6 Absurd Action Tropes You Never Noticed And Can't Unsee
The true magic of cinema is that a few hundred strangers will gather in a room and collectively agree to ignore the fact that what they're watching is hilariously stupid. It's the cornerstone of a civilized society, if you think about it. Still, we can't help but feel like action movies take advantage of this a tiny bit too much, to the point where there are these odd storytelling crutches that they've given up trying to work around. Like ...
During Movie Fights, Opponents Patiently Wait Their Turn to Attack
Here's a fun way to ruin half of the action movies you watch: When the hero is beating the shit out of a room full of evil henchmen, take your eyes off the hero and his current victim and watch what the other bad guys are doing. You are about to observe several stunt performers trying to look menacing or at least busy while actually doing absolutely nothing.
Take the massive fight scene in Kill Bill, when the Bride fights the Crazy 88. They are 88 hardened criminals, but they fight like they are politely waiting in line at a euthanasia clinic. Ignore the Bride and the guy she's swordfighting with, and note the useless bastards in the background standing there watching it happen:
"Wait, guys. Let them have this moment. Then I attack, then Jimmy, then Kevin. Everyone got their number? OK, go!"
Uma Thurman has so long to screw around between attacks that at one point, she reaches up during a clashing of swords to pull a guy's eye out. And while he's screaming, the other 87 sword murderers stop to let her pose. One would imagine three or four of them would think to stab her, and 40 or so would think to throw their sword or go look for a gun.
Yes, movie henchmen and henchwomen have long had a tradition of attacking one at a time, giving the hero plenty of time to dismantle them in an orderly queue. Entire schools of martial arts have developed to make henchmen look like they're doing something while they wait their turn to attack the lone good guy. Unfortunately, no one studies these in real life.
It's really hard to anticipate the moves of one opponent, and even world-class fighters get hit all the time when they're totally ready for it. If two or more people are attacking you, you're going to get hit. And if any of them think to grab you, which is both an obvious strategy and a natural instinct, you'll soon find your martial arts moves limited to screaming and wiggling.
"Guys! Guys, why aren't you helping! Guys, I think he's tearing my balls off! Stop posing, you assholes!! AAIIIIEEE!"
The above scene is from the kung fu classic Ip Man, which features a battle between Donnie Yen and ten karate masters, and those men are so careful to attack in order that they stand back and watch as he throws their friend to the ground and hilariously tenderizes him with punches for ten seconds, or about 500 times longer than it would take to walk over and stop him.
"Ip Man! Ip Man! IP MAN IP MAN IPMANIPMANIPMANIPMAN!!!"
Even worse than that is the gritty Netflix superhero show Daredevil. His radar sense makes him the one fighter who should be okay with people attacking him from behind, but his enemies are very careful to wait their turn to be knocked out. Season 2 ends with a ninja rooftop battle in which none of them could attack until the previous ninja's will had been properly executed by a probate lawyer.
Those two guys on the right are silently wishing they'd had more than one weekend of training before joining a ninja army.
Movie Tracking Devices Are Always Conspicuous As Hell
Whenever a character wants to track someone in a movie, they all use the same thing: a blinking machine that anyone within 100 yards would notice. It's almost as illogical as putting a timer on a time bomb, and twice as pointless. Why include a blinker on your tracking device? Its only purpose is to transmit a signal as inconspicuously as possible. A blinker does neither of those things, and in fact spectacularly does the opposite of one of them.
It's so overused that a blinking light instantly means "tracking device" to viewers, with no further explanation needed. And sometimes the devices do worse than blink. In Batman v. Superman, the secret CIA tracking device beeps out loud! WHY?!?
Even the goons can't believe it.
And later in the movie, Lex Luthor, the smartest man in the world, doesn't notice when Batman subtly attaches a beeping, flashing transmitter to one of his trucks with a sniper rifle.
And remember in The Matrix, when the agents implant a super advanced sentient transmitter inside Neo? Its job is to stay undetected and send out a signal, so why waste so much battery power crawling around and flashing a light like crazy?
A jumbo prawn with a flashlight: nature's stealth mode!
In case if you are wondering, real-life transmitters are a little more understated. Anyone who's ever made a cellphone call has probably noticed that sending a signal does not require a device to behave like a fire alarm. At any time, Batman or Agent Smith could have bought a tracking device the size of quarter at a department store for about $30. It's almost like they were trying to get caught.
And speaking of people trying to get caught ...
Movie Disguises Are Discarded Immediately After Each Use
You have seen this a hundred times and maybe not even noticed it. The hero needs to infiltrate a gala or an enemy base or a whore house, so they create an ingenious disguise.
