Tuesday, June 18, 2024

How action scenes can make a superhero movie awesome (in three acts)

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Hollywood has come a long way since Adam West’s Batman was the flagship of the superhero slap. Now the only thing holding the good guys and the bad guys is the imaginations of the people behind the camera. But no matter how many cities Superman demolishes, no matter how many moons Thanos throws, one thing that stays pretty consistent is how these action sequences fit into the structure of their respective films, pushing telling the story and looking damn good while they’re doing it. As Super Movie Madness continues here at IGN, where you, the IGN audience, can vote to help determine the best superhero movie of all time, we’re going to explain how these action scenes big and small fit into the superhero stories these movies celebrate. Not every superhero movie is created the same, so some movies may handle their show a little differently, but when you’re a studio that puts $ 100 million into a blockbuster, you’re usually comforted in yourself. sticking to a proven formula.

With that, let’s talk about how superhero movies handle action scenes, act by act.

Act I: the configuration

There is a lot of competition in the superhero scene, so starting things off with a BANG in the first act is a great way for filmmakers to grab the audience’s attention and focus on what the heroes and the bad guys are capable of doing at this point. The action sequences of the first act also often set key plot points in motion, setting up not only the story, but also some of the larger themes that the film will address.

Tony Stark’s escape from captivity with the Mark I Iron Man armor may end in pieces, but it results in Tony returning to civilization and exiting the arms race, setting him on the path to the takeover by mentor Obidiah Stane of Stark Industries. Aquaman’s gladiatorial duel with Orm not only prevents him from becoming King of Atlantis before he has learned the humility he needs to be successful, but he also exposes his relative inexperience as an underwater fighter. in relation to his enemies.

Nightcrawler unleashes his full might during an attack on the White House in X2.

X2 features a killer opening action beat that not only sets the whole story in motion, but also serves as a great introduction to the sequel’s biggest new mutant, Nightcrawler. After the events of X-Men, the mutants became outcasts, and having a creepy bruise that can teleport anywhere in the White House doesn’t help their case. The mysterious Nightcrawler separates from a group of tourists, and BAMF makes its way through the West Wing, taking out Secret Service agents left and right. From an information delivery perspective, this footage introduces us to Nightcrawler’s teleportation abilities and how he incorporates them into combat, as well as his ability to use his prehensile tail. Once Nightcrawler arrives at the Oval Office, the only thing stopping him from stabbing the President is a bullet in the shoulder. The assassination attempt launches the entire plot of the film, which sees the government respond by sending Col. William Stryker to raid Professor Xavier’s academy and kidnap a group of mutants.

The Nightcrawler opening sequence in X2 is the film in microcosm, with the Secret Service representing the entire world as they take on a perceived foe they can neither match nor understand. Of course, this xenophobia ends up being completely unfounded: Stryker used the mind-control abilities of his mutant son to frame Nightcrawler, and the rest of the mutantkind, for the President’s murder. Nightcrawler’s Tear in the West Wing is an exciting, budget-friendly first act action streak that proves you don’t need a ton of dialogue to set the stakes for the story.

Act II: The reverse

So what about the second act? Our heroes are on the way, the villain’s machinations work against them as they go. We know the mission, maybe we have some idea of ​​the lessons or the truths that our protagonists need to learn. The three-act structure usually dictates that somewhere around the middle of the movie, maybe a little closer to the end of the second act, the hero needs to be humbled. Often it feels like they’re at a huge disadvantage by the time Act Three comes along. Action scenes are often the vehicle through which this humble pie is served.

Batman knows there is nothing that will wipe you out faster than getting your back broken by a super-buff terrorist who wants to throw you down a hole to live the rest of your life in misery! The question of how much of himself Peter Parker will give to save New York from Doc Ock is resolved when he sacrifices his body to prevent a high-speed train from derailing. Captain America realizes just how much he understands the powers he has both served and fought against when he finds out that his long-lost best friend, Bucky Barnes, has been brainwashed into becoming a HYDRA assassin during a fight with the Winter Soldier. Of course, it’s not the law that these second act action beats are only meant to drag the heroes down; Wonder Woman’s No Man’s Land sequence takes place halfway through the film and sees Diana take flight to tear apart opposition forces in Belgium.Drax heads for a fall in the second act of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Drax heads for a fall in the second act of Guardians of the Galaxy.

