Action Movies Don't Have to Suck

A lament for lost carnage—and coherence

I never thought it would come to this, but clear action has been left to art house directors. Steven Soderbergh's Haywire showcases some of the most exhilarating fights of recent years by combining the "realistic" MMA-inspired fighting preferred by Post-Action directors with the long takes and unobstructed shots they fear. (I think he used a new technology called a "tripod.") Joe Wright's Hanna has an Eric Bana–versus-four-guys fight scene that's done in one uninterrupted Steadicam shot, showing the whole fight instead of implying it through editing. Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, despite being sued by that lady for not being enough like Fast Five, punctuates its slow-burn story with superb car chases.

But most of the good stuff these days is hidden outside of the mainstream in direct-to-video movies. It's a refuge not just for aging icons like Seagal, Lundgren, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, but also for a talented new wave that includes Austin (Damage), Scott Adkins (Undisputed II through III), Michael Jai White (Blood and Bone), and "how the hell hasn't a studio thrown money at these guys yet" directors Isaac Florentine and John Hyams. I maintain that Hyams's 2009 Universal Soldier: Regeneration is a more thrilling action experience than 95 percent of what studios have released in theaters in several years. The opening hurls us into an intense abduction-car-chase-shoot-out-helicopter escape while always keeping the vehicles and victims clearly in the center of the frame, making it a DTV classic before we've even seen Van Damme or any superpowered fighting.

Like Seagal in Hard to Kill, old-school action has emerged from its coma and is retraining itself. Soon, it will sit on top of a small hill, it will hear the call of an eagle, and it will be ready for its revenge. But we might have to persuade the dads who used to take their kids to Marked for Death that now the thing to do is to buy them the fifth Universal Soldier.

Vern is the author of Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal. Find his reviews at outlawvern.com.

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41 comments
actionmoviefreak
actionmoviefreak

"Old-school action has emerged from its coma & is retraining itself." Hallelujah to that! @Expendables2 gets it right: "focused on stunt work & fight choreography"

bobby
bobby

The extreme closeup/short chop editing is nothing but a cheat dragged over from 90s and 00s music videos.  Actors don't need to train as much, punches thrown as hard, cars driven as fast, or choreography be as precise.  Its a headache inducing cop out and should die a quick death.... but it won't.  Because it's easy, cheap, and younger audiences are used to half paying attention anyways, so they don't care.

 

* I'm heading back to my front porch now to yell at some kids walking on my lawn*

.

.

petelee
petelee

I work with a bunch of stunt guys and filmmakers in the Bay Area who are working to rectify the exact problem you've specified. We just made a film called Death Grip that combines Korean, Hong Kong, and 80s American sensibilities - here's a little taste for anyone who wishes to check it out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuWMnZugFzU

InFluEnza1918
InFluEnza1918

@SamWitwer Except for the newest one the Bourne trilogy is top-notch.

VirulentViper
VirulentViper

@SamWitwer Action movies kinda suck. Witwer movies are amazing.

samwitwerfans
samwitwerfans

@SamWitwer so what you are saying is you're a chic flick kinda guy?

swirlOsquirrel
swirlOsquirrel

@SamWitwer No matter the genre, solid writing is what actors, directors, set designers, camera peeps & editors build upon. #BasicDramaRules

beckyb731
beckyb731

@SamWitwer So disappointed you aren't going to be at Dragon*Con this year. What about New York Comic Con?

swirlOsquirrel
swirlOsquirrel

@SamWitwer Here's a thought - how about we try dramaturgy? U know, support directors, actors, & yes WRITERS who make this stuff? #JustSayin

Chris_mk
Chris_mk

@SamWitwer Ummm... aside from being a sequel!

Chris_mk
Chris_mk

@SamWitwer What about the last Mission Impossible film, that was cool and new!

rachaelcurtis
rachaelcurtis

@SamWitwer I couldn't help but notice how that article didn't comment on The Matrix. The first movie. Because the other two don't exist.

swirlOsquirrel
swirlOsquirrel

@SamWitwer But they killed all the writers in Hollywood, then wonder why they spend a gazillion on FX and still the movie blows chunks.

swirlOsquirrel
swirlOsquirrel

@SamWitwer Yeah, those movies had a little something we writers like 2 call "coherent plot" & "good dialogue" & generally just good WRITING.

Chaz_CB
Chaz_CB

@SamWitwer we knew what ya meant. #secondtweetnotneeded

Guvnah
Guvnah

Post-Action movies make me sad.  Long live the tripod, and especially the steadicam.  

 

Vern's right about Universal Soldier: Regeneration.  It's bloody great.  

DarrenBaker
DarrenBaker

@outlawvern Excellent, excellent piece.

jonnyabomb
jonnyabomb

@outlawvern Congratulations, brother!

kamshafiq
kamshafiq

@davefranklin @outlawvern @studiesincrap My mate accepted Expendables 2 to be terrible with, 'It was never going to be good, was it?' Urgh

ladonnapietra
ladonnapietra

@M_Morse @outlawvern I approve of all of this.

davefranklin
davefranklin

@kamshafiq yeah I mean, I thought it was okay, but so much wrong with it. Also like that Vern acknowledges that Greengrass’s technique works

kamshafiq
kamshafiq

@davefranklin I enjoyed BourneLegacy, but really missed the Greengrass style when it came to the action scenes.

kamshafiq
kamshafiq

@davefranklin I thought too many shots of the big guys firing their guns, then cutting to random baddies getting hit by the bullets.

kamshafiq
kamshafiq

@rossatron2910 @davefranklin Give it a go, its good.

davefranklin
davefranklin

@kamshafiq @Rossatron2910 it’s like Bourne with a bit more Michael Clayton. Fine by me.

Rossatron2910
Rossatron2910

@davefranklin @kamshafiq May give it a go then. After 'Expendables 2' lol. I have loyalty to Arnie. I have to.

davefranklin
davefranklin

@Rossatron2910 @kamshafiq also it may not be the best one but it’s so similar to the others that hating it seems ridiculous to me

kamshafiq
kamshafiq

@rossatron2910 @davefranklin It didn't zip along at the same pace as the others, but its a worthy companion piece.

davefranklin
davefranklin

@Rossatron2910 @kamshafiq critics are split on. Quite a lot like it. It’s really good I think.

Rossatron2910
Rossatron2910

@davefranklin @kamshafiq Is 'Bourne Legacy' any good? It's getting slated by critics.

kamshafiq
kamshafiq

@davefranklin Maybe Rowdy Herrington is available for Expendables 3? Or Mel Gibson who is an amazing action director.

davefranklin
davefranklin

@kamshafiq yeah you’re right but he’s too good for Expendables, would be a huge step down for him haha

kamshafiq
kamshafiq

@davefranklin I'd love to see Gareth Evans direct Expendables - his action in the raid is some of the best I've seen in a long time.

davefranklin
davefranklin

@kamshafiq LOVE that scene. Also the lab massacre, chillingly done.

kamshafiq
kamshafiq

@davefranklin The attempted assassination of Weisz was really well done.

davefranklin
davefranklin

@kamshafiq I only really missed him in that last bike chase, which was average.

 

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