Saturday, August 2, 2008

How can the Climactic Fight alter your perception of a Super Hero Movie Part 4

The most important part of any movie is the climax, that moment when all the threads of the story you have been following (theoretically) come together to give you some sort of resolution. In Super Hero movies that resolution is virtually always achieved through combat. A great climactic fight can save a bad movie and a horrible climax can ruin a good one. And sometimes it makes no difference...

While every genre has certain conventions which must be observed it is perhaps the Super Hero movie which is most reliant on a particular element. Romantic comedies must have a boy gets girl element, even if there are movies such as The Break-up (2006) which defy that convention and do not have a stereotypical happy ending. Westerns can have the hero die as John Wayne did in The Cowboys (1972) or even be set in places other than the west as the entire Star Wars franchise was. But a Super Hero movie without over the top action and fights? Uggh.

Test this theory out. Go watch the Hulk (2003), the vastly and rightfully maligned version. Watch it as a character study. It is actually an excellent movie. Clearly Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) has issues. He struggles with guilt. He struggles with identity. And most of all, he battles with who his Father (Nick Nolte) actually is. The movie is a very deep movie on some levels and takes a long, hard look at that. If it were marketed as Pan's Labyrinth (2006) was it would have been a niche film to be sure but very highly regarded in that niche. Unfortunately, it was marketed as a Super Hero movie.

As a result, the final, climactic battle...well, actually, the complete lack of one...destroyed the appeal of the movie. The battles with the Army along the way were not much better. People went to see a Hulk fight and got introspection and weirdness.

Contrast that with the epic battle between the Hulk (Edward Norton) and the Abomination (Tim Roth) at the conclusion of The Incredible Hulk (2008). Oh smurf yeah. Now we are talking. This fight was what Super Hero fans are looking for. It had huge amounts of fisticuffs. The moment when Hulk rips apart the police car and pounds the Abomination with it is awesome. The portion where the Abomination sends the Hulk careening through buildings is outstanding. And in a tremendous homage to the Hulk fanboys know and love, we even get a verbalized Hulk Smash. This fight is over the top, destructive, impressive, and satisfying.

An easy comparison would be the final battle between Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and the Iron Monger (Obadiah Stane). It is surprisingly short. Of course, the action bringing us to this point was plenteous and entertaining but the climax seemed like it had just started when it ended and, significantly, ended not by the efforts of Iron Man but actually at the hand of Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Yet despite the length and somewhat unheroic denouement, the fight was a great conclusion to the movie that left the audience feeling satisfied. This helps demonstrate that the length of the climax does not necessarily make or break the meaning that fight imparts to the film.

Arguably, the climactic battle of Daredevil (2003) was between Daredevil and Bullseye, not the Kingpin (Michael Duncan Clarke). It went on for quite some time. Actually, the climactic battle was among the lengthiest in Super Hero film history, starting with combat between Daredevil and Elektra, moving on to take in Elektra against Bullseye,

and then moving on to a sprawling battle between Daredevil and Bullseye. That portion of the movie is quite lengthy and moves from rooftops to a cathedral including a tremendous set-piece on the organ. But even then it is not done as the barely able to walk Daredevil makes his way to the Kingpins office for the final confrontation.

For all its length and interesting situations, somehow the fight did not capture the attention of the audience and the movie failed. This indicates a great climax cannot save a movie. Of course, the almost complete lack of any combat can pretty much ruin one. Lets check out one of the best action pictures from Superman Returns (2006). It looked a lot like this:

Okay, so that is a visual joke. But not much of one. Having Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) serve as the primary villain pretty much doomed the final battle to lameness and as a result, the movie has not engendered a huge call for a sequel.

Clearly it is incumbent on a Super Hero movie to have some sort of super fight. It can be short or long as long as it is there. Movies like The Hulk and Superman Returns struggle to entertain their audience without them. Arguably, without the dog fight and the psychedelic mind-meld, had The Hulk had this
we might never have gotten The Incredible Hulk because we wouldn't have needed it to satisfy.
Open memo to writers, directors, and producers of future Super Hero movies. Please, give us a satisfying combat to finish up your flick. Remember, whatever else you are trying to do, whatever questions you are trying to answer, remember your core audience; people who enjoy super fights. Remember, even a movie like The Dark Knight (2008) which is primarily about what it takes to corrupt good people, it still offered a fantastic and action packed finale to resolve the various story lines. I think I am on pretty safe ground in saying people enjoyed it more for that than they would have a group session in therapy.
Super Hero movies, whatever else they do, whatever other ground they cover, they still, in the end, are about action. And that, more than any other factor, makes or breaks the movie.

1 comment:

Riot Kitty said...

I liked Kevin Spacey as a villain, but the end (comical) didn't fit with the rest of the movie, you know? There's that dramatic near-drowning, and the plane sequence, and the cave sequence, and implication that he might eat a chihuahua.