Some questions have no answers. Like: "If a tree falls in the forest, how much wood does a woodchuck chuck?" And "How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?" But other questions do have answers. Specifically: "Why do action movies repeat the same tropes?" Because they're fucking awesome.
#3 The Tooling Up Montage
Let me set a scene for you. You're a big, muscly action star; you have about two minutes to tool up before you go take on the terrorists/demons/cultish townsfolk. What do you do? Montage!
Film theorists will tell you that montage is a high brow concept and then they'll bleat on about Russian cinema, constructivism and Sergei Eisenstein. And it can be that...if you want it to. Or, montage can be a simple technique where you string clips together to create snappy little sequences that show your heroes putting their gear on super quick. The latter has been used in pretty much every action movie ever.
Weirdly, this is one trope that gets more effective the more it's used. Despite numerous parodies over the years the tooling up montage still gets used all the time, and nobody ever complains because it's so stupidly effective. Here's a supercut from Screen Junkies if you'd like to see more.
#2 The Michael Bay Spin
Now, I'm gonna go ahead and say I technically like Michael Bay films. Put away your pitchforks, film hipsters. You can complain about Bay all you like but the simple fact of the matter is that The Dude Knows His Films. He also knows his audience: the millions of people who pay money to see the boobs and explosions he provides. And, to be fair, most of the time he's pretty good at what he does. I'd like to emphasise the word "most" in the previous sentence.
Pictured: The rest of the time.
Michael Bay has one technique that shows up in every film he makes: the aforementioned Michael Bay Spin.
can watch after you've read my article (seriously, I will cut you if stop reading right now). Basically, EFAP points out that Bay achieves parallax by spinning around the actors (usually, as they rise into frame) with buildings and sky in the background. I'm gonna go ahead and say that this is one of the good Michael Bay trademarks and when you see it, it means shit just got real.
#1 The Hero Shot
The hero shot is a lot like the Michael Bay 360 spin except, you know, not spinning. The hero shot is so obvious and so simple that people rarely talk about it or even consciously think about it. It's so ubiquitous that every action movie has one. In essence the hero shot is the one where the hero says his most well known catchphrase -- due to this it usually ends up being used in the movie's trailer. There's so many examples to choose from that I feel spoilt for choice but The Princess Bride is as good a place as any to start. In The Princess Bride the best hero shot is this one:
If we compare that scene to some other hero shots we notice that they share certain features in common. For example, in this scene from Django Unchained you'll notice that, like the scene from The Princess Bride, the hero is centered with medium shots or medium close ups; they say something badass ("I like the way you die, boy"); they either come directly before or after the climax of a story arch; finally, the shot is made more dramatic with the addition of stirring music.
See, now that you think about it, doesn't every movie that sticks in your head have a moment just like that? Good luck not noticing now.
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