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One consequence of Hollywood being dominated by superheroes and franchises is that by the time you're my age, you've seen about 6,000 action set pieces.
Some are spectacular; many are...
not.
And it's pretty easy to distinguish between the two because the reaction is physical.
Has adrenaline is then released into you system or not? Are you gripping your armrests or not?
After watching all these set pieces, I think we've sort of been forced to develop an intuitive sophistication about them.
There are no shortcuts to thrilling an audience that's absolutely drowning in this stuff.
We recognize and champion good work when we see and feel it.
I think that's the secret to the success of franchises like Mission Impossible, Fast & Furious, and John Wick.
These are movies that are committed to well choreographed, well edited, real action.
Okay, not always real.
Tom Cruise understands exactly what he's offering:
3 or 4 genuinely creative setpieces with a serviceable plot that doesn't take itself too seriously,
and a few charismatic actors can be a really fun movie going experience,
Well worth the price of a ticket.
In fact, this formula, I think, in many ways defines the strategy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Some of those movies are undoubtedly better than this, some are unfortunately worse
But they've tried their best to hew to this baseline and I think it's worked out pretty well for them
[Thor: Anyone else?] Every ingredient matters, of course,
But the Marvel setpieces have been really consistent by and large,
and they're probably the things that I remember most when I think back on these movies.
Now I know there's a certain amount of fatigue these days about superhero films
- I feel that way too, more and more -
but you know if I ever think back to my expectations as a kid for what big screen superhero team-up fights would be like,
I mean, this definitely exceeds them.
"That thing does not obey the laws of physics at all!"
"Look kid, there's a lot going on here that you don't understand."
"Stark said you'd say that. Wow."
The sad part about this, is that, as a kid, I read DC Comics. Not Marvel Comics.
And unfortunately the DC Extended Universe setpieces
leave a lot to be desired.
There are a lot of reasons for this,
I think that people have explored before Zack Snyder's preference for stylized coloring versus the more muted cinematography of the MCU,
the overuse of super slow motion,
and ridiculous virtual camera moves like this:
But there are a few other things
I want to point out that I think make a bigger difference when it comes to superhero set pieces.
The first is that...
We all know that superheroes do a lot of absurd things.
Half the shots that Iron Man takes would be fatal blows
But people have an intuitive sense for weight and velocity, and impact.
Which is why any camera action usually gets a more visceral response from audiences.
The physics are absolutely real.
This doesn't mean that all CG is bad,
But if you're going to use CG,
It's a good idea to pay a lot of attention to the cues that people pick up.
In the first setpiece of Winter Soldier, for example,
The Russo brothers do a great job at gauging Captain America's strength level for the audience with only a few shots
They lace these in with real hand-to-hand combat to enhance the realism.
Or, take Spider-man, a heavily CG character:
It's easy to establish his physics because he's swinging on elastic bands,
and it's a different type of physics than Iron Man's, or the Hulk's.
Too often in DC movies, the physics just don't matter
or the camera is doing something that makes everything feel weightless,
Taking away the real force of a punch for example.
"I don't even understand the physic of how my toes hurt!"
And there's not enough difference between the heroes for the audience to really feel the power levels.
Nothing is graceful or tactical. It's all just brute force.
Which brings me to my second point.
"Just can't seem to miss."
-"Hm, first time for everything." -"Made you look."
It's not always the case but there's a good number of times in the Marvel movies
Where powers interact off of one another in ways that you can't predict.
[Jarvis: Power 400% capacity. Iron Man: How about that?]
Or they take something routine, like someone bailing from a car, and just go the extra step.
In DC films, every character is a blunt instrument,
Only doing the most obvious thing,
which in Superman's case is usually punching.
This frustrates me so much because Superman has a laundry list of powers
There has to be some way for him to combine them in a creative way to solve a problem or defeat a clever villain.
I know a good filmmaker can figure it out.
Finally, the one thing that Marvel is really good at is the ability to slip character moments into the cracks of big setpieces.
Every action scene has its pauses when everything stops and the characters get to say a line or two.
[Rocket: I live for the simple things. Like how much this is gonna hurt.]
Here are the things that Marvel characters say on those pauses:
[Black Widow: We're still friends, right?]
[Hawkeye: It depends on how hard you hit me.]
[Spiderman: Thor, Hulk, good to finally meet you, guys.]
[Spiderman: Thought you'd be more handsome in person]
[Hawkeye: Thor's taking on a squadron down on Sixth. Iron Man: and he didn't invite me.]
[Drax: You! Man who has lain with an Askervarian! Star Lord: It was one time, man!]
[Captain America: You got heart kid, where are you from?
[Spiderman: Queens. Captain America: Brooklyn.]
Now here are the things that DC characters say:
[Wonder Woman: Please don't make me do this.]
[Superman: And I'm gonna stop you.]
[Batman: Oh, son of a bitch.]
[Wonder Woman: You overestimate yourself.]
[Wonder Woman: We'll see about that.]
[Superman: Next time they shine your light in the sky, don't go to it.]
Crafting good setpieces won't solve all the problems plaguing the DC EU,
They can't make for a good movie alone.
But I think you'd be surprised how much people forgive when they've had a genuinely bracing experience at the theater.
Eventually, the people behind the DC EU will figure it out.
Until then, I'm afraid it's just gonna be a whole lot of this:
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