When I think of action movies, I think: high octane, adrenaline-pumping, heart-pounding, a thrill ride from beginning to end, edge-of-your-seat excitement, and a million other meaningless, machismo-infused phrases. But for some action movies, there is a peculiar calmness after the film’s climactic set piece.
The protagonist has spent the entirety of the film chasing, discovering, or making his way to some intimidating villain, and the inevitable showdown happens in some mansion or warehouse or skyscraper–something that blows up real good and gives the pyrotechnics a place a shine. And the showdown itself is gripping, intense, exciting–all those buzzwords that action movie creators want you to use–but the action star brain, it seems, almost goes into this hibernation mode, a dreamlike, carefree state where the main character and everyone around him (or her, rarely) have forgotten where they are and what the fuck just happened.
The moment the bad guy has met his demise, the protagonist takes a sigh of relief and then just kinda…holds it. A mansion could still be in the process of exploding behind him, a skyscraper could be a towering inferno mere feet away, a goddamn plane could have crashed into the Las Vegas strip, and the main character struts–wounded yet empowered–to be reunited with the people he loves. It makes me wonder if any of these characters had ever been in a school fire drill, where even a hypothetical waste basket fire would require a perimeter of at least 100 feet. But he remains calm. He grabs his girl and says nothing or he says that one thing he had wanted to say during the entire film. He embraces his sidekick. He receives his acclaim. He explains to the overzealous superior that he’s going on vacation. He finally punches that prickish reporter or bureaucrat in the nose.
And all the while, with screaming ambulances and panicked firemen around him, he walks proudly, totally unaffected, his mind eased and his body tired. It’s as if the entire movie was a tense and aggressive build-up to a desperately needed masturbation session and the ending is simply the man’s blissful catharsis. The crucial difference here, though, is that in action movies, these protagonists are never responsible for the clean-up.