America has an action movie problem, thanks to Netflix

You Know What The Netflix Movies ‘The Gray Man’, ‘Red Notice’, And The Upcoming Vampire Hunter Jamie Foxx Are collapse “Day shift” completed? They make “Prey” on Hulu even better by comparison.

I saw the four of them in a marathon stream-a-thon at home the other day, interrupted by the usual interruptions and the occasional deployment of the pause button to, oh, you know: go to the fridge, go to the bathroom, trip down the alley when the trash needed to be taken out. I watched these four action films the way most of us stream most things: in a state of semi-distraction.

Here is what I learned.

Many Netflix action movies are made for this state. They were made, perhaps, in this same state of semi-distraction.

And a genuinely thrilling movie, like the “Predator” prequel “Prey,” can rise above the rest not because it’s less violent (it’s not; it’s a movie.” Predator”), but because the filmmakers take their time and lean in when it comes to timing, rhythm, and the occasional human emotion.

Each streaming platform measures success and hides failure differently. But taking Hulu’s numbers at face value, “Prey” is its most-watched premiere yet. The 20th Century Studios project, set in 1713 and filmed in Alberta, Canada, imagines a duel of trickery between the interstellar visitor introduced in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s headbanger “Predator” (1987) and the Comanche Nation tribe Naru (Amber Midthunder).

Director Dan Trachtenberg shot “Prey” in English and Comanche versions. The premise, which is inspired, and the execution, which is highly effective, work with all sorts of audiences. Quoted in a Looper.com article, Akwesasne Mohawk editor Vincent Schilling, founder of Native Viewpoint, answered “Prey” all the way. “For once, as a Native,” Schilling wrote, “I could actually relax and enjoy a movie without waiting for the culturally inappropriate bombshell to drop.”

No worries with “The Gray Man”. Director brothers Anthony Russo and Joseph Russo are looking to shoot in the realm of James Bond, but they don’t care about making a movie you’ll remember an hour after you’ve spent Netflix’s 115 minutes of viewing, not to mention the end credits, they want you.

Ryan Gosling’s deadly but secretly vulnerable assassin, Sierra Six (“007’s been caught,” he jokes, or “jokes”) plays spy vs. spy with a rogue sociopath assassin (Chris Evans) to take him down. Prague, Vienna, London, Croatia: part of the budget, which would be 200 million dollars, is on the screen. And yet, money cannot buy an experience. Even the protagonist seems bored.

“Need something?” someone asks Sierra Six on an airstrip somewhere in the middle of nowhere. “Just a nap,” Gosling replies.

Ironically, no amount of torture sequences, crushing smackdowns scored on the highly upbeat “Silver Bird”—not even a welcome zest from Evans—can hold the Russo Bros. joint together. Here is the punchline, to add to the films: the profession does not matter. It will likely be some time before “The Gray Man,” described by Joe Russo in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter as “business-oriented content,” falls out of Netflix’s hallowed Top 10.

Late last year, “Red Notice,” a larger-scale Netflix title (costing nearly $300 million, according to its maker), was operating on the same formula: big stars (Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds , Gal Gadot) and unmotivated globetrotters. trotting action beats edited for maximum motion blur without the thrill of real action cinema.

“Red Notice” may be after a heist-happy picture vibe, but like “The Gray Man,” it feels like it’s trying to outdo even the most explosive recent Bond films. And I like most of the recent Bond movies. The weakest of them, “Quantum of Solace”, proved that shorter doesn’t make it better, and frantic cutting strategies have a way of slowing down an action sequence, not speeding it up. Watch “Jurassic World: Dominion” for more evidence. If you must.

Then rewatch the Tangier fight scene from “The Bourne Ultimatum,” featuring Matt Damon and Joey Ansah. Its extraordinarily fast cutting brakes are just on the edge of visual inconsistency – but it works. Death is taken seriously, and director Paul Greengrass doesn’t pass it off easily.

Death in “The Gray Man” doesn’t matter. The audience isn’t meant to identify with the characters, beyond the routine of the kidnapped girl. Sam Adams wrote a very good article on Slate titled “The Netflix Aesthetic”, in which he called Russo’s business-focused content “far from the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s perhaps one of the least”. If Year 3 of pandemic home streaming hasn’t lowered our standards for what constitutes a decent action movie, then I can’t wait for Year 4.

Netflix titles as ostensibly varied as “The Gray Man,” “Red Notice,” and the Aug. 12 release “Day Shift” waste no time establishing who’s who and what’s what. There is an algorithmic reason for this. Before changing its view metric to total minutes streamed, Netflix counted a “view” of a movie as at least two minutes of that movie. That’s why some big-budget Netflix movies give you two choices: life or death, immediately, or the characters you make fun of.

“Prey” handles both. It establishes its setting of the Great Plains, its point on the historical chronology, its threats and some details concerning the warriors of the Comanche Nation. From the tribe emerges Naru, the only one who can take on the Predator. The wide-screen landscapes create both tension and liberation, beauty and imminent violence, in a vivid way.

In an interview with Variety, Trachtenberg said, “I’ve worked in a lot of TV where we’re always locked into the format we have to work in. That wasn’t the case here.” You can say. His film is fresh and expansive. Even on a laptop screen, it focuses your attention in a way that “The Gray Man” or “Red Notice” or “Day Shift” doesn’t.

Almost a hundred years ago, in Kaufman and Hart’s farce “Once in a Lifetime,” a Hollywood studio magnate explained his approach to filmmaking: “No wasted time thinking!”

That dubious spirit of content creation is alive and well today, and I guess it’s helped sustain the industry as we know it. But there are writers, directors and producers who fight this axiom from within. “Prey” fought and won.

Michael Phillips is a reviewer for the Tribune.

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Twitter @phillipstribune

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