Monthly Archives: September 2012

A is for… Assassins

Assassins (directed by Richard Donner) is a fairly average action movie in the sense that there’s a protagonist (Robert Rath) who shoots people, and an antagonist (Miguel Bain) who likes to shoot more people and has more fun with it.  Throw in a woman (Electra) without a lot of redeeming qualities and a change of pace towards the end that kills the momentum, and the result is a movie that starts off trying but gets lost in itself.

Rath (Sylvester Stallone) is a hit man who is looking to retire, but there’s one more mark he agrees to kill because the payoff is so large.  However, in his way is Bain (Antonio Banderas), another hit man who is assigned to the same mark.  Complicating the plot a bit is that Bain looks up to Rath as a hero, because Rath is considered to be the best hit man.  Also, Rath finds himself unable to kill the mark, a cat-obsessed woman named Electra (Julianne Moore) who is selling secrets to the Danish.  Rath then protects Electra from Bain and they somehow form a partnership where she’ll give Rath the disk she was going to give the Danish men, in exchange for an equal share of the money he’ll get for the disk.

In order to make the exchange, disk for money, Rath returns to the International Bank, a location he’s been sharing with the viewer in flashbacks.  Here his partner, Nicolai, was killed by a sniper across the street.  But no, it’s revealed that Rath was the one who killed him, and now Bain is planning on taking out Rath the exact same way.  Cue endless scenes of waiting as Rath’s theory of Bain’s behavior is proven correct: Bain will wait to shoot until he can see Rath’s eyes as he leaves the bank.

Waiting, waiting, waiting, finally Rath’s transaction at the bank is complete, $20 million is in his hands to split with Electra.  She, however, is too incompetent to complete her part of the plan (snatching up Bain’s rifle when he gets frustrated and comes downstairs), and Bain almost kills them both.  But wait!  Rath’s partner that he supposedly shot is actually alive, and has been the one assigning Rath’s and Bain’s marks!  A tedious stand-off occurs but ends with both Bain and the partner dead on the ground, and Rath and Electra taking their twenty million off into the sunset, so to speak.

For a movie about rival hit men fighting over the same mark, the story devolves into a strange love story-slash-suspense flick that doesn’t seem to say what it really wants to say, or perhaps it just doesn’t say what I had wished it would say.  I liked the buildup to Rath’s meeting with Electra, but everything after that doesn’t make enough sense to me.  I suppose I just wanted some action, and instead was treated to a scene where, to illustrate how much time is passing in the movie, a guy waits so long for something to happen he has to urinate into a bottle.

But, how does it fair with the 26 criteria?

 

A is for… Accents

True to form, Bain has an accent, though it’s Spanish rather than British or Eastern European.

However, the “true” villain, in the sense that he’s been the one pulling the strings to get Bain and Rath together, Nicolai, is Russian.

 

B is for… Bad Guys

Bain is at times an enjoyable villain, but not exactly one that stands out for any reason, either.  He’s a hit man competing with the film’s protagonist, so already he’s not a terrorist or really unique in any way.  He views Rath as sort of his hero, basically saying that Rath is the best hit man out there and his goal is to be even better than he is.  He gets his opportunity when he’s assigned Rath as his mark.  Bain’s got long hair that looks like it needs to be washed.

Bain’s depicted as crafty and competent when he kills many police officers in a matter of minutes while he’s locked in the back of a police cruiser.  He’s also portrayed as being fairly crazy, such as when he and Rath are watching the soccer game and he shoots the ball and then threatens to kill one of the players simply to get his way and prove his point.  It only emphasizes that he’s extremely homicidal, illustrated when he kills a good percentage of the people in his way throughout the film.

What’s interesting is that Rath is able to guess Bain’s entire final plan at the hotel and International Bank, because, as Rath explains, “[Bain] loves history.”  Yet throughout the film Bain is also shown to be fairly impatient and impulsive, so either Rath had one heck of a bead on him after meeting him very briefly, or some work needed to be done in the film to develop this historian side of Bain.

