Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Sword of Boredom

By: Matthew J.R. Kohler

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Donnie Yen might be my favorite martial art star right now.  For the past six years, I haven’t been able to get enough of this legendary action star.  That said, I was stunned by how he (and Michelle Yeoh, from the original Crouching Tiger and Supercop) were used in the sequel to the original masterpiece Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The film is directed by Yeun Woo Pien.  Seeing as how he was the fight director behind Matrix, Hero, and the original Crouching Tiger, he was clearly a good choice to make in this wire-fighting-heavy film.  Although he is an amazing fight director, his movie has problems.  Major problems.  Namely, the dragging story.

The movie is only 100 minutes, yet seven new characters are introduced.  For forty minutes, I’m learning the names of people I felt I could play on “Dynasty Warriors”.  Martial art films are based on action and storytelling, usually with one hero and one antagonist.  When the hero fights, you want to cheer for them.  I couldn’t care less when any of the characters fought or died, because they felt one-dimensional.  Donnie Yen’s character Silent Wolf could have been an interesting character to follow, but his arc is very generic, leaving him with nothing interesting to do.  It’s crazy to think that this movie stars Donnie Yen, Michelle Yeoh and Jason Lee Scott (from Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story), yet I see more of two younger, unknown martial artists than anyone else.

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Pictured: Donnie Yen, trying his best

Spending forty minutes on the “younger” characters was a terrible decision.  I didn’t want to watch Crouching Tiger because I wanted to see these character’s problems.  It would have been exciting to watch Donnie Yen and Jason Lee Scott fight in a struggling battle.  Instead, we spend minutes watching the young female train, falling in love, and having more character development than Yeoh’s character.

I love Michelle Yeoh, but she does nothing in this movie.  She just walked into every scene to move the plot forward.  There was zero enhancement of her character.  The original establishes her character as someone who doesn’t trust anyone, yet I don’t see that at all in this sequel.  The first time someone asks to train with her, she accepts.  In Ip Man, it takes forty minutes for a character who doesn’t train anyone to be forced into doing so.  Also, Yeoh’s character has no real conflict.  Every character says she is not forgiving, but she forgives throughout the movie!  She supposedly doesn’t want help, yet accepts it several times in the movie.  The only scene that worked for her is when she first interacts with Donnie Yen.  He’s happy to see the love of his life, so he is shocked that Yeoh wants nothing to do with him.  In the next scene, they speak without Yeoh making eye contact.

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Boring the audience until the 30-minute mark is an acceptable way to tell a story, because it heightens the impact of that first big moment.  This movie milks the boredom out of those thirty minutes for all they’re worth.  I looked several times at the clock thinking, “When the hell are they going to fight, or do something?”  Sure, I know there were fight scenes in the movie, but none were eye-popping or dramatic.  This movie has seven to eight fight scenes with no purpose.

The biggest problem for me was how the fight scenes were shot.  A camera angle they used frequently was the overhead angle (or helicopter shot).  Once or twice it can be effective, but when it is a martial arts film, you want to see the choreography up close, not in far-away shots.  (For what it’s worth, poor choreography is usually signaled by far-away shots; not saying any of it is bad in this movie, but that’s how it appears.) 

We know all of the actors are highly capable of making amazing action scenes, so let them play with simpler angles!  That way, the fights feel more personal.  Bruce Lee used POV’s when fighting his opponents, Jackie Chan used closer angles, and Sammo Hung used facial reactions.  Not only did none of the hits feel personal, but the actors’ reactions weren’t there.  Hero is a similar movie that is more about the art of fighting than brutality, yet the battle of the minds is one of the most iconic fight scenes out there.  Why is that?  Not only is the scene emotional thanks to the music, but also you feel a sense of honor between the two opponents.  This leads Donnie Yen to killing himself after he realizes he cannot win.

