I think basically all big action blockbusters would be about a thousand times better if they cut out all the character development and story stuff entirely. Trash like Transformers or Pacific Rim, which advertise themselves as non-stop action and then you get there and find that it's mostly a bunch of bad actors reciting terrible expository lines explaining a meaningless story you could not possibly care less about. Oh my God, just skip to the fighting! Cut a two-hour-and-forty-five minute movie down to a nice hour of pure action, and you'd still have your whole afternoon free once it's done.
These movies pay lip service to character development because they think they're required to have it. The textbook says your character has to change by the end of the movie, so we all have to follow the rules. But what if they just didn't, though? What if movies didn't have to be two hours long and conform to all these standards? What if you just made forty-five minutes of handsome people fighting things and eachother, and occasionally taking their clothes off a little bit, and we all stopped pretending there needed to be some lofty reason for it all to happen?
Good action is its own reward. And, honestly, good action is much harder to do than good stories and character development and stuff. There are thousands of movies out there that tell engaging stories, but how many of them can get your heart racing with a truly brilliant action scene? The choreography, the camerawork, the editing, the performances, the sound effects, the weeks of training and rehearsal; they all have to come together, and not a single one can be lacking. If your actor throws a punch with a bent wrist, or you have to hide a lack of creativity behind shaky camerawork, or if the editor can't make the continuity work because you didn't pick the right shots in storyboarding, the audience can tell straight away.
Look at this:
Look at it! They dressed a man up as a car seat! One guy's hanging off the back of a car with a guy holding onto him, and then another guy is lying down three inches away from getting sandpapered to death by speeding concrete, just to get this shot!
Look at this!
There is like forty years of collective martial arts experience in those four seconds. No regular actor with a couple of weeks of Krav Maga lessons could move that fast, or trust their fighting partner to dodge the full strength spinning kick they're about to aim directly at his head. Look at Jackie's glorious hair helmet wobbling around like that. I could watch this gif loop all day.
This is what action movies are all about. They excite your eyeballs, make you marvel at the amazing feats of which human beings are capable. They give you that indescribable feeling in your gut that makes you want to go and get into a fistfight in the parking lot that nothing else can give you. I mean, throw in a little exposition if you need a way to get from one action scene to the next, maybe a touch of character development to give them some motivation to do all the fighting, but that stuff is not what the audience is here for. I want to see two people kung-fu-ing eachother at crazy speeds. I want to see shootouts where bullets are pinging into walls and raining rubble down on people's faces. Ronin has this one shot where the main characters drive the wrong way down a freeway at top speed, and it's filmed in a wide enough angle that you can see like a hundred cars at once, and I can't even imagine the insane logistics that go into blocking off a shot like that and getting a hundred stunt drivers their own choreographed steps to drive.
I mean, let's look at the scientifically perfect action movie: Mad Max Fury Road. It's action cinema boiled down to its absolute basics. What's the story? Furiosa's taking the wives and breaking away from the bad guys, and they're chasing her. What's the character development? Max is a loner out for himself, then he gets won over by these girls' moxie and decides to help them. Bam. Bing bang boom, you're done. Script written. Bada bing bada boom, now let's get started filming this two hour long car chase and making the greatest movie ever made!
In the case of Infinity War, we already know the setup for the movie: Thanos is collecting Infinity Gems, he's going to plug'em into the gauntlet and then kill everyone. We already know all the characters (I bet I could already name all 67 if I gave it some thought), we already know their personalities and powersets. All that's left is the good stuff: KUNG FU FIGHTING.
I think we have fundamentally different views here, which is fine. Good action, for me, is not a reward in-and-of itself, good action is a way to progress the storyline and characters. I don't really care how many times a guy gets kicked in the face unless I'm given a reason to, ie. what this means in terms of the story and characters.
Like, I think the Raid 2 is an amazing showcase for Martial Arts, but I can't remember a thing about what actually happened. Where as the lightsaber battle in A New Hope is etched into my brain, because even though it's weak technically, its an excellent pay-off for the conflict established between Obi-Wan and Vader, and allows Luke to undergo the loss needed to help push him forward. It's important to the narrative, rather than merely being a spectacle in its own right. If that's too much adventure and not enough action, what about the ending to Aliens? The whole forklift fight is, again, great payoff after how much Ripley has been through fighting these things to keep Newt safe. "Get away from her, you ___!" Cool!
