Y’know how Knives Out is one of those movies that I was concerned about discussing because I knew I was going to be repeating boring details rather than focusing on the movie’s message? That I was contributing to a noise complex because I loved it and I wanted to be able to love it in all angles and share that love for it and hopefully encourage you to love it too? Nobody is a movie in that same genre, but in this case the actual plot, sure, whatever, you’ve seen this, you know the kind of movie it is. It’s a physical stunt based action movie about a Dangerous Man Pushed Too Far. You don’t need spoilers for this, that’s how the movie’s trailer presents it.
And for a movie about physicality in stunts, its physicality is amazing. You can see best-of scenes on youtube, of moments of an entire movie’s worth of holy shit combat scenarios, and they’re the kind of scenarios where you’re meant to regard the world as full of physical objects that are by default stronger than a human’s body, more dangerous to a human than a human is to it. For a surprising number of desks and people using them, you are not tougher than your desk in a straight up fight. That means that when Nobody wants to represent a person engaging in violence with another person, the world around them matters in a wholly material way.
And that makes me think about how easy it is to make a movie like this. Or isn’t.
It’s easy to make these kinds of movies, and I mean it because there’s no end of people who have made an industry out of all the things that go into these movies. The fact that every gun that exists has a meaningful but legally distinct ripoff mass produced enough that you can get safety rated lightweight metal boxes for repeated action sequences with realistic moving parts, produced at scale. They have to be easily produced, you don’t get a cultural phenomenon like the Cannon Group mash-up sequel factory if these movies are too hard to complete. The difficulty does not come in the doing but rather in the how of the doing.
To summarise: The floor for getting a movie like this made at all is very low. The ceiling for how good a job you can do making them is stratospheric. One of the ways you can represent ‘looking good’ in this genre is about doing things that look extremely dangerous, within acceptable standards of danger, and that tends to be the specific, repeatable craft of physical human stunt work.
Computer graphics can do a lot, and I think, based on what I can observe, there are things computer graphics can improve or enhance — like vehicles, backgrounds, removing supports and struts, they can make a fight scene look a lot better. There’s this fight scene that guys like me (and it is, mostly, guys) talk about in these movies, from a movie called Old Boy. The fight scene is a long take with no visible cuts or edits, with minimal props, set in a narrow hallway, with the camera showing the world from ‘inside’ one of the walls, slowly panning along a detailed, multi-stage fight. It is an incredibly well done form of what it is, and it’s using a lot of the tools available to action movie scenes. As an example, the goons in the fight are armed mostly with long sticks, to create vertical spaces, so you can track the action.
It’s great! It looks cool! It’s also got computer graphics in it.
You can ask a lot of nerds about this fight and ask, hey, where did the director use computer graphics to enhance this shot, and a lot of us will say something to the effect of ‘they didn’t, did they?’ which isn’t true. When Oh Dae-su is stabbed in the back? That knife is entirely added with VFX, and makes that scene look even more vicious than it otherwise is.
I bring up this extensive discussion of Old Boy because it’s influential to a whole generation of live action depictions of violence. There are people who are making movies who got into making movies, or redoubled their interest in making movies, after seeing something like Old Boy. I can’t draw you a causal link on the production side, but I can point to a history of ‘people discovering Old Boy,’ and then ‘lots of shows trying to do something like the hallway fight in Old Boy.’
And good! It’s good to try and recognise your influences.
I want to say there’s a ‘movement’ in movies right now but I mean I don’t know that. I can just point to these influences, these hopes, and the idea of making something like Old Boy isn’t even necessarily from that root. There was the long shot fight in Daredevil from the Netflix Marvel Universe, and the similarly impressive hallway fight for The Punisher even if it wasn’t a one-shot kind of story. Then you can just point to John Wick movies, which feel related even if you know the sourcing of the entire ethos of John Wick is much more about stunt professionals getting to take charge of the movies themselves. This involves a related set of skills that, in order to properly replicate combative violence in a form that does not just have verisimilitude to a lay audience but doesn’t present (obvious) impossibilities to an audience that does know things about (say) reloading a gun, the movies have to train everyone involved in the production of the film in a lot of related skills that aren’t just the physicality of controlled, safe, violence. To learn how to do violence safely, one of the skills you need is doing violence unsafely, and as a direct result of this training, you create people who need to understand how people are hurt and the limits of being hurt.
Basically, right now, Keanu Reeves might be legitimately one of the most dangerous people in the world in the context of just the sheer physical skills he possesses even if he’s not got the emotional centre of someone who will actually hurt people for fun.
And those people made a movie about Bob Odenkirk playing the role of John Wick Too.
Thing is, I really liked the movie Nobody and most of what it makes me think about is how you can do something so familiar, but if you do it well, it’s still fantastic as an experience.