After watching, it made sense that this film went direct to Netflix.  I am all for Netflix distributing martial art films.  That way, people in the western hemispheres can view them the day they are released instead of waiting an eternity.  But, show the genre some respect!  Just because it has a title everyone knows, the best fight director in the last twenty years, and Donnie Yen, that doesn’t mean you can just skimp on the fight scenes and the story.  I feel that no one making this movie had any emotional/artistic attachment to this film, judging from how bored all of the actors looked.  Even the subtitle sounds like it was thought of by someone who would’ve rather been rearranging his sock drawer that day.

3/10

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Has The Way We Make Movie Trilogies Changed?

by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

“When I grow up, all my trilogies will have four movies!”—Typical Hollywood Producer.

Ever since the Harry Potter series ended with a two-part conclusion, we’ve been getting more, and more two-part endings to trilogies.  The Hunger Games and  The Avengers are the best examples of this phenomenon.  This leads to the question—do trilogies matter anymore?

Big franchises that set you three or more movies are supposed to show the complete arc of both the plot and the story for the characters.  To properly show the ending to a journey, you cannot rush it.  The filmmakers who made the last two Harry Potter films knew this.  This is why they split the 800-page source material into two movies.  However, because of the success of both films, a trend was born.  Even though it may seem like trilogies are running stronger than ever (there are even trilogies entwined within trilogies in the Marvel MCU ), I believe that the lack of definitive endings to characters’ journeys, and the over-saturation of trilogies are what have cheapened the value of the trilogy.

Nowadays, the first part of the last chapter feels like nothing more than build-up to the inevitable part two film.  Even Harry Potter 7 was a victim of this to a certain extent, because The Deathly Hallows – Part 1 could not have a conclusion, since it was just the first half of the series’ ending.  I heard the same complaints about the first part of the final installments of  The Hunger Games and Twilight series.  Besides money, why split the last movie into two parts?  Oh wait, I just answered my own question.  Let’s look at The Avengers trilogy (or whatever you want to call it, since it two will be four movies).  Does Tony Stark’s character change at all in these films?  How about Thor?  In Thor 2, Thor still believes that Loki can come back to him, after Loki proved to be rotten in both Thor and The Avengers.  Sure, these films are not supposed to be dissected.  But we are only looking at the surface. If character arcs and complete stories are things that kid shows get right, so should the Marvel MCU.  In Gargoyles, important, consequential things happen.  Goliath realizes he needs to leave the castle roughly 90 days after he started living there, and Goliath and his clan took out Xanatos and were arrested.  Ever since Thor’s introduction in 2011, he still falls for all of Loki’s tricks.

Additionally, many trilogies have now received the franchise sticker, meaning that Hollywood can make a movie for the same franchise every year and make box office cash year after year by releasing a new film as a part of their larger pantheon of films.  Examples of such franchises are Star Wars, the Marvel films, and Harry Potter.  Star Wars soon will be the weirdest trilogy explanation.  Before Disney, it was simple: Original and Prequel trilogy.  Basic and easy to pinpoint which ones were good and bad.  Now, we will have seemingly one-off movies (Rogue One, the Han Solo film) in between and after the movies of the sequel trilogy.  How will audiences be able to identify which ones are which?  I guess it will be as simple as George Lucas’s gold, George Lucas’s crap, and Disney’s reign of mediocrity.  As a result of the oversaturation of franchises and their yearly films, the idea of having trilogies becomes less valuable.  I used to get excited for trilogies, because they wouldn’t happen all that often.  In a lot of ways, superhero films and Star Wars movies are turning into Bond movies.  The character’s problems don’t roll over into the next film; everything is just a self-contained story.  Look at how little Iron Man 3 and Cap 2 actually mattered to The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  None of the MCU films feel like they are completely resolved at the end (save for Iron Man 3, which, thanks to Age of Ultron, ended up not mattering anyway), because there is always a bigger picture.

