I feel obliged to attend a 6 pm screening this evening of Roar Uthaug‘s Lara Croft (Warner Bros., 3.16) at the Arclight. God help me. Imagine the feeling of going to see a movie directed by a guy named “Roar.” I’m not going to joke about a sister named “Meow” or a brother named “Rowlf”, but what kind of sadistic couple, really, would name their kid “Roar”? That’s like naming him “Sue” or “Cyclops.”
I would love to enjoy a gripping, well-made actioner in the vein of Steven Spielberg‘s Raiders of the Lost Ark (which didn’t defy physics as much as the next three films in the series), but of course the big-budget, whoo-hoo action film aesthetic went over the CG cliff years ago. Nobody except for a relative handful of directors (Kathryn Bigelow, George Miller, Steven Soderbergh, Michael Mann, J.C, Chandor, Doug Liman and a few others) care about real thrills. The fantasy-superhero-bullshit aesthetic has murdered the concept of great reality-based physical action. Killed it dead.
Posted two months ago: Nobody leaps off a sinking ship in the middle of a raging typhoon and lives. Nobody grabs hold of an overhanging tree limb at the last second and thereby escapes going over a super-tall jungle waterfall. What kind of fingernail-chewing moron would pay money to watch this shite? CG stunts of this sort aren’t worth spit in the realm of real-deal physics. Yes, I realize that’s a dirty concept these days.
A little more than six years ago I posted a piece called “To Hell With Physics“:
In 1987 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. 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?
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. And then the no-physics aesthetic was instantly accepted 18 years ago 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.
Posted in May 2017: “To really love an action film I have to believe that (a) what I’m watching bears at least some relation to human behavior as most of us have come to know it and is therefore delivering a semi-believable, well-motivated thing, and (b) what I’m watching could actually happen in the real-deal world of physics (i.e., no idiotic swan dives off 50-story office buildings).
All I care about is whether or not I believe what I’m seeing, or…you know, whether I’m distracted or dazzled enough so that I don’t pay attention to logic or realism factors. Whatever works. As long as action defines character and vice versa.
If I’m enjoying an action flick it’s because I fucking believe it, and I never believe anything that doesn’t respect some grown-up concept of reality. Fantasy flicks can blow me for the most part. I want an action movie that will plant its feet, look me in the eye and tell the fucking truth.
Very few 21st Century action films live up to HE’s rules and standards, or even give a damn about doing so. The Fast and Furious franchise is notorious for spitting in the face of reality. Almost all superhero comic-book movies revel in the fact that their realm allows them to ignore logic and believability.
Once in a great while and in a very blue moon, a first-rate action flick will come along that defies HE rules but gets away with it. One of these was Ang Lee‘s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (’00), but that’s a very rare occurence. On the other hand Crouching Tiger led to the stars of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle flying around on wires, and that was an awful thing to behold.
Here are Hollywood Elsewhere’s choices for the 11 craftiest, best-made, most believable action films of the 21st Century, and in this order:
(1) The Bourne Ultimatum (’07), (2) Man on Fire (’04), (3) Doug Liman‘s Edge of Tomorrow (aka Live Die Repeat), (4) George Miller‘s Mad Max: Fury Road, (5 & 6) Kathryn Bigelow‘s Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, (7) Michael Mann‘s Collateral, (8) Roger Donaldson‘s The Bank Job (’08), (9) Kevin Costner‘s Open Range (’03), (10) Steven Soderbergh‘s Haywire (’11) and (11) J.C. Chandor‘s All Is Lost (’13).