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C'mon, Hollywood: Where is our next great American action film?

03.04.2014by:
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It seems like action movies from the U.S. these days just arenít all that great, you know? Aside from comic book adaptations, giant robots and Jason Statham vehicles, itís pretty slim pickings for an action junkie looking to get his rocks off cinematically speaking. The last great action movie I can think of at the top of my head is easily THE RAID: REDEMPTION and you can imagine the sheer and utter joy I felt when it was announced that they were remaking it. Itís both confusing and unfortunate theyíre already planning this, especially considering that its sequel, THE RAID: BERANDAL hasnít even been officially released in the States yet and is only the second part of a planned trilogy. So, in the mean time, what can American action filmmakers do to bring us something worthwhile?†

To me, itís the lack of variety that seems to be one of the biggest issues. Unfortunately, the multiplexes are getting stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey by superhero movies. Now, I like comic book flicks just as much as the next dude, but I prefer my action a little more gritty and hard-hitting. The folks over at Marvel understand their primarily young demographic, so thereís only so far theyíre willing to push the envelope. Thereís also a very distinct formula to superhero origin stories, so while weíre getting to see all these different characters do their thing, weíre basically watching a story we already know told over and over again.†

Another important thing action films seem to forget is that more action isnít necessarily better. Iíd much rather have three or four well placed action sequences that implement the surroundings, characters and events that came before it. This allows those in charge to develop and grow a character that we actually give a shit about, which will make the action much more engaging. Thereís also something to be said about the characterís vulnerability. If we see them slaughtering baddies by the dozen, avoid bullets, survive beatings an orphan couldnít bear, it takes away from the realism. Most of the fun comes from witnessing a character in over their heads and overcoming the obstacles. That creates action worth watching and investing our time in.†

The way the action is presented is also critical. Some action films tend to rely on jittery camerawork and shots that donít last longer than a second to convey a sense of urgency and realism. While I get that the style works when done correctly (THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM), the audience needs to, at the very least, comprehend whatís going on. When done incorrectly, it just comes off as a big, confusing mess (QUANTUM OF SOLACE). The intensity should come from whatís happening on screen and the way that itís being presented, not just the latter. Look at the action scenes in CHILDREN OF MEN. Every single shot looks like it took a huge amount of care to pull it off convincingly. That not only adds to the intensity and grittiness of it, it makes it a f*cking classic.

Some of the best action films are made great because of very simple things, such as implementing different ideas and not just using big guns and explosions to make people excited. Flicks like THE MATRIX and KILL BILL VOL. 1 embrace Eastern methods of fighting, such as kung-fu and sword play and itís great to watch because itís not what American audiences are used to. Parkour, which originated in France, was used to kick off CASINO ROYALE in a grand way. Yeah, the sport itself has gained in popularity since then (shit, they even remade DISTRICT B13 with the late Paul Walker in something called BRICK MANSIONS), but at the time, I hadnít seen anything like that. They probably could have used a typical foot chase and gotten away with it, but they tried something different and even to this day, that scene still knocks me on my ass.†

Setting a film in a different time period also adds some variety. BRAVEHEART and GLADIATOR remind me how awful it would be to live back in those days, but it certainly makes for good action. Hell, even setting a movie in the 1930ís gave us the classic RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. The direction, set pieces and Harrison Fordís suave charisma helped it out a lot, but the setting surely gave it that extra kick. Thereís also the notion of working with a different genre applying a heaping helping of action. Both ALIENS and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY are categorized as science fiction, but having these fantastic elements (time travel, aliens) gives a good excuse for crazy awesome action sequences. Iím not saying a science fiction film with a robot that does parkour in 1920ís Russia would make a sure-fire action classic, but itíd make for a much more interesting watch than another ex-CIA agent looking for his daughter in contemporary L.A.†

So, Címon, Hollywood! Give us an action film worth remembering! In a world where itís hard to differentiate one action movie from the next, we deserve something intense, different and new. If you really want to make something generic, Iím sure Liam Neeson will be there to help out. Yeah, I said it...†

Now, if youíll excuse me, Iím going to keep watching this clip until I get a chance to see the sequel.†

Extra Tidbit: What do you guys think action films could benefit from by adding or taking away? Should we have more physically capable lead actors? Less CGI and more stunt doubles? Am I crazy and American action films now are totally badass?
Source: JoBlo

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12:13PM on 03/05/2014

A-MEN Brother!

