The true romance of an action thriller can be felt through the gunshots, blood wounds and the back and forth between a hero and his 'nemesis'.
I will dive deep into the psychology of the mass who love it, the few who make it and why the chaos that ensues is as peaceful as a monk drinking tea on a lake.
The cinematic genius of portraying action and the thrill that comes with it has been elevated year after year but the storytelling blueprint has its root deeply embedded in few transcendent motion pictures and their creators. As the calendar depicts time with B.C (before Christ) or A.D (anno domini, or 'in the year of our lord'), I would be defining the time in action-thriller genre as B.H.D (Before Die Hard) and A.P.M.D ('anno post mortem duris', which loosely translates to 'year after Die Hard'). The definitive ranking will contextualize the time in the genre post Die Hard, i.e 1988.
A film genre is determined by the predetermined standard and the accepted cultural consensus about any topic within society. The term 'genre' is as vague as reality is in 'The Matrix'. Genre has no fixed boundary and often, it flows into other genres and sub-genres. The beauty of action-thriller is incorporated by integrating it with every other pre-existing genres.
The action-thriller must have but should not be limited to a protagonist going against lofty odds in order to achieve the goals. The beauty of an action movie lies in the simplicity of the structure. It starts with a mishap, followed by the protagonist being challenged beyond his/her capabilities and them going above and beyond the norms to reach the goal. The depiction can be closely collated to a love story, where the boy falls in love, he chases the girl and leaves no stone unturned to show his affection before they reach the final scene, which enthralls the mass.
I will analyse my love for action movies and the sociological perspective through the footprint of five era defining, cult classics in the genre, since 1988 (A.P.M.D).
1. DIE HARD (1988) AND LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007)
The 1988 John Mctiernan classic paved the way to the action movie genre as we know it today. Die Hard dealt with easy comprehension and astute execution of the story. The movie makes an attempt to guide the viewers toward a hero in John McClane and against his counterpart in Hans Gruber. The movie describes the fight of one man against twelve terrorist, and how he enjoys the challenge. Die Hard changed the outlook towards action movies by making the hero vulnerable. The story portrays him not only as a cop but as a father, an estranged husband alongside the buddy cop relationship with the patrol officer. Die Hard shuns nuance in favor of mere contrast, it overpowers the mythology of hero and villain while undercutting the same norm by expressing anyone can be a hero if needed. The cult status of any movie can be depicted by a rewatchable scene and a catchphrase for the ages. As expected, Die Hard does not dissapoint.
The most rewatchable scene : Always a Cowboy scene, where Hans Gruber calls John McClane a guy who watches too many movies and thinks of himself as John Wayne and Rambo. while McClane walks barefoot with a machine gun while smoking a cigarette in a blood trenched undershirt.
Catchphrase: Yippe-kay-yay motherf**ker!
The fourth installment of the movie portrays McClane 20 years later caught in the wrong place, again. The movie takes the basics of the franchise and coats it with present threats to the world. Live Free or Die Hard deals in continuous shots and doesn't let the pace of the movie go in neutral. Die Hard movies have endured the test of time because of the relationships among characters and them presenting individual brilliance for a common cause. Bruce WIllis is as much a common man as you are.
The most rewatchable scene: 'Helicopter crashes with a car' scene, McClane is stuck in a tunnel and he uses the car to kill the helicopter. When asked why he did so, McClane explains, ' I was out of bullets'.
2. THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007)
The third installment reaches the peak action-thriller genre, where the hero gets out alive but the conspiracy continues. Jason Bourne is an action hero, who is conflicted by his actions and goes into a journey to find himself, along with the viewers. He unravels his past and looks into the intricate future at the same time as everyone else. The connection between Bourne and the viewers can be accounted to the unknown and the shared desire to unearth the truth behind government conspiracies and personal demons. The cinematic brilliance of Paul Greengrass brings the gorgeous Europe and Americas to the forefront while staying true to the coming of age depiction of Jason Bourne. Bourne falls in love, experiences loss, makes friend while fighting the greatest hand combatants and spies in the world. The movie delves into long scenes of intense action which drifts into the next act without breaking a sweat. The movie develops other characters at the same time and makes them lovable in the worst of geopolitical climate.
Bourne ultimatum is equal part mind game as an action thriller. Matt Damon defines the role for eternity as the good guy with insane combat skills. He walks the line of a guy you want to be and you don't want to be.
The most rewatchable scene: The Waterloo railway station scene - Jason Bourne meets the journalist who wrote about his story, treadstone and Blackbriar. The scene revolves around losing the CIA tail through intricate movements and spatial awareness. The scene is as BOURNEsque as it gets.
Catchphrase: Get some rest Pam, you look tired.
3. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
Superhero movies are not action-thrillers, but The dark knight and Christopher Nolan's rendition of the Batman saga is unlike any other superhero movie. Nolan takes inspiration for the crime action thriller from the distinct stylized work of Micheal Mann. The storytelling was opposite of a fast paced action film, yet the idea of a good guy and his dealings with the bad guy within the construct of a location holds up. The story keeps pushing the line between good and evil. The story starts and ends with the character arc for both the hero and the villain being born, broken and reconstructed.
