How to Make a Good Action Film: 11 Lessons From Modern Movies
We've drawn 11 lessons from the last five years of action movies, using the cream of the adrenaline-supplying crop to create a game plan for future dispensers of shock and awe.
- •Create a world (John Wick)Part of the charm of John Wick is that it creates its own discrete universe of bywords; it's the kind of thing that is tantalizing because it suggests so much is left being unexplored.
- •When possible, go practical (Mad Max: Fury Road)When a car blows up in Mad Max, there's a chance you're seeing it blow up for real. CGI, which rarely manages to create a proper sense of weight and movement, just can't compete with the awe practical effects inspire.
- •Star power matters...(the Fast And Furious movies)The real secret to the franchise's longevity isn't the stunts, but the savvy casting. Effortlessly diverse, the Fast And Furious ensemble is stocked with action heroes with which people of many people can identify. And it's female cast is just as capable as its male one.
- •...But sometimes physical talent matters more (Haywire)Anyone with a real appreciation for fight choreography can forgive Gina Carano's less-than-polished performance and just focus on the way Soderbergh captures her pure prowess, maximizing our view of the analog ass-kicking through clean camerawork and editing.
- •Don't be afraid to get weird or serious (Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning)Day Of Reckoning is an action movie where the viewer quickly learns that basically anything can happen, be it a grisly fight in a sporting-goods store or a character seeing his double on a security camera.
- •On the other hand, don't be shy about leaning into the ridiculousness (Lockout)Lockout likes its overstuffed plot points almost as much as it likes its hammy one-liners. The movie demonstrates a valuable lesson: If you can't make it great, make it fun.
- •Build anticipation (13 Assassins)Most movies shoehorn plot and characterization in the downtime between action scenes; Takashi Miike stacks it all in the front. The result is an exhilarating 45-minute battle sequence that hits hard.
- •Or just never let up (The Raid: Redemption)The Raid simply has the good sense to waste little of its running time on perfunctory story, giving the audience an unbroken supply of exactly what it came to see.
- •Let the camera serve the action (Man Of Tai Chi)Director Keanu Reeves uses a loping camera and clear cuts to create and maintain a sense of movement; it's always in service of the action.
- •Manage those visual lines (Drug War)Every shot here has a purpose, and almost every cut is built around specific visual lines. Why go for shaky handheld and jumbled cross-cutting when your action sequences could be Hitchcock-tense?
- •Privilege the set pieces above all else (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol)Ghost Protocol recognizes that these self-contained spectacles are the raison d'être of the franchise. More action films could stand to follow its just-the-fun-stuff lead.