"I am phone repair man and nerd. I am not kung fu master."
The disguise may or may not work, but there seems to be some unspoken rule that as soon as it fools one person, it must be immediately thrown away. That's a beat that comes up repeatedly in the Mission: Impossible franchise -- Ethan Hunt makes it inside the compound, then rips off his mask, ready for action.
It sort of makes sense in our world, since if you're paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for every minute of Tom Cruise's face, you don't want to cover it up with a fake nose and mustache. On the other hand, it's really, really stupid for a character to tear off their working disguise at any point prior to being safely in their own home or headquarters again.
For instance, in X2, Mystique sneaks into the bad guy's office by disguising herself as Lady Deathstrike. Then, for no reason, turns back into her normal self while downloading files. Why? Is it because the filmmakers didn't trust us to remember how one of the film's main characters can disguise herself? "Don't forget, this is Mystique here, guys!"
"I'll pointlessly remove this disguise and count on this super-high-tech facility having no security cameras."
In the masterpiece of cinema Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer, they take it a step further. One of the characters in that movie can turn invisible to get in to see the captured Silver Surfer, and they immediately become visible to any security guards who might be watching the most important prisoner in the Universe. She does this seemingly to comfort him, which is especially dumb given that the movie established that he could sense her when she was invisible anyway.
That idiot Harry Potter did the same shit with his invisibility cloak. Leave it on!
And it's not only disguises and cloaking devices that get discarded long before the danger is over. Movie characters live by a rule that any secret protection has to be thrown away after a single use. In A Fistful Of Dollars, Clint Eastwood gets shot repeatedly by the villain and keeps getting back up. He finally pulls back his pancho to reveal his secret: a bulletproof armor plate. Then, while the villain has a rifle pointed at him and four armed henchmen watch, he slowly and smugly takes it off and throws it on the ground.
"Go ahead. I have another one under that one."
It's so shocking that it never occurrs to them to try shooting him again.
A Movie Punch To The Torso Can Knock Somebody Out Cold
Movie punches kind of work on the same double standard as movie bullet wounds. If if's the hero, he or she can get nailed several hundred times in the course of traversing one single hallway, and get nothing but some bruises and maybe a cut across the bridge of the nose to show for it. But if the hero needs to knock several people out cold -- particularly if they have an aversion to killing, like most modern superheroes -- a hard blow to literally any part of the henchman's body will do it. In Winter Soldier, Captain America knocks a boat full of men out by bouncing his shield off any single part of their body. And while getting a metal Frisbee to the chest would suck, you would certainly be awake for all the sucking.
"Ow! Ow, I'm still conscious, dick!"
The truth, strangely enough, is closer to the hero's seemingly endless ability to shrug off dozens of fists. To knock out a human, you need to get their head to rotate so fast that their brain slops against their skull. When that happens, sometimes -- only sometimes -- the brain shuts down as an emergency response. And a punch to places other than the chin don't have much of a chance of knocking a person out at all.
Yet during the Hong Kong action scene in The Dark Knight, Batman takes out goons by thumping them in the chest or shoving them into each other -- they kind of just fall out of frame and then are gone from the movie. In fact, most of his victims seem to pass out from sheer excitement like rabid fans at an Elvis concert -- which makes sense, since he's Batman.
But nothing can explain this scene from Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom, in which a nine-year-old is knocking out grown men with karate chops and gentle torso kicks.
"OK, it says here that you were hit by a size 4 karate kick to the shoulder? Sorry, but Thuggee guard policy only covers heart removal and archaeologist punches."
Standing Inside A Burning Building Somehow Doesn't Cook The Hero's Lungs
Sure, if a character gets set on fire in a movie, it will probably disfigure them and/or cause them to be afraid of fire for the rest of the plot. However, if they're merely surrounded by fire, it will do absolutely nothing. Maybe they'll sweat, and if it's bad, even cough. Otherwise, they're free to run and fight and do action hero stuff while the set burns to the ground around them. You're fine as long as the flames don't touch you, Indy!
In fact, it makes you look way cooler than the people NOT standing near fire.
Of course, in real life, there's the obvious problem of breathing smoke (the fumes are so toxic that they can knock you out in a few minutes), but even breathing clean air kill you if it's too hot. Your lungs are tender pink things, and they were never meant to be seared like a steak. Well, a fully engulfed building like the one Indiana is standing in there is going to be burning at 1,100 freaking degrees Fahrenheit, and fires can reach that temperature in three to four minutes.