It really seems like Rated R action is endangered. It is not just about the rating (I actually loved Jack Reacher as a nice gritty throwback). CGI is certainly a huge problem that plagues both big budget and small budget movies. Lockout was a huge disappointment. Great lead. Promising set up. Cool Trailers. And then crappy effects (the motorcycle chase is a CGI travesty), a PG-13 rating and half hearted action just killed it. Another problem is that when some cool gritty action movies
It really seems like Rated R action is endangered. It is not just about the rating (I actually loved Jack Reacher as a nice gritty throwback). CGI is certainly a huge problem that plagues both big budget and small budget movies. Lockout was a huge disappointment. Great lead. Promising set up. Cool Trailers. And then crappy effects (the motorcycle chase is a CGI travesty), a PG-13 rating and half hearted action just killed it. Another problem is that when some cool gritty action movies do come out nobody watches them. Geek fan boys watch pirated copies of DREDD instead of supporting it at the Theater and then wonder why DREDD 2 is a longshot.
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10:41AM on 03/04/2014
Like everyone has said, lazy CGI, retarded looking wire-work and stupid shakycam overkill really dilutes the action and thats why The Raid: Redemption is an instant classic it DOESN'T depend on any of those gimmicks!
Thats also why I loved Skyfall becuase the opening scene was 90% practical effects which more thrilling than the entire FF6 highway and airport scene put together! (that stupid midair collision embrace was the last straw for me)
Long story short, c'mon Hollywood go back to
Like everyone has said, lazy CGI, retarded looking wire-work and stupid shakycam overkill really dilutes the action and thats why The Raid: Redemption is an instant classic it DOESN'T depend on any of those gimmicks!
Thats also why I loved Skyfall becuase the opening scene was 90% practical effects which more thrilling than the entire FF6 highway and airport scene put together! (that stupid midair collision embrace was the last straw for me)
Long story short, c'mon Hollywood go back to basics and YES we need to switch off our brains at times but give a shout-out to The Laws of Physics once in a while.
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7:37AM on 03/04/2014

Well...

