Almost a quarter of a century ago Lethal Weapon used a funny jumping-off-a-building gag. Ragged-edge cop Mel Gibson is sent to the top of a four-story building to talk an unstable guy out of making a suicide leap. Gibson winds up cuffing himself to the guy and jumping off the building, and they’re both falling to their deaths…not. They land on one of those huge inflated tent-sized bags…whomp!…that cops and firemen use to save people. All is well.
Flash forward to another jumping-off-a-building scene in Brad Bird and Tom Cruise‘s Mission: impossible 4 — Ghost Protocol, which I saw last night. An American operative is being chased over a rooftop by baddies in Budapest. He fires some rounds, kills a couple of guys, and then escapes by leaping off the building, continuing to shoot as he falls four or five stories to the pavement below. He’s saved, however, when he lands on a modest air mattress that’s about one-tenth the size of Lethal Weapon‘s tent-sized bag.
Where did this miracle air mattress come from? We’re not told. In what physical realm does a guy leap backwards four stories onto an air mattress that’s a little bit larger than a king-sized bed and live? I’ll tell you what realm. The realm of Mission: Impossible 4 — Ghost Protocol and its brethren.
Big-budget acton movies have ignored the laws of what happens when you jump or fall from any kind of height for so long nobody cares any more. You can do any stupid thing you want — jump off any building or bridge or moving airplane — and you can land safely, and audiences will still buy their tickets and eat their popcorn. Nothing matters.
Makers of idiotic steroid action films have been ignoring the basic laws of physics for a good 20 years or so, but particularly since Asian action films became popular in the early ’90s. It mainly started with the popularity of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the use of “wire guys” to allow heroes to leap anywhere from anything and land in a cool way like Superman.
In the HE book there is only one way to go with action films nowadays, and that is the path of mostly believable, bare-bones, “this could actually happen in the real world” physicality adhered to in Nicholas Winding Refn‘s Drive and Steven Soderbergh‘s Haywire. All the rest is bullshit and you know it.