T.R. Witcher has a thoughtful new piece up on The Atlantic offering a number of key metrics for a good movie showdown. In particular he keys in upon elements he defines as “Anticipation, The Weight of the Moment, Vulnerability, Tangibility, and The Iconic”. Witcher singles out as especially notable in conveying these elements several great showdowns. These include the light saber fight between Luke and Vader in Empire Strikes Back:
And the first fight between Bane and Batman in the Dark Knight Rises:
In both of the above instances he is most certainly correct. To that end he also offers up several other salient examples, and even contrasts where one fight did well in a particular franchise (for instance Neo’s climactic battle with Agent Smith during the Matrix) against others that missed the mark (Neo’s overdrawn fight against Agent Smith in Matrix Revolutions). Witcher ranges back into the 1960’s and work done by Sergio Leone in his superb Once Upon a Time in the West, or in terms of 2001 A Space Odyssey’s fight between the homicidal computer HAL and astronaut Dave Bowman. And as Witcher continues on, offering up example after example of great fight scenes (Ripley vs. the Xenomorph Queen in Aliens, Paris vs. Menelaus in Troy) he regrettably undermines a key component of his arguments. That being that such exemplary fight scenes are rare.
In point of fact classic showdowns are something that Hollywood actually and regularly does a good job of manufacturing. And yes there are the occasional bombs as rightly pointed out by Witcher vis a vis the final Harry Potter battle against Lord Voldemort, or the lamentable final battle in the Avengers Movie. But overall there are so many more that actually work. Right off the top of my head, and staying within the genres identified by Witcher (i.e. avoiding boxing movies like the classic Rocky I and Rocky II showdowns between Rocky and Apollo Creed), one can single out numerous other examples such as the following:
Qui-Gon Jinn & Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace (just to be clear I despised this movie, but the final light saber fight is one of the best of any Star Wars film):
Sarah Connor/Kyle Reese vs. The Terminator:
Riggs vs. Joshua Lethal Weapon:
Maximus vs. Commodus Gladiator:
William Munny vs. Little Bill Unforgiven:
Brody vs. The Shark in Jaws
Frank Dux vs. Chong Li Bloodsport
And I can go on and on….I could add at least twenty more clips if I did nothing but Clint Eastwood Westerns and Martial Arts films no less 1980’s action films, modern Science Fiction/Fantasy, or even Television such as The Game of Thrones (Brienne vs. The Hound to name just one) Thus, in conclusion I will say Witcher wrote a fun article with some sound metrics for measuring a great movie showdown, but to say that such things are rare….well that is another story.