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As a movie critic, I watch a lot of movies, and I have to say, my favorite genre of film is action. Nothing makes me happier than watching a well-made action movie. And I've seen some pretty good ones over the years.
But I've also seen some pretty bad action movies. As in, REALLY bad action movies. So today, I decided to talk a little bit about what makes an action film bad, give some examples, provide some possible causes, and explain what actually makes a good action movie. So, here we go.
One of the worst action movie directors alive today is Olivier Megaton. Megaton has directed action films such as Colombiana, Taken 2, and Taken 3. For me, personally, Taken 3 is the worst movie I've EVER seen, and a large part of that is due to the terrible action scenes in the film.
I'll give you an example. Watch this scene from Taken 3 starting at 1:28 and try to understand what the hell is happening. Also, if you can, try to count how many times the camera cuts, or changes angles.
If you watched this video from 1:28 to the end, that means you watched a total of 143 seconds of this movie. In that time, how many cuts were you able to count? It was IMPOSSIBLE to count, right?
Well, I took the liberty of slowing this video down to 25 percent speed, and I counted 215 cuts in that 143 seconds, making the average shot length of this chase scene about 0.67 seconds. And I had to take some painkillers after counting that many cuts in this movie, so you're welcome.
How can you make an action scene in which the average shot length is less than a second?! This kind of jump-cut editing in which the camera cuts twice every second doesn't look good. It's painful and it's seizure-inducing. I hate watching scenes like this.
Like, I first watched this movie a few years ago when I had no idea about the aesthetics of filmmaking or how to be a film critic, but even THEN, I looked at this scene and thought it was absolute s**t.
Now, here's another action scene in Taken 3. This is a fight scene, but you can barely even tell that it's a fight scene because of how much the camera changes angles. I'm not gonna count the shots in that scene, because I want to live a long life, but you get the point.
That scene starts with Bryan Mills smacking a bad guy over the head with a liquor bottle, and Megaton decided that he needed FIVE CUTS in order to show a simple action like that. You see how terrible things like that look?
If you watch older action movies, particularly kung fu movies, you can see that a lot of them don't implement this incoherent jump-cut style of directing during the action scenes. They let the camera sit and let the actors do their stunts.
But fight scenes like the ones in Taken 3 look like their fights were just badly choreographed, and the non-stop jump cutting is done to hide how unrealistic these fight scenes actually look.
Fight scenes like this one, from Colombiana, are so badly directed that you can't even tell what's happening in the fight. You can only tell that a fight is going on, but you can barely even describe what's actually happening IN the fight because the jump cuts make it impossible to understand.
Now, let's take a look at this scene from one of the best action movies of all time, Mission: Impossible – Fallout:
What makes this such a good fight scene? It's because you can see what's happening on screen clearly. You also have actors such as Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, and Liang Yang, who are capable of performing stunts in their films.
The camera does not cut much at all. Director Christopher McQuarrie actually lets the camera sit on the actors and lets them throw their punches, which is what makes him a very good action director.
Now, jump cuts aren't the ONLY problem.
Watch this fight scene from Alex Cross. You see the problem with the scene? It's the shaky cam.
In action scenes, shaking your camera is just as bad as jump cuts if you don't do it right. Shaky cam looks absolutely terrible most of the time. Just KEEP THE CAMERA ON THE TRIPOD. Because when your camera doesn't stop moving, it's just as hard to tell what's happening.
So, what caused this epidemic of s**tty fight scene directing? This.
Now, just to be clear, I actually like the Bourne films. They're very entertaining action thrillers, and I think they're very smart films as well. Bourne movies are well-known for their jump-cut, shaky-cam fight scenes.
This is Paul Greengrass's style with action scenes. And I don't love his style, but for the most part, the fight scenes have good choreography and you can mostly understand what's happening on screen.
But some directors, such as Megaton, try to mimic this style, and they do piss-poor jobs of it.
Something I've noticed with action movies these days is that most of them recycle their plots. And this doesn't mean it will be a bad movie, but I just want to see an action movie with a unique concept.
For example, Die Hard began a trend among action films, in which it's one guy fighting a bunch of terrorists that take over some place. A lot of action movies do follow this concept, and you may remember that last summer, we had Skyscraper, a movie with a guy saving his family from terrorists in a building.
I watched Skyscraper and that movie can best be summed up as Die Hard mixed with The Towering Inferno mixed with the Burj Khalifa sequence in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
We also have a very common trope of an action hero whose family either gets kidnapped or killed by bad guys and now, they decide to go out and kill the people who did this to them.
Look at the premises for these movies: Death Wish, Peppermint, The Punisher, Death Sentence, Taken, and Taken 2. All of them have basically the same premise of this vigilante who goes out to kick ass after losing their family. Some just do it better than others.
Also, you remember how much I complained about the directing in Taken 3? That movie ALSO suffers from a terrible script, and a premise that gets DIRECTLY ripped off from The Fugitive.
The obvious difference between these two movies is that The Fugitive is actually good.
Action movies just don't really have original premises anymore. An example of an action movie that nailed the "original, exciting action premise" is the 1994 film, Speed, starring Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, and Sandra Bullock.
Speed follows an LAPD officer, Jack Traven, who must leap into action as a terrorist places a bomb on a bus. If the bus goes under 50 mph, the bus will explode and if anyone goes off the bus, the terrorist will detonate it. Jack needs to keep the bus over 50 and keep everyone safe.
And to this day, Speed remains one of my favorite films of all time. A bus that can't go under 50 is the PERFECT premise for an exciting action film. It doesn't rip off Die Hard in my opinion, and it's just a very entertaining action thriller. If you haven't seen this movie yet, I highly recommend it.
What I want to see in an action movie right now is something I've NEVER seen before. Because while I love revenge stories and I love the idea of "one man vs. an army," I want to see something fresh. Something original.
The Bourne trilogy? Those were VERY original action thrillers. But perhaps nothing has impressed me more than the latest three Mission: Impossible films.
Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation, and Fallout have all impressed me a lot with their stories and their action sequences. They have death-defying stunts, incredible action sequences, and very interesting stories.
Right now, Fallout is actually one of my favorite movies of all time. It's a GREAT action film, and Christopher McQuarrie's direction only improves the movie. These are examples of action movies that STILL know how to action.
There is an epidemic in Hollywood right now, and it's a never-ending series of rebooting and remaking old movies, and this problem doesn't just center around action movies.
Disney is making live-action remakes of The Jungle Book, The Lion King, Aladdin, Mulan, Beauty and the Beast, and I just want them to make an original live-action movie again.
But back to action movies—these days, studio execs will not stop taking old, hard R action flicks, and remaking them so that they're watered down and PG-13, and not as good as their originals.
An example of this is the 2014 remake of the classic 80s action movie, Robocop. This movie didn't have the caliber of action and gore that the original did, and it also suffered from a script that was kind of s**tty.
We also have the remake of Total Recall. Nobody asked for a remake of the 1990 sci-fi/action classic starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and yet we got a remake that was utterly pointless. There was no point in making that remake at all.
It comes down to, once again, Hollywood running out of ideas and they're just taking old movies that are actually good and they're remaking them.
The Bourne Legacy and Jason Bourne remain shameless cash grabs that add nothing to an amazing trilogy. And I would have been fine with A Good Day to Die Hard if it was actually competent.
If Hollywood could make an action movie with a completely original premise and coherent action scenes, I'd love it. But action movies these days just suffer from so many problems that we rarely get anything THAT good.
And PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, TELL ME I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO THINKS THIS MOVIE IS OVERRATED.
Thanks for reading.