I know that The Lord of the Rings is essentially a 10-hour journey to the bigger picture.  But, at the end of each film, you see the end of the main characters’ problems.  At the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo had changed from a boy to a man.  In The Two Towers, Rohan stopped and defeated Isengard.  The Return of the King resolves the final battle.  But when you are watching Cap 2, you wonder, “Why is this movie about Hydra, when Loki just killed Odin, and Thanos is still out there?!  Shouldn’t something much bigger be happening now?”  Most of the Marvel movies do not matter, because we know that Avengers 3 (in all of its dual-parts glory) is supposed to deliver (at least some sort of) closure to the current MCU era.

The other major element that cheapens trilogies is simply low-quality sequels.  With The Man with No Name, Indiana Jones, The Lord of the Rings, and the original Star Wars trilogies, great care was put into making each film. That’s why they are regarded as some of the best trilogies ever made.  But for every good trilogy, there are numerous bad ones that were ruined by one or more movies.  In such trilogies, it’s apparent that the studio was more concerned with making a trilogy for the money, rather than because they truly believed there was enough fresh ideas to be used over three films.  Just look at Alien 3 and Terminator 3.  Also, there are sequels that are made to continue an unfinished story (RoboCop 2). Sometimes the filmmakers fail to capture the feel of the series established by the original (RoboCop 3). Additionally a trilogy can sour if the story becomes very convoluted (The Dark Knight Rises).

The idea of a trilogy is very exciting, as long as the nature of the story established in the original film lends itself to multiple sequels. I hope that one day trilogies will, overall, no longer over-saturate the market, and are again handled with the care by film studios.

 

A Look at Avengers’ Past, Present, and Future

by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Not many film series begin with a FIVE picture plan, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The Avengers, like it or not, was a big success, but it could have been a big failure.  Back in 2008, audiences sat through Iron Man, a decades-old character that no one cared about (kind of like the Fantastic Four now).  But, swooping in was none other than Robert Downey Jr. to save the character.  After that film’s success, Marvel chose to capitalize on its Avengers-teasing post-credits sequence by advertising the proposed film with four more films.  Now, four years after the first Avengers film was released, I am looking back at the success of The Avengers, what its popularity means now, and the future it has paved.

Recently, I watched the film for the first time since seeing it in theaters, and I have to say that the film doesn’t hold up.  The reason being that, as a superhero fan, I am burnt out on origin stories.  For several years, Marvel, DC, and many other comic book companies have been restarting various series over and over, retelling the origins of its characters.  With the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we were given three origin stories (Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America) and two other set-up movies (The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2) just to see another origin story in The Avengers.  The whole movie is about them getting together to fight a common enemy.  It felt like a waste of time, having seen the five “set-up” movies.  Hell, the first six films felt like the start of the Marvel animated show, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (which ran from 2010 to 2012).  The first five episodes set up who our characters are.  Then, the sixth episode is about the “alien” attack that forces them to team up.  Sound familiar?  I wish the movie would have started with something like the Avengers (unwillingly) already assembled by Nick Fury.  They’re all in a room in the opening scene.  Fury walks in and gives them their objective.  From there, the personality conflicts would ensue.  With five set-up films, this movie was supposed to just give us The Avengers from the get go, like how 90s comic book cartoon shows (Batman, Spider-Man, and X-Men) did with their titular characters.  But, Marvel did not see the reintroductions as needless, because they wanted to pull in a more general audience who did not see the previous films.  And, it worked.

Marvel’s first Avengers film grossed triple the amounts of Thor, Captain America, and The Incredible Hulk.  Normally, sequels either do slightly better or worse.  (Look at The Empire Strikes Back, The Harry Potter films, and The Two Towers).  In terms of both storytelling and box office success, the first five MCU films meant nothing when viewing The Avengers, because in Marvel’s mind, that movie was the actual franchise starter.  In terms of both box office and critical and fan reception, The Avengers defeated the other 2012 superhero tentpole—The Dark Knight Rises, which is part of a series that was considered the king of superhero franchises for four years.  The new king, The Avengers franchise, had its eye on a new goal: keeping its fan base while increasing its range.  Both Iron Man 3 and Captain America 2 did insane numbers compared to its predecessors.  How?  It attracted fans who watched The Avengers.  It was evident that every MCU film after The Avengers would be instant gold.  Sure, there were misfires, such as Thor: The Dark World, Ant-Man, and Iron Man 3 not being that great, but Marvel was still on its way for a repeat.