Ultimately Bain meets his demise because he tries to kill Rath a final time.  Had he left him alone and “played dead,” he would have been able to get out of there alive.  So in addition to impulsivity, Bain is prone to hubris.  These characteristics do not make Bain stand out, because a lot of, if not most or even all, action movie villains suffer from at least one of these qualities.

Bain is somewhat interesting because of the way his craziness makes the viewer cringe a little, but he’s also not extremely memorable, either.

 

C is for… Chases

The chase scene here is towards the beginning of the movie, when Rath chases the cops to get to Bain, and when Bain escapes, Rath steals a taxi and picks up Bain and the police chase them.  Other than Bain’s kill count, nothing about the chase is special unless you count Rath chasing the cops, but it’s really more that he’s following them than really chasing them.  He’s in his own Ford until he steals the taxi.  The police do have a helicopter on their side, yet Rath is able to pull the taxi into the depot, where it blends in with dozens of other taxis.  While amusing, it’s also rather anticlimactic.

 

D is for… Damsels

Electra is a surveillance export who is selling secrets, which is why she’s made a mark.  She lives in a modest apartment and is obsessed with her cat.  Maybe it only looks like obsession because I’m not a cat person.  She seems fairly competent at her job, including booking two hotel rooms for the exchange, forcing the Danish men to give her a deposit, and slowly putting the info on the disc and then deleting it when it becomes apparent something is wrong with her clients (if Bain killing them all counts as something being “wrong”).

Rath finds her before Bain does, and looking into her eyes causes him to decide to save her rather than shoot her.  She then tags along for the ride, eventually becoming his partner and then presumably girlfriend.

She is, however, sadly infuriating at times.  She tries to do the right thing and warn her neighbor that there’s a crazy man shooting up their apartment building, but fails to get to her in time.  She gives Rath a bogus disk when he tries to make the initial exchange which, yes, proves to be the right decision at the time, but could have gotten them both killed had the exchange been an honest one.  She fires a gun at Rath not once but twice in a motel, and yes it’s silenced but silencers wear out after a while.  Most obnoxiously, she almost gets herself killed in Mexico by leaving their motel and going to the Day of the Dead festival, against Rath’s orders and any fraction of common sense considering they’re expecting a killer to have followed them.  Any normal person would stay in the motel and not put themselves at risk, but not her!

 

E is for… Explosives

There aren’t a huge amount of explosions in the film.  The most notable is the gas explosion Rath causes in Electra’s apartment complex, because it both shows improvisation and also blows Bain out of the window.

The second explosion is the bomb in the suitcase Rath is given in exchange for the disk.  He throws it into a dumpster, and then it’s revealed that he hadn’t given them the correct disk anyway.

 

F is for… Flashbacks

This is one of those movies that’s sort of driven by flashbacks, but they also really slow things down, too.

The movie opens on a flashback, and the viewer knows it’s a flashback because it’s black and white, and has a slow, floating feel to it.  A man is doing business at the International Bank, and when he comes outside, he looks up into the camera and then gets shot.

The problem is that the same flashback is shown several times throughout the film, so while it was obviously an important moment for Rath because he keeps thinking about it, the pace of the movie gets slowed each time, especially considering nothing new is depicted in the subsequent flashbacks.

 

G is for… Guns

Check out the entry at the IMFDB.

For a movie about two hit men, there aren’t all that many guns used in the film. What does stand out, however, is the fact that most of the weapons are silenced.  Obviously Bain and Rath are more prepared than other people in action movies; they actually don’t want nearby listeners to hear them firing guns!

Rath hides a gun in a full-arm cast so people at the funeral don’t see it, which I suppose is interesting.  I truly did like that there was a slot cut into it for spent shells.  He really does plan ahead.  Bain has his rifle throughout the tedious stake out scene, until Electra finally manages to wind up with it.

