A shift is needed…

I saw Sucker Punch this weekend, and let me tell you that I never seen a more boring action packed movie!  It was awful.  It wasn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen; it had a good, strong start, and some cool visuals, but it wasn’t a good movie.  The story started out very well, with a decent plot, but it didn’t follow that plot to the end.  And it was jammed packed with a ton of action scenes that had no purpose other than to have an action scene.  But this blog post is not a review of Sucker Punch.  No.  This post is about action scenes in movies and books.

As I was watching the movie, trying not to fall asleep in the theater, I found myself thinking about the movies I’ve seen and the books I’ve read.  And before I knew it, I was asking this question:

Is there action for the sake of action, or is there action for the sake of story?

I think all action in books and movies should be there for the story, not to simply have an action scene.  In Sucker Punch almost every single action sequence was completely pointless, and was only there to either:

  • A. Add action to the movie for no good reason
  • B. Show off beautiful women in scandalous clothing holding weapons
  • C. Appeal to men who like mindless action or women with weapons
  • D. All of the above

Take your pick.  Without giving too much away, (Possible Spoiler Warning) every action sequence in the movie never actually happened. It was a “creative” way to show what happened but make it more epic.  It all happened in the minds of the protagonists who were already in a daydream…a fantasy within a fantasy so to speak.  When, in real life, all they did was swipe something.  Which, in my opinion, is stupid.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a guy, I like action in books and movies.  Action makes a story exciting and adds a level of fun to what you’re reading or watching.  Heck, I even liked The Expendables, which was all about action stars blowing crap up.  I also like women with weapons in stories, it’s cool.  What I don’t like is when the action is there simply for the purpose of having action or showing off.

All of the action in The Expendables was there because of the plot (no matter how little of a plot there was).  It wasn’t happening “just because”, there was a reason for the action in that movie.  With Sucker Punch it was there for no reason.  They could have replaced the action with a beatnik poetry reading where they spout out in rhyme how the girls stole stuff and it would have changed nothing in the story.  They could have simply shown exactly how the girls stole the stuff and it would have been more exciting.

I believe that in storytelling, action should drive the story forward or be apart of the story itself, not to simply be “people fighting for some reason”.  If a story has action simply to be action packed and exciting, but not for the sake of the story, then what’s the point of it?  How does it advance the plot along?  What do you learn?  Nothing.  You saw people fighting.  I, personally, would rather have a slow story with a great plot (like The King’s Speech (movie) or The Dispossessed (book), for example) than a fast paced story that has a stupid plot, or no plot at all (like Transformers 2 (movie) or Artemis Fowl (book), for example).

In the novels I’m currently writing, I have quite a few action scenes, but it’s a part of the story, it serve a purpose.  It’s not there simply to make the story more exciting, even though I’m sure it does.  It’s there to further the story along; character development, conflict resolution, it shows who the antagonist and protagonist are, and how they handle situations.  Needless to say, the action is there for the sake of the story, not for the sake of having action.

So, the next time you’re reading or writing a book, or watching a movie that has an action scene, ask yourself if the action is there for the sake of action, or if it’s there for the sake of story?

"You seem like a decent fellow. I'd hate to kill you." "You seem like a decent fellow. I'd hate to die."

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Comments on: "Action for the Sake of Action" (8)

  1. Ian Boverhof said:

    This is what I feel the last 2 Matrix movies were. You could reproduce the experience of watching those movies by playing Gi Joes with a ten year old boy with ADD.

    • Haha! It’s true. The first Matrix movie is awesome, I felt like the other two were stupid.

    • David Navarre said:

      I almost walked out of Matrix 2 on opening day for that exact reason. I’ve seen bits of the last one, but only because I wanted to see the action sequences.

  2. You could have written this about a movie we picked up at the Library (!) this w/end – Knight and Day – Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, the occasional blackout that means they end up in different clothes when they wake up AND loads of guns. So much money, so little point :)

    • I heard that movie was awful! I haven’t seen it.

    • David Navarre said:

      From my recollection, the characters even seem disinterested in the action, carrying on conversations calmly in the midst of it all. I could be remembering incorrectly, but am unwilling to re-watch to verify.

  3. Maybe a blessing!

  4. Good review, Andrew. That’s one movie I would waste my time or money on. Thanks.

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