With Age of Ultron, many people, including myself, were excited to see what Marvel would do with the series.  Unfortunately, it was more or less a repeat of The Avengers (this time they take on a NEW villain who also has an army and wants to take over the world!).  What the sequel didn’t have going for it that Avengers did was freshness—by 2015, we had already seen the Avengers team up once.  As a result, the movie did not do as well.  (Look at the numbers: Age of Ultron made over $160 million less than Avengers’ $623 million gross).

Now, does this mean that superhero films are not as popular now?  Not necessarily.  Look back at the 90s.  The 1989 film, Batman, was a phenomenon that made Batman the king of superheroes again.  But when Batman Returns came out, the movie flopped compared to the first one because of how unusual it is.  That same year, though, Batman: The Animated Series came out and was crushing the animated series market.  Batman was still popular.  Age of Ultron did not do as well as its predecessor because of quality, not because of audience’s fickleness.  What Marvel needs to do to keep its audience is to morph with its consumers’ changing tastes.  The Revenge of the Sith is a good example of this.  After backlash at the lighthearted and/or dull films, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, Lucas created a more serious Star Wars film for the fans.  The Empire Strikes Back is another example of this.  It was a drastically different film from A New Hope, and it slowly transformed into what is considered one of the greatest films of all time.  The two Avengers films, by comparison, are more of a flat line.

As for the future, the third and fourth Avengers films are coming in 2018 and 2019, respectively.  I am already not impressed.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe, for its lifespan, has been retreading ground that we have seen for the last fifty years, by telling the same stories straight from the comics (aside from Infinity Wars, just look at Winter Soldier and Civil War for other examples).  After a while, the comic book fans viewing these movies might not care anymore what happens, because they’ll grow tired of the lack of originality.  And, casual moviegoers will grow tired of every story not actually ending, but instead setting up for another film or twelve.  Perhaps future movies will become more and more identical in terms of rehashing origin stories, following famous comic book story lines nearly beat for beat, and being one giant advertisement for an even bigger movie?  Only time will tell.

I’ll Have What Deadpool’s Having

Several times in the past, producers (Hollywood) have misunderstood why a certain movie was so successful.  Typically, Hollywood oversimplifies the reason behind the success.  As a result, several knock-offs are made, with the selling point being whatever Hollywood thought was the selling point for a movie’s success.  X-Men spawned the trend of superhero movies being cool for the masses, Dark Knight inspired gritty/“realistic” superhero films like Man of Steel and Winter Soldier, and Avengers set off the “fun/kid-friendly trend”, which set the stage for Iron Man 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy.  Now, Deadpool seems to be starting a new trend.  Since the R-rated film’s overwhelming opening weekend, 20th Century Fox has reportedly been considering making Wolverine 3, a movie that is of an all PG-13 franchise, rated R.  What this infers is that they do not understand what actually made Deadpool a success.  It was mainly because of the diehard Deadpool fans, Ryan Reynolds, the widely accessible comedy, and the inventive marketing.  The R-rating was a no-brainer, given all the other elements.  That said, the question of this article is not, could the R-rated superhero movie really become the new trend?  Rather, the question is, how could this be a positive trend?

A successful R-rated action movie is far less common now than in the 70s thru 90s.  Deadpool is most certainly such a rarity.  But it was a featherweight action movie, not “hardcore”, as many moviegoers have been calling it.  The movie’s mainly rated R because of its vulgar humor.  Now, if Wolverine 3 were to be rated R, it would logically be because of the violence.  But would upping the rating matter?  The answer is no, because the Wolverine series is fundamentally flawed, for the simple reasons that Wolverine is supposed to be an unlikable and invincible character, and is therefore a weak choice for a protagonist.  (Why rob Wolverine of what makes him Wolverine—his selfishness?  And, what tension is there in watching a protagonist face any conflict when he can’t die?).  Did it make a difference when the sequel was set it in Japan?  No.  The box office showed that; movie made even less money than Origins!  As with a radical location change, a higher rating does not correct such fundamental flaws.  Sure, you can get away with more, in terms of violence, language, etc.  But if you’re just doing it for shock value, then you’re doing it wrong.

