check). But now the fight scenes not only use stunt doubles, they use OBVIOUS stunt doubles. And in fact, even voice doubles. Seagal can barely be bothered to even show up for the movies now and refused to do any dialog looping in the studio after filming ended. He’s bloated and slow. Above is the whole movie but if you skip forward to the 2 minute mark you can hear the Seagal voice double reading a penpal letter he wrote. It is so obviously NOT Steven Seagal.
Kill Switch (2008)
More fights with Seagal starting out in a chair. He really sits a lot in his movies. Also, he’s super brutal. After he easily beats up two henchmen, he makes one guy bite the bar and repeatedly punches the back of his head until his mouth is a bloody mess, while interrogating him. Probably not the easiest way to hear information when your just messing up the guy’s mouth. At the end of the movie, Seagal’s cop character runs away to Russia to be with a family he has there. Oh yeah, Seagal started to become a big fan of Russia at this point in real life. He loves to talk up Putin and give Aikido demonstrations to the folks over there. It gets worse. He started calling Putin one of the world’s greatest leaders and supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Seagal had become a worse person in real life than his brutal characters. He filmed a reality show in Louisiana where he is a legit deputy. At one point he shot and killed an 11-year old puppy and at another, he ran a police tank over a man’s chicken coop, killing them all, because he guessed the man was running a chicken fighting ring (he wasn’t).
Against the Dark (2009)
The last one worth mentioning is Seagal’s attempt to make a horror movie. It’s very depressing. In a post-apocalyptic world, vampires have taken over. Seagal is trying to rescue some hostages in a hospital with some other ex-military vigilantes. The setting seems to primarily be an excuse to just drench Seagal in shadow so that he doesn’t really have to do anything in fight scenes. Everything is either an extreme close up of his face or a distant shot so stunt doubles can be used. But good luck comprehending his fights. It’s just too dark!