Yes, friends, it is 2014. The future is now. Next year, we’ll have hoverboards and flying cars and jackets that dry themselves and apparently 8,000,000 summer blockbusters, judging by what’s been announced so far (my personal hype train is most fired up for Mad Max: Fury Road). But fuck 2015. Let’s talk about last year. Now, full disclosure, I got married and moved across the country last year, which meant working A LOT to afford those things, nevermind the time associate with actually DOING those things, so I didn’t see every single movie that hit theaters. If there are a few gaps here, forgive me.
Since Paracinema is a much finer website than, say, Buzzfeed, I’m not going to order these movies, or say it’s a TOP anything or say it’s the definitive list of 2013 action movies or whatever. I’m just going to say that of the action movies I saw that came out in 2013, this is the handful I liked the most. Ok? Ok.
THE BEST OF 2013
If there was a movie in 2013 that didn’t come out of nowhere, didn’t surprise me and actually did meet every iota of hype I had for it, it was Pacific Rim. I knew it was a movie made by Guillermo Del Toro about giant monsters fighting giant robots. I knew what to expect. I got all of it. It’s filled with both subtle and not-so-subtle tributes to giant robot and monster media of the past. My personal favorite: in a totally Voltron-esque moment, our intrepid heroes have a giant fucking sword, but fail to use it until they’re totally fucked by all appearances and have no other option. It’s got great creature and robot design. The fights, both between regular sized-humans as well as between robot and monster, are fantastically done, and even the CG is good. This movie is totally awesome, and I recommend it to literally everyone.
Iron Man 3
Shane Black took over for Jon Favreau, and despite Black being a much different filmmaker, the overall appeal of the series and characterization doesn’t change much. This is a good thing, there is not a massive, Batman Forever-ish tonal shift. Stark is still Stark, Pepper’s still Pepper and bad guys are bad guys… mostly. The Mandarin swerve is still one of my favorite things about the movie, and seeing Tony Stark get some outside of the armor action is also great. Overall, I do think it’s the weakest of the four movies to prominently feature Iron Man, but that’s a pretty good company to keep.
Man of Tai Chi
My good buddy (and partner in crime at the Action Cast!) Bryce wrote this one up as part of Paracinema’s Fantastic Fest coverage, and I more or less echo everything he says. Is it The Raid? No, but nothing besides The Raid is. (In fact, that film’s star, Iko Uwais, is largely wasted in a non-fight sequence towards the end.) Still, it’s a really solid martial arts film, and in a world where Yuen Wo Ping’s excellent choreography has been largely wasted on too many close-ups and quick cuts over the last 15 years, it’s really nice to see Keanu Reeves give him a solid platform.
I’m as shocked as anyone, and maybe it’s the PTSD I suffered as a result of seeing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but this movie was… awesome. The best comic movie of the year, its success is a product of it not hinging on so much other shit. I mean, I love how well the disparate parts of The Avengers pulled everything together, but sometimes I want a movie that doesn’t require five other movies’ worth of context. The Wolverine is that movie. Yeah, the Jean Grey stuff might have you sort of confused if you’re watching in a vacuum, but it’s explained for the benefit of other characters, so most viewers who would otherwise be in the dark will get it. Except for a really, really dumb final fight that totally fucks with one of my favorite X-Men villains (Silver Samurai), it’s a very solid movie, with some great action sequences.
The Last Stand
Let’s talk about Arnold Schwarzenegger for a minute. Let’s talk about how he hasn’t been given a watchable starring vehicle since Eraser, and that’s pushing the definition of “watchable.” Yeah, both Expendables films are pretty awesome, but even in the second, Arnold isn’t exactly front-and-center. The Last Stand, however, was a surprisingly great action romp. Yeah, it’s back-loaded with action, with nearly all of it in the last act, but that action is really good. The kills are really creative, the quips are there, and Arnold (and his stunt double) looks pretty good for his age.
The Biggest Disappointments of 2013
A Good Day to Die Hard
Look, I think my feelings on Die Hard are pretty well established by now. Oddly enough, for a film that sets the standard in action filmmaking, it spawned what I will politely call a tepid series of films. John McTiernan’s return to the director’s chair in Die Hard with a Vengeance is the best of the bunch by a large margin. The other three sequels miss the mark, and the latest of them seems to not only miss the mark, but misses everything that makes Die Hard so good. It may have set a new low bar for the series, but fear not, there’s another sequel on the way, so we can always have a worse Die Hard.
Bullet to the Head
It is imperative that you don’t confuse this movie with Bullet in the Head, which is a fantastic John Woo movie from 1990. Bullet to the Head is a sadly rote collaboration between Sly Stallone and Walter Hill. It even features Christian Slater getting killed and Jason Mamoa (Game of Thrones’ Khal Drogo) as a crazy mercenary. This movie really had “winner” written all over it. Sadly, it may as well be called Action Movie for how completely generic it is. Generic casually racist buddy cop banter (and really, Walter Hill wrote the book on casually racist buddy banter with 48 Hours, making this all the more disappointing), generic action, generic plot, even a totally ridiculous and generic scene of Christian Slater plot dumping for a room full of generic thugs who, if this world existed, would already know literally everything he’s saying to them, thus completely negating the need for him to say one syllable out loud.
In the end, 2013 was a pretty awesome year for action. And I didn’t even have space to mention how Riddick totally redeemed Vin Diesel and brought that series back from the brink after a nearly unwatchable second installment. We can only hope 2014 is as good. What I’ve seen so far gives me hope, with trailers for The Raid 2: Berandal and X-Men: Days of Future Past getting my hype meter up already. And, of course, dear reader, you have a full year of the Cult of Action ahead of you.