There can’t be many people that believe that action movies are realistic. No one who has ever been to a firing range, or even played a first person shooter video game, thinks that guns shoot as straight as lasers. You know that a revolver typically holds six shots and a pistol between seven and fifteen, but you don’t bat an eye when the action hero sprays a room full of evil mercenaries without a single reload, only to run out of bullets the moment the chief baddy reveals himself.
But the unrealistic nature of action movies runs far deeper than that. I’m not some grouch who whines whenever a shotgun blast launches a bad guy three feet or an exploding building fails to muss a superheroine’s hairdo. Still, every little unrealistic flourish makes it harder to suspend disbelief. And there are a lot of people, like me, that have some military experience and so have to sigh and shake their heads through about half of any decent action film.
A great example is from one of my favorite action comedies: The Other Guys. When Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg go to investigate a suspicious accounting office in NJ, said office goes kablooey. Standing in the parking lot, Will and Mark are blown onto their backs and roll around in agony, whining and yowling and complaining that they can’t hear and will have blood blisters. Will yells out that movies are bullshit – and he has a right to complain. From the same distance, any action hero would not have batted an eyelash.
Every action film, even the most realistic, is full of silly inconsistencies and errors. The best action movie since Die Hard, Taken, is, in my opinion incredibly well done. The injuries hurt, the martial arts are very accurately depicted, and the investigative techniques that Liam Neeson uses to find his daughter are completely plausible. But even Liam would not have been able to recover from all his injuries quickly enough to beat the living hell out of a bunch of eastern Europeans.
Here are ten other reasons why action movies are complete bullshit, no matter how entertaining they are.
Chances are you haven’t been all that close to an explosion. If your only exposure to earth shaking fireballs comes from the cinema, you may be surprised to learn that they are extremely dangerous, even if you manage to run away from them in slow motion or stand coolly a few feet away wearing sunglasses. Explosions don’t just pulverize buildings and turn cars into slag – they do the same to meat. But you knew that. Any villain holding a grenade can show you that.
But, what is an explosion? Why, it’s something getting really big, really fast – and when it does that it displaces the air around it just as quickly. That force is a shock wave, and those shock waves really mess people up. They cause brain, organ and vascular damage. They deafen people. Any US combat soldier recruit who’s passed the night assault course can tell you that even small explosions just meant to shock you will can actually lift you off the ground and smack you back down onto it so quick that it feels more like the ground itself was what jumped.
Guns Are Super Loud
Another thing any soldier – or self respecting cop or redneck – can tell you is that gunshots are freaking loud. Even a teensy little .22 makes a big loud bang, much louder than the proverbial busted cap, home dog.
If action movies were honest everyone would TALK AT A REALLY LOUD YELL AFTER EVERY FIREFIGHT. Why? Well, remember that scene in The Boondock Saints where the heroes put on the earplugs before busting into the hotel suite and killing all the mafia goons? No? That’s because it didn’t happen. Not in any film do the heroes protect their hearing. Guess that helps when you want to ignore the chastising scorn of your commanding officer.
Wounds Hurt For A Long Time
Most action heroes go through stuff that would put the toughest real-life soldiers to shame and come out on the other side looking like a Vidal Sassoon commercial. If you’ve seen Children Of Men, then you’ve seen one of the most honest representations of action in any film. I am speaking, of course, of when the hero was forced to run for his life through a riot and gunfight wearing flip flops. Even with no one shooting at him, he ended up bruised and limping and dirty and stayed that way for the rest of the film. Now that I think about it, when gunshots went off near him he got ringing in his ears. Good film, that.
Listen, if you’ve ever gotten a paper cut, you know that even the smallest wound will annoy you for a good long time. If, like me, you’ve gotten a broken nose or a dislocated joint, you know it never really heals completely. But you never see John McClain complaining about any joint pain from the first Die Hard in any of the subsequent films.
Beatings REALLY Hurt, And For A While
Ask anyone if they’d rather take a beating from a heavyweight boxer or have a thumb cut off and they’ll probably run like hell. If you happen to be a mafia boss talking to a captive or a party goer making conversation, most people you put the question to would take the beating. But they may have thought differently if they realized how bad taking a beating can really hurt.
This may be surprising but getting the hell beat out of you doesn’t just make you ugly. Any good action movie fight would end with both participants the proud new owners of internal bleeding, dislocated joints, broken wrists, micro-fractured vertebrae, torn muscles and the next day the sleepy, nauseated feeling of a fresh concussion. I am reminded of the film We Own The Night where Joaquin Phoenix’s character fell out a window and snapped several ribs on a wrought iron fence. After a brief hospital stay he was out hunting Russian mobsters instead of wheezing for breath and trying to relearn how to walk.
Granted, that’d be a much longer film.