 

H is for… Helicopters

This movie wasn’t so good for helicopters, as there’s only one, the police helicopter from the chase scene with Rath and Bain in the taxi.

 

I is for… Improvisation

While in a shootout with Bain in Electra’s apartment, Rath uses the gas line from the stove, combined with a trail of flammable liquid snagged from the pantry, to cause an explosion to distract/damage/kill Bain.  It’s enough to give Rath and Electra time to escape, and bangs up Bain pretty badly because it causes him to fall out a second story window.

 

J is for… Jumping Through Solid Objects

Bain manages to kick out the back window of the police cruiser in which he’s trapped.  At least he had control over that one, unlike the window he was blown through in Electra’s apartment.  Bain also falls through the floor in the burned out hotel.

 

K is for… Kill Count

For a movie about a hit man, the protagonist really only kills one person, minus the villain of course.  The movie opens with Rath doing his job, taking out his mark in a swamp.  Perhaps the movie was trying to show that Rath really isn’t a bad guy, he just happens to have a job that requires him to kill people.  The viewer isn’t even really shown if his marks are “good” people or not.

 

L is for… Limitations

Rath has a thing for getting caught up in people’s eyes.  He waited for Nicolai to look up at him before firing, and he doesn’t shoot Electra after staring into her eyes.  Rath also winds up feeling bad for her, so rather than complete his assignment he gets involved with Bain because he’s trying to protect Electra from him.  Rath’s empathy almost gets him killed multiple times because he just won’t let her go.

 

M is for… Motivation

Rath’s motivation for his actions is initially money.  He gets paid to kill people, plain and simple.  He tries to learn more about Bain for the sake of learning more about him.  Eventually, of course, Rath’s motivation is both money (for returning the disk), and ridding himself of Bain.  Mixed in is his desire for Electra, so part of his motivation is protecting her.  Surely $20 million also goes a lot longer than $2 million when split between two people.

 

N is for… Negotiations

There isn’t a lot of direct negotiation in this movie, unlike a lot of action movies, where the hero offers to let the villain live, and the villain wants something in return for not killing a hostage.  Rath does negotiate for $20 million for the disk instead of the initial $2 million.  Rath also offers $16 million to Bain to leave him alone, which of course Bain refuses because he’d rather take down Rath and claim his place as the best hit man ever.  At the very end, of course, is the typical “I won’t kill you if you don’t kill me” showdown, which Rath falls for and Bain almost kills him before Rath reacts and gets him first.

 

O is for… One Liners

Rath isn’t really one for talking a lot, either because he’s alone a lot and when he isn’t Electra won’t stop talking, or because he doesn’t have much personality.  He certainly doesn’t come across as having a sense of humor.  Therefore Assassins isn’t a typical action movie full of quotable groaners, with a guy talking to himself for no reason.  There are a few moments, though, where Rath isn’t talking to Electra and he gets to show a little character, or Bain shows his attitude:

“Cut your hair,” spoken by Rath when he sees a guy he thinks is Bain, but it’s just a guy with a similar haircut.

“I think I picked the wrong guy to be my hero,” spoken when Bain is disgusted with Rath’s incompetency.

“Happy birthday, asshole,” spoken by Rath—with a smile—as he blows up Electra’s apartment to stop Bain.

“I just killed your brother,” as Bain shoots fruit and eats another.

“Step outside and I’ll set you free,” and “There is no shame, you won’t feel a thing,” Bain doing his best to sound threatening.

“Goodbye, Miguel,” Rath trying to sound threatening.

Actually Bain is shown throughout the film to have a lot of personality, so perhaps it’s not surprising Rath doesn’t have a matching one.