The shot from Raiders Of The Lost Ark above is from an extended fight scene in a tiny burning bar made of wood and soaked in flammable liquor. It's a fire that would turn you into a coughing, smoldering corpse in moments, but Indy barely breaks a sweat while having a battle royale in the center of the inferno -- sucking in huge, gulping breaths of superheated air all the while. Hell, by the time he and Marion finally make it outside, the entire building has burned to a skeleton.
"This is the fire department! Is anyone in there having a kumite? Because we can wait on these hoses if you want to finish!"
There's also Bruce Wayne and Ra's al Ghul having a spirited conversation in the middle of a blazing fire in Batman Begins. No amount of ninja training could have prepared them for something like that -- practicing breathing smoke doesn't make your lungs tougher, it just shortens your lifespan -- but since Bruce Wayne is later trapped under a collapsed, burning log for an undetermined-but-way-too-long amount of time, it's possible that Batman is so cool that he naturally freezes the scorching air before it goes into his lungs.
"Thank God, Bruce, you didn't let the flame on the log touch your skin! You're fine!"
Captain America might even be more smoke- and heat-proof than Bruce Wayne. In Captain America: The First Avenger, there's a scene wherein Cap and Red Skull battle on a catwalk above a blazing landscape of explosions, in an era when everything was made out of asbestos and painted with lead. You might remember the scene since one of the characters stops the fight to rip his own face off.
That's how easygoing superheroes are around smoke inhalation: They will stand in the center of a fire for pointlessly dramatic gestures in the middle of a conversation in the middle of a fist fight.
"Can't ... breathe ... ah, that's better."
You Can Start Any Movie Car By Fiddling With Wires
How many of you out there think you could probably hotwire a car if you absolutely had to, based on having seen it done in thousands of movies and TV shows? Simply open a panel beneath the wheel and pull out some wires. It doesn't matter how many. Poke them together for one or two seconds, and you're on your way!
Like this scene from Taken, in which Liam Neeson effortlessly fingers a car into starting in under five seconds:
Kind of weird how insurance companies never demanded that car manufacturers fix this issue.
Luckily, it's a bit harder to do that in real life, and is impossible if the car is newer than 25 years old. But even if you find a pre-1990 relic, it can take several minutes and possibly hours to get it to work. It's so complicated that if you can finish this YouTube video explaining it, you'll be 40 percent done with a degree in electrical engineering.
If you try to hotwire a modern car, you'll run into electronic systems designed specifically to block what you're doing, and if you somehow bypass that, you'll only be able to make a daring escape in a very straight line with that steering wheel lock engaged. Security measures are so good that -- and listen carefully, kids at home -- the easiest way to get a car is to point a gun at the owner and make them get out. Well, or go somewhere cold and snatch cars that have been left running to "warm up" in the driveway.
So basically, all the movies since the '90s that have anyone hotwiring a car got it wrong. Yet in The Bourne Ultimatum they show Jason Bourne having a bit of difficulty hotwiring a car ...
... not because it's mostly impossible and he doesn't have the gear to do it, but because his gaping bullet wounds are bothering him. He still does it; it just takes three seconds instead of two.
In Shooter, Mark Wahlberg, while he is filled with bullets, climbs into a truck and ducks below the dash. Hotwiring a car is such a movie cliche that they don't even bother showing him do it. It cuts to the truck on the highway, and we have to assume that's what happened.
You can skip steps like that in the plot? Can we skip to the part after you win, then?
Of course, if your movie's hero isn't the type to know how to hotwire, screenwriters have an even lazier way around it: Let them find the car keys in the visor. Despite never being a thing anyone's done, you see this in Terminator 2, Terminator 3, Independence Day, Breaking Bad, and Edge Of Tomorrow.
It's so common that movie characters take it for granted. In the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, Casey Jones sees a garbage truck and sprints toward it, somehow certain it would be both vulnerable to theft and useful against a ninja attack. Well, not only was the expensive, gigantic truck unlocked, but the keys were sitting right in the ignition.
"Ninja attacks and a free truck! What a night!"
Saikat is a kid who has grown beard to look like a grown-up. He has a serious account at Twitter and an Amuzic Youtube channel. Nathan is a Christian and recently sponsored an impoverished Peruvian child through Compassion International. Plenty more need your help.
For more movie crutches that are dumb as hell, read 18 Baffling Tropes Hollywood Can't Stop Using and The 43 Most Overused Movie Tropes.
And be sure to check out 9 Types Of Coworkers To Make You Want Your Head To Explode, and let us know about other headsplosion-worthy employees we may have missed.
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Nightmarish villains with superhuman enhancements. An all-seeing social network that tracks your every move. A young woman from the trailer park and her very smelly cat. Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, a new novel about futuristic shit, by David Wong.