Exploring the best action films of any particular year is a genre-defining activity. Most pure-grade action films that aren’t part of one of a few franchises are released on streaming or DVD. This is Adkins’, Jaa’s, Uwais’, and Michael Jai White’s domain. It’s also where you’ll discover some of the best and most daring battle choreography. Naturally, we looked into this year’s DTV selections, but there are other blockbusters to consider.
The “/action” movies, in which science fiction, Westerns, and comedies include fights, races, or chases to keep our adrenaline pumping. We also have those. Then there are the outliers, the non-qualifiers who have one or two brilliant setpieces. The greatest one this year is the Korean Escape from Mogadishu, which incorporates a fantastic car chase—better than anything in F9—into its boring political story.
The resulting group of actioners may feel the most unusual of any of our genre lists this year, but they all have one thing in common: they will keep your adrenaline pumping, your eyes peeled, and your knuckles white while you watch.
Filmmaker James Nunn teams up once more with actor Scott Adkins for a gimmicky and frequently unpleasant tour around a fortified island that has recently come under attack; the entire thing is meant to look like it was filmed in a one uninterrupted take lasting ninety minutes. For a portion of that running time, you find yourself wishing that they would learn how to cut so that you wouldn’t have to watch someone walk across a field or down a base hallway in real-time.
This is especially frustrating given that the walk-and-talk dialogue is filled with a ridiculous terrorist plot and irritating characters that would make a Call of Duty writer note the lack of nuance. But when it comes to the important stuff, like the gunfights, knife fights, and fistfights, you’ll be delighted that Nunn and his team trusted in the process.
Not only as a fighter but also as a theatrical performer, Adkins continues to be an outstanding workhorse in the industry. Even when he is not breaking arms or cutting throats, he is a fascinating presence since the handheld camera follows him closely throughout most of the scene. Even when he’s reloading, he still has that magnetic pull.
Gamers will recognize the visual language of third-person shooters (or those of a first-person shooter, expanded outward) because the camera angles around cover or over shoulders reflect the gamers’ sensory placement in the game. In this case, the technical planning and execution are both very well done, and they deserve a lot of praise.
The writing is poor, and nobody really has much to do (though Adkins’ SEAL squadmates all perform admirably), yet the film’s final 20 minutes are so intense that even the most uninterested viewers will be on the edge of their seats by the end of it. —Jacob Oller
The Harder They Fall
Both the first-time feature film director Jeymes Samuel, who grew up watching Westerns and wanted to see one starring Black people, and the plot of The Harder They Fall center on the significance of African Americans in the “taming” of the American West. Samuel was inspired to make the film by his desire to see a Western starring African Americans.
The performances of the performers, the visual aesthetic, and the musical selections enhance a flawed narrative with memorable dialogue and scenes, even if they are not fully original. The picture is visually stunning, with the excellent set, sound, and costume design, and it features a cast and performances that are nothing short of spectacular.
In both positive and negative ways, actual historical persons are often elevated to the status of folk heroes. The Harder They Fall has its flaws, but it is a demonstration of the concept that there are still interesting things to be done in familiar genres, such as adding color both aesthetically and demographically. This is shown by the fact that the film is a testament to the idea that there are still interesting things to be done in familiar genres.
It’s worth viewing at least once for the spectacle of the brilliant colors and superb performances, and to be introduced to real historical personalities, even if viewers had to look far from the film to find out what they were actually like in real life. It does a remarkable job of reinserting Black people into the story of the western expansion of the United States, but it is only a qualified success because the film ignores the people that the United States was taken from, in places and among people where they may still be found. — Kevin Fox Junior
Even while he struggles with how unwieldy F&F has become, his unquestionable awareness of what makes these movies tick keeps the film roaring forward. This latest entry marks the return of filmmaker Justin Lin, who helped drive the series’ expansion from Tokyo Drift to Fast & Furious 6. Lin is still retconning deaths and introducing long-lost brothers as easily as he moves from simply defying physics to defying astrophysics—as easily as he turned street-racing spies into globe-trotting superspies.