 

P is for… Profession

From the very first scene after the initial flashback the viewer knows that Rath is a hit man, but it takes another few scenes for it to become apparent that he no longer wants to be a hit man.  He talks to himself about wanting out of the profession as he accepts another assignment.  He finally accepts one more assignment—Electra and the Danish men—because he’ll be paid $2 million for his work.

He is depicted as a very competent hit man, one who is prepared and plans ahead.  He wears boots in the swamp, and, as mentioned previously, he hides his gun at the funeral inside a cast and the cast has a slot for spent shells.   He also makes that initial mark shoot himself, which means Rath won’t have gun powder on his hand, and technically means he didn’t kill him.  He also clearly doesn’t enjoy random death, if his disgust at the death of the cops Bain kills is any indication.

It almost seems as if the movie goes out of its way to indicate that Rath is intelligent.  He wears reading glasses, plays chess—on a computer—and wears sweater vests and khakis.  He also uses room service logs to deduce Electra’s room at the hotel where she’s doing her transaction, by first getting the guard out of the way by calling in a power failure, then reading the logs and seeing that someone ordered only coffee and tuna, and also booked two rooms.

What’s interesting is that he tells Electra he’s a “government employee,” which makes the viewer question whether he is actually a government employee who functions as a hit man, or if he’s truly simply a hit man (albeit a very good one).

 

Q is for… Quagmire

Rath somewhat sets up his own quagmire by helping Bain recreate the circumstances surrounding Nicolai’s death.  Surely Rath could have gone to another bank, or snuck out the back door of the bank, or called the cops on Bain.  But he instead played along perfectly and almost screwed everything up, or, more accurately, Electra almost ruined the entire plan by failing to get the rifle away from Bain when he went outside.  Rath is stuck, but it’s sort of his own fault.

 

R is for… Reality/Suspension of Disbelief

Assassins doesn’t push too hard into “How many laws of physics were just broken?” territory.  Bain does kick out the back window of a police cruiser, which maybe is possible but still seems like it should be more difficult.  Rath pushes the envelope a bit further by pushing the emergency stop on the monorail at the exact right time to have it stop at the exact right place it needed to for him to hop out safely.  Maybe he’s familiar with the system, I don’t know.  It seemed awfully convenient.

I still have trouble believing that Electra is so stupid that she leaves the hotel for the Day of the Dead celebration.  I know I wouldn’t venture out on my own when there’s a guy out there trying to kill me.

 

S is for… Sidekicks

Despite all odds, including being his mark, looking innocent, and lugging around a cat, Electra somehow becomes Rath’s sidekick/partner.  He doesn’t kill her the way he’s supposed to, and instead uses her leverage of the disk to negotiate for $2 million without having to kill her.  The two of them then bargain for $20 million.

For some reason Rath lets her have his gun.  She almost shoots him with it.  She’s then trusted with one later on while fighting Bain.

The plan at the bank involves both of them—when Bain gets tired of waiting and charges into the bank to find Rath, Electra is supposed to grab his rifle from his roost.  She fails, but ultimately they manage to come out on top.

 

T is for… Technology

Interestingly, Rath uses what appears to be an early Instant Messaging program to talk to whomever it is giving him his assignments.  He uses a clunky—to a 2012 audience—laptop, and dial up Internet.  Pictures are sent through the computer, so either he’s using one heck of an advanced connection, or a lot more time passes than shown as those pictures download.  Bain uses a similar set up, which he can access from his bathtub.

Electra is a surveillance expert, a field that obviously uses a lot of technology that gets better and better month after month.  She is on Rath’s hit list because she’s selling a computer disk with data intercepted from a satellite transmission.

 

U is for… Unexpected Romance

Predictably, Rath falls for Electra and she falls for him.  Even if it wasn’t obvious from reading the plot summary, the very fact that they share a motel room seems to indicate future romance, and to set the gears in motion Electra puts one of the motel mints on the towel he rolls up as a pillow.  As he’s leaving her car to hand off the disk, he pats her hand, and they share a smile.

