Rated M for Manly

Or what is an action movie?

I spent a few weeks talking about one of my great loves, fan fiction, it’s time to get back to the other point of this blog, action movies. As I’ve reviewed three action movies and still haven’t discussed what exactly I feel an action movie is. Thus, I’ve stuck with three rather conventional action movies, though the Expendables could be considered an action movie that is a parody of an action movie. (Parody and satire are generally lost upon me, being a serious type of person {tongue in cheek} that most satire at least, makes me extremely uncomfortable to sit through.) It is important to get this out into the open before we get too far into movie watching. I am going to stick with the word movie, though technically I suppose it should be action film. However, action film sounds incredibly snobby and pretentious which is opposite of everything an action movie is in my opinion.

Plus, I’m an American.

See, action movies, in my opinion, are incredibly unpretentious. They are often downright campy. They are a genre that feels like it is supposed to be about pure fun with popcorn and sweet soda. And they can still tell a great story that makes you laugh or cry without making you depressed at the same time. (Hope Floats, I am looking at you here. Not what I expected at all.) There is a tone in action films that in the next hour and a half to two hours almost anything could happen, even the things that defy laws of physics and logic and everyone will be all right with that and there will still be a happy ending. Action movie elements can be added to almost every type of other movie genre and add tension. (Though that could be consider true of every movie genre if done well.) But not every movie that has a fight sequence in it can be considered an action film.

Just to say we covered it here is a short précis of the history of action film. Action film started in the twenties as swashbuckler movies with men in billowy (and not so billowy) shirts wielding swords. It later expanded into having men ride horses and shoot guns in the West (often robbing trains for some reason). By the forties, directors, producers and writers expanded the genre into spy thrillers and war pieces. By the sixties, Bond, James Bond, had defined the proverbial action movie by being one man against horrible odds fighting through minions, chasing bad cartoonish villains with cars filled with impossible gadgets, and being devilishly sexy, charming and very British about it. The seventies added some dirt and grit to the genre with cops gone rogue and then martial arts made its way onto the scene with Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. This decade also added the idea of a car heist movie where men used cars to steal things or stole the cars themselves.

The eighties became known as the era of action movies where most of the stars that we know and love rose to prominence. The eighties added more types of genres to the mix especially with science fiction coming off the small screen from shows such as Star Trek and Lost in Space, to the big screen with the lavish (for the time) trilogy that was Star Wars. Star Trek also got their own movies. A dash of horror was added with the Predator and Alien series. The eighties also had the first ‘buddy cop’ movie where comedy was the driving force rather than gritty rogue cops going off the rails in the name of ‘justice.’ The nineties started the latest twist to action movies, which is the superhero movie with Tim Burton’s Batman. The nineties also saw the rise of the idea of the big movie franchise, the idea of a long running sequence of films rather than just stand alone films or trilogies. Since then, the two thousands tried at the mashing up science fiction, western and action films into one movie (Serenity and Cowboys Vs. Aliens being notable examples), a trend that has yet to be successful. (Which in this writer’s opinion is really quite sad.) The latest trend in action movie film making is the adaptation of the Young Adult novel, notably the Hunger Games and Divergent, these are often based upon dystopian societies in the future.

So, what is exactly an action movie? As stated, you can’t throw in a fight scene and just call something an action movie. Nine and a Half Weeks has a fight scene, I wouldn’t call that an action movie. (In fact, I’m not sure what to call it.)

The action movie is the action part of a plot taken to extreme. In the action part of a plot, a character is taken to the edge mentally, physically, emotionally in one way or the other and to effect change and move the story they must do something. In an action movie, when the character is forced into a corner, instead of words, the choice of deeds is some sort of weapon, up to and including his or her fists to defeat whatever the conflict or villain of the plot is. In an action movie, a character makes some sort of conscious choice to use violence as the answer to their problem. What happens after that is generally up in the air.

Usually the plot is set up that the odds aren’t good for our hero(s). There might be a car chase sequence, some sort of explosion, there will definitely be shoot outs and sword fights and quite possibly some punches thrown. We never really learn much about the hero or the villain, quite possibly not even the villain’s motivation. Though we should still learn something about them, enough to let us to relate to them in one fashion or another. We don’t want the hero and the villain to sit down and talk their problems out. We want them to hammer on each other until one or the other is senseless. We want justice! We want the good guy to win!

Action movies do nothing but satisfy the most primal urge in people to see good conquer evil and for there to be something of a happy ending. If the hero can throw out a good quip before he shoots someone, all more the better. It gives hope for the future. The villain is vanquished. The guy gets the girl or rarely the girl gets the guy or the girl kicks said guy’s ass. We got to see someone sucker punch somebody. There was a huge explosion somewhere. All that is left is to raise the flag. Stick a fork in it. We’re done.

Because of this somewhat broad definition that an action movie is defined by characters who choose to use violence (and I don’t mean serial murderers here) to solve their problems. There are movies that I might feel are action movies that other people don’t. For instance, Tangled is an animated action movie. “Frying pans, who knew?” Rapunzel makes an active choice to use her frying pan and threaten Flynn with it (and later some bandits and then there is Flynn himself) to get what she wants. So, at some point, I’ll be reviewing Tangled. Ocean’s Eleven is not an action movie. Danny Ocean, in both versions, goes out of his way to avoid violence in taking his revenge and stealing the money. As much as I love Ocean’s Eleven, I won’t be reviewing it here.

Now, are what the heroes of these movies doing morally and ethically right? It is such a hard question to answer since so many action film’s plots aren’t based in any sort of reality. I’ve yet to meet a real vampire, zombie or alien. Otherwise, these are choices usually taken to such an extreme, there isn’t much wiggle room in the plot for anything but violence to happen. And that is why we see these movies anyways, we want to see James Bond being James Bond and clocking somebody all in the name of Britain! Sure, action movies like any other movie can address the spirit of the times and involve greater important themes, and there is nothing wrong with trying to make an action movie about more than just defeating evil and the good guy wins. Just, let’s remember that most action movies are B rated movies and it is what it is. They are pure fantasy. Most the time the good guy would be dead ten times over before the movie is out. But instead, he carries the day and we sit there munch on our popcorn and cheer him on.

Because that’s what we came for.

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