What the best violent movies teaches us is that when you show violence in movies, make it quick.  A huge criticism I had with Deadpool is that I would see a real image, and then it would cut away to an obviously CG shot.  Such an inconsistency was obvious, because it was going on for so long, and was the center of attention.  As a result, it completely took me out of the movie.  When movies were “really” violent in the 70s thru 90s, they would show very little of it.  The Exorcist’s neck twisting is very iconic, yet it’s only a few seconds long.  Let’s look at something that is not violent—bullet time, the most groundbreaking action filmmaking trend in the last 17 years.  Introduced in The Matrix, bullet time was used sparingly in the film, proving once again that less is more.  Then, we received several movies that replicated this effect, such as Transformers, Underworld, Matrix Reloaded.  Here is the thing: when you replicate without enhancing, you fail to be original.  As a result, your product suffers.

In the last fifteen years, PG-13 movies have flirted with the R rating by being very graphic, but doing it tastefully. Lord of the Rings is a film that could easily be rated R.  It’s a medieval film where droves of people are killed in brutal ways.  But, how is it PG-13?  The blood is black.  Therefore, it’s more fantasy-like, and less graphic.  (But, don’t be fooled; heads being chopped off and catapulted is disturbing).  And it’s not like 2000’s X-Men was not graphic.  Did we forget about the flashback of Wolverine being tortured under the experiment Weapon X?  Wolverine was covered in blood and the experimenters appeared to be Nazi scientists.  The scene is fairly graphic and intense for a “kid’s movie.”  Nine years later, that same scene was shown in neutered form in X-Men Origins, by way of no blood.  Perhaps we now need an R-rating to get the same level of violence that we saw fifteen years ago in PG-13 movies?

Overtime, movies go through trends, which start off as a positive, then turn into a negative.  I hope Deadpool was a transitional movie into a period where we see movies that are sensibly rated R, and not for shock value and because “it worked for Deadpool”.  We now know that an R-rated movie that is predominantly vulgar humor with a little action can make serious bank.  But now we should see darker-toned movies (that call for an R-rating!) be rated R.  Movies like Blade Runner, Terminator, and The Matrix would love to get the spotlight now.  What I don’t want to see happen is the R-rating turn into a marketing ploy.  Hopefully, this trend is used to its full potential by delivering serious movies that are so intense, in terms of tone and style, that they earn an R-rating.

“Burger Corp” Pitch

By: Richie Watkins

The following is my pitch for a satire of today’s American filmmaking.  The issue a lot of people take with modern movies is that there is not enough diversity in the casts.  And, when there is, the non-white/non-male characters are still criticized for being either not relatable or embarrassingly stereotypical.  This story would point out how to create strong characters, by pointing out the weaknesses in its poorly developed characters, regardless of sex or race.

This story would also satirize the overbearing business model of several corporations, namely their ruthlessness, corner-cutting, and excessive practices.

Setting

St. Louis, MO–Present Day

Backstory

In 2012, the burger corporation Burger Corp bought the rights from now-closed, but once-prosperous, diner Burger Soul to make and sell “Mama Mammoth”–the most beloved cheeseburger in the world.  Unfortunately, Burger Corp foregoes hiring actual chefs to make it on a large scale.  Instead, they add a bunch of fat and additives.  Plus, they serve it with a bunch of unnecessary sides, like hot wings wrapped in bacon and tortillas.

Synopsis

Upon catching wind of the company’s plans, a group of diehard fans of the original Mama Mammoth steal the plans, with the intention of releasing them to the world, and causing worldwide rebellion to Burger Corp’s operation.  Alas, they are captured, but not before one of them faxes the plans.  But, the rebel leader accidentally dials the wrong number, and instead of it going to his trusted colleague, it goes to a 32-year-old burger flipper named Jeff.

