Action movies have become sterile dullness

Tom Cruise attends the World Premiere of “Top Gun: Maverick” on May 4, 2022 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images,,) Getty Images,,

Movies have a Marvel problem, and it’s not the subject matter or source material that’s to blame. Notably, Marvel’s most recent Spider-Man movie, No Way Home, was filmed almost entirely on a green screen. Even the most basic settings (a living room, a New York street corner, a run-of-the-mill restaurant) are digitally inserted as the backdrop to whatever part of the plot is being played out. This result is sterile, dull and lifeless. The actors cannot interact with their environment in any tangible way; they perform while continuously floating in space. It’s disconnected. This is not a grand artistic decision by Disney. VFX artists are not unionized, as opposed to film crews and production people. They are often overworked, paid little and taking on twice as much work. All because the company owns it 40% of all media in the United States wants to save some money. The criticism should not fall on the VFX artists themselves; this is systematic. The problem is that they are a relatively new workforce abused by an industry that has adapted to more than a century of box office booms and busts. The need for outrageous smash hits and the refusal to invest in the people who actually make them with any semblance of vision has manifested itself in a perfect storm of soulless greed. Rather than being treated as a separate entity from art, ‘content’ has been swallowed up and slowly but surely absorbed by ‘art’ relative to popular culture. Content is meant to be digested in a never-ending cycle. Slurped through the latest streaming service announced. It is ultimately the result of passivity and circumstances. All this creates a mentality of incursion in the modern moviegoer. The system fosters that mindset and feeds it by cutting off circulation to something else.

In 2022, in addition to the usual rise of superhero movies and box office hits, three visionary action vehicles manifested themselves. Michael Bay, SS Rajamouli, and Joseph Kosinski are all action directors with vital, clear visions that stand out in the harsh landscape of new superhero franchise releases. Bay Ambulance enjoy real-world stunts and one-takes that are so daring it will have you on the edge of your seat. RRR, Rajamouli’s fantasy action phenomenon, uses overwhelming CGI. Kosinski manages to strike a sweet spot between nostalgia and adrenaline with the sequel to the original Tony Scott film, Top gun: Maverick. All films offer a way away from Marvel’s stronghold on the dwindling theatrical experience; its own genre shows itself a way forward.

‘You’re a bad cameraman, dude. You have to take action. Bad cameraman!” Michael Bay teased a man who recorded him on his own phone. Bay handed it over to film himself trying (and failing) to score a goal while visiting an empty football stadium in Spain during a press tour for Ambulance. That statement, while common, is a striking example of “Bayhem,” a buzzword that combines “Bay” and “chaos” and is intended to streamline the conceptualization of Bay’s style. The premise of Ambulance is simple enough – in a bank robbery gone wrong, the robbers seize an ambulance called to the scene of the crime to help an injured officer and use it for the decade’s escape. In a film where a police SUV literally crashes into a camera, Michael Bay gets very much into action. He places himself and his camera in the center of it and lets it wrap around him like crinkled steel around a concrete partition. Being in the heart of non-stop movement creates a feeling of unease, disorientation. The more attuned to the chaos on screen, the more the viewer feels that their life is on the line. With heartbreaking drone work, the audience is literally immersed and dragged into the havoc, dragged behind the destruction left in the wake of the red and white vehicle turned into a battering ram against the barrage of agents on its tail.

India’s most successful contribution to big and bold action in 2022 takes the form of RRRwhich grossed $175 million worldwide and became the third highest-grossing Indian film ever. RRR (Rise up, roar, revolt) is a mythical retelling of two true revolutionaries, Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan) and Komaram Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao Jr.), who fought against the British Raj and the fictional friendship that develops between them. Instead of every set and action being smothered by CGI, RRR is enhanced by the computer images. From the hurling of a jungle cat at an enemy to an almost superhuman dance, the awe-inspiring feats displayed on screen transport the viewer into a state of sensory ecstasy. The amalgamation of technology and man-made vision makes it a film that relies so heavily on precision in execution and choreography that you can only be surprised it was made at all, let alone with such flair.

although RRR took the world by storm, Ambulance failed at the checkout. Michael Bay’s name was once synonymous with big hits, guaranteed money back in the pockets of investors. But these days, the only guarantee seems to be in Disney’s monopoly. Just when hope faltered, Top gun: Maverick arrived on the spot. In this sequel to Tony Scott’s ’80s hit, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell returns 30 years later to the Navy flight school known as Top Gun to train an elite group of graduates to survive a mission that appears to be inhumane. Boldly self-referential by using much of the same soundtrack, revisiting the same dynamic, but empowering its legacy and namesake with dynamic filmmaking. It positions the viewer within the action. Bay Ambulance packs you into the titular ambulance with its fiery trio, Independent thinking person crams you into the cockpit with Tom and company. You feel every twist and tug of the jet, the pressure on your chest, the sun in your eyes.

What these three films offer is an opportunity for growth in an industry that seems to be caught in a hamster wheel of visionless money-making. The box office domination of the new avatar proves that audiences will flock to see original works of art that aim big. The Marvel Machine can only be sustained for so long. Eventually, perhaps sooner rather than later, audiences will grow tired of the same characters being weaved into the same stories. The expansion of the Marvel Universe will reach a point where there is nothing left to expand, no more “intellectual property” to tap into. Now, for the first time in years, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. If we as audiences can put our trust in artists, especially those who want to take artistic risks on a grand scale, we can slowly but surely break out of the monotony.

This is not to say that being a fan of intellectual property is not valid, but rather that art should be in the hands of artists and creatives, not fans. Diversity in perspectives and creation has been the driving force behind every art movement throughout history. Those tired of the status quo stepped forward and created opportunities for other voices to be heard. It is not snobbish or elitist to want better for an art form, for its audience, for the realization of an ability that you know is possible. The potential of modern films is beyond comprehension. Technological advances in motion graphics are reaching heights that were once unimaginable, let alone achievable. But the heart of film will forever rest in human performance. A vision always needs a visionary.

Action movies have become sterile bores and need more human vision

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