The year is coming to a close, and summer season is long past, so the blockbusters are (mostly) out of the theaters by now. What did you think of this year in action movies? We had nothing less than six superhero offerings, one highly publicized revisionist western, a few non-American pictures coming to theaters stateside, and even a Festival hit starring an old-time action superstar.
A few of those mentioned above made the cut on this list. It’s a ranking done without genre prejudices or fan favoritism, based on the efficiency of the action sequences and the movies as a whole. They are all worth checking out on a lazy Saturday night:
10. Yip Man 3
The third movie showing the life of legendary martial artist Yip Man, this China/Hong Kong coproduction centers on the title character as he’s residing in Hong Kong in 1959, with his terminally-ill wife and their young son. When thugs terrorize the son’s school, Yip Man takes a stand along with his students and the police, while another young master seeks to claim the title of Wing Chun grandmaster from him.
At the helm, Wilson Yip does a great job of honoring the legendary master’s legacy, making him into an iconic hero for an archetypical journey, while Donnie Yen shows both his acting range and his complete and utter dominion over the martial arts in the lead role. The Yip Man franchise is truly the unmissable martial arts franchise of our time.
9. Hardcore Henry
Around de 1 hour mark (or earlier, depending on what your tolerance is), Hardcore Henry’s gamble on first-person action starts to grow tiring. Ilya Naishuller’s film is inventive and quite a feat of choreography, don’t get me wrong, but the single-mindedness out of which it was born starts to show, and it becomes clear that it might have worked better as a short.
However, it’s impossible to deny the novelty of it, perfectly marrying a preposterous plot with a well-placed gimmick. In it, Henry (whose point of view is translated onscreen in first-person) is resurrected with no memory whatsoever of who he is – his mission is to save the woman who claims to be his wife from a telekinetic warlord who plans to bio-engineer soldiers. Now, if you’re not the least bit curious to watch that, you’re not my kind of person.
8. Doctor Strange
There’s very little physical contact in Doctor Strange’s epic magic showdowns, but Industrial Light & Magic and Scott Derrickson’s spectacular work on the visual effects makes up for it. It’s the craziest, most ridiculously exciting action sequences you’ll see in 2016, and its ingenious use of the magic possibilities of the plot is to be commended, even if some of the jokes squeezed in there seem a little out of place.
As a superhero flick, Doctor Strange is as by-the-book origin story as it gets, with a very traditional structure and a few interjections of more complex themes like the nature of heroism and leadership.
7. Jason Bourne
Jason Bourne is nowhere near as good as Paul Greengrass’ two other forays into the franchise, so it’s telling that it still made its way to this list. The always dizzying camera work is still here, as always assisted by Christopher Rouse’s tremendous work in the editing department, and Bourne is still the hardest-hitting spy in the genre, aided by a focused physical and emotional performance from Matt Damon.
What lacks to Jason Bourne that abounded in the previous entries of the franchise is the timely ingenious nature of the plot, a complicated mess of political influences and hidden secrets that resonated with the moment the world was going through then. Bourne is still relevant today, but as this movie shows, he’s starting to seem like even more of a relic than he already (and charmingly) was.
6. The Magnificent Seven
There are a lot of dividing aspects to Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven, and its failings at the box office department probably cost us a few great revisionist Westerns that could have come, but you can’t deny that the director created an exciting action romp out of the 1960 classic. It helps to have a talented ensemble, especially Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington, who practically carry the movie on their backs.
The classic story of seven mercenaries contracted by a small town population’s to dethrone the local industrialist tyrant (played to perfection by the always underestimated Peter Sarsgaard, by the way) gets the adrenaline-infused treatment from Fuqua, who seizes every opportunity to work his setting to create a perfect battle stage for the bullet-heavy showdowns between “heroes” and villains.