Every action movie has a location or a set up, which defines the movie as much as the characters. There has never been a bigger influence than the city of Gotham to The Dark Knight. The cinematic depiction from Nolan makes the city breathe, fight and stand up for and against justice. Thus, giving the personalized touch to brick and mortar.
The Dark Knight has rewatchable genes spread all over with few of the greatest catchphrases in movie history. Bruce Wayne fights his inner demon while the Joker lets the inner demon define his existence. This juxtaposition builds up one of the best action movies through dark alleys and darker actions.
The most rewatchable scene: 1. Batman emerges with the lethal Batman motorcycle scene. 2. The interrogation room scene between the Batman and Joker.
Catchphrases: 'You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.'
'I am Batman'.
'He is the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.'
4. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE I, II, III (1996-2006)
Mission Impossible not only qualifies as an action movie, the action movie genre itself can be qualified as Mission Impossible. The movie is an action genre purist with every detail magnified.
The protagonist is named Ethan Hunt, the coolest name in movie history, bar none. The protagonist is played by Tom Cruise, the coolest person in the world, bar few. Impossible Missions Force (IMF) is the coolest government agency name, hands down. The movie always remains true to the cinematic vision of classy rampage with timelessly preposterous aesthetics. The very core of action movie lies in increasing the surge of adrenaline as the story progresses with a peak climax. Mission Impossible manages to achieve that through intricate set up and spotless execution.
Mission Impossible takes the basic pillar of action movie - 'foreshadowing' and subsequently establishing the impossible circumstances surrounding the implausible action before following it up with the most entertaining yet thrilling stunts to achieve it. In the age, when jumping from car was amazing, Ethan Hunt made sure to jump from a plane. If an explosion in the vicinity of your existence gives you chills, Hunt took down the world with a explosive pellet inside his brain!
Some action movies are defined by the story, some by their storyteller but Mission Impossible and its charm is one, Tom Cruise. Every romance needs a hero and just like so many of us, Cruise fell in love with the genre to make everyone else fall in love with it too. Cruise is brash, motivated, fearless, charming and arguably the G.O.A.T of the genre.
Every MI takes a visionary perspective of its own ranging in inspiration from Hitchcock to bold Chinese filmography. It is filled with catchphrases and iconic rewatchable moments. If you are switching channels and come across one of the MI movies, you will cancel all plans and order pizza. You are planning to start binging on Mission Impossible right now. Aren't you?
The most rewatchable scene: 1. Helicopter in the tunnel - Mission Impossible I. The scene has a train being chased by a helicopter and Hunt stuck in the middle of it. This scene made the franchise 'possible'.
2. Utah rock climbing - Mission Impossible II. This is the greatest single scene period.
Catchphrase: 'Your mission, if you choose to accept it.'
5. THE MATRIX (1999)
Matrix is a philosophical grandeur dealing with the reality of illusion or the illusion of reality. The Matrix operates at different levels of metaphysical existence. The movie works on discovering the actions of our own reality through era defining slow motion cinematography. The exquisite use of bullet-time defines the style developed by Bill Pope. The existence of multiple universe and its own rule meant developing gravity defying and mind-blowing action sequences deeply embedded in the futuristic take of the world perfectly normal.
The greatest achievement of Matrix was to give an action movie, a mind of its own. It gave the genre a story more complex than the mind of De Niro in Taxi Driver. Very few movie has been able to revolutionize the perspective of visualization like Neo, frozen in time, dodging bullets and popping pills.
Keanu Reeves has been an under-rated legend in the action-thriller genre with Speed, Point Break, John Wick. All you can say is: woah.
The most rewatchable seen: Neo Dodging Bullets near the helipad. The scene is as classic as the movie.
Catchphrase - 'You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.'
THE HONORABLE MENTIONS
The history of action genre post Die Hard era and my unapologetic love for the act of improbability can't be limited to five stories and their depiction. My romance with the genre starts with Die Hard but runs deep into London Has Fallen, And yes, I enjoyed both of them equally.
Even-though the previously mentioned movies have impacted the genre more than others and scribed the path for future till the lines are redrawn, movies like Mad Max: Fury Road has scratched its own niche. James Bond has been a classic for ages but the rendering by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale established him as brash, strong and vulnerable character. Speed had the whole story inside a bus. Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock proved that the journey towards a known conclusion is more satisfying than a bag of Doritos. I love Tom Cruise and I love Jack Reacher. It is a perfect detective-action movie. The last props should definitely go to The Fast and The Furious. The movies have fast cars, furious villains and a lot of Vin Diesel and The Rock. The Fast and The Furious franchise aims at making entertaining no-brainers and they achieve it.
I just wrote a love letter with lots of 'bullet' point. I never romanticized flying of a car into a helicopter before dodging bullets by stooping time but I do believe in every impossible mission being possible, just like the girl you like, the boy you love or the building you jump off!
You don't choose your genre, it chooses you.