Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lights, Camera, Action Flick!

Movie critics are morons.

Not sure if that was mean to say or not, and if you're a movie critic reading this, then I'm sorry... sort of.

I have another statement to make. Action movies are awesome.

What do these two statements have in common? Critics hate action movies.

If you're a critic, then it's very likely that you have an account on a site devoted to grading films based on an overall percentage of "rotten" and "fresh" votes from critics. 60% or more is a fresh film, any less and your movie is rotten. Which is actually pretty harsh... if half the film critics in the world say a movie is good, and the other half say it sucks... then the half that likes it doesn't count.

Well here's my problem, only about half the critics on that site enjoy action films, so every action movie that comes out is marked for rotten death before it even gets a chance to reach a broader audience! I say broader audience because a lot of people won't even go out and see a movie if rottentomatoes says it sucks, and how many people actually read the individual reviews on that site anyway? If you did read those reviews, you'd probably read something that sounds like this:

"This movie was a formulaic piece of crap, bad acting, weak plot... and too much action"

That's not an exaggeration either... Most film critics really do use the critique of "too much action" to describe a lot of ACTION films. I'm sorry, but what is wrong with these people? Action films should ALWAYS have lots of action! It's a means to turn your brain off for a few hours and enjoy the senseless violence. I feel the problem is that people don't review a movie based on it's genre. So as a result, you get a bunch of artsy, self-indulgent film freaks looking for drama who instead find a testosterone-driven man-vehicle... and it makes them mad... :( <--- That's a sad film critic, poor little guy. "Where's the conflict? The character development? The intellectually challenging plot??" ... I'll tell you where it is... it's in the drama section ya' beatnik, now drink your latte and shut up! ... for real though, I like lattes. Now just for the record, I don't want to come off as some macho, toolbag stereotype. I'm hardly what you would call, a "Manly man". I don't like sports, I don't like beer, I go to starbucks and I own a mac... which I love... I also don't know anything about cars and I make people sick when I talk to my girlfriend. Yes. I have a horrible girlfriend voice. Really. It's disgusting... I'm so sorry for the people who have to listen to me talk on the phone with her. So yeah, action movies have an average of 59% on said website. Which means that unless the movie has some form of dramatic, intellectual plot device, it's bound for failure... and it's rare that you'll find those in any "guy flick". My purpose is to create a new standard for rating action movies, and hopefully bring some glory back to a mighty genre which has been overshadowed by a pretty pathetic generation of film critics. Let's start with the basics. What makes an action movie: 1.) Action - I imagine this would be pretty important... in an "Action" movie... I've seen a good enough chunk of action flicks to know that when I pop in the summer blockbuster of the year, I better not get 3 hours of dialogue and 10 minutes of killing. A lot of debate goes up about how involved a story should be to make or break a movie... I really could care less, and you can form your own opinion on it, but if that plot can't be laid out before the last 20 minutes of the film, then it's better off being a book. I'm watching a movie because my brain wants to shut down for 2 hours and be dazzled by chaos, destruction and pure, manly awesomeness. This isn't generally a difficult requirement to fill, you should think of action sequences as checkpoints in a film. A situation arises, suspense ensues, and the matter is concluded with a gun fight. Another situation comes up (a little more involved then the last), and before you know it, you're chasing after the solution in a car chase. The final piece of the puzzle comes into play... and you solve that puzzle by blowing it up... then you declare your ultimate victory with a witty one-liner and a fade to credits with a hair-metal anthem of glory. It's so beautiful...

Remember, an action movie's purpose is to blindly entertain. If you're looking to improve your outlook on life, or be challenged philosophically or intellectually, or simply be inspired/moved... then watch a drama. If you want to laugh and just feel good, then watch a comedy. If you enjoy being horrified and disturbed, then watch a horror flick... but if you just feel like turning off your brain, letting out some steam, and being mindlessly dazzled after a long week, day... or life... then you require the Action/Adventure genre.

An action sequence is such a broad concept... a lot of times movies cop out and throw in chase scene, after chase scene, after chase scene... Chase scenes are cool, but they're not really "action" action. I watched "Ong-Bak", which is considered a "Grade A" martial arts film (Yes, martial arts counts as action). I've never been so disappointed in my life. Yeah, it's full of action... but 80% of that action is Tony Jaa jumping over out-of-place obstacles and replaying the same stunt in slow motion 3 times just to make sure you really "Saw what you saw". Does it fill the first requirement? Yes. Does it do so successfully? Absolutely not. That movie is garbage... which I intend to elaborate on someday.

