Monday, November 1, 2010

Action Movies About Flight

I was watching Batman: Under the Red Hood today and enjoying it in spite of myself. I mean, okay, the movie is bad. The central issue is that Batman's former sidekick Robin is murdered by the Joker, gets revived, comes back as a brutal killer who plans to control Gotham's underworld with fear / kill the rest / get revenge on Joker, or, and, etc. Whatever. No one except Joker is really guilty and, well, Joker is always guilty. There's a lame argument wherein the former Robin asks Batman why he doesn't kill Joker already and Batman's answer is "BECAUSE THEN I WOULD BE LIKE HIM." This is presented as if we're supposed to take it seriously and find it persuasive. Man though did I not find it persuasive.

So why was I watching? I didn't especially enjoy the punching that much either. The animation was okay, but not great, with inexpressive characters against bland backdrops. Well of course a) it was Batman, and I love Batman. But also there's my thing for weightless bodies.

I remember first figuring this out while I was watching Aeon Flux. The film is not very good! I mean, it's fine. But to the extent that it works, it's because it has a decent sense of style, and then, more importantly, because the main character can practically fly. The way she jumps and flips and so on is the main thing about the movie. This was also basically true of The Matrix, where the bullets and punching largely existed as motivation for acrobatics, at least in my eyes.

Batman: Under the Red Hood has this too, with easily the best action sequence being the one where Red Hood leads Batman and Nightwing on a lengthy chase over a series of rooftops. He shoots his guns a few times but clearly not with the intent of killing anyone. He wants to jump around. And this is true for later, more direct fights, as well: they seem to shoot at each other and throw things and slash swords and so on largely to give each other a reason to jump out of the way. This is why it often feels so strange, mean-spirited and out of character when someone actually gets killed. Suddenly the killer has changed the rules. Everyone else was indulging in their ability to jump. Then he had to go and ruin it all. This makes the periods between real violence feel weirdly idyllic.

In some ways the perfection of the style came in Final Fantasy: Advent Children, a video game spinoff film that hates physics so much it actually posits sword fights wherein collision lifts both participants into the air. I wanted to show you a particular scene wherein a series of characters work together to literally throw the protagonist into the clouds, but Square is apparently pretty protective of their horrible opus, so here's a retarded music video that shows you clips from the whole movie:

There's a sense in which this sort of thing spurns the body but actually at least for me it becomes a kind of embrace. Action movies about weightlessness are really action movies about the fantasy of having a body so beautiful, so competent, it can defy gravity, can do anything. From this perspective, that the chief danger in these movies is the danger of these lovely bodies being damaged seems  appropriate, even sort of profound. 

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