My Contrary Love Affair with Action Movies

My Contrary Love Affair with Action Movies

Action movies are a dime a dozen; Hollywood pumps them out at an astonishing rate. Of all the movie genres, I find action movies to be the most formulaic. They often feature the same faces and rely on about a dozen or so plots, constantly redressed. The more explosions and gun fights you can pack in, the better.

It might sound like I hate action movies; I don’t. I love lots of movies that fit the label (I’m looking at you Mad Max). But I do have an on again/off again, love/hate relationship with action movies. I certainly don’t seem to love them as much as most people do. I don’t like to put on a movie and turn off my brain (not that there’s anything wrong with doing so if you enjoy it). I need intellectual stimulation to be entertained; which means I need a decent enough plot to hold up the action or I get bored. When I get bored, I walk away.

My friends and family sometimes get exasperated with my lack of interest in action movies. I ask them to describe the plot and if it doesn’t sound interesting I make a face. They make a face back at me. The why can’t you just like the same movies as everyone else? face. I get tons of flack for criticizing action movies that feel empty, boring, brainless or plain ridiculous to me. I’ve been accused of being overly critical, of being unfun and, on more than one occasion, of just not liking movies.

It sucks. Because I’m not trying to be difficult. I just don’t see a point in spending two hours on something that only entertains me for five minutes. The main problem I have with action movies isn’t the sheer number of explosions – it’s the formula. As a writer, I spend a lot of time dissecting plots to poke their inner workings (it’s true what they say; working in a field will ruin it for you). If I can easily peel back the curtain to see what lies behind it, there’s no joy in being right. Action movies are like trope toss salad – a couple repetitions and they become easy to identify. And if a movie doesn’t entertain me, why should I devote time to it? It isn’t my fault if a movie can’t hold my interest.

A few Christmases ago, while we were visiting my husband’s parents, they put on the 2014 Hercules movie (the one with Dwayne Johnson). About half an hour into the movie I got bored and started fiddling with my computer. At the end, I made an offhand comment that it wasn’t great and was told, How would you know? You didn’t watch it? But more than a year later, I can quote the entire plot without any difficulty. I checked a few summaries when I wrote this just to make sure I didn’t miss anything relevant. In a lot of ways, this encapsulates my entire relationship with action movies – if I can stop paying attention for long stretches without feeling like I missed anything, why bother?

I want to watch movies that do something clever and surprise me. My favorite action movies are the ones that abandon the formula or turn tropes on their heads. I often enjoy sci-fi, fantasy or comedy action movies more because, if the action doesn’t catch me, I at least have the world building, lore or laughs to carry me through.

It doesn’t help that I’ve been burned so many times before. I’ll get excited about something that looks interesting and then it falls flat. Or friends will rave about a movie but it just doesn’t come together for me. It makes me pickier about the movies I agree to see (which I’m sure makes me seem more difficult when the discussion comes up).

My primary lesson has been that you can’t judge a movie by its trailer. The current trend seems to be cutting together as generic a trailer as possible and highlighting mostly action sequences (and thus makes everything feel generic). Look at Star Trek Beyond; that movie’s trailer did it a gross disservice. Instead, I get recommendations from people who know my tastes. My in-laws talked me into watching Edge of Tomorrow, which I feared would just be an action movie version of Groundhog’s Day, but turned out to be really spectacular. The trailer for Logan never really caught me either, but the story was fantastically human and didn’t pull any punches (no pun intended).

And my husband and I have worked out a great method for dealing with our opposing tastes in movies; if he wants to watch something that screams generic action movie to me, I just tell him to watch it without me. He knows my taste well enough that I trust him if he tells me I’ll actually like it. And if he really wants to see something in theaters that doesn’t interest me, then he doesn’t get to argue the next time I pick a movie he’s not interested in. (See, I can bee (somewhat) reasonable!)

What movie genre just can’t hold your interest?

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