In an age where Hollywood is making fewer movies, they are also making bigger ones, with more explosive special effects. In the midst of what can feel like a CGI arms race, IndieWire has argued that big budget action scenes have become boring. “Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle” writer-director Matthew Vaughn agrees.
“I look at some action sequences and it’ll be like watching a football game and everything is on a mid-shot and shaking the camera around,” said Vaughn in an interview this week. “After a while, I’m thinking, this is really boring, I’m reading the impact but I’m not knowing where the ball is or who is winning, who is losing and how close [we are] to the end.”
Vaughn thinks the biggest problem is screenwriting 101: make sure the action is fully integrated into the narrative and the audience is emotionally invested in the action scenes. He also puts a heavy emphasis on the clarity of the action, going out of his way – sometimes by slowing the action down for a beat – to make sure each movement is articulated and there is a cause and effect for every explosion.
Returning to the sports metaphor, Vaughn compared his approach to action as more like a replay of big play.
“I love watching highlights of sports, it’s one of my favorite things,” said Vaughn. “You get to see all the good stuff and what’s going on… understanding the geography of what’s going on is crucial.”
While the new “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” utilizes all the pyrotechnics that CGI can offer – often with fantastical set pieces with invented technology that is intentionally futuristic and playfully unrealistic – Vaughn views the CG technology biggest benefit as being a way of getting the exact shot and angle on the action that he wants. “My number one rule with CGI is how would we do it, if we could do this for real?” said Vaughn.
The real dividing line between engaging an audience and boring them? Clarity.
“I can show you an action sequence that’s just 40 seconds long with the biggest explosions and punches that feels like five minutes,” said Vaughn. “I [can also] show you a five minute action sequence, which is constructed properly and tells a story, has angles which you feel what you need to feel, and that five minutes can feel like 40 seconds.”
To emphasize the point, he discussed a problem they faced with “The Golden Circle.” At 141 minutes running time, the “Kingsman” sequel felt a little too long, so Vaughn went back and trimmed a few minutes.
“I had a six-minute shorter cut of the film and suddenly it felt like a three-hour movie,” said Vaughn. “It felt longer because it felt a bit confusing and when you are confused you don’t relax, you don’t understand all the impact. So we had to put six minutes back in and it automatically felt shorter.”
Vaughn said that even a well-directed action movie can suffer from a poor screenplay, if it doesn’t properly lay the groundwork for their big set pieces.
“I’m always watching ‘The Deer Hunter’ because I think it’s the perfect example of setup, setup, setup, get to know the characters and then blow your mind,” said Vaughn. “The modern cinema sorta [forgets that without that] you got to work harder to really enjoy a film.”
“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” opens in theaters on September 22.