5. Atomic Blonde
Brought by one of the two directors who created the action-packed cult film “John Wick” (David Leith), “Atomic Blonde” stars Charlize Theron in this action-spy thriller with brilliant action sequences and set pieces. Theron really goes balls to the wall badass on this one, doing her own stunts, and one can really see the effort she brings to it. Also starring James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella and John Goodman, among others, this is a great entry in Leitch’s solo career.
Year 1989, the Berlin Wall is about to fall. An undercover MI6 agent appears dead and the spy Lorraine Broughton (Theron) must find a list that the agent was trying to deliver it at the Western territory; the list has the names of all the undercover agents who work in Berlin. Lorraine will stop at nothing to get to that list, facing several murderers and plunging into a world where no one seems to be whom he claims to be.
“Atomic Blonde” also has references to Tarkovsky’s “Stalker,” and a selection of amazing 80’s songs, which includes themes from New Order, Peter Schilling, David Bowie, Queen, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Depeche Mode and The Clash. Also, pay special attention to the action long-take sequence in the corridors of a building, which is masterfully executed.
In this way, the film works despite the fact that its plot turns out to be far-fetched at times and its characters are not widely developed, a situation that ultimately does not matter so much when the visual and sound content is able to satisfy an avid audience of action. Thus, Leitch presents a character whose strength is called to be one of the most important female protagonists of recent years.
It is true that at the introduction of this list, it is written that no superhero blockbusters would be included here due to their extent in other genres, plot and themes, and also because “superhero” has become somehow as a genre in its own. But “Logan” is an exception that is elevated to another level, being an action film with western and road movie elements. Themes and elements inside films such as “Unforgiven” and “A Perfect World” can be seen in “Logan.”
It is the year 2029 and there are no more mutants; what remains is a world so debased that is reflected in the main characters. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is finished; he is no longer a hero to anyone, not even to himself. He lives in a decadent situation, taking care of a demented teacher Xavier, a very sad vision that makes us remember those older people you expect to see and die, who feel confused in a world that is no longer for them.
But there is always a halo of hope, a small light that shows us all that are still alive, and that is the young Laura (Dafne Keen), who does not know she is the mutant X-23. Yes, it differs a lot from the comic, but that’s what makes the film special, because now Logan will be in charge of an 11-year-old girl, with all that that entails.
One of the most remarkable things about “Logan” is its cast of actors, mainly formed by that great tripod (Jackman, Keen, Patrick Stewart) that sustains the film and keeps it afloat. To say they are good is an understatement, because all three do an excellent job, worthy of awards.
Of course, the action scenes could not be absent in a movie of this kind. However, here they are much more dosed than usual. The action theme is something that is not taken with such priority, but do not worry, it still has enough. The fight sequences are sensational, showing a brutality and cruelty never seen before in the saga. Instead of getting used to an almost constant pace of struggles, which may be monotonous, we find them scattered throughout the plot, so that each sequence is an intense outbreak of violence, as shocking as it is addictive.
3. The Villainess
“The Villainess” is another entry in this extended wave of South Korean violent action films we get every year. Having had and entry at the Cannes Film Festival where it got a standing ovation by the audience, and after watching the trailer and some of the clips that have been flowing around the internet (the bikes action sequence), it is normal to be excited for “The Villainess.”
Since childhood, Sook-Hee (Kim Ok-Bin) has been trained to become a merciless killer. When Madame Kwon, the head of the information service of South Korea, recruits her as a sleeper agent, she offers her a second chance. “Give us 10 years of your life and you will have your freedom.” Her new identity is Chae Yeon-Soo, a 27-year-old theater actress. With the promise of complete freedom in exchange for serving her country for 10 years, Sook-Hee embarks on a new life. For this woman who has lived as a murderer, leading a normal existence is not a simple task. But when two men enter her life, the secrets of his past will be revealed.
The story is narrated in a non-linear way, with back-and-forth flashbacks like a puzzle that gradually builds up and gives meaning to what we see on screen, a resource that’s used effectively, and never with the intention to reserve an unexpected turn near the end.
With an opening sequence filmed in first person perspective that reminds us of that curious action film “Hardcore Henry,” the audience is ready to enter the action. That is an entry. This kind of technique in filming action (without the first person view) is seen throughout the film, where impossible camera movements are seen and violent action never ceases. This has been a great year for action female leads overall.
With “Wonder Woman,” “Atomic Blonde” and this one, it seems that we are stepping in the right direction for more female leads in action spectacles. Kim Ok-Bin crowns herself here as the most badass woman of 2017.
2. John Wick: Chapter 2
The legendary assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is forced out of retirement by a former associate who plans to gain control of a mysterious international group of assassins. Forced to help him by a blood oath, John embarks on a trip to Rome full of thrilling adrenaline to fight against the most dangerous murderers in the world.
Of the tandem of directors of the first delivery, David Leith and Chad Stahelski, it is the latter who takes on the solo polishing and development of the franchise in “Chapter 2,” with a design of spectacular production and a greater aesthetic ambition to shed luster to the $40 million budget. Stahelski, an action stunt and expert in fighting choreography, not only works on what he knows, but also uncovers himself as a director who knows how to develop and update action films.
Therefore, if you like the first “John Wick,” you will love the second one even more as it improves on its predecessor in many aspects. The film is frantic and entertaining with spectacular action scenes starring Keanu Reeves, who embroiders the role. Also, the most important thing is that it leaves you eager to see the next movie.
1. Extraordinary Mission
Chinese/Hong Kong action films have been around over the years. They had their golden age in the 80s and 90s, and after that they somehow changed their production and style over several reasons (the major one being that in 1997, Hong Kong went to be part of China and no longer of British sovereignty). Over the last few years, while Chinese/Hong Kong cinema is still alive and fresh, it is clearly not the same as it was before. Well, “Extraordinary Mission” proves that the Chinese/Hong Kong action film genre is well alive and real.
The story follows an undercover cop who has infiltrated into a drug trafficking gang to take them down and reveal their secret laboratory. This undercover cop, Lin Kai, played by Xuan Guang, is suffering what most undercover cops go through: the loss of identity, fearing he never will be the same. Teaming with his fellow colleagues and officers, they will struggle hard to take all their enemies down.
“Extraordinary Mission” takes us back to the fresh action set piece. We already saw this done before many times, and the most recent example may be the fabulous “The Raid 2,” with the same plot. Whereas the plot may be similar or nearly the same, it is a matter of how the story is told, and the tools you use to tell them. This film could be perfectly a 90’s or an 80’s release. It is a nostalgic action fest from beginning to end, crowned as the best pure action film from 2017. Do not miss it.