What’s your personal limit on fight-related bullshit in books/movies/tv/etc? At what point do you put it down or turn it off? Can you tolerate the occasional flaming arrow, or…? What are your absolute turn-offs?
I’ll be honest, my limit is excessively low. I mean, I was watching Fate/Zero the other day. I love the 80s Transformer’s Movie (who doesn’t?). I watch Vikings. I genuinely love some incredibly terrible B-action movies, including G.I. Joe. (Ray Park and Byung Hyun Lee are amazing, and G.I. Joe 2 is where I discovered Elodie Yung before her stint as Elektra.) My tolerance is high. So, if I’m put off it usually isn’t the violence itself.
Here’s the three things that turn me off:
1) Not What It Says On The Tin
This is perhaps the biggest turnoff for me. When a movie, book, piece of entertainment establishes itself as A and then does B. I don’t want to sit down with a movie that bills itself as a “hyper-realistic” thriller and get The Mummy. Now, I love The Mummy, it’s a fabulous movie but it’s billed as a wild and wacky summer action flick. It’s big, goofy fun in the best way. It is not, however, a “hyper-realistic” thriller. It’s even worse when the film is trying to be a “hyper-realistic” thriller using an action style pulled from The Mummy. These two could be fantastic together, just drop the “realistic” from the description.
Basically, the piece of entertainment needs to give me what it promised or I’m taking my ball and going home.
2) Sheer Stupidity
This is the bad writing category, when a piece of entertainment is trying so hard to be serious that it doesn’t leave a justification open for balls to the wall style, throw our hands up and throw down, type action but goes there anyway.
It’s not so much that it’s dumb, it’s that the narrative is breaking its own rules and removing the possibility of consequences. Usually this is the classic “Sue” curse, but it can happen to any character in a piece of fiction. I don’t have any patience to read about a character running around knocking out everyone in a castle if there isn’t going to be a pay off for it later.
I’m not against self-congratulatory action sequences that show off how awesome a character is, I just want some narrative consistency to go with it and the scene to have a purpose beyond just that. I like cool fight scenes, but I also like to invest in the characters.
3) Fucking Around With The Audience
I don’t like being played with, tricked, or lied to by a piece of media I’m consuming. There’s a difference between a plot twist and actively fucking around with the audience. I’m not here for movies, novels, comics, or television shows that waste my time.
When the writer is more invested in tricking their audience than they are with telling a good story then that’s when I’m out. It gets worse when the plot twists are nonsensical.
Watching nonsensical fight scenes that exist to pad out a narrative after its run out of ideas is about as fun as watching a five year old slam their action figures together. Actually, the five year old slamming their action figures together is more interesting and the story behind the battle is often coherent.
4) Some In Universe Logic Is All I Want
Mortal Kombat is a very silly movie based on an arcade fighting game, but at least I know what the stakes are and what the participants want. The gratuitous battles make sense in the narrative, even when they don’t.
This is a companion piece to Fucking Around With The Audience but my brain checks out around the time the writer stops caring about justifying a character’s actions in universe. Or, acting in a way that goes against a character’s stated goals. If the character’s decision making cannot rise to the level of a 90s antagonist in a shounen anime then I don’t have time for them. I don’t need the reason for the fight to make sense to me, or to the other characters, I just need it to be in sync with the one starting the violence.
If a character has decided to take the most difficult path to success like knocking out every soldier in a building just to extract one person, then I’d really like that logic explained. Or, the plan was to jump in and save one guy from being attacked by a gang of seven so the protagonist decided to put the whole group into submission holds… one at a time.
However, if the stated goals of these characters are different then I could definitely see it happening.
Q: “Why did you beat up every soldier in that fortress?”
A: “Man, you know, I really hate those guys so I decided to fuck with them! Think about how stupid they’ll feel when they all wake up!”
I really can’t argue with that logic, you know.
Here’s the thing, a character doesn’t have to make the best choice or the right choice or the smart choice. They can be really goddamn dumb, and supported by their setting. The issue is when the writer tries to pretend the decision was brilliant, strategic, tactical, or anything else. That action was their character taking a hammer to a screw. It worked, but it wasn’t smart.
For example: Son Goku is not the brightest bulb in the box, but the masses all over the world love him anyway.
All I’m asking for is this: “I wanted to prove myself the strongest fighter, but you dismissed my challenge. Now, I kidnapped your girlfriend and I’m threatening to kill her if you don’t give me what I want. Fight me in an acceptable duel of previously agreed upon terms, coward!”
That’s a character taking a hammer to a screw and watching characters take hammers to screws can be a lot of fun, when its
supported by the narrative. Its a combat train wreck. There are entire genres built on it.
My issue is don’t try to lie to me.
The motivations don’t need to make sense to me or be what I’d imagine doing, or act as any kind of insert, I just want the character’s motivations, desires, and combat style to make sense to them and be in sync with who they are.
After that, it’s all good.