Jeff discovers the plans, encoded with a message to a man named Joe.  Jeff seeks out the only Joe he knows of–the former owner of Burger Soul.  They band together with a female warrior, Justine M. Powers, to rescue the rebels and take down Burger Corp once and for all.

Characters

Jeff: He has always thought it’d be cool to do something with his life, “like buy a house or something”.  But what he really wants to do is be a pro burger tester.  Jeff is easily amused, but he is not easily impressed by just any burger.  That is why he despises his job at Burger Corp.  “It just doesn’t have the soul!”, he says.  Jeff speaks and reacts passively, but leave it to a girl to bring out his true emotions!  Jeff will be played by Owen Wilson.

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Justine M. Powers: Strong, independent, and perfect in every way, Justine is determined to take down BurgerCorp, because they forcefully demolished her sprawling family neighborhood to make way for a kid’s playground that connects to an adjacent BurgerCorp restaurant (there’s 12 in St. Louis alone).  Her family severely injured, she vows revenge.  She is also the love interest of Jeff.  Justine would be played by Chloe Grace Moretz.

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Joe: Lost his sense of taste 10 years ago, so he sees Jeff as the key to making amazing burgers again.  Joe hates everyone, except for Jeff and Justine.  If he doesn’t think you’re a worthy successor to his legacy, or extremely attractive, he will make fun of you.  He can be a real grouch, but is also very encouraging to Jeff.  Joe loves to reminisce about the good old days, and complain that he’s not as good as he once was at making burgers.  Joe would be played by Danny DeVito.

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Max Million: The CEO of Burger Corp, Max wants to be Joe, but progressively becomes angrier every time he realizes he’s not.  True to his health nut persona, the angrier he gets, the less he eats.  He always sends his henchmen to chase Jeff, Justine, and Joe, and constantly holds meetings to tell his henchmen about where to attack our heroes next.  He would be played by Andy Samberg.

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Asian Rebel Leader: His goal is to tell everyone about BurgerCorp’s operation support system. Ken Leung would play the Asian Rebel Leader.

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Black Rebel: His goal is to make everyone laugh, but always fails.  He later realizes that his goal should be to make a difference in the final fight, and actually be a respectable character. The Black Rebel would be played by Kenan Thompson.

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Hipster Rebel: Doesn’t try; makes fun of everyone for trying to reach their goals.  He would be played by Michael Eisenberg, marking the first film where it’s revealed that Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg are, in fact, one and the same.  The long-time hoax was to score more acting roles, due to his handicapped acting abilities.

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The Action

There is plenty of action to behold between our heroes and the bad guys.  Why, those hot-headed, half-assed henchmen chase our perfect, powerful protagonists all throughout the city of St. Louis.  They fight on the Metrolink, use various animals from the zoo to battle each other, and ferry chase while shooting at each other on the Mighty Morphin Mississipp (in which it rises and lowers, and spins without warning).  I bet you lost your breath just reading that!  Well, get your oxygen tank, because there are 12 other action sequences to endure!

 

Choreography 101: What is Reality?

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by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

It has been a while since I made a post in our Choreography 101 series, but the wait is well worth it.  This week I’m talking about how a lot of movies I see break reality in fight scenes.  Nothing is more jarring in a fight scene than when a main character is suddenly revealed to be physically capable of certain things, even though we had no prior knowledge of it.  It would be like if Indiana Jones, mid-way through a movie, started fighting like Agent Hawk in Armour of God. It wouldn’t make sense.  So how do you keep a characters’ physical abilities consistent?  How do you make your audience believe what you are showing them?

Setting up your universe:

Every movie needs a universe, especially action movies.  It doesn’t matter if the universe is small like Rocky, or big like Star Wars¸ but there needs to be one.  In the first thirty minutes of an action movie, the director should show an action sequence.  That way, the audience knows how the fights are going to be for the rest of the film.  Whether it is a brutish slugfest like in Rocky, or if the fights are well-choreographed like in a Jet Li movie, the audience needs an introduction.