There's always TV. People say Arrow is good. And then there's the Daredevil, Alias, Power Man and Iron Fist series that are supposed to run for a total of at least 52 episodes followed by a team up. Who knows? Maybe this will all lead to a Daredevil versus the Puinisher movie.
There's always TV. People say Arrow is good. And then there's the Daredevil, Alias, Power Man and Iron Fist series that are supposed to run for a total of at least 52 episodes followed by a team up. Who knows? Maybe this will all lead to a Daredevil versus the Puinisher movie.
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4:39AM on 03/04/2014
It's simple. We need a new gen of action-actors mixed with rock solid scripts. The Expendables cast had their fun in the '80s and '90s. I'm not saying that the Ex movies are to neglect , but how much longer/more can they expand ? [can't believe Sly is almost 70yrs] New blood has to emerge. And when I say "new" I mean actors in their forties ~ mid forties. Diesel, Dwayne, Keanu...? And dammit! Chris Bale should be in lots of hand to hand combat movies. He knows his kung fu.
It's simple. We need a new gen of action-actors mixed with rock solid scripts. The Expendables cast had their fun in the '80s and '90s. I'm not saying that the Ex movies are to neglect , but how much longer/more can they expand ? [can't believe Sly is almost 70yrs] New blood has to emerge. And when I say "new" I mean actors in their forties ~ mid forties. Diesel, Dwayne, Keanu...? And dammit! Chris Bale should be in lots of hand to hand combat movies. He knows his kung fu.
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4:35AM on 03/04/2014
Glad to see Face/Off getting a mention, it was the last true action film. I love Liam Neeson as much as anyone, but you can't compare crap like Taken and Non-Stop to things like Die Hard, Raiders, Aliens, etc. The CGI in Taken was blindingly oblivious, from the driving to the gunfire. Can you classify something like Heat as an action film? What about Ronin and Spartan, they were both brilliant and I'll pay anyone money if they can point out where CGI was used for the action. Anyone who mentions
Glad to see Face/Off getting a mention, it was the last true action film. I love Liam Neeson as much as anyone, but you can't compare crap like Taken and Non-Stop to things like Die Hard, Raiders, Aliens, etc. The CGI in Taken was blindingly oblivious, from the driving to the gunfire. Can you classify something like Heat as an action film? What about Ronin and Spartan, they were both brilliant and I'll pay anyone money if they can point out where CGI was used for the action. Anyone who mentions the F&F films here needs help, they're not action films! I enjoyed The Avengers, but you can't put it against some of the classics.
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3:53AM on 03/04/2014
One of the last great Hollywood action films still worthy of study IMO would be Face/off. Great camera work, sense of geography between the actors in action scenes, nice hard hitting violence mixed with a great emotional core. Lethal Weapon would fall in that category as well. Would love to see a return to that minus excessive shaky cam.
One of the last great Hollywood action films still worthy of study IMO would be Face/off. Great camera work, sense of geography between the actors in action scenes, nice hard hitting violence mixed with a great emotional core. Lethal Weapon would fall in that category as well. Would love to see a return to that minus excessive shaky cam.
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3:27AM on 03/04/2014
Good article. I think what we need is a retro action film of the 70s/80s along the line of Dirty Harry, Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. CGI is good when used properly but what makes good action movie, in my opinion, are good stunt team, good practical effects and great action sequences. Fast & Furious 4 and 5 got it right. The first Expendables got it right. The first RED also got it right. We just need good stunt teams and less CGI.
Good article. I think what we need is a retro action film of the 70s/80s along the line of Dirty Harry, Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. CGI is good when used properly but what makes good action movie, in my opinion, are good stunt team, good practical effects and great action sequences. Fast & Furious 4 and 5 got it right. The first Expendables got it right. The first RED also got it right. We just need good stunt teams and less CGI.
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2:53AM on 03/04/2014
Well-written analysis of the state of the genre. First, I've gotta say that Fast 5 and Fast 6 are solid, entertaining, silly, action-packed films. There's obvious CGI but there's also tactile, "crunchy" practial stunts. 2 Guns also comes to mind. Not a great movie but it does have that spirit and feel of a late 80s-early 90s buddy cop action flick in that Lethal Weapon tradition and it is rated R.

I'm not usually one to complain about the MPAA rating of a movie, but part of why action
Well-written analysis of the state of the genre. First, I've gotta say that Fast 5 and Fast 6 are solid, entertaining, silly, action-packed films. There's obvious CGI but there's also tactile, "crunchy" practial stunts. 2 Guns also comes to mind. Not a great movie but it does have that spirit and feel of a late 80s-early 90s buddy cop action flick in that Lethal Weapon tradition and it is rated R.

I'm not usually one to complain about the MPAA rating of a movie, but part of why action movies from Hollywood have lacked definition as of late is because of the homogenization of Hollywood, that every studio executive wants every movie to reach as wide an audience as possible and so everything feels pretty much the same. The number of rough and ready R-rated action flicks has dwindled in favour of safer PG-13 fare with wider appeal. There's also the thing about the loss of the all-American badass, that bona fide tough guy action heroes are being outsourced to Australia, New Zealand and Scotland because every young American star is just too Abercrombie-y.
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3:29AM on 03/04/2014
"just too Abercrombie-y" - that's exactly what's going on. I'm surely not the target market for such actors. What have good action stars gone, eh?
"just too Abercrombie-y" - that's exactly what's going on. I'm surely not the target market for such actors. What have good action stars gone, eh?
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