Summer movie season is here! It's only the beginning of June and we've already had huge action films such as Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. Civil War, was a ton of fun seeing superheroes collide on screen while also introducing new characters to the MCU such as Spider-Man and Black Panther. Apocalypse, had some cool action sequences but ultimately felt like just another CGI bloated mess. Lastly, Out of the Shadows was entertaining for kids and nostalgic Ninja Turtles fans. If you don't fall in those two categories then the movie may have just been downright goofy.
The sad fact is that so far, out of those 3 films only one of them has been received well critically while the others fall into the category of sequel-overkill.
With the past 10-15 years of summers being packed with superhero films and various rebooted franchises, I've started to notice a significant pattern in the storytelling. They all lead to a 3rd Act Final Battle CGI Action Sequence. These scenes often contain a lot of similarities and are also used to carry out similar functions in their respective films. I've selected a few examples of such final scenes, and I'd like to discuss why they can work, and other times end up reducing the end quality the film as well as some that changed the formula.
Where The Battles Didn't Work
The most recent film to feature the trope of a giant 3rd act final battle is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. If you haven't seen the film yet, you could guess it by the trailers. In this scene, Krang has his gigantic robotic ship called the Technodrome coming out of this portal in the sky. In the final scene, he plans to cause mass destruction to take over earth.
Sure, the sequence sounds thrilling but at this point in the film it felt almost unnecessary. In the film we already had huge action pieces. One that included the Turtles jumping from one plane to another to fight Bebop and Rocksteady, crashing the plane, and then whipping down some water rapids over a waterfall with a tank being involved. Yeah, that was all at once!
The ending sequence in the 2014 film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, built up to this giant showdown with Shredder on top of a building, which made more sense because it was supposed to be kicking off a new rebooted Turtles universe. However, just because it sort of made sense in the first film, doesn't mean you should repeat the same thing in the sequel.
If you would like to see my full thoughts in video review form of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows click here below:
Another sequel that tried to replicate the original action sequence was Avengers: Age of Ultron. The ending featured the heroes banding together to battle an army of Ultron drones. If you're someone that just loves dazzling action and seeing Captain America, Iron Man and Hulk kick some robot ass then this sequence is for you.
However, if you're someone like me who prefers story over style, then sequences like these might be getting old for you. Even my favorite film in the MCU, Captain America: The Winter Soldier fell under this trap. The final battle has Cap disable large air crafts from opening fire on innocents where he decides to go down with the ship. This sounds very similar to Captain America: The First Avenger.
Even though I've given you a few examples on why these ending battles to films are becoming repetitive, it doesn't mean I'm completely against any filmmaker from using them. I actually believe when used properly, they can really provide a tremendous payoff. Most of the movies where I really enjoyed the use of this trope were first installments of franchises.
These examples will include from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Star Wars universe and the rebooted Planet of the Apes universe.
Battles that DID Work
In the previous section, I discussed how Avengers: Age of Ultron's final battle didn't work because it will be nearly impossible to replicate the magic that was that final battle sequence in the original Avengers. It is because having heroes spanning across separate solo films all coming together to fight as a team had NEVER been done before.
It wasn't the effects and explosions that resonated with audiences. It was the 2008-2012 buildup climbing to this moment and seeing this team on screen at the same time. This wasn't only the 3rd act final battle of The Avengers but it was the 3rd act final battle to the MCU's entire Phase 1. It was the ULTIMATE fan service. Was The Avengers perfect as a film itself? Not by any means, but that final battle was historical in superhero movies everywhere.
A non superhero film that really showed how 3rd act final battles can be done well is the original Star Wars. In the first act, Luke started as a kid who just was cleaning some droids and came across a message from a princess. By act 3, Luke grew into the guy who used the force to destroy The Death Star. Delivering the plans to the Death Star was all setup and this final confrontation was the best possible payoff. This worked because the story planted the seeds to succeed.
Lastly, I wanted to bring up a film that isn't even necessarily an action film, but it does follow the same pattern as the others. In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the entire film builds to Caesar releasing the toxins that amplified his intelligence to his fellow apes.
Alternatives to the Formula
I wanted to also point out a few films that avoided that trope all together where I enjoyed the change. In Captain America: Civil War we were all astonished at the epic airport action sequence the teams faced off in. Some people are calling it the best comic book action scene of all time, and it's hard to argue!
What I personally loved, was that this WASN'T the act 3 final sequence. This was around act 2 of the movie. The act 3 final battle didn't really have any explosions at all. It was a personal fight between Captain America, Bucky and Iron Man. It was smash mouth, emotional and thrilling.
Another example was Sam Raimi's 2004 film Spider-Man 2. The train scene pictured above was towards the end of act 2. The final sequence of the film wasn't about these two fighting each other again, it was about Spider-Man stopping the reactor from destroying the city, saving Mary Jane and convincing Doc Ock to save himself from the artificial intelligence inside his metal claws. It was very effective because it all lead to the moment where Mary Jane sees Spider-Man unmasked.
Lastly, jumping back into the Star Wars universe. If you look back at Empire Strikes Back it does something brilliant by NOT trying to replicate the outline of the original Star Wars. The battle on Hoth occurs in act 1 of the film. That's right, the biggest action scene is done right in the beginning. Talk about flipping the script! Much like Civil War, the final confrontation was a personal battle between Luke and Vader.
Overall, this article is not meant to say that 3rd Act Final Battles need to go away. This is purely to show that this trope can be done well if it were used more sparingly. I suggest bringing up some alternative ideas to encourage writers to seek new avenues to wrap up their action stories. Different can be really fun!
What do you, the readers think though? I would love to discuss this in the comments with anyone who agrees or disagrees.
Check out also my other most recent review for X-Men: Apocalypse here
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