ac·tion (ak-shuhn) n.
i The state or process of acting or doing.
ii A movement or a series of movements, as of an actor.
iii A noun used to describe a genre of movies wherein the protagonist/s beat the living crap out of each for the general amusement of the audience.
Okay that last one I made up but I think you can agree it’s close enough. Action movies have seen a re-emergence in recent times, namely in the hugely successful Expendables franchise; a franchise so appealing a simple combination of X and Y chromosomes with a side order of testosterone can’t stop an all women offshoot from landing in the guise of The ExpendaBelles landing. Let’s have a look at some of the top elements that makes an action movie kick ass!
In the world of martial arts aggression is seen as a negative, something that un-centres the soul and allows for a whole manner of wrong to thwart our protagonists. However, over in ‘Merica in many action movies this can be a valuable trait. Letting out that inner green rage is also the only way an old school action hero can show emotion, favouring shouting at the sky over allowing water to leak from certain holes in one’s head. From Stallone’s epic Rocky to the screams of triumph in Bloodsport, aggression has always found a place in action movies. Just make sure that as an actor you know the difference between what aggression looks like and what constipation looks like.
The unwritten rule of action movies is that something has to go BANG, preferably hundreds of times, and also with heroes managing to avoid singing their hair by landing in conveniently placed bodies of water. Never has this been taken to such heights than with every single movie made by Michael Bay[splosion]. However, way before Baysplosion was coming up with unique ways to end cars, bridges or planets, Francis Ford Coppela was toasting most of Vietnam. His 1975 film Apocalypse Now still has some of the most memorable scenes of fire and death some 40 years later . Not to mention one of the best lines ever ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning’. Hu ha!
Our would be heroes wouldn’t be worth jack if they had no nefarious evil mastermind to beat the living snot out of and in action movies we see some of the best and worst of these examples. From the advanced “mimetic metal poly-alloy” that was the T-1000 in Terminator 2 to the frighteningly clever Keyser Söze in The Usual Suspects, action movies have swung between the physically brutal antagonist to the sadistic ‘let’s burn bunnies’ type. Personally, I prefer the insane antics of characters like the Joker in The Dark Knight or Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction to the badass smash your teeth out your mouth villains like Chong Li, but that doesn’t really tie in with so many action movies. No, what we need is mean, and what screams mean more than a facially scarred up marine killing blue bunny huggers in a death mec? Exactly, not much!
Action movies would be lost without support from the NRA and certain constitutional rights that allow for citizens to protect their families against Nazis with rocket launchers or grenades. Movies likes Michael Mann’s Heat relied on input from ex-military Andy McNab to bring a gritty realism to shoot out scenes that had members of the audience ducking, BEFORE 3D. Of course John Woo has become a legend in his creative and unique style of gun play, best seen in any of his Hard Boiled films, and we were treated to some excellent CGI gun battles in the Matrix. Guns, f*ck yeah!
Boom, pow, kick! The exquisite art of reminding someone how inferior they are when it comes to delivering a blow to the back of one’s head has always been a huge crowd pleaser even more so today with clever special effects and post production. Of course movies like Die Hard have the usual punch, punch, kick, body slam, rinse and repeat of classic action Hollywood, but thankfully we have moved on from there and now with the use of technology have a much wider range of kickassedness. If you have seen the Korean movie Old Boy you will probably still remember the fantastic hammer time its protagonist had, or the (Indonesian) movie The Raid: Redemption, with its intense and stomach churning fight scenes. Lucky for us these ultra-stylised actions scenes are becoming more and more common, and also The Raid: Berandal is expected out in 2014 so, WIN!
So these are 5 of the things I think a damn good action movie needs to nail in order to be awesome. We could go into more detail and talk narrative and storytelling mechanics, but that opens up many more nuances that point to personal taste and would get very messy. So, without threatening to send my family to coal mines in Mongolia what elements do you think are more important than the ones listed above?
Last Updated: November 7, 2013