It’s clear he wants to change himself for her, or maybe would want to change professions even if he didn’t want to already.   He even tells her, “I’ve never depended on anyone in my life, but I’m depending on you.”  Then they kiss, and I gag.  I really dislike surprise romance in action movies!  Rath and Electra also bicker like an old married couple.  Until, of course, Rath says, “She’s always right.  Female intuition.”  This about a woman who ditches him to go celebrate the Day of the Dead.  Is her intuition to be shot?

 

V is for… Vehicles As Weapons

Rath uses the taxi he stole to try to slam Bain against a bus, as Bain is hanging outside of it.

 

W is for… Winning

Both Bain and Rath shoot Nicolai, who’d been pulling the strings the entire time.

In order to kill Bain before he has a chance to get off a shot, Rath uses the reflection of Bain in Electra’s sunglasses to see him behind him, and shoots through his jacket rather than taking out his gun and turning around.

Bad guys dead, Rath and Electra exchange their real names and walk off into their new lives together.

 

X is for… X-Rays, or Maybe You Should See A Doctor

Bain falls out a second story window and seems to only have minor cuts and bruises.  Bain also falls a lot through the rotting floors of the hotel.

In a surprise twist, Rath acknowledges he needs the hospital.

 

Y is for… Yesterday’s Problem Becomes Today’s Problem

Nicolai is alive and wants Rath dead.  Had Rath aimed for the head rather than the torso, a lot of the events of Assassins would have been unnecessary.

 

Z is for… Zone, In The

Though Rath doesn’t seem to know Bain at the beginning of the film, he is able to predict Bain’s actions down to the detail once they get to Mexico.  He knows getting the money will take a long time, he knows Bain will wait to see his eyes, he knows he’ll leave the rifle in the roost and come into the bank.

So, that’s Assassins. While not the greatest movie I’ve ever seen, it’s not terrible.  It’s actually fairly engaging until Mexico, where the pace deliberately slows as we watch Bain sweat while Rath is in the bank.  Many of the criteria are present in spades, even some not present in other action films.  I feel Assassins is Stallone being Stallone, and Antonio Banderas is very good as the lunatic Bain.  Julianne Moore is fine, but her character is fairly annoying with her cliché incompetency.

Onto the next film!

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The ABCs – 26 Criteria For Action Movies

The ABCs of Action.

It’s the name of the site.

Few people, if any, go into an action movie expecting a sublime, transcendent, life-affirming experience.  Usually people want the same sort of thing they’re already accustomed to from previous action movies, only maybe with a clever twist or a new take on something familiar.

Hollywood knows this.  Which is why I bring you…

Twenty-six criteria present in most action movies.  Something can’t be formulaic without the formula being in place.

Let’s dive in.

 

A is for…

Accents.

It’s no secret that in a lot of American movies, villains have accents. Either the villain is actually foreign and our hero is in his country, or the villain lives in/has infiltrated America.  It certainly makes Americans look xenophobic.  Maybe the British accent would sound less haughty to American ears if villains weren’t so often depicted with British accents, and Russian accents wouldn’t sound evil if fewer villains were depicted as Russian.

Cartoons are possibly the biggest example of this.  Scar in The Lion King is the only family member to have a British accent, and Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale in Rocky and Bullwinkle are “Russian,” though to be fair Rocky and Bullwinkle was created during the Cold War.

So, how many action movies have villains with accents?

An interesting reversal of this trope is also a characteristic of action movies: a lot of American action stars aren’t American at all. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Jackie Chan are all from countries outside the US. Granted sometimes they play the villain (Terminator, Lethal Weapon 4, etc.) but these men are all action stars.

What other heroes or villains will I discover to have accents?

 

B is for…

Bad Guys.

Obviously.

What separates an action movie from a merely guns-and-violence-temporary-escape-from-reality from a repeatedly watched favorite movie sometimes comes down to the villain. The viewer should ask, receive answers for, and care about:

Who is the villain?