Not only that, your characters need to be consistent with the universe.  Look at Jackie Chan in Mr. Nice Guy.  He is a cook who doesn’t know martial arts, which is why he is not a cop.  Fifteen minutes later, he is taking on the best of the best in hand-to-hand combat.  It’s pretty hard to suspend disbelief, isn’t it?

But when you look at another one of his movies, such as Rumble in the Bronx, they demonstrate the speed and accuracy of Chan within the first ten minutes of the movie.  They also tell us that he is a martial arts expert.  Right then, I am able to get on board with Chan kicking the crap out of anyone.  Plus, he is fighting ordinary men throughout the movie, which is evident when none of them show martial arts abilities. Chan destroys them in one or two punches.

What I notice when watching good action flicks is how well the main protagonist’s skills are illustrated.  In Commando, John Matrix is considered the best of the best.  Yes, he eliminates EIGHTY people with no effort, but it makes no sense that directly afterwards he can hardly take on one out-of-shape bad guy in hand-to-hand combat.  Although this movie is amazing, this scene is pretty ridiculous.

Stop making your hero cool for coolness’s sake:

The perfect example of this is Legolas from the Middle Earth franchise.  In The Fellowship of the Ring, Legolas is equally as good as some of the other characters in the fellowship.  Sure, he jumped on a troll and two-for-oned a Uruk-hai, but that was the biggest thing he did.  As we continued in The Lord of the Rings, he was depicted as the most skilled character by far, but he was still believable.

Then, the head scratcher came in The Hobbit movies.  For some reason, Legolas was more skilled in these movies than in The Lord of the Rings.  How?  Why could he just jump from barrel to barrel or take on an army by himself?  So many movies want to have action scenes just because they have the technology to do so, and because they think the audience will think it looks cool.  The biggest problem with this is the filmmakers don’t understand the phrase “based in reality”.  If a movie tells me that Superman can jump only fifty feet, then ten minutes later he flies around the world, then the movie is forgetting its own rules.

In Fist of Fury, Bruce Lee takes on the entire dojo in the first fight scene.  Then, Robert Baker demonstrates how menacing he is in a later scene.  It makes sense these two have an awesome battle in the end.  However, there are also movies that don’t set up how awesome the villain is, which makes the final fight so much less exciting.

Romeo Must Die is guilty of this crime.  Earlier in the film, the main bad guy tries to see how quick Jet Li is.  Jet Li shows that he is much quicker than the main bad guy, yet the final fight is still about five minutes.  Why?  In the movie they do not explain how the villain became such a threat.  All they would need is a simple line of dialogue, like “I’ve learned his weakness”, and base the fight off of that.  Some sort of explanation would have made the movie more accessible to people outside of martial arts fanatics.

Explanation goes a long way:

One of my other biggest problems with fight scenes is when the filmmakers expect you to just know what is going on.  For example, how does Captain America go from hand-to-hand combat to doing parkour?  We had never before seen him do parkour in the movies.  You cannot change a person’s style in a fight scene just because.  And I know, most would say to me, “It’s a fight scene, who cares?”  If you are watching the movie (especially an action movie), then you should care.  It’s like when you are watching a horror movie.  When they scare you a certain way, the movie is set up to scare you in similar ways again.

0:00-4:40–Non-Parkour Cap; 4:40-5:00–Parkour Cap (from Winter Soldier)

So, a character morphing from one style to another in an instant doesn’t make sense.  Why does the fighting style of the lightsaber duels in Star Wars change from The Phantom Menace to  Revenge of the Sith?  How do the Jedi unlearn that style by Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope?  Movies should try to explain some things to us, so we know what reality they are based in.  Look at The Matrix—it takes an hour to set up its reality. By the time a fight scene happens, you are blown away.  In contrast, look at its own sequels. Suddenly, Neo is all powerful outside of the matrix too.  Why?!

From now on, before you call a fight scene realistic, be sure that it makes sense within the context of the movie’s universe.