Why ANNA violates three laws of action movies

I come to praise ANNA, not bury it.

My love for Luc Besson movies is strong. THE TRANSPORTER is beautiful and completely rewatchable, THE FIFTH ELEMENT is creatively wild, and pretty much anything he does is worth checking out.

ANNA is another action movie with KGB spies, the CIA, John-Wick style gun fu and a lot to recommend it. You should fire up the interwebs and watch it when you’ve plumbed the depths of Netflix.

Yet there are laws for action movies, laws carved into our brains and souls by the sweat and blood of Action Movie Gods, and woe unto those writers and directors who willingly break these laws.

ANNA is good.

Unbreaking these laws could have made it great, and there’s always hope for a Special Edition Director’s Cut or whatever.

THE FIRST LAW OF ACTION MOVIES: SAVE THE BEST FOR THE CLIMAX

The exact genre doesn’t matter. Gunslinging westerns, martial arts films, spy thrillers, and Let’s Catch The Genius Serial Killer films all need to do one thing: escalate.

This rule actually applies to every movie and novel. Start strong, but end stronger.

It’s just easier to see and quantify with action movies, because you can do things like count bodies.

What do you want to avoid? The opposite, which would be starting out with your absolute best action scene, then a middling one, and finally an appetizer–or no action scene at all.

That’s basically what ANNA does. There’s a beautiful fight scene in a restaurant that happens early. You’re going to google the thing, so here it is:

Crazy good, right? It makes you expect something even bigger and better at the end.

Except you don’t get that. The climax kinda switches to pure spy thriller instead of action movie, giving the audience get triple-crosses and disguises and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE kinda stuff.

And it feels like a let-down. You’re cheering for our heroine to do the restaurant thing again on the bad guys, except everybody is basically bad and double-crossing each other.

THE SECOND LAW OF ACTION MOVIES: STICK TO ONE TIMELINE

When was the last time you saw a flashback that worked in a movie or book?

They don’t work. I hate them with the fire of a thousand burning suns.

Bad action movies give us a couple flashbacks of the Dead Mentor training the hero and imparting wisdom, right before being killed by gangsters or the villain. Good thrillers avoid flashbacks entirely.

ANNA gives us flashbacks and flashforwards out the wazoo, and it kills the story. Because really what they’re doing is going back to give the audience setups after they just watched the payoffs. It’s not surprising or fun–it’s a lazy way to patch holes in a story. “Hey, here’s three months earlier, which will explain why that just happened.”

No. Just no.

Keep it linear. One timeline, straight through.

THE THIRD LAW OF ACTION MOVIES: GIVE US A VILLAIN

Whatever you think of Tom Cruise, the last MISSION IMPOSSIBLE gave us a great, great bad guy: Superman/The Witcher.

Sure, there was an overt baddie, but he was a puppet of Superman/The Witcher, who was pulling all the strings. And since thrillers are about betrayal, especially spy thrillers, this was a great twist.

ANNA doesn’t give us a villain. There’s no final faceoff and beautiful fight. She slips away.

I’d argue that the most villainous character is Helen Mirren’s, who you can see in the trailer for a bit.

She does all sorts of Very Bad Things, and deserves to get completely Restauranted–but instead, Anna helps her take control of the entire KGB.

So yeah, not a very satisfying ending. Bad guys kinda win while the hero disappears.

VERDICT

Hey, this thing is still fun and completely watchable. Well worth firing up, and there’s nothing wrong with the actors. The lead actor does an amazing job–put her in more movies.

It simply could be much, much better with some structural tweaks. Save the best for last, Luc!

The trouble with LUCY by director Luc Besson

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

I’m a huge fan of Scarlett Johanssson and Luc Besson, director of THE TRANSPORTER, THE FIFTH ELEMENT and THE TRANSPORTER PUTS THE FIFTH ELEMENT IN THE TRUNK AND DRIVES IT AROUND EUROPE.

So I saw LUCY last night in this giant building where the floors are sticky and popped corn drenched with fake butter costs $10 a bag.

The previews looked great and word was this movie is interesting, if not weird. Hey, it’s directed by Luc Besson, who I really want to call Jean Luc Besson, so it’s going to be exciting and fast and weird.

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s a great parody trailer:

Is this movie good? Sure. Exciting and different. Worth renting, and maybe watching in the theater.

What keeps it from greatness? The Invincible Hero Problem strikes again.

Hollywood keeps forgetting a simple rule: the villain has to be scarier and tougher than your hero.

Otherwise, there’s no jeopardy, no mystery, and the audience doesn’t care, because we know Reacher will mop the floor with every bad guy, Superman will blast Lex Luther and Keanu Reeves became unstoppable once he stopped saying “Whoa” and realized he was The One.

Invincible heroes are boring.

Lucy becomes impossibly powerful about one-third into this movie. The bad guys have zero chance after that. Zippo. She’s like a blonde Neo who escaped the Matrix, flinging people and cars around, communicated with trees and tapping into cell phone calls simply by looking at the electromagnetic spectrum. She’s a stronger god than Thor at this point, though that would make Chris Hemsworth cry when they film AVENGERS 5: IRON MAN VERSUS BATMAN VERSUS SUPERMAN.

For two-thirds of LUCY, the audience sits back and watches her do whatever she wants. There’s a bit of drama at the end, with the crime lord sneaking up behind her with a gun, though nobody using even 5 percent of their brain believed the villain had a chance of actually shooting her.

A great thriller requires a great villain. The hero has to be an underdog. The weaker you make the hero, and the stronger you make the villain, the better the ending.

Look at THE LEGO MOVIE, where the hero — the little boy — has zero shot of winning against his father, who doesn’t want him playing with his perfectly constructed Lego town. Dad holds all the power and authority. The little boy can’t win by beating his father in a fist-fight. This movie is different, and special, because the hero actually gets the villain to change course by using words instead of bullets, and it makes you cry.

So, peoples of Hollywood, please remember the most basic storytelling rule before you do a page 1 polish of a script that already cost you $5 million and has the names of seven different writers hanging from it already. That rule is simple: the villain must be stronger than the hero. Period. End of story.

If you really want to get crazy, and have some kind of unstoppable hero that you don’t want to change, flip the script and make Captain Invincible Pants your villain. How will the puny humans stop him? Oh, now you’ve got something.