My wife and I went to see Thor today. I'm a big fan of superhero movies and so far out of Marvel's pre-Avengers titles, Thor is my favourite.
The movie got me thinking about what makes a great heroic story. We want to care about the hero's journey, regardless of how well he can fight or how strong he is. We want to see his humanity and growth as he realises the choices he must make, and how perhaps his early choices were not so wise. The best enemy is one the hero helps create for himself.
Action movies have always struggled with how to make a climax worth watching. Objectively, we know that the hero is most likely to win, so any challenge where the only outcomes are success or the end of the story will be dull and uninteresting. A fight scene needs to exist for more reasons than just two characters trying to kill each other. They must be fighting for something, whether that be to save a loved one, hold off enemy forces, retrieve an item of value, or even to accept one's destiny as an ongoing opponent of this threat. The very best of these show us how the hero struggles with desperate choices, and must sacrifice something they want for the greater good.
All the special effects and well-choreographed fight scenes in the world can't make up for a hollow scene. I love a good showdown, I really do. But when writing your scenes, remember that why something is happening is often more important than what is happening.