They Don’t Make Action Movies Like They Used To…

John Wick is really good

I love action movies. I love love looooooove action movies. Whether they’re legitimately awesome like Point Break or The Raid, or a cheesy good time like Con Air, action films are perhaps the earliest form of true escapism in cinema. That’s just what these films are for, escapism. They don’t need to be anything more, or anything less, and there is a real artistry to pulling these together. To me, John Wick and The Raid signals an incredible resurgence in this kind of title, good fun and from time-to-time a little goofy. The market has been responding positively as well with John Wick 3 absolutely killing it’s opening weekend!


So, I wanted to just put this little piece together to lament the lost techniques used by action film directors in the 80s and 90s, when the action was silly, the kill counts were high and the actors didn’t even need to act, they just had to look good in a tank top.

Yes, this is just an excuse for me to talk about things and compare them to John Wick.


Multiple shots per event… event… event…

No films that I have seen in recent years do the “multiple shots for each car crash, barn destruction or grenade detonation” anymore. You know the one I mean, usually from different heights and angles. I suppose this was done in the old’n days to really show off that effects budget that the movie has. Filming one stunt from multiple angles is an efficient way to make sure you get one decent take at least. Films have not really revelled in this recently though, choosing to opt for the best take, rather than just throwing in everything they have.


This is one of the things that was everywhere in the 80s and 90s, but if you see it now, it adds more comedy value than badass-ery.


That really weird slow motion

The Matrix is wicked. One thing it did do for the industry is improve slow-motion shots far beyond what had previously been possible. Rather than taking an approach as most other movies; filming and slowing down the frames to be slower, The Matrix did this entirely through a virtual camera. Filming The Matrix in the traditional method would have required some unbelievably fast camera work on the behalf of the Wachowski Brothers.


This absolute domination of the action scene meant that nobody else could ever use regular slow motion again, you’d look ridiculous. This film revolutionised action scenes for the next few years, until slow-motion was “slowly” pushed out to make room for infinitely better action scenes, such as those featured in The Raid.


Nobody jumps away from explosions anymore

With the growth of stunt budgets and the ever-growing expectation to be blown away at the cinema, we have seen more and more action films cause absolutely ludicrous destruction, at all times, for any reason. You need only look at Mission: Impossible as a series to see how action has become ramped up to 11 as the times have moved on.


Back in the era of Con Air, Nicolas Cage would jump out of frame as an explosion went off behind him, it looked awesome then, but is seen as cheesy now, parodied in films such as Hot Fuzz. I choose to use ‘parodied’ and not mocked, because this is always done with endearment and respect for the subject matter.

However, now, directors and story board artists are throwing their actors and respective stunt doubles all over the joint to get the wildest, most insane, that-would-have-definitely-broken-a-bone action scenes possible. Why do our secret agents never dive for safety anymore? What has gone so horribly wrong in today’s training regimes that means that our elite task forces get blasted by every missile in the battlefield. Seriously, look at that scene from a Mission: Impossible film below, that rocket was barely near him, wuss.



The writing

The writing never needed to be good back then. Character interactions fell flat, stories were usually just “them Russians are pretty evil, aren’t they?”, clichés and cheesy one-liners were at the ready to tie a neat bow on any action sequence. I’m not saying I want it to go back to being quite that bad, but I think films like John Wick go a step in the right direction, don’t take it all so seriously.

If films back then were “crazy and over the top”, they just did their own weird thing, like Mortal Kombat Annihilation, they don’t need to be self-aware to be fun. I think films like Mad Max: Fury Road do this perfectly, the crazy stuff is all routine within the world, the premise is simple, you get it, you have fun. It is amazing to see this style of story telling beginning to make a comeback.


As much as I love Speed, most of the script for that movie sucks, so this new “no padding” approach to film making is the perfect way to modernise the action block buster.


The trailer voice over man

Not really about the films per se, but what happened to this voice over man? Inception literally ended this whole man’s career. That was it, the moment his talent was made redundant, over. Like slow motion and The Matrix, only this time, it was a real human life which was cast aside, outdated, in the gutter.

So, here’s to that guy, wherever he may be, narrating Britain’s Got Talent, or commentating on some niche sports at 3AM on Bravo TV. Is Bravo still a thing?


*Image above might be that guy, it might not, I don’t know. This was the image returned for at least three, very vague Google searches for him


Seriously, John Wick is really worth watching

Anyway, I’ve rambled a bit about something which doesn’t really matter, if you made it this far, have you read my other stuff?


This kind of block buster escapism is still evolving, and that is awesome to see, much like clothes and fashion, frames and story boarding can become out of date too. I’m excited to see where action films can go, and when the current reigning champs of this genre are sentenced to role of grizzled, disgraced cop. Leaving room for the new, fresh faced loose cannons come onto the block.

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