Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Movie Cliché du Jour: The Sneaky Neck Snap

"Don't kill me!"   "Shh... pretend I'm Angelina."   "Oh Hawt..."
Look we like a good neck snapping as much as the next testosterone addled X-Games fan but shit is getting out of hand. You know the move we're talking about... lethal bowflex-bodied, killing machine steals up behind unsuspecting rent-a-thug and with one Fossesque flourish breaks his neck. Rent-a-thug falls to the ground deader than Jeff Bridges' eyes in Tron. Audience nods approvingly. Let's get it on.

Fighting in movies pre-Bruce Lee was all about haymakers. Good old fashion fisticuffs. Guys grabbed each other by the shoulder, wound up like Catfish Hunter in the World Series and attempted to punch each other senseless. Punch the guy, pick him up so you could  punch him again. Fights weren't so much choreographed as guys did a lot of falling down and wrestling ineffectually like the set was on a tilt-a-wheel. You don't see William Holden snapping necks in The Wild Bunch. Humphrey Bogart punched liked a seventy-nine year old shut-in, and  John Wayne didn't know a roundhouse from a porterhouse. No kicking. Legs were strictly verboten. We were a boxing society and kicking was considered dirty pool. Exhibit A:

Good times. But then Bruce Lee brought the Hi-Yah! and everything changed. Martial Arts entered the West's cultural landscape, and we realized we'd been fighting like lightheaded toddlers. Awkward. Fights stopped looking like drunken barn dances and started resembling Swan Lake on methamphetamines. Fighting got real, yo. And by real, we mean increasingly, wonderfully heart-ripped-still-beating-from-our-chests absurd. The standard for a good ass kicking rose dramatically and suddenly action heroes needed to establish some natural born killing machine cred. And nothing says killing machine like effortlessly snapping a dude's neck as though it took more effort to open a jar of pickles than kill a man. Schwarzenegger loved a good neck snap. And when it was Ahhhhhnold at the turntable we were willing to buy it. The man was an outrageous conjoining of steroids and genetics, and he made a compelling case for willing suspension of disbelief. It was new; it was weirdly cool, and established Ahhhnold as a bona fide badass even if he couldn't make an 'M' sound.

But like all new toys, Hollywood played with it until the wheels fell off. The last thirty years, action movies have been overrun with neck snapping and its microwave popcorn popping sound effect. Until we arrive at this...

Hanna (2011)

Sometimes it takes a fourteen year old girl to point out the obvious. Let's face it, the neck snap has become a hopeless cliché. It's not new, it's not weirdly cool. It's just lazy, shorthand that is supposed to convey badassary, but instead conveys fat, bored fight choreographers:  "I don't know... snap his neck or something. Next scene." We don't know why it took the prepubescent teen in Hanna to bring us to our senses, but right around the 1:30 mark of the trailer, she dispatches a CIA operative with a snap of the ole neck. And just like that it's a ridiculous concept. Suddenly we're giggling. Suddenly we can't help thinking about how strong neck muscles are, and how rail thin Jennifer Garner and Angelina Jolie actually are. Look at their arms. We don't believe they could lift their carry-on luggage into the overhead compartment much less snap an adult's neck.

It was partly our own fault. For decades, Hollywood taught us that women were cowerers not fighters. Men fought, and women pressed themselves into walls in terror. So the whole La Femme Nakita-ization of women in the last fifteen years has been most satisfying. Plus, and we're being honest here, there's something about hot, anorexic women kicking ass that keeps the world fresh and new. Just saying. And we hope it keeps up, but no more neck snaps. It's time to go in a new direction. It was bad enough when Sayid snapped that guy's neck with his feet on Lost, but now we're supposed to buy that a fourteen year old girl can do it? It strips it of the holy shit factor and renders it goofy. If anyone can do it then anyone can do it. Yawn.

So one last time, for old times sake, we thought we'd finish with a nice neck snapping montage. Make a wish!

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