Why Master Action Director Michael Mann Is 'Bored' By Current Action Movies

Michael Mann's classic 1995 movie "Heat" remains one of the finest and most influential action films to grace theaters, and even though Mann recently has released a sequel to the film in novel form, "Heat 2," he has every intention of preserving that legacy when he eventually adapts his sequel from page to screen. In his mission statement to make this sequel a bonafide cinematic experience, Mann also expressed hope to restore some spectacle back into the state of modern action filmmaking.

In an interview with Total Film, Mann was asked if he considered envisioning "Heat 2" as a television series. The filmmaker's response was measured, acknowledging that while a new Golden Age of television has arrived, the full scale of the cinematic experience is still unmatched for him.

At an Academy screening of "Heat," Mann felt renewed energy from audience members who had never seen the film on the big screen before. "The reaction was astonishing," he recalled. "I had the whole cast there, and [Christopher] Nolan moderated it. It's on the Blu-ray -– we had a panel discussion afterwards. It was really fascinating to me, to see the difference and the impact."

Speaking of the big screen, Mann also shared some thoughts about the current state of action filmmaking in Hollywood.

Thrilling action is motivated by plot and character

While Mann believes his stories belong on the cinema screen, he has been left dissatisfied with the way modern filmmakers are approaching action films today. 

"I'm just bored by it. It's not very interesting ... I mean, sometimes the choreography is so outrageous that it's fascinating, and it is quite good. But generally, no. It's just stale."

Mann didn't name any specific movies, but when you consider the state of current mainstream blockbuster cinema, it's easy to see Mann's point. Take Marvel Studios, for example. Because of the company's large output and recruitment of independent directorial talent, a lot of the action sequences on these Marvel Cinematic Universe productions are overseen by the second unit director and a pre-visualization team, and often planned before a director is even attached. When Lucrecia Martel, a beloved Argentinian filmmaker, pitched for "Black Widow," she was even told "not to worry about action sequences" in her pitch.

This type of approach leads to unmotivated action sequences. Empty calories. Action without character depth, stakes, or conflict that clashes with the established tone and flow of the film. In short, it's what Mann so bluntly describes as "stale."

Heat 2 is still a long way out

The point here is not to throw the MCU under the bus specifically, but those kinds of habits are emblematic of a broader trend in action filmmaking. There are plenty of films right now that tragically miss what Mann's "Heat" captured: a breakneck sense of direction, stakes, and strong characterization that keeps the audience invested in these characters while they are in peril.

Of course, that's not to say there are no stand-outs, but for every "John Wick" or "Top Gun: Maverick," there's a "Bullet Train," "Gunpowder Milkshake," "Kate," and "Ava." Mainstream action films not associated with IP are struggling to innovate, and as they stray further away from the genre's core strengths, they are becoming more forgettable.

Mann is currently working on his long-gestating biopic of Enzo Ferrari. While "Heat 2" is still in pre-production and has a long road until it hits theaters, it will be exciting to see the director deliver the adrenaline rush, emotionally stunted protagonists, and gritty portrait of Los Angeles that audiences have been missing.