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Sep 10, 2013 — Pt – 4 – The Multi-Climax
The doors part, revealing the menacing Sith Lord Darth Maul. His double-bladed lightsaber crackles to life as he raises it to face the two noble Jedi Warriors. Cut. Now let’s go to Jar Jar’s animated antics on the battlefield facing marionette robots. Cut. Now let’s go to Natalie Portman running through a castle. Cut. Now let’s go to a kid flying a spaceship like he’s in a video game, oblivious to the carnage he’s creating. Cut.
How many climaxes are occurring simultaneously? At least four – though we probably care about only one of them (the lightsaber duel between the evil Sith Lord and the Jedi Knights)which ironically matters the least to the resolution of the Phantom Menace.
By most popular opinion, Joss Whedon’s Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) was a good action/adventure popcorn flick. The Avengers unified the comic book cosmology of numerous films (including Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Hulk, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and Thor), proved a commercial success, and was critically approved with a 92% (“Fresh”) rating on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. Of course, compared to Episode I, The Avengers is a marvel of modern filmmaking . (And I think that its comparison to Episode I is part of what has bumped its rating so high.)
Still, even a movie as well admired as The Avengers suffers from Multi-Climax disorder. 1) Thor fights Loki; 2) Iron Man flies into outer space; 3) everyone else fights alien invaders – on several fronts. Do contemporary audiences have such short attention spans they cannot focus on merely one or two climaxes? Consider the pre-Episode I film Aliens (1986) in which Ridley confronts the alien in a one-on-one duel; or Terminator 2 (1991) in which Sarah and John Connor must escape the T-1000 with Arnold’s help. I’m not professing James Cameron to be a master of the sci-fi action adventure movie subgenre, but I would like to point out that these films are all considered “big sci-fi action movies,” and they are both examples of films with one climax occurring at a time.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980) contained two climaxes: the rebels’ escape from Bespin, led by Princess Leia; and the famous duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Also, it is only after the rebels’ escape seems certain that the focus shifts more completely to Luke and Vader.
Science fiction action movies post Episode I often clutter their climaxes with superfluous scenes and complications that detract from the central purpose of the film, sacrifice pacing for spectacle, and remove audiences from the emotional conflict of the main protagonists. While this existed pre-Episode I, it has become far more commonplace in the 2000s and 2010s.