The Fight Scenes in Ava and the Importance of Tempo

Anonymous asked:

What do u think about the fight in Ava movie (u can find it in YT searching “Ava – Jessica Chastain – [Hotel Fight]”)?

It’s serviceable.

This is me saying, “it’s fine.” Not great, but not terrible either. It’s mostly just, “eh.” If you’re a veteran viewer of these types of action movies, you can tell the director really made an effort for the stylistic realism of similar thrillers like The Bourne Identity, but lacked the practice and familiarity with these sorts of scenes to carry it off. Which, really, shouldn’t surprise anyone looking at his filmography.

I want to make it clear that if there’s any failures here (and there are), it’s on the part of the director and not the actors. I’m also going to ignore Colin Farrell in this scene because I’ve seen him in better action movies, and he’s doing a really good job of moderating his performance. (For the record, this is an actor skill level issue and not a gender one. Farrell is skilled at adjusting his performance to his costar and he largely deserves credit for the equal footing here. Cinematic fight scenes are cooperative, not combative and the best stuntmen make the actors look amazing. Look at this scene with Colin Farrell and Edward Norton from Pride and Glory. Farrell can’t take entire credit for speed here, because the film has actually been sped up.)

It’s not on the level of Bourne’s let me kill you six or seven times in thirty seconds, but the beautiful cinematography that’s reflective in movies like Bourne, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Salt, or Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde isn’t there. If you want hyper realistic gun work, you go to Michael Mann films like Collateral and, more recently, though not a Michael Mann production, John Wick. If you compare to fight scenes from these films, you’ll notice Ava’s fight scene itself is neither hyper-realistic, nor visually interesting. That’s the real kiss of death here, and why it’s serviceable.

The gun sequence was fine, Farrell was doing a sloppy CAR which is why he looks a little wonky compared to Chastain, but it fell apart when they hit the hand to hand section. The hits aren’t in the same zip code as the opponent’s face, there’s a painful lack of force, and it’s very slow even at the very beginning. It’s almost levels of Buffy first season bad, where 90% of the fight scenes is very obviously just the stunt doubles going at it. Compare to this fight sequence from Into the Badlands with Emily Beecham, can you track how many times she’s switched out for her stunt double? (Hint: it’s almost all the long shots with acrobatic stunts, and a few of the back shots.) The way it’s intercut, you’d probably never notice.

And that is where the problem for Ava lies. In terms of pacing, it plods.

Into the Badlands is choreographed by a stunt team out of Hong Kong, it’s all in the wuxia tradition, and doesn’t give two shits realism. Ava is trying for faux Hollywood realism over stylized violence, but doesn’t want to commit to it.

Part of the problem for Ava is there’s a distinctive speed difference in hand to hand combat where the stunt doubles are performing versus when the actors are, which hurts the scene’s pacing. And, there’s always a difference in tempo between stunt doubles and the actors, but when the difference is vast, it hurts believability. Again, the scene is really useful if you’re trying to parse what makes violence interesting and watchable outside of narrative context, because the director hasn’t figured it out. He’s imitating other styles he’s seen but has yet to settle on a distinctive one of his own. The fight scene also lacks visual personality to set it apart from other mediocre action films.

I mean, if all you want is hot women kicking ass then you’ve got Luc Besson’s entire filmography and Chastain is not sexualized any less here than the women in Besson’s films. (And, yes, I’m aware of the allegations against him, and, if you’ve watched his movies, they’d come as no surprise. He’s really on brand for Hollywood’s faux strong female character, pop feminism, kickass sex doll. It’s a lot harder to throw a coin and not hit a sexual predator when trying to learn things, so consume your media wisely.) Compare Ava’s fight scene here to Anna’s, both are technically superhero assassins. You can feel the tempo difference, and it’s not just because one is a group fight scene. (This scene from Anna also has a long cut where it’s just the stunt double, can you find her?)

One of the neat tricks from Anna’s fight scene is the broken plate, because the plate is broken and therefore bladed, the actor doesn’t have to pretend they’re putting in more force in order to be convincing.

So, how can you use film choreography to improve your own fight scenes?

One thing to remember is that film is a visual medium where the written word is mental and, potentially, auditory. You get further with sensation, and your goal is to ultimately be convincing rather than right. The reason to Learn How Things Work is so you get to pick and choose your own rules, you decide what to keep and what to discard in the service of your work rather than being bound by someone else’s choices. If you can define reality, you can create it.

You can learn a lot about staging from film, the usage of environmental props, and start training your mind to consider where your characters are fighting and what they can potentially use.

Choreography is very important. Choreography is a large part of what makes violence engaging outside of emotional involvement via the narrative. (Violence on its own is actually boring.)

Stuntman queuing is remarkably useful when balancing group fights on the page where you sometimes need to drop and pick up minor characters in text.

Lending weight to your character’s hits. One of the major differences between good fight scenes and bad fight scenes on film is the weight of the onscreen hit. If a hit feels heavy i.e. the force appears to have been generated for it, it feels more real. Otherwise, you’re just relying on motion to entertain the eye.

Your audience has a basic understanding of physics, so certain tactics will look more real than others. (Regardless of whether or not they’re factually true.)

The importance of setting goals with your fight scenes for tone and impact, just like all your scenes.

The more you learn, the larger your toolbox is.

-Michi

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