'The Protégé' Director Martin Campbell Thinks Digital Effects Are Bad For Action Movies

Martin Campbell has seen the last three decades of action filmmaking — and helped shape much of it too. From James Bond flicks like Goldeneye and Casino Royale, to the beloved '90s swashbuckler The Mask of Zorro, to superhero flicks like Green Lantern, and grimy revenge thrillers like The Foreigner, Campbell has had his hands deep in the action genre.

So when /Film sat down with him for an interview ahead of his upcoming assassin film The Protégé, we couldn't resist asking him: what has changed? And he has an answer that might grate on fans of ludicrous action films like Hobbs and Shaw.

"The shift with action has gone to digital, that's what's happened," Campbell told /Film when asked about whether he's seen a shift in the action landscape in recent years. And it's not a shift that he very much likes. He continued:

"And you now get obviously all the superhero stuff, I get that, that's all like the Marvel comics and so forth. But then you get Hobbs and Shaw, which the action gets close to preposterous, but it's fun to kind of watch. And then you get ludicrous action of something like Fast and Furious, the last Fast and Furious which is so nuts that you just switch off. I mean, that's what happens. What we used to do in the old days, like in the '70s and '80s, was there was no digital. So your action was much more realistic in terms of what you could achieve, everything else, because that's all you had. There was no cheating. I mean, you couldn't, sure the way you cut it, and yes you could use a double here and there, but these days you can just replace a face.

You can use the double and put someone else's face on them. You can do ludicrous kind of action. You can drop 50 feet, the car survives, it drives over and then does three flips, you know what I mean, and then drives off. And so in a way, digital has sort of made the action just, I think it's worse, the action now, much worse than it was then. Honestly, I do. And it's because of the tools of digital really, and people go nuts with it. And most of it, I just don't believe."

It's true that digital effects have taken over while practical effects have fallen by the wayside: it's cheaper, it's safer, and it generally doesn't require the hours of work and detail that a practical stunt would require. But it also adds a weightlessness to fight scenes that tap into that ludicrous quality that Campbell is talking about, even if his rant against digital filmmaking does sound like "old man yells at cloud." Still he has a point — there's a reason the John Wick films and their carefully choreographed fights, or any blockbuster that uses a few practical effects, are lauded.

And Hobbs and Shaw, which bucks reality so much that it haphazardly changes from night to day in the middle of a fight, kind of deserves to be the target of Campbell's derision. Though Campbell has a few digitally-led stumbles to apologize for too.

The Protégé hits theaters August 20, 2021.