What’s his motivation?

What does he do to get what he wants?

Is he particularly wicked, or fairly average?

 

C is for…

Chases.

Sometimes the most exciting part of an action movie, other than the hero/villain showdown climax, is the car chase. Or boat chase, motorcycle chase, airplane chase, dog sled chase, whatever methods of transportation are handy. There’s the heart-pounding music, the fast-moving vehicles dodging obstacles, sometimes gunfire, and goons falling off/into/over stuff. If an action movie wants to grab its audience’s attention, a dynamic chase scene is a good way to do it.

 

D is for…

Damsels.

For better or for worse, a lot of action movies have a female character that interacts with the male hero. Maybe she’s a loved one he’s trying to rescue. Maybe she’s a partner with whom he’s forced to work. Maybe she’s someone he found along the way. Maybe she’s the villain’s sidekick/lover or the villain herself.

Sometimes having to rescue a damsel in distress is the purest form of motivation for the hero. His wife/girlfriend/daughter/sister must be saved, and he will do anything in his power to save her.

Forced partnerships seem to involve a lot of “made up romance” (see “Unexpected Romance” further down the list) or downright antagonism as the hero wants nothing to do with his new female partner, and she resents his undisguised apathy or outright disdain.

Women found along the way—hostages, targets, wrong-place-wrong-time unwilling partners à la Speed—can become valuable partners or be a continual hindrance depending on how competent they are when the hero needs them to either accomplish something or refrain from doing something.

Female villains can pose a problem for the hero typically not used to fighting “girls.” Usually the villainess will dominate a hand-to-hand fight until the hero recognizes she means business. Then the hero treats her the way he’d treat any villain, often to her death.

 

E is for…

Explosives.

Explosives, explosions…Either way the typical action movie fan walks into the theater thinking “Gimme gimme gimme.” Sometimes stuff getting blown up is all a person asks for from a movie. Some directors *cough*MichaelBay*cough* take this wish too far, but a well-timed non-gratuitous explosion can make an audience reel back in excitement, or lean forward in anticipation.

What is getting blown up with what when for what purpose?

 

F is for…

Flashbacks.

Sometimes our hero is plagued by dreams, nightmares, daydreams, or simply scattered thoughts that form some level of his motivation. Did a loved one leave him? Did a partner die? What is the flashback and what does it have to do with the hero’s current circumstances?

 

G is for…

Guns.

Of course.

Not all action movies feature a hero who uses guns. But most of those on my list do feature guns. Big ones, small ones, multiple ones, automatic, semi-automatic, revolvers… When there are terrorists afoot, for what weapon does our hero reach?  Does the villain have something bigger?

 

H is for…

Helicopters.

Gotta love ‘em. They allow people to fly in tight, maneuverable spaces using vertical lift to perform tricks impossible with other vehicles. Some have guns on them, while some hold reporters documenting events. Does the hero fly one, or just the villain? Or are the police chasing our hero? With few exceptions, action movies require helicopters.

I find helicopters so interesting because they’re vehicles that everyone knows exist yet they aren’t an everyday sight like cars or buses, and generally have less screen time in television and movies of other genres. Seeing them up close either holding a hero, chasing something, or being used as a weapon is maybe not unique to action movies, but they’re the best places to find choppers.

 

I is for…

Improvisation.

This is one of my favorite categories. Sometimes all our hero has on him when the villain starts making trouble is his service weapon and his wits. If he’s lucky. So what becomes a weapon when few actual weapons are available? Is there an oxygen tank nearby? Maybe some hairspray and a lighter? Does gravity become vital to the plot?

It’s a lot more exciting to leave a theater thinking, “Did you see the way he MacGyvered that explosive out of gum and pushpins?!” than, “He used his gun, and then took a bad guy’s gun.”

The very fact that I can make a verb out of a character’s name and readers understand what I mean indicates how legendary improvisation can be.