But I digress...

A chase scene works for what it is; It stimulates the viewer, it is technically action, but it should never be the main source of entertainment in an action movie... not unless people are dying! Think of it as payment... you want action? That's gonna cost ya'. It's probably one of the major elements that separates "Thrillers" from "Action" flicks... A thriller is pretty much suspense and chase sequences... You take those scenes and have the hero killing people, then you've got yourself an action film.

So what am I really getting at here? Have some variety in the action... Mindless is one thing, boring is another.

2.) Violence -
What's the point of all that gun play if someone isn't getting shot?

This might make some legalistic conservatives mad... but whatever, movies aren't real. Deal with it.

I don't care how movie violence happens. It can be sword fights, fist fights, gun fights... heck, the characters can use petrified squirrels for all I care... so long as the rigamortis is strong enough to chop a man's head off and make a kabob with it! If ANYTHING, this is the one quintessential element which can make or break any action film... car chases don't mean a whole lot unless one of those cars blows up... and no parachuting out of the wreckage last minute, if that car crashes, somebody better be ALL over that windshield. I'm not playin', people gotta' die!

Violence is pretty much a given when dealing with the Action genre. But a lot of films use this term loosely. And I really hate that. Not to come off as a sicko or anything, but if you're already shooting people, why not have em' bleed a little. I'm of course talking about "Squibs". Which are little packets of red paint that actors wear which blow up to emulate gun wounds and whatnot... they're pretty cool. With the lines being blurred between PG-13's and R's, I've found what really separates the men from the boys is blood packs. Die Hard is probably the best example of this. In the original films they put those squibs to good use. It's like every bullet hit 20 arteries at once. So when John Mclaine shot someone, you knew they were gonna' die... HARD. The most recent installment probably should have been called "Die Moderately". People died pretty much the same way... shot by Bruce Willis. But there were no more squibs! It was like playing Mortal Kombat on the SNES. Same awesome game... but no awesome violence. :( <--- Sad Critic Face Again. 3.) Heros - Two words. ACTION. HERO. If there isn't a bloodied up, musclebound action hero throwing punches and snapping spines then why on earth is it in my dvd player? Anybody can save the day, but how many people save the day and walk away from a fiery explosion in slow motion? Yeah, that's true heroism. But let's be real for a minute. Fella's. Do you want to watch Shia Labeouf hiding girls from his parents and throwing cubes into giant robots' chests? Or do you want to watch Arnold Swarzenegger shoot a man in the face? Yeah... that's what I thought. Not just any old hero will do. The tougher the antagonist is, the better. Smart heroes are cool to watch, but capable heroes are just so much more action-friendly. I feel that the tougher the hero, the better the film. And really, this doesn't mean that a less built actor won't qualify, but I've got to believe that this character can actually perform the acts necessary to make an action film awesome... all I'm saying is that there's a reason why when you think of "Action Film" you think of Stallone, Willis and Swarzenegger... not Labeouf, Christensen and... Wilson. Behind Enemy Lines? Anyone? ... No?

Oh, and on a side note, Professional Wrestlers are the perfect archetype for any action movie, but for some reason (with the exception of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) they're theatrical suicide. I can't explain it, they're just bad luck for any action film. They suck.

4.) Villains -
Every protagonist needs an even badder antagonist. Whether they're stronger, smarter, faster... or hide behind an endless hoard of henchmen... if there's no true rivalry, you're just clubbing baby seals... and Heroes club Navy Seals. Boo yah.

A villain doesn't have a lot of requirements. He just needs to be doing something bad... You fill that requirement, and you've got yourself a bona-fide bad antagonist. But there's a difference between an antagonist... and a bad guy. In the 80s, a bad guy meant exactly that... a BAD. GUY. They were bad simply because they were in no way good. You didn't sympathize with them, you didn't see their side of the story, you didn't care to know their reasoning... their reasoning was they were not good people. Nowadays you almost find yourself feeling bad for the antagonists... "Oh, don't kill him, he has a daughter", "He's not evil, he's damaged", "He's not our enemy, he's a product of our own society"... ugh. By that point the movie might as well be an E! True Hollywood Story... or a Greek Tragedy. You shouldn't feel bad for the bad guy, you should want the hero to throw him out a window... and onto a rusty pike.

