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Hollywood fantasy battle scenes – keeping it medieval…

May 13, 2019

Summary: Why does Hollywood routinely depict large scale fantasy battle scenes as one massed block of people charging straight at another massed block of people? 

A propos of the Avengers: Endgame film that I watched yesterday.  Why does Hollywood seemingly struggle to depict large scale fantasy battle scenes in anything other than one massed block of people charging straight ahead at another massed block of people in a very compressed battlespace?  As a secondary question: why do superheroes with an array of skills and superpowers always end up resolving a conflict purely based on punching each other repeatedly in the head?

The final battle in Avengers: Endgame – a mush of people rushing into each other at short range, hacking and bludgeoning in an unsophisticated pre-medieval slugfest.  Star Wars and Lord of the Rings have also been guilty.

Yes, I know that a typical 20th/21st century battlefield from the Somme to Helmand province is generally quite empty because of the pieces of metal flying around and this makes for poor cinema, but is it too much to ask for tactics, strategy and logistics to be reflected in an engaging and relevant way?  Even better, how about operational art, the bit that links tactics to strategy?  Even some basic flanking, reconnaissance, camouflage and concealment or use of intelligence?  Even medieval warfare had sophisticated and nuanced tactics and strategy.

But there seems to be a difference in approach between historical accounts and fantasy film.  The American film industry has produced some incredibly intelligent and realistic battle scenes (and many less so!) including Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers… based on WWII and onwards – Vietnam , Gulf Wars, Iraq, Afghanistan.  Fantasy battles seem to trigger a default “let’s do it like Lord of the Rings and have them all charging and hacking at short range”…  If everyone in that fantasy world is at a “medieval” level of technology, then this is perhaps fair enough.  But with high tech weapons, space ships and super powers perhaps there might have been a bit more nuance.

In this respect, my particular gripe with the Avengers film was that there was clearly a lavish, in depth, level of detail put into the spectacle of the final battle scene, but we are never allowed to dwell on this for more than a few seconds before we are jammed back into the bash, crash and thump of medieval melee, split second scene flashing by to another split second scene.  It was a three hour film so a few minutes to develop our understanding of the final battle could have helped.

It was a good enough film, though. I guess.


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