What makes our hero human and creative when he can’t fall back upon his training?

 

J is for…

Jumping Through Solid Objects.

Generally a pane of glass poses no problem for our hero or villains. Movie-glass falls to pieces upon contact, which is why so many characters fall or leap through it without a second thought.

What else might the hero jump or fall through? A solid wall? Ice? The floor? A fence?

 

K is for…

Kill Count.

Generally the hero saves the day and seemingly is not prosecuted for any incidental death he causes during the process. Surely every kill was made in self-defense.

But just how high is that kill count? Did the hero only kill the handful of people directly in his way? Or did he take down an entire military compound? Did he cause a plane to crash or a boat to sink?

 

L is for…

Limitations.

Not everyone is super human. What limits our hero? Did he not put on shoes? Is he totally on his own or does he have a partner or crew that might be saving him at any time? Is he afraid of water/flying/heights/snakes/anything? Can he not be the badass he wants to be because his kid is watching?

 

M is for…

Motivation.

Why is our hero risking his life? To save someone? To keep something potentially dangerous out of the wrong hands? Fulfilling a promise? Because if he doesn’t no one else will? Just what keeps the hero from saying, “Screw this,” and hopping the next taxi or airplane home?

 

N is for…

Negotiations.

As explained in the “Bad Guys” category and in “Motivation,” the villain and the hero generally want something. Separate things, of course. Maybe the villain wants money and the hero wants to keep him from getting it. Maybe the villain wants to rescue a political prisoner and the hero wants to ensure that doesn’t happen. What conversation(s) do they have to come to a compromise? Is anyone willing to give anything up? What about negotiations for the life of the villain or hero–you know the kind, where the hero lets the villain go or helps him only to then be attacked.

 

O is for…

One liners.

Because so many action movies feature one hero or even a group of heroes working in different sections of a town/building/etc., there’s often only one conscious person on the screen at a time unless there’s gun slinging or explosions or chases. This leads to a lot of “silent” minutes that the hero decides to fill by talking to himself. Or maybe he’s trying to quip with the villain.

There are the “funny” one liners (Die Hard’s “Now I know what a TV dinner feels like”) and the ones that are intended to be serious but usually wind up funny either at the time or in retrospect (The Terminator’s “I’ll be back.”).

Is the hero in question being funny (or generally causing the audience to laugh or groan) or is he being serious?

 

P is for…

Profession.

What does our hero do? Is he in the military or law enforcement, and thus at least moderately prepared for gun slinging and hand-to-hand combat? Or is he a victim of “wrong place wrong time” and has to try to learn and improvise on the fly?

 

Q is for…

Quagmire.

What sort of particularly sticky wicket has our hero found himself in? Is he out of bullets, facing a bomb that’s about to explode, and a hostage is about to be killed? Is it his own lack of planning or an act of God or the villain being just that ruthless? Does it seem our hero has reached the end of his journey and only a miracle can save him?

 

R is for…

Reality, or lack thereof (aka Suspension of Disbelief).

Certain things are nearly always a given for action movies:

-guns will only run out of bullets if it’s a plot point

-someone who should be on the hero’s side will do something that hinders him

-villains outline their schemes or otherwise give away too much information that later helps the heroes defeat them

-cars will always explode upon impact with anything

-computer hackers can hack into any system, no matter how complex, in a matter of minutes (unless the plot requires that they can’t)

But certain things require the audience to suspend their disbelief more than the “typical” amount and therefore question what is possible in reality. Do certain things explode that volatilely when impacted with a bullet? Can a regular person kick/punch through certain materials like window glass or walls? Can a person hang on the wing of an aircraft as it takes flight? Are people really that stupid to the point where the viewer is rolling his eyes and wants the character to get killed, good guy or not?

 

S is for…

Sidekicks.

