Genre Wiki Wednesdays: Volume 1 – Action

The action genre – being the most broad of all – proved itself to be a more difficult undertaking than initially anticipated. For one, some of my favorite actioners of years past have inherently belonged to one genre that more specifically defines them. Take for example this year’s Oblivion. While noticeably imperfect, the film is ostensibly grounded in an alternate, moreover dystopian sci-fi universe, the lead character using heavy firepower as a means of completing a universe-centric string of tasks. This in mind, Oblivion – at least to me – is primarily a science fiction effort laced with a necessary focus on action elements.

The same thing goes for films based on science fiction mediums, much like Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of 2002’s Minority Report, of which was based off of a Philip K. Dick short story of the same title. This aside, I’ve decided to stick with more basic, contemporary definitions of the action genre despite some films’ slight propensity to fall into the dramatic spectrum. In other words, things frequently go boom as events play out in an intelligent, sometimes emotionally satisfying matter.

Adventure and Superhero

Relatively self-explanatory with the latter becoming ever-popular as of late, action-adventure films pride themselves on a sense of discovery through the very mention of the word “adventure.” Whether it’s a tangible discovery or an internal evolving or maturation, these films merely incorporate a slightly meatier focus on their action-oriented elements amid the journey at-hand, taking the viewer along for the ride via pure immersion.

As for comic book/superhero films, the same goes for origins stories and the inherent world-building attributes they possess, the most recent example of which is Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. From film to film, Marvel’s churned out a surprisingly gratifying series culminating in one of the highest grossing productions to date, Whedon’s ability to pack all of these heroes into one big-budget, intelligently humorous moreover thrilling extravaganza remaining super impressive. Naturally, and throughout the course of several films, we’ve journeyed along with these heroes – matured even – from their individual bouts of self-discovery regarding purpose to teaming up to battle an intergalactic menace. If these cinematic experiences don’t instill a sense of adventure in viewer, I don’t know what does.

Comedy

Action-laced comedies presumably walk a tricky thematic and tonal tightrope, as those aiming to produce them must be able to distinguish between what’s serviceable and what isn’t. Put plainly, would you rather a string of increasingly lamebrained buddy comedies (Rush Hour) or those of recognizable poise (Hot Fuzz). Being on polar opposite sides of the quality spectrum (in my opinion), the two examples I’ve provided vary wildly in terms of their approach.

Regarding the former’s behalf, director Brett Ratner’s inclination to exploit his leads’ respective skill sets trumps nearly all semblance of valued narrative intelligence. In the case of Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, the director is clearly familiar with the varying tropes of comedies of this stature, coupling an effective sense of humor with carefully placed pseudo-dramatic bits and one hell of an over-the-top climax. While it’s easy to pinpoint which is the better film in this case (again, my opinion), comedies of quality in this vein are – plain and simple – easily capable of being recognized. Given the specificity the term “comedy” implies however, there leaves very little room for innovation within the subgenre except by way of brand of humor (family-friendly, R-rated, etc.) and subtle plot-related divergences.

Click here for a graphic displaying my favorites from these two initial subgenres.

Martial Arts

Having not thoroughly familiarized with this particular cinematic niche, I’ll be withholding my presently sparse musings until I’m more worthy of dissecting it.

Thriller

For the uninformed, action-thrillers nowadays can’t quite be bunched together as easily as they once were, all due to the recent uprising of a movement known as “vulgar auteurism.” In short, these so-called vulgar auteurs have made noticeable waves throughout the bombastic blockbuster circuit, but not in the traditional sense. Instead, they pride themselves on the visceral exposition of the simpler side of the genre – the action, sans substance of course. Paul W.S. Anderson’s most recent entries into the long-standing Resident Evil franchise are prime examples of this – films that undeniably sport the director’s singular strengths as a purely visual filmmaker, the individual narratives falling by the wayside to promote the more superficial (but involving) attributes.

This isn’t to say that the action genre is dead – not by a long shot. As a prime example, films like Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol have established a legacy for themselves – a legacy steeped in engaging back story, emotional gratification and, above all, a brain. While the below list denotes my unfamiliarity with the defining mid-to-late 80s blockbusters, I am however familiar with their legacy, more so the side of it that continues to influence the genre today. From blatant, tongue-in-cheek efforts (The Expendables) to the legends that never but should die (Die Hard), there will always exist a hidden agenda that aims to emulate the classics to varying degrees.

Click here for an infographic displaying my favorites from these two latter subgenres.

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