In the 90s, we had a plethora of action movies that consisted of a muscle bound guy standing still, shooting a machine gun from the hip, and just mowing down faceless henchmen, and it was awesome. Schwarzenegger in Commando, raiding the enemy stronghold, with shit blowing up everywhere, and an endless stream of bullets that magically only hit the bad guys, is one of the best action sequences in movie history. But it doesn’t exactly hold up to modern standards…
After the turn of the century, we had movies like The Matrix, The Transporter, and even Equilibrium. Instead of standing still, the action heroes actually moved around. They took cover, dodged, and even looked scared at times. When they fought, they actually aimed and reloaded their guns on occasion. Things were slightly more realistic. Kung Fu movies were getting more popular. Jet Li did Romeo Must Die in 2000. Tony Jaa made The Protector in 2005, and Jeeja Yanin made Chocolate in 2008, the same year Donnie Yen did Ip Man.
Fight choreography was the thing now. We no longer wanted to see big lumbering oafs throwing wild punches at each other, and while I love the original Star Wars trilogy and the Highlander movies (well, some of them at least), we no longer wanted to see people make slow swings at a point two feet in front of their opponent so their swords could hit and make a bunch of sparks. We wanted to see an actual fight. We wanted people to jump around or roll on the ground, we wanted fast strikes and believable action.
Fast forward again, and Keanu Reeves made John Wick. Like John Matrix in Commando, Wick is an unstoppable force. He’s going to go from point A to point B and leave a pile of bodies in his wake. But unlike the Transporter’s Frank Martin, John Wick is going to get hurt along the way. He gets shot, punched, stabbed, hit with a car, and just generally fucked up. It added another level of realism to the movies. Sure, Wick still has a lot of plot armor sewn into that bullet proof suit he wears, but he’s still human.
Then we get to Jason Statham and The Beekeeper. I feel like he didn’t quite get the memo yet. Watching The Beekeeper was like watching Commando. Jason Statham basically walked in a straight line kicking asses. Sure, they made sure to keep the action up. The fight choreography is there, but I don’t think a single person actually so much as grazed him with a punch until he fought the final goon.
Way back in the 90s, the Punisher gave us the first rule of in knife fighting, “You’re going to get cut.” John Bernthal would recreate this scene in the Punisher series, and the line would be repeated during a training scene in Divergent. Statham must not have been aware because he goes through several knife fights without a scratch.
Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson kind of have the same problem. In fact, the problem is contractually obligated. They want to stay back in the early 2000s, where only the bad guys got hurt. For the Fast and Furious movies, the fight choreography was done by lawyers with calculators determining how many times each actor could punch the other. And when they did get hit, they’d make a serious face and shrug it off.
I don’t want to see Hobbs break off a full body cast and then go into a fight as if nothing happened. I want to see Hobbs slowly stand up bleeding from a dozen cuts and clutching his side, grit his teeth, THEN punch a guy through a concrete wall before limping away to the next fight.
I mean, I get it, it’s fun to play Doom with god mode enabled, and I’m sure Superman has a blast walking into a room with a bunch of low level henchmen, but watching that kind of thing is rapidly losing my interest.