We don’t spend enough time talking about big, dumb action movies. You know the type. The action flick with more explosions and ridiculous stunts than actual exposition. There’s no real world-building, and if you pay too much attention to the details you’ll start to see it all unravel right before your eyes. But they always have more than enough to keep you entertained, and the best of them have a whole lot of heart woven in with their plethora of booms, hi-yahs, and car chases.   

What Are ‘Big Dumb Action’ Movies?

Before we start off, let’s take a look at what isn’t a big, dumb action movie. A lot of times, we see folks who aren’t really into action as a whole glom onto franchises like John Wick, Ip Man, James Bond and even the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – pure action movies’ snack food cousins. All of these films are glorious. They’re beautiful, smart, nuanced, and have every move planned out from start to finish. The MCU might have some arguments against it, but series like John Wick and Ip Man are high-end, seven-course meals while our big, dumb action movie friends are like a bucket of extra crispy fried chicken. And that, boys and girls, is the furthest thing from an insult. Sometimes you just need a bucket of extra crispy fried chicken!  

So, if not all action is “big, dumb action,” then what is? The Fast and the Furious franchise is probably our best current example, as are series like xXx, and standalone films like Air Force OneIndependence Day, and Speed. Sometimes a horror-leaning flick like Tremors or Deep Blue Sea makes its way into the classification as well. The rules are pretty simple: very little sensical narrative, lots of explosions, and probably at least one dude crashing through a window at full force.  

Stunt People Are The Reason Action Movies Work

Inside these films are countless insanely talented stunt teams and choreographers who put together some of the most ridiculous fight scenes seen on the big screen. Stunt teams are notoriously underappreciated, but none so much as the big action folks. Because there’s so little focus on a complex story, it’s up to the stunts to pick up that slack. Just look at xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. It’s recent, it’s exceptional, and it makes some choices that differ from the majority of other films of its kind, including the first two chapters of the series.   

The film opens with Xander (Vin Diesel) pulling off a ridiculous set of skateboard tricks to bring a football (soccer) game to the people of the village he’s chosen to retire in. Shout out to Cody Townsend, Vin’s stunt double, who made this and all of Xander’s other crazy tricks in the film possible. Though the film is his by name, Xander isn’t the character that steals the stunt show. That honor goes to Xiang (Donnie Yen), which ultimately ends up being a smart move by the team behind the film. When you’ve got Yen in your movie, you just get right out of the way and let him do his thing. Shout out to Alvin Hsing, who teamed up with Yen on stunts, but ultimately went uncredited on the film.  

The lack of stunt team acknowledgment is mostly out of the control of the films we’re talking about here. It’s a systematic issue of Hollywood that you’ve heard many film journalists harp about for years. They certainly deserve better. What is in the control of these big budget, snack flavored action films, is how they choose to treat their women narratively.  

Women Kick As Much Ass As Men

While the treatment of women in films is another overarching Hollywood issue, action films have been pretty notorious in creating vapid characterizations for their women. The first two xXx films certainly fell into this category (and The Fast and The Furious films have only ever been a hair better about it). Fast forward to The Return of Xander Cage, and the introduction of Serena Unger (Deepika Padukone) and Adele Wolfe (Ruby Rose). Serena might have ultimately served as yet another love interest to Xander, but her first function is to kick ass and take names. There’s even a moment where the two ladies share a catty scene with one another, and immediately call it out for what it was.  Likewise, the upcoming Hobbs & Shaw is set to feature Vanessa Kirby as the capable, extremely action-oriented Hattie Shaw, a woman who can hold her own against Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and her brother, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Heck, the last trailer even features Hobbs praising her as the most remarkable woman he’s ever met. 

Now, are these women, and all of the other women that have been introduced in these kinds of films, sort of one-dimensional ass-kicking machines with very little emotional depth? Absolutely! But, so are the men, so I’m not mad about it. Go blow some shit up with the boys, ladies! We’re excited you’re here.

A Lot Of Heart To Make Up For A Lack Of Depth

Snackable action films like these might not have a lot of narrative depth, but they’ve often got plenty of heart and/or moral messages. The Return of Xander Cage narrative focuses on timely commentary of political tyranny. Xander notes at the beginning of the film that “there are no more patriots. Just rebels and tyrants.” You’re not wrong, Cage. The Fast and the Furious has the “fambly”, Armageddon illustrates the relevance of sacrifice, Starship Troopers shows off the stupidity of war. I’m gonna stop before we all get lost in this list. 

None of these popcorn flicks are winning Oscars anytime soon, but hey, they don’t give stunt people the time of day at all, so who wants one of those trophies, anyway? The fact of the matter is, none of these flicks are any less fun because they’re the cinematic equivalent to snack food. They’re exciting, sometimes silly, and often full of adventure. Sometimes they can be a little extra with the machismo, but we’re learning.  

Now that I’ve got you all revved up for your next high flying action adventure, don’t forget that we’ve got an exciting lineup coming our way this year. Shaft is in theaters now. Hobbs and Shaw drives into theaters August 2nd. We all want justice for Han, but those trailers just keep getting better and better. You’ve got a new Fast and the Furious coming out in 2020. Stuber heads to theaters in early July, and the year’s closing out with a brand-new Charlie’s Angels. The future is bright and filled with explosions, my friends! 

Get your tickets for Hobbs & Shaw now.

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  • Editorial