That's because the gratification we get from the action isn't because we're blood-thirsty psychopaths, but because we want to see that Alien Queen get a forklift to the face.
I agree Transformers and Pacific Rim are poor films. BUT, I'd argue that this is because they are poor examples of character-based storytelling, rather than that the presence of characters and arcs itself was the wrong approach. Like you said, "it's mostly a bunch of bad actors reciting terrible expository lines explaining a meaningless story you could not possibly care less about." The problem is that the storytelling is too weak to make you feel anything, rather than because they're trying to make you care in the first place. It's the difference between Neo's training in the Matrix just being him learning how to hit Morpheus real fast and real hard, and Luke having to gruellingly learn discipline, self-control and faith in the force through a series of trials. You care about Luke; you don't care about Neo. You don't care if Neo pummels Smith or vice versa, because it's reduced to a meaningless action spectacle - you've nothing to actually root for, besides the infliction of violence for its own sake. Conversely, the stakes when Luke goes to fight Vader are through the roof, because they've established the need for this conflict.
So cut the characters in Transformers and Pacific Rim down to just muscly guys and pretty ladies throwing around action-movie one liners, and all you really have is a bunch of CG-mush hitting into each other. I mean, that might entertain for like 10 minutes on its own, but the audience can't relate to CG monster trucks smashing into each other. Maybe, maybe in Transformers you could cut out the human element, as the robots themselves are (kind of?) characters fighting their own independent conflict. with PR, though, the whole point of the film is that the mech-things are piloted by the best of humanity, to fight for humanity. That doesn't really resonate if you don't adequately show the human element that is supposed to being fought for. Once more, the human element is the key to actually making the action gratifying, because we should have been able to cheer when Meathead 1's mechatron 3000 pummelled that CG Kaiju. Instead, all we have is again violence for its own sake once more, which isn't really gratifying or rewarding (especially when it's just awful CG blobs in charmless, grimdark punch-ups to begin with - I didn't really like PR).
That's why you need to cut back on the action and intersperse it with development for the parties involved; it's more important to have fewer action sequences with great payoff than tonnes of action sequences with no payoff or gratification. Less is more, as with many things.
I think your argument on being technically impressive as its own regard is more of an aside, but again, I feel that is a very superficial measure of quality. I mean, the car chase sequence in The Matrix: Reloaded is very technically impressive, but it doesn't change the fact I don't care about the characters involved, nor the fact that its an awful film. It's also a bit odd to claim that because a lot of effort went into a scene that we, the audience, therefore should enjoy it because of that. Who cares how a shot or a scene is achieved, so long as it's convincing? (for the record, good action is most certainly a craft, but again I feel is not its own reward)
Also, I don't think Max Max is a great example to prove your point, either, as it's story is streamlined but is nevertheless still there and still important. It's characters are properly established and given a good level of development. Granded, much of it is done through visual storytelling, but it is there - especially in terms of the rich mythos they build for the world itself - and is also supported (in the case of Max) in that a) he's an established character b) has always been the more stoic type anyway.
In fact, I think Mad Max is a better example of what I'm trying to say - that you can have crazy action whilst also having the context and characters needed to care. I mean, the chase is incredibly intense and the start of the film, but you can't rely on that intensity alone to keep the audience invested as they get more accustomed to bits of flying metals and fireballs and bunsen burner Les Pauls. That's why they slowly, subtly and deliberately show you more and more insight into the characters on both side of the chase, because that raises the stakes and means they can keep chucking these really intense and unpredictable action sequences - the audience doesn't know how these scenes will end, but they do have at least some investment in their outcome. (and for the record, I'm not one of those obsessive 10/10 Mad Max fans, I think it's a very good action film but not the holy grail of cinema)
Edited by Darknoon, 12 January 2016 - 06:46 AM.