The best part of Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t any of the city-destroying, world-saving, building-smashing scenes, but the everyone-trying-to-lift-Thor’s-hammer scene, and the solid payoff to this gag during the climax. I think we’ve had enough of these orgies of destruction and saving the world – they start looking the same after a while. Man of Steel, Avengers 1, Avengers 2 – it’s a bit of a blur which city was levelled where. Superman, Zod, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk – all have socked someone or the other through skyscrapers.
Of recent big-budget actioners, I think my favourite from the last couple of years is probably Edge of Tomorrow, which actually had a thoroughly interesting story beyond just saving the world. Going back a bit, I also liked Watchmen a lot. It took its time and let the characters talk to one another and explore their conflicts and dilemmas, instead of hurrying from one explosion to the next. Pacific Rim was another save-the-world-from-monsters film that had good stories in it.
I don’t know if studio executives think that all they should pander to are non-reading kids who only want a series of mind-numbing action confusion scenes. I doubt any of these supposed attention-deficit-disorder kids have ever read a Marvel or DC comic in their lives. It’s us – the 30+ crowd who grew up without computers – that actually read and reread and lent and borrowed and gifted comics and counted our wealth in terms of how many we had. For crying out loud, maybe superhero films should cater to US!
Are executives scared that if 10 min goes by without an explosion, people will get bored? How about letting characters really interact and play off each other, like in the hammer-lifting scene? Or recall The Dark Knight, where the Joker’s talking scenes were the best thing about the film, not things being blown up. What’s the problem with letting characters talk? Look at Inglourious Basterds – that film is practically a series of long conversations. Look at Marvel’s own Daredevil, which has long stretches of people just talking, and yet there’s never a dull moment. We get to know characters and start caring about what happens to them. The awkward conversations between Wilson Fisk and Vanessa are a great example.
A blind Daredevil and his highly limited geographical area to save, is proving far more engrossing than the explosion-destruction-confusion competitions that superhero films have become. Are they putting too much pressure on themselves by trying to outdo one another with bigger spectacles, bigger explosions? I think superhero films should scale back a little, become a little more intimate, and maybe focus on stories with real conflict rather than fighting just another mega-villain who wants to destroy the world (well okay, that IS a rather serious conflict)…For example, there was a story – I don’t remember clearly now – about Lex Luthor becoming the president of the USA and how that entirely reshaped the Superman-Luthor equation. (Just had a juicy crossover thought – Frank Underwood shaves his head and reveals himself to be Lex Luthor and develops a nuclear-kryptonite arsenal.) Or Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, featuring an aging, retired Bruce Wayne. Oh wait, isn’t that sort of done?
My other pet peeve with modern films is mistaking confusion for action. Almost all films nowadays are guilty of shaky-cam-1000-cuts-per-second fights where you can’t see what the hell’s going on and it’s mostly a high-shutter-blur of flailing arms and legs and bodies crashing into something and something smashing. Avengers 2 was about 50% guilty of this. For god’s sake, I don’t need to sort-of-see 4000 evil robots get smashed and ripped apart in a blur. I’d rather CLEARLY see 40 evil robots get ripped apart in a significant, meaningful manner. Instead of 50 throwaway action moments in a battle, I’d rather have FIVE high moments that feel satisfying and well-earned. (The Seven Samurai, a 60-year old, pre-computers film still has clearer action than 90% of modern films. The samurai had a chart to cross out the number of dead bandits – making every kill significant.)
Ranbir Kapoor had a fight in Roy. A couple of guys moved towards him, there was the usual incomprehensible flailing of arms and bodies accompanied by really loud smash-bing-boom-crash and suddenly the two guys were on the floor. A couple of chaps behind me clapped. I felt like saying, “You idiots, did you even see anything?”
The Expendables 2 thoroughly wasted Scott Adkins and Jason Statham by having their showdown almost in silhouette. Fast & Furious 7 thoroughly completely wasted both Tony Jaa and UFC champion Ronda Rousey by putting the camera on a raging bull and the editor on cocaine. Okay, that’s an exaggeration.
Hong Kong and Thai filmmakers, and directors like Isaac Florentine (Undisputed II & III) and Gareth Evans (The Raid) know how to shoot and cut their action cleanly. Watch any Scott Adkins, Tony Jaa, Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan, Jet Li film (not their Hollywood work) and you can clearly see there’s a vast difference between them and Hollywood/Bollywood films in terms of clarity of action. I’ll end this rant with an exception: the Hollywood film with the cleanest fights of the last several years – Jack Reacher. Camera at a distance where we can see things clearly, cameraman not sitting on an angry bull, full marks for clarity!
Kenny Basumatary is a Writer, Film-maker and Martial Artiste.