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A Place for the Small-Scale Action Flick

written by Jake Draper August 5, 2015


The debate is going to rage all year on whether or not 2015 is a “good” year for movies. With the runaway success of films like Jurassic World or the obvious expected hit, The Avengers: Age of Ultron it’s hard to say the year has been a financial flop. But, what defines what a “success” is in films? Technically, Avatar is the most successful film ever made, but I can’t name one single person who even places that film on their own personal “Top 10” list.


Recently I’ve been indulging on Marvel’s Netflix-exclusive Daredevil, and, for me personally, despite the mega-scale of Age of Ultron, it’s my favorite piece of Marvel lore to come out this year. It’s not about saving the universe, or the world, or America, or a state, or even a city. It’s about one corner of a city where one man makes such a small difference that his actions haven’t even been felt in the MCU that we all know from the big screen. Yet, to me, this is the most enjoyable comic book adaptation I’ve seen in quite some time.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is built up to be an absolute juggernaut at this point. The first Avengers film saw the team save the city of New York, and potentially the world. The second film saw them save (SPOILER) all of us. Every single living person on earth. What’s next? The galaxy. All of the living beings in all of existence. So what after that? Where do you go after that? What’s a higher stake?

That’s where the small-scale film comes in. My personal favorite movie of the entire year has been Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s not about a dude saving the world or even saving a city. It’s about one guy looking out for himself, then finding himself wrapped in someone else’s quest to protect a small group of people. That’s it. And, Odin behold, it’s a masterful piece of film. The stakes don’t need to be so high because we felt more connected to that small cast of characters than we possibly could the entirety of all existence in a fictional world.

Daredevil takes cues from The Raid and doesn’t ramp up Daredevil’s mission to a point where all existence hinges on his success or failure. It’s a small, secluded story of one man trying to make his environment a better place. Films like The Raid or Dredd did this same thing. Each of those films actually takes place almost entirely in one single building. The same can be said for Die Hard. These movies benefitted from a very personal journey of a small group of people that we found ourselves connecting with on a deeper level.

Make no mistake, there’s a place in this world for action movies the size of the MCU’s usual outings and Terminator 2 is arguably one of the best action films ever put to celluloid, and that’s not even mentioning the monster that is Star Wars. The scale of these films isn’t to be downplayed, to say the least, but other, smaller-scale films give us a much more visceral and personal journey with the heroes and villains that we love and hate and love to hate and hate to love. That’s what makes them so wonderful.

Perhaps the best of both worlds is the happy medium. Films like Terminator 2 and Iron Man 3 attempt keeping you in-tune with the personal struggles of a person or small group of people, while also reminding you that what’s at stake is, essentially, everything ever. The first adaptation of Judge Dredd took place on a far more epic scale than the more recent Dredd, but the more personal touch of the latter elevated it far above its predecessor.4529339-avengers-age-of-ultron-collage


So, while Marvel continues to take humans and Gods to outer space to fight world-conquering Mad Titans with crazy cool gloves, give me a small story of Matt Murdock trying to make Hell’s Kitchen a better place. The epic feel of these huge movies is something to behold, but the intimate adventure that I share with Daredevil or Max Rockatanski or John McClane is something that action films seem to be forgetting as they constantly work for the “Bigger is Better” mantra to be the only way to make a good movie.


What do you think? How do you feel about the intimate journey offered by the small-scale action film? Or would you rather things always be constant death and destruction of everything in the universe? Do you like the subtle blending of the two styles ala Terminator 2’s personal touch strapped to a huge story of saving mankind?

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