Compare the origin of RoboCop 1987 to the 2014 reboot and you'll walk away without any lasting effect. In the reboot, Alex Murphy is blown up by a car bomb. A sequence that features no blood and holds absolutely no trauma. Murphy opens a car door and next thing you know he's inside a hospital being prepped for surgery. In Verhoeven's classic you watch as deadly firepower viciously detaches limbs one by one from Murphy's body, meanwhile in the PG13 remake you see an explosion with an impact that lasts as long as the short bursts of light are on screen. There's no pain whatsoever. The audience doesn't get to see how badly Murphy is injured instead they are just told. Well, technically that isn't entirely true, you do see what's left of Murphy's body in the hospital just before they Frankenstein him into RoboCop. A sequence that is actually halfway interesting, regardless, the audience loses the gravity of Murphy being blown to pieces. They feel nothing.
Studios are mimicking the impact-free death in PG13 movies that video games have mastered at an alarming rate. Each year more and more action movies feature bloodless killing. Lets look again at the RoboCop remake for a second, in it Murphy has a program uploaded into what's left of his brain so that he doesn't use moral judgement. In the sequence, the audience sees him kill a dozen armed assailants exactly like a videogame with the result intended, the impact of death is absent. RoboCop feels nothing. Instead it is replaced with focus on skill and efficiency. In a matter of seconds he's killed a dozen people and the audience, like RoboCop, doesn't bat an eye. Another recent example is "Edge of Tomorrow" starring Tom Cruise. In the sci-fi adventure Cruise finds himself re-living the same day repeatedly despite dying during in an invasion reminiscent of the Allied operation on D-Day at Normandy during World War II. While Edge of Tomorrow does a capable job of toying with the videogame generation who are use to the idea of respawning, unfortunately the action fails to leave any impact when death is happening on screen. There's no consequence and I think the lack thereof is beginning to have its effect on the youth growing up watching and playing. They need to see more intense violence.
Rating a movie R doesn't automatically equal the kind of impact I'm talking about either. Take two recent R rated features with gun play audiences have been talking about, "Lone Survivor" and "American Sniper." Both feature plenty of violence but only one leaves the kind of impact I'm defending in this piece. Lone Survivor reminds me of Call of Duty. There's plenty of death happening, it is the kind of killing that just washes over the audience. Very little of it holds a lasting impact. The death instead is fixated on camaraderie. Exaggerating the notion that your commitment to your country and your unit will be powerful enough to make death seem unimportant. Biography or not, Lone Survivor is a nice piece of propaganda for folks interested in joining the military, but sadly it is not a very realistic one. On the other hand is American Sniper, a film that too has its own bias, but at least it illustrates the reality death can have on a soldier. It delivers a far more accurate portrayal of what is being asked of the men and women who sacrifice themselves to serve in armed forces. Ultimately American Sniper is a must see for every kid who plays Call of Duty and thought Lone Survivor was awesome.
Back in October of 2014 a group of friends and I went to see the highly buzzed about "John Wick." An action thriller starring Keanu Reeves as a legendary assassin who finds himself coming out of retirement to seek vengeance. My biggest takeaway from the film was its handle on violence with an impact. The kind of stuff you remember. I love that you feel the severity of each and every kill within the 101 minute feature. John Wick was a catalyst for this article. It took me back to the kind of R-rated action movies I grew up watching. Movies like "First Blood," "Bloodsport," and "Aliens," films that didn't shy away from violence but instead glamorize it. Luckily their glamorization unexpectedly (or perhaps purposefully) created an awareness and admiration for the severity of violence. Imagine if Summit Entertainment demanded John Wick be cut to PG13 allowing for more audiences to see it? So much of the film's impact would have been sliced away from it, leaving us with just another action to forget about.
Some mention of intense violence on television should be also made. TV series that back up my stance on movies needing intense violence versus bloodless PG13 violence holding no real impact. Take a series like "The Walking Dead" for example, nearly every episode contains plenty of blood. More than any PG13 movie holds. The series doesn't shy away from the impact of death either, instead it rolls around in the intensity and weighs its severity repeatedly. Sure, The Walking Dead airs on cable limiting how many people are seeing it on its air date, but via Netflix and other streaming devices it is a show that people are clamoring to watch more of. Another example is "Hannibal" on NBC. A series I am not caught up with though the episodes / clips I have seen are gruesome and terrifying. Again these are shows that teens and younger are watching regularly and gleaning the realities of violence from movies should follow suit.