Last night, I finally saw the second "Hobbit" movie. Seeing as how this blog needs another entry, I thought I'd make today's subject about the action sequences in "The Hobbit" and other films, including "300," the other "Matrix" movies, "Akria," and the first "Captain America" movie. What do all of these films have in common? They are all action packed, and their action scenes are boring. This is probably where you may disagree with me, and that's okay. But, allow me to, as Morpheus puts it so well, "free your mind."
What makes a good action scene? Is a good action scene acrobatic, fast-paced, shot well on camera, brutal, realistic? Actually, it's none of these things. To be fair, these elements give flare to an action scene, but they are not the foundation of a good action scene. The foundation of a good action scene is just like the foundation of any good scene, period. A good scene fits within a certain time scale, has polarity and escalation, and character development forged through choices. What action scenes fit the criteria? Well, to start off, let's look at the first "Matix" film. For every action scene Neo is in, we see the growth of his character. He's making decisions (go to the scaffolding or turn yourself in, believe in yourself or the limits you've been taught, save Morpheus or run away, believe in yourself and fight Agent Smith or give in to fear and run away) there is polarity in every sequence, and the scenes don't overstay their welcome. Compare this to the later "Matrix" films and you have several examples of action scenes that don't carry near the same weight as the ones in the first "Matrix," like the "Upgrades" fight, or the mansion fight, the highway fight, or the "Dragonball Z" ripoff fight. Granted, these scenes are visually stunning and fun to watch on their own at times. But, they serve almost no narrative purpose. "300" and "Captain America" are similar. "The Hobbit" has some of the worst and ranks in the same ballpark as the "Transformers" movies. The action scenes are barely comprehensible with the lack of narrative focus and the diarrhea of digital imagery. These scenes tell me Peter Jackson and Michael Bay think an action scene is solely there to show the audience how cool a character is. This can be the case for a "Save the Cat" scene, but not for every action scene in a film.
Another film that serves as a textbook example of a great action movie is "Die Hard." John McClane goes through the ringer, and, medically speaking, should have died several times in this movie. But, ignoring all of that, let's dive into what makes this such a great action flick. Does John McClane grow in every action scene? Yes. He becomes humble, we see what he truly cares about, and he grows strategically. Is there polarity and escalation? Absolutely. John is never made safe and has to overcome even greater odds than from the previous scene. He goes from having no weapon to having one, from being able to walk normally to having glass shards in his foot. Does the character make choices and learn from those choices? Of course he does. He chooses to put himself in danger and fight against the terrorists, to not compromise with them when he is tested, and we see the weight of his decision to let someone die in order to save everyone else.
Every time we see "The Matrix" or "Die Hard" we are thrilled, even though we've seen it multiple times and have every line memorized. Why? Because the action carries the same weight as, if not more than, every other scene in the movie. It's exciting and gripping because we watch the growth of these characters when they are put to the most extreme tests and come out the other side changed.