The Problem of the Charge

“See the enemy? It’s that group over there. They are armed with high-powered, long-range weapons, and they are trained to use them. But we know a great secret! The secret of The Charge. Yes, we shall assemble our forces in a large concentrated mass, and charge them head-on! And win!” 

charge_blogpost_darkknightrisesSaid no military commander after World War I (unless in a very specific situation where the enemy is completely unequipped to handle it), however every Hollywood director with a boner for the classic cavalry charge did. And sure, as a shock tactic utilized by a well-trained military force this can still work in real life. But in movies (and some books), it’s still viewed as the great equalizer. The opposition might be stronger, but our hearts and minds will prevail over their physical strength. Sorry… Skill beats will every time.

The invention of modern automatic weapons with large capacity magazines is the problem. Nobody in their right mind would charge an opponent armed with a weapon capable of plucking holes in them from 200 meters with lumps of lead (the effective range is considerably longer). Urban warfare is distinctly lacking in the “charge that checkpoint” department, and for good reason. It’s a great way to get killed. A group of well-trained soldiers armed with rifles can cut a much larger force to ribbons, before they even get close enough to ruffle a few moustaches. Additionally, movies often depict the charging force being able to run and gun, firing their weapons from the hip, or one-handed effectively, while in real life they would probably hit everything except the people they are charging (even more likely hit their own people). It’s a hero trope that doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny.

I get why they do it. We must feel empathy for our heroes; while they might be lacking in skill and/or weaponry, they are morally superior. They are pure, while the enemy is polluted, and somehow lessened by their – quite frankly – completely logical use of weapons. They show strength of heart as they willingly put themselves into danger. That is fine. Good for them. Just don’t make it stupid. More importantly, it’s lazy writing, and bad storytelling. It turns great epics into nothing more than a power fantasy for some testosterone infused teenager. It’s brainless and lazy at best, and appeals to basic impulses instead of intelligence and wit.

There are many examples of this trope, but the one that stands out the most to me is the police charge during the climax of The Dark Knight Rises. The set-up is straightforward enough: Gotham’s Police force are freed from their sewer prison, and assembled at the end of a street to charge Bane’s paramilitary forces. The reason is irrelevant (who really cared at this point), because whatever the motivation was, it should have been a slaughter. Bane’s men are trained killers armed with assault rifles. The police are spotted before they even begin their charge. Moving slowly up a street in an otherwise empty city kinda gets you noticed. Police are firing handguns as they rush forward to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Had it been a real scenario they would have been cut down by burst fire, before the killers had switched to full-auto, and added to their kill score. It would have been messy to say the least.

More importantly, the scene wasted a perfect opportunity to show just how clever Batman is. The writers could have weaved an intricate and clever plot where Batman could have skilfully utilized police resources (including detectives, SWAT teams, and undercover officers) to infiltrate the area, attacked from multiple directions, and/or used subterfuge to undermine Bane’s control. That would have been clever, less costly in lives, and would have showcased Batman’s strategic knowledge, and skills as a ninja. Instead we got a bland and boring hack and slash, that made no sense, and did nothing except ruin what could have been a great moment in the franchise. This is just one example. They are many more and they rarely make any sense.

But what do you think? Is the charge a valid strategy (it’s not) outside Lord of the Rings and westerns? Should we simply put reality out of our heads and enjoy the spectacle, or speak up and address the mindlessness? Let me know. 

1 thought on “The Problem of the Charge

  1. The charge is fun, especially as you say in Lord of the Rings. All the more so if you have an undead army who can sweep all before you.
    But looking at it from a more realistic point of view, I would have to agree that except in very limited circumstances the charge is dead. Unless it is used in a flanking manouver on a largely immobile position such as a heavy gun emplacement, it is suicide.

    But like many movie tropes it is used because movies have to communicate to us on a basic level, a reckless, heroic charge can be understood by all young and old, where as more nuance tactics might not be as easily understood. Hollywood needs it’s short cuts, this is just one of them…


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