A hero is usually not fighting his fight solo. Sure, he’s generally on his own to fight the battle, but often he has someone either literally by his side, or someone he can count on to complete objectives from a distance. Who is the sidekick? Is he or she a long-time friend or associate of the hero? Or is it someone picked up along the way, either willingly or not? Just what is his or her role—muscle, morale, tech know-how?

 

T is for…

Technology.

First off, is there any, or are the characters pretty much guns-and-fists kind of guys? Or is the plot driven by technology—maybe someone needs a password or a harddrive or is running a computer mainframe. How does the hero use tech to help himself, or, what technology is the villain using that surpasses that of the hero?

 

U is for…

Unexpected Romance.

Of all categories, this is the one that makes me roll my eyes the most. You have a guy trying to save someone or some people or a building or a town or whatever, and somehow, even though he usually only met her a day or two ago, the hero winds up in love with or sleeping with the token female character.

Or my least favorite thing, badness is happening all around them or a timer is counting down or something is on fire or something needs to happen right away but the hero and the woman take the time to make out a little.

Because that’s utterly plausible in the real world. “This bomb is about to go off in thirty seconds and that hostage is about to be dragged to his death, but sure, we can play tonsil hockey for a bit. You know, it’ll help me relax.”

So. Annoying.

Maybe love at first shoot out exists, but can’t the romance wait until the hero knows the woman’s last name, she’s seen him without bruises and cuts, or at the very least the adrenaline is no longer in his and her systems?

 

V is for…

Vehicles as weapons.

Yet another of my favorite categories. To quote Matt Farrell in Live Free or Die Hard, “You just killed a helicopter with a car!” Love it though I do, that film in particular seems to devolve into “Have John McClane thrown a car at it. That’ll stop it.”

Other movies aren’t free of the trope either. Maybe it’s not a car. Maybe that motorcycle or powerboat or biplane has another purpose other than getting a person from A to B. The sheer creativity that goes into making a Jet Ski a weapon is highly entertaining.

 

W is for…

Winning.

You know it’s going to happen. No one goes into an action movie with any sort of remote thought that the bad guy will come out on top. It’s against convention and Hollywood and what people want to see. Good wins, evil loses. Case closed, let’s go out for pizza.

But how does the hero emerge victorious? A big shootout that ends with a lucky shot? A moped being thrown accurately? A handy chain dangling loosely enough to be used as a noose? A crash or explosion? What takes out the villain? Bonus points for it being the villain’s own fault.

 

X is for…

X-rays, or Maybe You Should See A Doctor.

This category falls partly into Reality/Suspension of Disbelief, because it’s very hard to believe that a guy who fell three stories through a building after getting shot after getting kicked multiple times in the face after surviving a car explosion can possibly be of any use against a villain who’s been walking around threateningly by himself in total comfort. When the hero is covered in blood and limping, yeah, usually he should be getting some x-rays and downing some pain killers, but instead he’s out there trying to finish the job.

Or maybe it’s the villain who’s been exploded or crushed or shot or otherwise should be in pieces or a coma yet he’s able to drag himself to consciousness for one last shot at the hero. Clearly in order to be a villain or a hero a person needs to be indestructible.

 

Y is for…

Yesterday’s Problem Becomes Today’s Problem

Any time the hero seems to have unfinished business, it comes back to haunt him. Maybe someone he met and should have realized was bad but didn’t. Maybe someone from his past he was supposed to kill but didn’t. Or did kill but didn’t do a good enough job. Maybe he never got those parking tickets cleared up and his car gets impounded right when he needs it. Maybe there was a skill he kept putting off learning. How did the hero make his life that much more difficult?

 

Z is for…

Zone, Being in the.

Often achieved through use of a montage, the hero is usually shown in some sort of “zone.” Maybe he’s building or training. Maybe he’s just thinking. There’s got to be some depiction of the hero developing himself or a tool to help himself.

Not all action movies are going to have every single criteria, but they all should come pretty close.