There’s No ‘Light’ Gunshot Wound
This might be the least surprising item on this list, but it needs to be addressed: There is no such thing as a light gunshot wound. Seriously, getting shot in the shoulder sucks. It seems like whenever the script calls for someone to get shot but not too badly they get hit in the shoulder or the upper arm. Just so you all know: There is no spare space on your body. It’s a model of efficiency and no bit goes unused. Sure, we have some minor vestigal organs, but I have yet to meet a doctor who performs an appendectomy by rifle.
Your shoulder – the go to spot for a minor wound – is just full of stuff. That stuff makes your arm work. You’ve got bone. You’ve got joint. You’ve got meat and blood. Get shot in your shoulder and enjoy a long and very painful recovery.
Now, there is one place where you can get shot (from far away with a small caliber pistol) without any horrible immediate consequences. It’s the Gump shot: Your butt. But remember, a gunshot wound is a deep wound and left alone it will probably get infected and just plain kill you. Yup. You can die from being shot in the ass.
Guns Don’t Work Perfectly
Another thing about guns is that they are machines. Machines that are by their nature subjected to abrupt violent forces over and over. Eventually, they break. And by eventually I mean right at the most inconvenient moment ever.
Know what you do after you fire your gun? Clean it. Take it apart and make sure all the bits are lubricated and clean. Why? Because a tiny bit of grit caused by firing a gun can cause it to fail to fire when you really need it. Ever see an action movie where the hero, at the critical moment, points his gun and pulls the trigger and it goes click and nothing happens? Just imagine that without the click. Even better, imagine he takes one shot and the ejecting spent casing jams the gun just long enough for him to curse his luck.
All Guns Are Different
In every action film there comes a time to use multiple guns. Either the hero has to improvise with whatever weapons the villains have dropped like so much metal confetti or she has a warehouse’s worth of weaponry she knows like the back of her hand. But guns are not at all interchangeable. Besides all of them having triggers, firearms are all pretty different. Sure, every revolver works basically the same way, but since when do action heroes use a bunch of different revolvers?
Semi-auto pistols also all function in similar ways – but they do have slightly different controls. The triggers have different resistances. The safeties are in different places. The sights come in different configurations. It may or may not have a decocker, beavertail hammer, hidden hammer or a grip hammer retainer. Unless you’ve been introduced to each gun, you’re unlikely to know how to use it immediately after picking it up, especially in a heated firefight.
And don’t get me started on the really cool weapons like automatic rifles and sub machine guns. They’re all remarkably different and require a good bit of training to use well.
Enemy Soldiers Are Probably As Good A Warrior As Any Hero
What makes an action hero a hero? He’s normal guy with great potential put into an extraordinary situation. What makes any of those scores of villains a villain, besides being on the side of evil or getting between a good man and his cause? They’re also normal guys, and now they’re in the middle of a serious situation – they have to deal with a freaking action hero!
Soldiers the world around are tough badass bastards. Sure, every action hero needs a legion of morons to slaughter to show how heroic he is. Every samurai needs a bunch of not-as-talented-as-he-is ninjas to fight before getting to the big boss ninja. But in reality there is no big boss ninja. Every bad guy that’s qualified to be called one is just as likely to kill a hero as any other – it’s really just a matter of who gets the first accurate shot off.
A real fight is all about position, and not at all about who is the better fighter. Forget MMA and remember Indiana Jones – no master fighter is tougher than a knife to the face or a bottle to the back of the head any more than a scimitar wielding maniac is tougher than a .44 magnum.
Kill A Million Bad Guys And You Get A Reputation
Let me ask you a question, dear reader. Assume you are an evil henchman trying to take over a submarine or mansion or coal mine or any other damn thing and you see some pony tailed, doughy, kind of silly man take out ten of your armed friends at a time with just his bare hands, leaving them unconscious on the floor. Would you (a) attack this man (b) run away (c) call for reinforcements and run away? I’ll give you a hint: NOT A.
The premise of every Steven Seagal film seems to be that every fighter thinks that he is a much better fighter than the guy who effortlessly mutilated a hundred of his buddies. I mean, come on. And don’t get me started on Zatoichi. The bad guys not only see him cut their cohorts to ribbons but they have heard of him doing so before. They already know what he is capable of and they still start shit.
Nobody Goes Through Hell And Comes Out Unscathed
Every single action film should end with the hero in the hospital or at least being massaged by dozens of appreciative nurses in a penthouse suite while he lays back and enjoys a nice cognac and morphine cocktail. Nobody goes through the trauma even the most boring action hero does without needing a hell of a rest, and usually an IV and bandages. But it’s not the physical scars that are so bad. It’s the mental ones.
See your friends killed? Your home blown half to hell? Had to kill someone yourself, or maybe even dozens of someones? That sort of thing takes a bit of a toll on a person. Most people wouldn’t make it through half of an action movie before having a genuine nervous breakdown and I don’t care who the hero is, any one of them would need years of therapy to get over even the most mundane plot.