Dennis O’Neil: Drama and Spectacle
Journey back into history far enough, and look in the right place, and maybe you’ll come across the common ancestor of drama and spectacle. Something religious, maybe. And as recently as 2,000 years ago, give or take, if you were taking a break from whatever ancient Romans took breaks from and filling a seat at the Circus Maximus, you’d see the chariot races and athletics and you’d also see staged battles.
And, ancient Roman that you are, if you could slip into a time warp and fast forward to what we could jokingly refer to as modern civilization, you might enjoy the movies of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton and the Olympic gymnastics and boxing matches and their surly offspring, mixed martial arts and…
Maybe you’d see the three movies I’ve seen recently and two of these might remind you of the good old days, sitting in the sweltering Italian sun and being entertained by mock combat. You might also enjoy the third movie I’ve seen of late, but not in quite the same way.
Chinese Zodiac stars the beloved and amazing Jackie Chan and, judging by a voiceover he delivers as the end credits roll, it might be his valedictory – not to cinema as a whole, for he will surely act in future movies, but to the kind of comedic action flick he’s been delighting us with for decades, featuring just enough plot to carry Jackie’s awesome stunts/acrobatics/clowning, usually with his face in the shot so you know that it’s really him up there and not a stunt double.
If Jackie needs an heir apparent, I nominate the Thai performer, Tony Jaa, who was inspired by watching the movies of Jackie, Bruce Lee and Jet Li as a youngster. I caught Jaa’s most recent American release, The Protector 2, and am glad I did. Jaa does not display Jackie’s comedic gifts, but his fight scenes, which, like Jackie’s, combine acrobatics and martial arts, are terrific. Doubt me? Maybe you can catch The Protector 2 at your television’s movies-on-demand option, as I did, and decide for yourself.
Which brings us to Batman Begins. We didn’t intend to watch it, but we were channel surfing and there it was and we had time to kill, and what the hey – why not? Of course, we’d seen it five years ago, but surely merited a revisit. Now, let me say it again: Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is excellent. But the fight scenes are among the few problems I had with it. A lot of them are rendered in blurs, closeups and quick cuts, highly kinetic but, for me, of limited entertainment value. Not like Chan and Jaa and Keaton and, no, not even like those sword-slingers in the old – really old – days.
The stuff those guys did has been proving its worth for centuries.
In the final third of the trilogy, Mr. Nolan proved that he can deliver a well-choreographed fracas. I just wish he’d chosen to do so earlier. Imagine what Jackie Chan could have done with that cape!
But the movies are excellent.