Why can’t Hollywood make good action movies?

The A Team is being released this week and from what I’ve read about it so far, it looks like the action scenes are incomprehensible, CGI-laden, and feature that blasted shaky-cam. How depressing. Not because I had particularly high hopes for The A Team, but because you could apply those observations to very nearly every single action movie that comes out. Maybe they’re hiring poor choices of directors. Surely Joe Carnahan is not an ideal director for anything, really. This guy was once a promising director and has turned out to be just as big of a hack as Uwe Boll. His debut film Narc was a brilliant throwback to gritty ’70’s cop movies, but it turns out this guy can only throwback, not move forward, and can only derive his shit from other shit. Despite endlessly defending himself about certain accusations, his next film, Smokin’ Aces, was very obviously a Tarantino-wannabe and even though I know it has its admirers, I thought it was an irredeemable piece of crap. So it’s only appropriate that Carnahan’s next project would be a big-screen adaptation of a cheesy 1980’s TV show.

So I guess you could blame the directors. Argue that they’re all hacks and only care about money, blah, blah, blah. There’s some truth to that, no doubt, but good, talented directors are out there, and I’m sure they’re just as capable of making shitty movies as anyone else. Take John Woo, for example. Probably best known for his action masterpiece, The Killer, he also made a smooth transition to American action with films like Broken Arrow and the spectacularly awesome Face/off. Then the 1990’s ended and it was as if someone threw a switch and his movies started to suck. Mission Impossible II, WindTalkers, Paycheck? Is there something in the water???

Maybe it’s CGI. Yeah, that makes sense. The Matrix blew everybody away with its amazing and innovative effects in 1999 and everybody wanted a piece of that. So action films are definitely too reliant on CGI. I’d rather have a perfectionist director willing to risk the lives of some crewmembers than a caffiene-fueled, spray-tanned spaz rushing productions and yelling, “We’ll fix that in post!” But the thing is, the first Matrix really blended CGI well with actual live-action stunts. CGI and live-action can be friends. CGI can be a powerful tool, not a crutch.

I suppose that’s what really bugs me. What happened to outrageous stunts, cool fight scenes, and real car chases? (I’d like to exlude Jason Bourne from the argument, thank you Jason Bourne) With all the CGI and shaky cam, and fast cuts, I never believe that what’s taking place on screen is actually real. When you see a cool stunt like a motorcycle crash or a daring leap-and know they are stunts- you at least know that there is a trained professional doing it, and you can suspend your disbelief that it may not be the lead actor doing it because you know it’s at least real, and it’s very thrilling. I see snippets of a tank thrown out of a plane with a parachute or something like that in the A Team commercials, and I know I’m looking at computer-generated pixels, most likely developed by a geek behind a computer desk.

CGI is only the tip of the iceberg, though. How about more compelling characters? John Mclane of Die Hard may be a fucking badass, but we all know that the core of the movie was him trying to save and reconcile with his wife. That drove the entire thing as far as I’m concerned, and without the wife, it’s just a badass doing badass things for no real reason other than the fact the he’s a badass. Mclane was a vulnerable character, emotionally, and physically (stepping on the glass! ouch!), and that was truly endearing. How many action movies today would take a 5-minute breather scene where our hero expresses how much he loves his wife and how sorry he is for being a dick the entire marriage? Little touches like that count for a lot. And it’s not like I’m being nostalgic or anything, it’s not like Die Hard has such a quintessentially 80’s style that it could never be done today. Why, why I ask you, is it so hard for action movies to have actually interesting characters these days?

Speaking of nostalgia, we got a big movie coming up this summer: The Expendables. Now, I hate to say it, but this film is bound to disappoint, even if it is really good, too. Why? Because many people are banking on the hope that this will single-handedly save the entire action genre. I’ll admit it, I’m one of these people. But just because it’s a film starring all the great action stars doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a great action movie. I hope I’m wrong, but just look at it this way: once again it has the same problem as Joe Carnahan. It’s a throwback. We shouldn’t be looking back on the old glory days, we should be looking forward to new and exciting possibilities with action flicks. We need less throwbacks, tributes, rip-offs, TV show adaptations, and more original works.

How strange is it that the most stunningly original action picture of recent years has been Crank, an action romp so fucking over-the-top it works just as well as a parody of itself as it works as a fun, mindless action movie. I’m not saying we need more movies like Crank, but it’s a step in the right direction. There are many super heroes that are successful in what they set out to do: X-Men, Iron Man, The Dark Knight, but I’m wondering if you can completely classify them as action- seeing as there are so many super hero movies these days it’s practically its own genre. And we got Jason Bourne. Yeah, the Bourne movies. Who would have thought one of the best action series of recent years would star the guy from Good Will Hunting? So you do have sift through some serious shit to get to the good stuff.

What we really need is an action movie renaissance. We need more experimental stuff like Crank, more character drive behind the action like with The Dark Knight, and more physical stunts instead of CGI like with the Bourne films. We need more good action movies, Hollywood!

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2 Comments

  1. I was searching google to learn how to make a action movie and i saw your magnificent piece about action movies.

    I read it, and it was like reading my own thoughts written by an complete stranger. You are absolutely right, everything in your post is the true.

    I don’t know what to write, everything is here above, i just wanted to comment here saying you’re not alone, if we all stick together maybe, just maybe, we can change Hollywood to the right direction..

    I will recommend this post to all my movie loving friends, and keep writing posts like this.. I’m from The Netherlands so don’t mind my bad english…

  2. Bloody magnificient writing….. hope that directors/producers read it and learn something..


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