When I was a child I loved Ninjas. My best friend was half Japanese, which meant I got an early introduction into the culture of Japan and the way of the ninja. Anyone who could climb walls like a spider and master sword fighting, the art of stealth, throwing stars and a bow and arrow had to be cool.
Since I started out with ninjas, guns and bombs seemed like a cheat. A true warrior had to be skilled with a sword, or at the very least a bow and arrow. Jedis were awesome, because they had ligthsabers (laser swords). G.I. Joe’s Snake Eyes was pretty badass too. Yeah, he used guns, but he was also killer (literally) with a long blade.
Hollywood and the Hong Kong film industry have often inserted sword fights and bow-and-arrow action into our collective fantasy world. Despite the visual pleasure this brings us, I’ve come to suspect (now that I’m an adult) that anyone fighting in the modern age with a medieval weapon — no matter how skilled he or she happens to be — really is a cinematic hero living in a world based on gobbledygook.
Just as rock beats scissors every time — guns, bombs and laser-guided missiles, or flying space sleds (The Avengers) beat a bow and arrow every time.
With my sincerest apologies to Arrow, Hawkeye, Katniss Everdeen and aspiring ninjas everywhere, not to mention Lee Christmas (Jason Statham’s knife-throwing character in The Expendables) and Deadpool (a Marvel antihero who prefers swords, although uses guns as well), an arrow or a sharpened blade just won’t cut it against modern military technology.
Take a look at some of the mind-blowing weaponry DARPA is developing, from killer robot cheetahs to plane-based lasers. Try taking out or blocking projectiles shot from the U.S. Navy’s new high-speed rail gun with an arrow or a deflecting sword. Nope, can’t do it? How about taking on a couple of M134 Miniguns with your throwing knives or topnotch archery skills? You’d be a scrap of meat before you could even notch your first arrow.
Simpler, less-devastating weapons humanize the drama and fight scenes played out in our adventure flicks. While I understand why we gravitate towards action heroes who utilize a more personal, intimate mode of dispatching an enemy, the cinematic credibility of the bow and arrow is being stretched to a point where even my suspension of disbelief won’t do the trick.
Arrow, Katniss, and Hawkeye live and work in America — or an American-based dystopia in Katniss’ case (the Capitol and the Districts) — where a substantial portion of the population (or policing forces) owns a small, or not so small, arsenal of ballistic weapons.
Hawkeye might want to think about trading in his bow-and-arrow set — regardless of how hi-tech or seemingly infinite and specialized his arrows happen to be — for a bazooka or an AK 47. That way he won’t be encouraging future alien invasions by making the space monsters believe they’ll be fighting bow-based projectiles.
My real concern here is that the fictional heroes of the future (yes, I know how geeky that sounds) think long and hard about the villains they’ll be facing. I truly hope they’ll choose more practical combat tools when battling advanced modern weaponry like heavy machine guns, lasers, cluster bombs, attack helicopter and AC-130 gunships. Sometimes a ninja sword, or a bow and arrow — no mater how cool it looks in slow motion — is simply the wrong tool for the task at hand.