Action scenes

Ear­li­er this week I read an arti­cle on io9 about why you shouldn’t write action scenes, an arti­cle aimed at screen­writ­ers, espe­cial­ly those mak­ing big-bud­get action movies. Then this after­noon, I went to see one of the biggest action films cur­rent­ly in the­atres: Avengers: Age of Ultron.

From the arti­cle:

You don’t do an action sequence for the sake of doing a damn action sequence — you do an action sequence because it’s a new or more effec­tive way to advance your char­ac­ter or sto­ry.

Ultron fea­tured a lot — a lot — of action sequences. The bulk of them, to my eye, were action for the sake of action. A few of them — the mass fight at the start, for exam­ple — fea­tured some char­ac­ter build­ing. Among oth­er things, it estab­lished the team as an actu­al, cohe­sive team, and it showed the start of the Widow/Hulk sto­ry­line. But a lot of the lat­er action sequences were there, it seemed, to Make Things Explode. More than once I found myself won­der­ing when they were going to get back to the sto­ry. (That, or try­ing to cal­cu­late just how much mon­ey Stark’s rebuild­ing fund must burn through in a year. It’s got to be a lot.)

This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the movie. I liked it. It was a pleas­ant diver­sion. For a big stu­pid fun movie, it was decent­ly smart (though the whole plot hinged on a cou­ple of super­ge­nius sci­en­tists mak­ing some pret­ty bone­head­ed deci­sions).

Once more, quot­ing from the arti­cle:

Don’t write action sequences. Write sus­pense sequences that require action to resolve.

We’ll call Ultron a par­tial suc­cess there. Here’s hop­ing that the next film I see — slat­ed to be Mad Max: Fury Road1 — does as well or bet­ter.


Update: I watched Mad Max: Fury Road on the hol­i­day Mon­day. Even though the movie is one pro­tract­ed action scene (or maybe it’s more like a dozen or so action scenes, linked togeth­er with brief paus­es so the audi­ence can catch their col­lec­tive breath), it had more char­ac­ter devel­op­ment and sense of sto­ry than Avengers: Age of Ultron. So that’s a win.


  1. I appear to have a thing for com­mas2 colons in movie titles. 
  2. Typo. Gah!