He is still adding new characters and twists to this high-octane telenovela as often as prefixes. He is also adding new characters and twists to this high-octane The crew, including the newly married Dom and Letty, is drawn back into the world of…whatever it is that they do…once again, and their impossible mission (which they always choose to accept) has to do with another globally destructive techno-MacGuffin and a globally destructive flesh-MacGuffin: Dom’s younger brother Jakob (John Cena), who has been excommunicated from the family for sins that become apparent throughout the course of extensive flashbacks.
As Dom’s tense relationship with Jakob grows more apparent throughout the course of F9’s action-packed jungle races, rooftop chases, and sitting room brawls, the show’s self-aware connection with its own cartoonishness acts as a counterpoint to this development.
Tyrese Gibson’s character, Roman, makes one of the funniest comments when he openly muses about whether or not he and the other members of the crew have story armour. Is it true that they cannot be defeated? The gang coming to the realisation that they are all in a movie looks like it could honestly be the next stage, with them turning their automobiles towards the camera and breaking out of the fiction similar to how Daffy Duck did in Duck Amuck.
Magnets and rockets are two innovations that keep F9 on the cutting edge of ridiculous action, despite the fact that both of them come too late in the movie for my taste (leaving much of the film hanging on how pleased you get seeing the admittedly amusing returns of Sung Kang and Lucas Black), but both of them keep F9 on the cutting edge of ridiculous action.
However, winning concepts like these, which are timed to invigorate a relatively dramatic entry like last-minute nitro boosts, have a difficult time striking out amidst the meandering plot and the narrative’s plethora of cameos since the plot tends to take a circuitous route. ds its finish line, it is still satisfying to know that it is in the hands of someone who is well-versed in the series’ strengths and who is still willing to imagine new ways to crash its toys into each other. This is because it ensures that the series will continue to evolve and improve even after it has reached its goal. —Jacob Oller
Deliver Us From Evil
You’ve undoubtedly watched a movie like Deliver Us From Evil. This is Hong Won-second Chan’s feature film, and he also created the screenplay for it. It is a Korean action-thriller that tells the narrative of a murderer with a heart of gold that has been tarnished, who is willing to risk everything for an innocent.
Like a lot of other hitman movies, it’s about someone understanding that they want to escape out of a homicidal lifestyle but can’t, and that the fact that they spent their entire life killing would always be reflected back upon them. This is the ultimate tragedy. To our relief, despite the fact that this is the kind of plot that Liam Neeson, Nicolas Cage, or any number of other performers have cranked out as a paycheck-cashing B-movie, Hong’s garnishing of his reality with clever flair and a game villain bolsters the lack of novelty with quality.
Although the sweating thrills in Deliver Us From Evil are reminiscent of those in other films, they are not at all over as the credits roll. In-nam (Hwang Jung-min), a clenched jaw of a hitman, has just finished the obligatory One Last Job, and as nature would have it, he is promptly pulled back in. In-nam is a part of the hitman group known as the Pulled Back In.
His ex-girlfriend, who he was forced to break up with when he initially started working in the underground, has come to him for assistance. Because In-nam is just the right amount of a softy, this predicament has the potential to enrage him.
Her young daughter has been taken, hostage. The news is awful for the kidnappers, but it’s also bad for In-nam, whose most recent assignment provoked the wrath of a vindictive yakuza known as “The Butcher” (Lee Jung-Jae). Lee’s performance hits all the right notes: he’s both funny and terrifying, fully embracing and giving depth to the character of a stereotypically flamboyant and serpentine gangster executioner.
No Time To Die
It is instructive that Daniel Craig’s farewell film, NoTime to Die, which clocks in at a superhero-sized 163 minutes and is the longest Bond film ever, probably won’t elicit as much public self-flagellation as the more streamlined and aggressive Quantum. No Time to Die is neither lean nor mean; rather, it is a hard-working attempt to reconcile the Bond rituals with a series-finale emotional weight that these movies have been building (with variable effectiveness) since 2006.
