By employing directors with backgrounds in drama, the studios hope action-heavy films will be infused with greater depth. The catch, however, is that drama directors are usually inexperienced at, and thus incapable of, properly handling their material that is the film’s main selling point, or one of them.
Even for a tentpole summer release based on a prized comic-book property, this is not an uncommon phenomenon; on the contrary, it’s become standard operating procedure for the studios.
And it’s also become the central problem for modern action movies, which have fallen into disarray because of who’s now making them—and, as a result, how they’re being made.
The outcome isn’t pretty: action that gets the point across but lacks coherence, as well as the unique personality that the director was supposedly hired to provide.
No studio exec would dare hand over an Oscar-hopeful drama to Michael Bay. This is, first and foremost, because the Michael Bay method of spastically shooting and editing auto chases, shootouts, and other CG-ified mayhem is easily replicated.
That’s not to say that Bay is a hack; his films have a distinctive car commercial sleekness and sexiness that’s difficult to fully duplicate. But his process—which compiles lots of frenzied camera coverage—is one whose emphasis is in post-production. In other words, he films a ton, from as many angles as possible, and then assembles it in whatever way he pleases in the cutting room.
The overall outcome of this movement is incoherent, largely personality-free action, made falsely “impactful” by editing and sound design that drive every smash-cut and whip-pan home with sledgehammer force.
Studios are, for the most part, happy with this style, for a couple of reasons.
One is that the audiences who drive opening weekend box-office seem to approve of this type of filmmaking, perhaps because it matches the world as they feel it.
Hollywood also likes the chaotic style because it seems like a way of shaking up the action genre—of invigorating it through filmmakers that are perhaps more interested in relationships than action, and in internal as well as external struggles.
By opening up action, fantasy and superhero sagas to directors who aren’t known for their flair with action, the studios are hoping to give he-man sagas some heft, and reassure actors that they’re in the hands of a filmmaker who puts people first.