I can’t get enough of action movies, and this year has been extra kind to me. Though not usually considered a high brow art form, a great action scene is incredibly hard to do. So I thought I’d put together a list in tribute to all the great chases, shootouts, and brawls we’ve seen this year.
As usual, I apologize for my Hollywood-centric taste. I usually catch some great international films near the end of the year, once all the reviews are in, but in the summer, I see a lot of blockbusters. I can’t help myself. I also apologize for not having seen XXX: The Return of Xander Cage, which I’ve heard has some great stuff in it. I’m not joking.
10. Bar Brawl – T2: Trainspotting
A weird choice maybe, but in the middle of T2: Trainspotting, a drama, there is a legitimately great action scene. When Renton (Ewan Macgregor), reunites with Sick Boy (Johnny Simmons), the friend he ripped off at the end of the first Trainspotting, 20 years of anger and resentment manifests itself in a brutal, clumsy battle through Sick Boy’s pub. The actors really go for it, and director Danny Boyle infuses it with his trademark style. Like the rest of the movie, it’s funny, disturbing, and sad all at once.
9. Come A Little Bit Closer – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Less of a traditional action scene and more a heart-warming friendship montage where a lot of people die- Yondu (Micheal Rooker) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper)’s escape from a mutinied ship is the standout sequence in this excellent sequel. Writer-Director James Gunn pushes the series’ penchant for dark comedy to its breaking point and gives us a great character moment in the process. Set to the classic rock hit by Jay and the Americans, a mass murder hasn’t been this fun since Kingsman: The Secret Service.
8. The Baby – The Fate of the Furious
Though it features the Saturday morning cartoon-esque set pieces we’ve come to expect from a Fast movie, the highlight of Fate of the Furious is a lot smaller scale.This scene teams Jason Statham’s reformed (?) villain Deckard Shaw with an infant, with much success.This just barely edges out Deckard’s bombastic escape from prison earlier in the film, but it’s the focus on Statham’s considerable charisma that puts this one over the top.
7. The Hose – Atomic Blonde
I didn’t like Atomic Blonde at all. The plot makes no sense, the dialogue is awful, and even though everything that’s happening is goofy as hell, it takes itself very seriously. However, when the action starts and the filmmakers let Charlize do her thing, it’s one of the best movies of the year. The hose fight isn’t even close to Atomic Blonde’s best sequence, but this small scale apartment fight has some of the tightest action choreography of the year. It’s also nice to see a former stunt coordinator like David Leitch shoot said choreography in such a dynamic way. It’s an exhilarating burst of an energy in a surprisingly dull movie.
6. Where’s Caliban? – Logan
Even though it was in all the trailers, the introduction of X-23 (Daphne Keen) in James Mangold’s Logan is genuinely shocking. We’ve all seen movies where a grizzled old man has to protect a child from bad guys. We’ve all seen movies where a kid has supernatural powers. But I’ve never seen anything like the 12-year-old Keen screaming as she stabbed a man in the head with a claw coming out of her foot. Hugh Jackman is great as always. Mangold keeps things interesting with an excellent car chase, but it’s Daphne Keen who owns this sequence. She instantly leaves her mark on the film and the X-Men franchise as a whole.
5. Seoul Chase – Okja
I don’t know what I was expecting from Okja, but it certainly wasn’t this. In this bizarre and wonderful chase scene, young Mija (Ahn-Seo-hyun) races through the streets in search of her beloved “superpig” Okja. Bong Joon-Ho masterfully flips through varying tones and perspectives, without ever losing sight of Mija’s emotional urgency. In between the action, we’re treated to broad comedic slapstick and even underplayed character comedy, but amazingly, none of it feels out of place.
Things appear to be wrapping up with the arrival of Paul Dano’s group of pacifistic eco-terrorists (for real), but then Okja escapes and the chase continues. The entire sequence is about 10 minutes long but packs more visual gags than your average studio comedy and more exciting action beats than the entire Transformers franchise. What a ride.
4. Hocus Pocus – Baby Driver
It wasn’t easy picking just one scene from Baby Driver, and this spot very nearly went to the Tequila shoot out. However, when I think of Edgar Wright’s fantastic film, this is the scene I think of:
After a robbery gone wrong, Baby (Ansel Elgort) must escape the crime scene on foot. Set to “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, this is the moment where Baby’s world starts to crumble around him. Baby’s lack of orientation influences every camera move and editing decision, bringing us into his frantic head space. Stripped of his car and trademark sunglasses, Elgort climbs tables, vaults railings, and slides down escalators, only to be trapped by a stream of crappy coincidences and angry law-enforcement. This chase may not be the most visceral action scene of the year, but it’s the definition of “emotional roller-coaster”.
3. Train Station – John Wick: Chapter 2
If you’ve seen John Wick: Chapter 2, this pick requires no explanation. This sequel’s mid point action sequence lands perpetually unlucky assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves), in the middle of a busy train station where every commuter is a rival hit man out for the bounty on his head. Wick dispatches them in a myriad of creative ways, but it’s his duel with the evenly-matched Cassian (Common), that takes this scene to another level. There’s a genius comedic beat I won’t spoil, and then a brutal knife fight aboard a subway car. Even if you skip the movie, find this sequence when it inevitably ends up on Youtube.
2. No Man’s Land – Wonder Woman
I’m not a huge fan of the “speed ramping” style that dominates most of Wonder Woman‘s fight sequences, but what Wonder Woman‘s action lacks in visual power, it more than makes up for in emotional impact. I do believe a great action scene should be judged on the emotional response it elicits, and in that regard, it’s hard to top the instantly iconic No Man’s Land scene from this movie.
The first reveal of our hero in full costume, this scene hit me pretty hard, and I’m told it hits harder if you’ve had to wait your whole life for it.
At a time when we have more and more reasons to be cynical, watching the first major female superhero liberate a village from enemy occupation was something I really needed to see. Judging by the reactions to this film across the world, I don’t think I was alone.
1. The Staircase – Atomic Blonde
On the complete other end of the spectrum, Atomic Blonde is a film that’s cynical almost to the point of nihilism, and it bored the hell out of me. But damn, if this staircase scene isn’t one of the craziest fights ever put on film. Shot to appear as one continuous take, the fight is 9 minutes long, and for the most part, only involves four or five people. Things get very scrappy and intense, and if you’re an action fan, this is worth the price of admission alone. I can’t fully recommend the movie, but if you can stomach a boring first two-thirds, this is a hell of a payoff. Note: You can also leave after this scene is over.
Anyway, those were my picks. Did I miss anything? Shout at me in the comments!