No Time to Die is neither lean nor mean. It would appear that the process of reconciliation takes some time, as Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (or, more likely, Eon Productions, the tenacious caretakers of the Bond franchise) is so unwilling to drop either aspect of this opus that it frequently feels like two movies combined into one, both of which are feature-length.
Because the movie takes such a prominent two-pronged approach, several of its tale aspects feel as though they are being repeated: Lea Seydoux’s character, Madeleine Swann, was first presented in the half-decent film Spectre.
The opening sequence features both a major Bond action sequence that forces him out of retirement as well as a bit of a dark, horror-tinged history for Madeleine Swann. It seems like thirty minutes have passed since the opening titles were last shown. After those titles have finished rolling, it is now five years later, and the film shows us a completely new retirement for James Bond, this time taking place in Jamaica rather than Italy.
The Mortal Kombat movie from 1995 is still considered to be one of the better live-action videogame movies and one of the most faithful cinematic adaptations of a game. Despite this, the movie was unable to accurately portray the bloody depths of MK’s depravity due to the limitations imposed by a PG-13 rating. (And with Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, it is best if as little as possible is discussed.) A quarter of a century later, filmmaker Simon McQuoid’s first feature film offers the supernatural fighting franchise a facelift and that desired R-rating.
The film features blood geysers that would make Quentin Tarantino and Sam Peckinpah green with envy. Although it adds bright red visual exclamation points to an already lovely choreography, its inclusion is not for the sole purpose of achieving some sort of adolescent awesomeness factor. It’s a component that helps keep the fights from having an artificial, plastic, or ethereal feel to them, and it does this by acting as a grounding element. People are mutilated, their arms are amputated, and they are cut. Because of the continual reminders of their gory biology, they give off the impression that they are necessarily mortal.
Even though the amount of bloodshed may seem like a relatively little aspect of a movie, it serves as an excellent example of how well Mortal Kombat understands and is able to pull off being extreme without being out of hand. However, the quality of a battle is only as good as its combatants, and the character choosing screen in Mortal Kombat is both star-studded and spot on.
The majority of the cast is of Asian descent, which is a welcome development that enables seasoned actors like Hiroyuki Sanada and Chin Han to steal scenes (the imposing haughtiness of Han’s soul-sucking Shang Tsung pairs perfectly with the quiet show of deadly magic from Joe Taslim’s supervillainous Sub-Zero), and rising stars like Ludi Lin and Max Huang to make the argument that they’ve always belonged in the spotlight.
Raya and the Last Dragon
Raya and the Last Dragon is one of the better action-adventure films produced by Disney. It is notable for its intricate and entertaining swordplay, as well as its realistic depiction of styles and cultures that have been underrepresented by the House of Mouse. It is the company’s first step into the Southeast Asian environment, and it combines the company’s classic “princess” stories with a journey that involves trial-hopping, similar to Kubo and the Two Strings.
After a youthful tragedy turns her father (Daniel Dae Kim) into stone and her land into fragments, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is forced to travel from community to community in order to collect the pieces of a magical gem and new eccentric team members so that Sisu (Awkwafina), the last dragon, can depetrify everyone and put the world back in order.
At the core of the movie is a message about trust that was written by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim, which is well-intentioned but poorly executed. It is presented in a manner that is almost analogous to an argument for the abolition of nuclear weapons; in essence, the message is that mutual hostility will not improve if no one is willing to make the first move toward reconciliation.
However, this is all just a pretext to show us some of Disney’s finest examples of environmental design from their 3D era as well as some of the studio’s finest examples of its combat scenes ever. The conclusion of Raya, which is both confusing and daring, prevents the film from being a tour de force, but it is still worthwhile to take a trip into Kumandra. —Jacob Oller