C'mon Hollywood: Get back in the Fight!
In the summer of 1989, a little movie by the name of BATMAN came out. I was 12 years old, immersed in comics, and ready to have my mind blown on the day that I finally got to the theater to see Tim Burton’s vision come to life. The theater was jam-packed on the afternoon I went and as I got to the ticket counter I saw my best friend exiting his screening, looking like he’d just seen naked boobies for the first time in his life. I approached him with much anticipation, because he held the answer to the burning question that would make-or-break my BATMAN experience. “Does Batman punch the Joker?” I asked, like the world depended on it. He could only nod, as he was still rendered speechless. I sighed with relief.
Now, it may seem silly that the simple action of a fist to the face could mean the difference between loving or simply liking a movie, but when it comes to the struggle between protagonist and antagonist in an action movie, it should be a top priority. It doesn’t have to happen in every single action movie made, but for those that create a dynamic between good and evil that makes you surge with bloodlust, I think it’s a crime to exclude a worthy mano y mano brawl.
When I think of the all-time best fight scenes, it barely scrapes past 2004. They’ve gotten so few and far between, with things like PG-13 ratings and the slow decline of the old-school action movie, creating bloodless, passionless bouts that end like the last stage of a rated-E video game, rather than a brutal, tension-filled scrap. To me, the best fight scene of all time is Bruce Willis vs. Alexander Gudunov in DIE HARD. It’s personal, it’s vicious, it’s bloody, and doesn’t feel choreographed like a ballet. It’s a fight you feel you have a stake in.
Similarly awesome, epic fight scenes include Patrick Swayze’s brawl with Jimmy in ROAD HOUSE, the throwdown between Mel Gibson and Gary Busey in LETHAL WEAPON, the alleyway match between Roddy Piper and Keith David in THEY LIVE and KILL BILL: VOLUME II’s battle royale between The Bride and Elle Driver. And who can forget Arnold vs. the PREDATOR in McTiernan's masterpiece? Those were all personal fights, each carrying weight within the story, each character having a grudge to work out. They create those, “F*ck, yeah!” moments that make fight scenes so engrossing. Sure, it’s fun to see henchmen dispatched at random, but after awhile, you want to see something of substance; you want to see the boss-level fight that’s worth the wait.
Too often these days, we’re shouldered with fight scenes that are choreographed so delicately that it’s more like watching a play than a personal conflict. There are exceptions; Neo vs. Agent Smith in the first MATRIX film is one of the few that gets down and dirty, while being choreographed to the fullest. Daniel Craig's Bond in his last three films, especially SKYFALL has done a bang-up job (literally), as have the BOURNE films. So, to, THE RAID: REDEMPTION, the most recent example of a worthy fight scene that benefitted from building up both the protagonists and antagonists to create a match that you wanted to see; one that you cared to see.
The modern-day action movie, across all genres (superhero, straight action, thriller, etc.) seem to have calmed the conflict and opted for over-before-you-know it bouts, complete with bloodless rounds of combat that come to a close before you can even start to care. There are tons of examples, but to name a few that should have delivered, I’ll start with SUPERMAN RETURNS, a movie that should have been the reintroduction of one of the most iconic and strongest characters in the medium. And what is his big finish? Well, after getting has ass handed to him by henchmen, he picks up a giant rock and throws it into space. Roll credits.
The same with CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER. Finally, Cap vs. Red Skull, surely a fight to get excited about, right? Nope. They just kind of float around and throw some jabs, like two brothers wrestling over a GI Joe. Or IRON MAN 2, when Crimson Dynamo [edit: Whiplash] lands, finally decked out in his suit and ready for action. I sat back in the theater, ready to settle into an epic fight. Then, there was a flash of light and it was over, as if it never began.
Even THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, which built up the dynamic between Batman and Bane for two hours, had Bruce Wayne do some push ups and jump onto a ledge in order to prepare for a battle that BROKE HIS BACK. For the big finale rematch, the fight started off okay, but ended abruptly and with a very anti-climactic finish. Daniel Laruso at least went back to Mr. Miyagi to learn some new tricks each time he had to face a stronger opponent. Not Batman. Push-ups are all that’s needed.
One of the coolest things I saw last year was the beatdown of Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme in THE EXPENDABLES 2. It was reminiscent of those classic good-guy-bad-guy brawls of old, where they both hated each other for good reason and took it to the mat. It’s so rare to get to that point these days, with energy power blasts and philosophical cliffhangers leaving us without the satisfaction of a well-rounded conflict (i.e. street brawl). It’s time to remember what makes going to these types of movies fun, and oftentimes it’s as simple as the main characters beating the shit out of each other. Is that too much to ask?
|Extra Tidbit:||Although not popular with the masses, I felt the scrap between Henry Cavill, our future Superman, vs. Mickey Rourke in Immortals was a brutally good bout. Check it out!|