5.) Showdown -
Any action movie that doesn't end with a climactic battle to the death... epically fails in the action department. The hero can't simply walk up to the bad guy, shoot him in the face, and ride off into the rolling credits... He's got to get bloodied up, he has to fight... he needs... a showdown. Whether it's a classic western gun draw, a martial arts kung fu fight, brutal slugfest, or just your average shoot em' up finale, nothing is over until the hero and the villain duke it out MAN STYLE.

Showdowns are going to be the main thing any movie goer will remember about an action flick. It's the last thing they see before they leave the theater (or turn off the tv), and it's the one thing they've been waiting for the entire movie. It has to be awesome. You can't have a climax of any less than 10 minutes. This might seem to be overdoing it, but I'm serious. An action movie deserves a nice, built out finale with lots of fighting, lots of killing and lots of testosterone. Bad Boys 2 nailed this. It didn't just give you one awesome finale... it gave you TWO.

Actually, Bad Boys II is the reason I'm writing all this in the first place. It's the ultimate action movie, but every stuck up artsy critic on the planet gave it crap reviews... basically because it was too actiony. Is the movie some kind of Shakespearian masterpiece? Of course not... but it wasn't meant to be that, it was meant to be a summer blockbuster; A testosterone-heavy action flick. And for what it was, it was incredible. Not to mention it was hilarious. I'm not saying it's the best movie in the world, but rottentomatoes has this film at a overall approval rating of 23%... it's top critics gave it 17%... say what you will about it, but it wasn't THAT bad. What it was was a really good action film. I'd just like to point out that those same critics on rottentomatoes are the ones who gave Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a 77% approval rating... apparently their idea of theatrical gold Shia Labeouf swinging from vines in a jungle with a bunch of monkeys...

I got distracted...

6.) Villain Death -
If your villain has succeeded at being a bad guy, then by the end of the movie, every viewer is just ACHING for that dude to get offed.

In Action Land, bad people die... In real life, bad people go to prison... but this isn't real life... cause real life sucks, the justice system sucks, and bad people getting three meals a day and raping other inmates sucks. That's why we watch movies, cause we don't care about real life, we want to be engulfed in that which can never truly happen... And that my friends... is True Justice. If your villain doesn't get his head chopped off, or get impaled, or get shot to death... or explode... then as far as I'm concerned, your action film has failed... You're an evil dictator? You get gutted. Oh, you're a jerk? No jugular for you! What's that? You're a Nazi? You get your face melted!

This element of a film is also what can truly mean the difference between a PG-13 and a hard R. In PG-13's, bad guys generally die in some fiery explosion. Or get impaled, but don't bleed, shot but you don't see the entry wound (or the exit wound), fall off buildings but you don't see them land. That's fine for what it is, but I find it to be a little unoriginal at this point... and not very satisfying. R-rated movies kill off their baddies with a little pizzaz. Arms getting ripped off, or their eyes getting gouged out, chemicals melting their faces off... and when they get shot, you see that bullet rip them a new one with ZERO censorship. oh, that was a good one...

7.) Gloating -
This last one's sort of a bonus... but every hero should express their dominance over evil with a quick wit.

I'm of course talking about Arnold Swarzenegger's speciality... the One-Liner. Yeah, nothing says victory like gloating. And these come in all shapes and sizes, Grunting, laughing, dancing... But nothing beats tradition when it comes to victory, just make fun of the jack-hole. Not like he's alive enough to hear it anyway.

So in conclusion, next time you watch an action film, just keep a general awareness of the genre and keep your expectations neutral. Don't think, just watch.

Yippee Kai Yay- okay, that's not appropriate,
~ Mark


  1. i love your girlfriend voice :) and when you include me in your post :)

  2. I don't know man. I'll watch Die Hard 1 every freaking time it comes on but I probably won't ever watch Commando again. Both these have the same amount of action in them. I think theres definately good and bad action movies. RottenTomatoes sucks balls. Your next comic should be a literal graphic illustration of that.

  3. How dare you contradict me on my own blog...

    Haha, you actually raise a pretty valid point. I should have clarified that despite endless amounts of action, there is a difference between GOOD action... and just downright AWFUL action. Commando does indeed lack in the good action department... it's not that bad though. And to be honest, I'd totally watch that on tv if it were on...

    You have to admit though, Arnold throwing that piece of piping through Bennett's chest at the end was pretty awesome...

    "Let out some steam, Bennett!" ... greatness.

  4. this was the longest post of my life. i like that you are thoughtful :)