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Violence is a key element of unfolding the story in the action movie genre. It is used to make sense of the narrative for the audience, gradually revealing character traits as well as intentions. In summation to this violence in the action movie genre often follow certain narrative conventions; including binary oppositions, Todorov’s disequilibrium as well as open endings and linear/non-linear narratives. Movies that conform to these stereotypes are often successful, movies such as Die Hard or more censored action movies such as Logan or Deadpool which follow the binary opposition style of narrative where the protagonists aim within the movie is to “train” to eventually take down the antagonist, oppositions may include – (Good vs. evil, rich vs. poor and man vs. woman) In addition to this the listed movies follow Todorov’s theory of disequilibrium where everything is in one piece until the antagonist is introduced only then will chaos arise.
However, action movies that challenge these usual narratives leave options for the audience as to how they think the movie is going to end; movies such as Avatar are examples of this. This importance of violence in action movies are reinforced and undermined in the movies I have chosen to research, these movies include; Avatar, World War Z, 300, War of the planet of the apes, Casino Royale and American Sniper. The listed movies were chosen based on my personal preference for movies whilst taking into consideration the responses that the audience has given regarding the film, I have aimed to choose films within the 15-18 age rating mark to explore to a greater extent of how violence affects narrative in the action movie genre. This essay will analyse how greatly violence affects narrative systems in action films, with particular focus on – ‘Avatar (2009), World War Z (2013), 300 (2006), War of the planet of the apes (2017), Casino Royale (2006) and American Sniper (2014),’ concentrating on how these titles challenge or reinforce particular action narrative conventions.
Regarding the aspect of time in the film, it was Todorov who stated that – “All stories are based on a change from equilibrium (where everything is in order) to disequilibrium (chaos).” This can be applied when watching Avatar, James Cameron directs the movie with the assumption that the audience knows that everything is in order. Set in the distant future where technology has vastly advanced, a cripple played by Sam Worthington gets the opportunity to explore a ‘new world’ known as Pandora to further learn about their species known as the Navie. James Cameron reinforces Todorov’s theory through Avatar. He does this through Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) who starts learning about the Navie, gradually bonding with their kind, only to be stopped by his commander who seeks to attack the Navie for their land which holds expensive materials, resulting in the Navie to lose their trust for Jake Sully.
However, Cameron then challenges this theory by having Jake Sully fill the position of the hero in the film entitling him with the role of a proper protagonist in an action movie as he goes against his commander to save the Navie and the woman he has fallen in love with. The importance of time for narrative can be highlighted by the view that – “Time can be subverted, altering the story and its effect on the viewer.” This can be applied to Avatar as the main protagonist in the movie enters Pandora through a machine which morphs the conscience from his body into an alternative Avatar body. These scenes are shown to the audience multiple times within the film and are presented in the form of some sort of dream to make a clear distinction between the time in the ‘real world’ and Pandora.
Regarding the plot and story of Avatar James Cameron uses violence to clearly illustrate to the audience the binary oppositions within the film, using different genres of music when a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ character appears on the screen as well as using non-diegetic voice-overs of Jake Sully with the intentions of making him appear as an ‘underdog’ sort of character who is rising up and finding a purpose in his life. In summation to this, different shot types are used to highlight certain characters dominance – evidence of this can be seen from when Jake Sully is presented in a worm’s eye view type of shot despite him being a cripple, a sense of nobility is being expressed. It was Jacques Derrida that stated that “binary pairs were never equal.” He further went on to claim that within any particular culture, one ‘side’ of each binary pair tended to be valued or judged in a more privileged light. This idea is confirmed heavily in Avatar painting the Navie to be a good force and the military/scientists to be the enemy attempting to steal the Na vie’s land and even kill them if they stand in their way.
Whether or not violence is important for narrative in the action movie genre, can be further answered by decomposing the movie; World War Z. Marc Forster places Gerry Lane high up on a podium presenting him to the audience to be a strong, brave and heroic protagonist, this is done through the use of backstory given to his character in the movie. Using the information that Forster gives the audience we learn that Lane has a motive for what he is doing and why he is doing it- we as an audience come to learn that he wants to protect his family and the other people close to him all whilst bearing the hopes of the world on his shoulders. With further reference to the plot as a narrative, Bordwell and Thompson stated; “All we have before us is the plot – the arrangement of material in the film as it stands. We create the story in our minds on the basis of cues in the plot.”
This is reinforced in World War Z as it follows a linear narrative but leaves the option open for an open ending in which the audience can ponder on a possible ending for the movie, various situations in the movie allow the audience to do this; the idea is further supported through violence as seen in the opening three minutes of the film where multiple disasters are presented to the audience through a ‘news broadcast’ format, which is used for authenticity and to give the viewer an idea of what the current state of the world is. An example of this further being enforced can be seen during the first action scene that we see in the film, a state of confusion and uneasiness is created by Lane and his wife’s reaction to hearing about the – “sudden outbreak of rabies” on the radio, this develops into a state of panic when we begin to see everyone running to safety; trampling over people and even going as far as to run over people. The unintentional violence shown here is purposefully added by Foster in an attempt to connote the level of threat in the current situation and how serious it is. In summation to this, this scene can be compared to a later action scene in the film which takes place in Jerusalem; in this case the audience is left to wonder what the outcome of the battle is going to be, Forster doesn’t give the audience an opportunity to easily pick an ending of the scene; he structures the film in a way which presents the antagonists in a superior sense – as seen from the many scenes where the antagonist have the upper hand on the main characters in the film.
The scene in Jerusalem shows an injured soldier on the floor with a wound on her arm is an example of this, Lane is presented to the audience in an over the shoulder shot moaning in pain whilst he attempts to console her. Despite this the audience could have conflicting ideas for who would prevail due to characters such as Lane in the film being presented as heroes as seen from his elevated status when he is consoling the soldier, making him the dominant figure in that particular shot. In summation to this, the various triumphs and escapes that the characters make the infected humans support the protagonists prevailing. With regards to the narrative that violence adds in these two scenes, it is clear that violence is important when taking into account the audience’s interpretation of how the next scene will turn out, Foster uses violence as a key element throughout the film to leave the audience sceptical as to what is going to happen to Lane next.
In conclusion, I believe that it can be seen from the evidence above that violence is important for narrative in the action movie genre, supporting this would be how violence presents the audience with a binary opposition which ultimately sets the story and plot of the film; violence also reveal certain character traits to the audience and presents them in various lights. However, it can also true that violence is not the key element for narrative in the action movie genre.