But, the lore of heroes losing a big fight in the second act is well observed in Guardians of the Galaxy. After teaming up to escape the Kyln and go on the run, the Guardians find themselves on Knowhere trying to fencing off the Power Stone. Their jailbreak may have been a smash hit, but it’s the second act now! You danced, you got hammered, you had a great first half of the movie, Guardians – maybe not you, Quill – but now the cracks in the team’s fragile alliance are starting to show, and at the wrong time. . Kree Warlord Ronan the Accuser arrives on Knowhere and reminds everyone of what happens when the team isn’t working in tandem. Drax, Gamora, and Quill are nearly killed and Ronan runs away with the Power Stone, leaving the fledgling team battered and disheartened.

Act III: Score regulation

And now we reach the third act, the grand finale, the bread and butter of the superhero movie. We’ve seen heroes and villains develop their powers, maybe lose them for a second, but after the personal development of a movie, the decisive battle scene in Act 3 sees those advancements put to the test.

After years of setup and setbacks, Avengers: Endgame pays for Nick Fury’s idea that a bunch of outstanding heroes, if put together, could be counted to save the world; devil, the universe. After denying he’s special, David Dunn embraces his abilities and saves a family from a madman in Unbreakable. After trashing Metropolis in an air battle for the ages, the lone Superman makes it difficult choice to kill murderer Zod, the only other Kryptonian surviving at this point. Shazam! sees Billy Batson finally abandon his search for the mother who abandoned him and accepts his new family, celebrating that growth by kicking Dr. Sivana’s ass with his newly overpowered foster siblings. Hell, that’s basically how the two Guardians of the Galaxy end.Miles takes a leap of faith in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Miles takes a leap of faith in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

These are all great examples of climactic action sequences from Act 3, resplendent in the chaos and carnage we all hunger for. But while saving the world may be a worthy payoff, it doesn’t take every action beat in Act 3 to level up a city to make a good impression. As Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse expertly demonstrates, action doesn’t always mean “final battle” to pay for a superhero’s emotional line. Spider-Verse can be a roller coaster Spider-people, alternate dimensions, and cool animation, but what it’s really about is a 13-year-old’s struggle to believe in himself.

Miles Morales, a working-class youth from Brooklyn, has just been accepted into the prestigious Visions Academy after winning an entrance lottery and passing an exam. Even though Miles is extremely bright, he is surrounded by peers who deserve to be more present. And once Miles obtains the spider powers and starts helping Peter Parker from another universe get home, Miles’ impostor syndrome gets worse. He has a hard time getting into things, which for an aspiring Spider-Man is kind of a doozy. And if he wasn’t safe enough, the Multiverse is throwing the valor of an entire team of seasoned Spider-Men, -Women, and -Pigs to their feet. Watching all of these pros work makes it even harder for Miles not to focus on his inability to master his newfound abilities. But the final battle of a superhero movie awaits no one, and Peter puts the rookie aside for his own safety. That advice, plus a little heartfelt encouragement from his father about his academics, gives Miles just the spark he needs. From the top of a skyscraper, Miles hears Peter Parker in his head, reminding him that sometimes we don’t know if we are ready to take the next step in our life, or to own our own power, whether in life. classroom. or on the battlefield. So with that, Miles takes a leap of faith.

Comic book movies that preceded X-Men

Watching Miles dive at terminal speed and swing the web across New York City with confidence and grace feels like such a victory because we know how hard Miles worked to get to this point, how much he struggled with. the self-doubt that held him back. . This is the moment when Miles realizes what everyone, including the public, has always known: he’s full of potential and he’s going to do great things. After this emotional gain, the final battle in which he defeats the Kingpin, saves New York, and returns his friends to their dimensions feels like the icing on the cake.

What are your favorite action scenes from superhero movies? Let us know in the comments! And don’t forget to vote to determine the best superhero movie in IGN’s Super Movie Madness! Or dig with us on how supervillains light up our heroes.


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