All Gory. No Glory.
Let’s define the Action Movie Genre and its elements. Traditionally action movies involve a plot focused on a central character who wants something, a goal, an object, a desire for revenge or rescue. James Bond and Indiana Jones films are action movies. The Fast and The Furious franchise produces action movies. Big film sequences with a little dialogue and fantastical crashes, fights, explosions, and stunts are meant to titillate and thrill an audience. Spectacle for spectacle's sake on the big screen often plays well. Action fills the screen. It's loud. It’s got impact. It can be cool to see. Unfortunately traditional action films with character driven plots, no matter how thin, are being replaced by a new paradigm, the nearly plot-free "Death Ballet."
To appease and capitalize on foreign markets, chiefly Asian markets, American and European distributors are pushing for indie action films with digitized stunts and buckets of blood, a blitz of mindless shooting, maiming and death so beautifully photographed that it nearly reaches the level of high art...if high art could be found in a butcher shop. Tarantino may have set the stage for the modern death ballet with Kill Bill 1&2, a virtual opera of martial arts, blood, and guts. The Kill Bill plot is razor thin but the spew of cinematic guts seems endless.
Gunpowder Milkshake, Nobody, Birds of Prey, and Sucker Punch — All of them seemingly influenced by and directed to an online gaming audience. Preconditioned to watch a parade of mayhem and blunt force trauma, gamesters experience action at a breakneck pace. No plot is truly necessary. No introspection, subtext, message, or meaning beyond the visceral thrill of endless death is required. On the other hand, it's absolutely beautiful to watch. The craft of filmmaking is wildly evident in modern splatter films. Cinematography, effects, choreography, and makeup are all brilliant. Their scripts however are not.
The hard truth about filmed spectacles without a story is that they are often dull. After an initial presentation of choreographed death dances, limbs akimbo, bullets flying, the premise quickly wears thin. There is nowhere to go with a spectacle than up...more blood, more bodies, more elaborate ways to deliver death to keep you from checking your cell phone. Heaven forbid you miss a beautiful beheading, the music score swells and the bombs explode to delight you. So, are you really delighted?
Sit through a modern death ballet on Netflix or Amazon, mark the exact moment when you lose interest, mark the exact time when the film escalates its violence and clatter. Notice how pretty it all looks. Notice how fast a wounded hero springs to his or her feet. Notice how there's no story beyond a weak outline and one note characters. The film craft that went into these movies is absolutely astonishing. Everything is perfect except for the script. Forget everyone on screen being ground into burger. The real victim here is the screenplay, poor thing, it never stood a chance.