Why are today's action movies so bad?
A film scholar says egregious close-ups, rapid-fire editing, and sheer noise have turned action films into chaotic messes... and he's cut together the clips to prove it
The video: Hollywood's deterioration is often blamed on an excess of comic book stories and sequels, but a German film student named Matthias Stork has other ideas. In a two-part video essay called "CHAOS CINEMA: The decline and fall of action filmmaking" (view below), Stork examines how action movies have evolved drastically, and for the worse, in the last decade. Classic action films like John Wu's Hard-Boiled (1992) or John McTiernan's Die Hard (1988) are precisely edited and staged, says Stork, clearly orientating the viewer amid the gunshots and explosions. By contrast, "contemporary blockbusters, particularly action movies, trade visual intelligibility for sensory overload," Stork says in a narration over clips from films like Transformers (2007) and The Bourne Supremacy (2004). "The result is a film style marked by excess, exaggeration, and overindulgence: Chaos cinema." There is no art in these typically ugly, lazy, inelegant films, he says, except for "the art of confusion."
The reaction: While "this is an issue dear to my heart," I'm surprised by the "ferocity" of Stork's attack, says Matt Zoller Seitz at Salon. I've had similar complaints, but "I've always exempted a number of chaos cinema works from my own rants, notably the Bourne trilogy... where I think the style complemented the story's sense of paranoia and relentless momentum." These video essays are "very smart," but "I'm not totally on board with everything here," says Katey Rich at Cinema Blend. "To write off the Bourne action scenes as incoherent and shallow because of the use of handheld camera seems overly dismissive to me." Styles change and cinema moves forward. Consider Stork's montage-bolstered argument for yourself: