Movie Reviews – The Action Movies of 2012

2012, the best year for movies in many years, finally draws to an end. We’ve finally gotten to 2012’s ACTION MOVIES, the type of film I love most. I’ve been waiting a long time for some of these movies, and many of them were fantastic, most of them surprisingly so. Let’s rock…

Dark Knight Rises – Of course it was awesome, of course it looked great, of course the acting and direction were perfect. I have been a hardcore Nolan fan since Memento, which is probably one of my all-time favorite movies. Bane in this movie was likely the scariest villain in my movie memory. Yeah, the Health Ledger Joker was better overall, but Tom Hardy’s Bane was far more frightening. You felt a strong sense of danger every time he was on the screen, and man, that’s really, really hard to pull off. I love how his voice was an almost happy tone despite the audio effects, and it was still menacing. Very cool. So yes, the movie was awesome, but that being said I’m going to tell you what I didn’t like. The film definitely suffered from pacing problems. There were times I wanted the movie to just get on with it (never a good sign) and then suddenly an action scene or even a romance scene just popped up out nowhere for a few minutes, then it dropped back into dialogue-heavy slowness. I also did not like Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. Look, Anne Hathaway is not hot. Anne Hathaway is not cool. Yeah, she’s a good actress, but she’s not Catwoman. Sorry, she’s just not, I don’t care how good the writing or direction is. Lastly, Heath Ledger’s absence is really felt in this film, at least it was for me. Not the director’s fault of course, but when you see all the villains released from jail and you see Scarecrow (played by Cillian Murphy ) in the movie but not the Joker, a part of you thinks “Aw….shit.” Still a great movie though.

Total Recall – Wow. Great movie. Better than I was planning. I was thoroughly entertained the entire time. It had one of the most real-life Alpha guys in Hollywood (Colin Farrell), one of the hottest chicks in Hollywood (Kate Beckinsale) and one of the most hideously ugly women in Hollywood even though everyone pretends she’s hot (Jessica Biel). Even the Breaking Bad guy was in it as the villain. Cool. The action scenes were fantastic, even the woman-beats-the-shit-out-of-man-double-her-size bullshit that I hate. Total Recall didn’t go completely overboard on that like many action movies do, but it still happened. Oh well. The special effects were awesome, and I’m a sucker for special effects, so much so that I can actually watch Phantom Menace and actually kinda like it because of the special effects, even though the movie is terrible. During the main battle at the end, some dumb things happened that killed suspension of belief, and the acting and direction was a little stiff (a hallmark of director Len Wiseman, Kate Beckinsale’s husband, who is great at action but not so great at human emotion). I was (and still am) a huge fan of the original Arnold Schwarzenegger Total Recall, which had the best girl-on-girl fight scene ever made in a western film. Actually, let’s watch that right now, shall we?

Ah, yes. Brings warm feelings to my heart. (Fun fact: Rachel Ticotin, the darker skinned gal, was one of the many women Arnold cheated with during his marriage to Maria. Fun for everyone!) See, although I hate woman-on-man fight scenes I frikin’ love woman-on-woman fight scenes. That way the opponents are equally matched. Girl-on-girl action fights are rarely done and that’s a shame.

This brings me to another point that demonstrates a cultural, or rather a physical change in society since 1990 when the first Total Recall was released. In the 1990 version, the role of the “hot wife” was played by Sharon Stone, who was age 31 at the time (though as you can see from the above clip she could have passed for about 25 if she wanted to). Arnold in the film was 43. Now in 2012, we have a new Total Recall, and the role of the hot wife is played by Kate Beckinsale, who is 42 years old. Moreover, the “husband” is only 36 years old. He’s younger than the wife.

Beckinsale looks just as hot and young at 42 as Stone did at 31 (if not more so).  Older women are aging so nicely and maintaining their looks so well, we now have A) forty-something women being portrayed as young hotties (and it works!) and B) young looking Hollywood couples in movies where the husband actor is younger than the wife actress. Both of these things were unheard of in Hollywood just a few short years ago. I don’t think people realize what a big change this is, and what it means.

Bourne Legacy – Eh. Worse than I thought it would be, but not terrible. Bourne Ultimatum is a fantastic movie and my favorite of the four Bourne films by far, and I was expecting something of this caliber. A decent film, but it needed much more action and badassery. Jeremy Renner is a good actor but I think he wasn’t used well, or perhaps a better word is used “enough”. Not sure. I tend to find Matt Damon a very boring actor, and Renner could end up being a better Bourne if they played it right. Renner was great in Avengers. They’re planning for both Damon and Renner to both be in the next Bourne film, so I guess we’ll see.

Expendables 2 – Rarely, only once every several years, going to see a movie is an actual “event” for me. Seeing the first Lord of the Rings movie was an event. I had waited my entire life, since I was nine years old, to see that movie made. Seeing Terminator 2 back in 1991 was an event. And assuming you’re American and around my age group, remember how you felt when you first saw the Phantom Menace trailer? Or that feeling you had as the lights went down and the movie started?

A few years back my dad took me to see Revenge of the Sith. Right before we entered the theater he handed me a Star Wars hardcover book as a gift. He had written an inscription inside. His eyes began to water as he said, “Almost 30 years ago, when I was in my thirties you were just five, I took you to see Star Wars. Now here I am again, almost seventy years old, taking my boy to a Star Wars movie. It will be the last Star Wars movie we see together.”  That’s an event.

My latest movie “event” was Expendables 2, a movie I’ve been waiting a long time for. Damn near every major action hero of the past 30 years is crammed into one movie. There’s a scene in this movie where Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Chuck Norris are all lined up, guns blazing. That’s an event. (And they’re all firing at Jean Claude Van Damme, which is both funny and metaphorical if you think about it.) During most of this movie I had a big dumb smile on my face. A lot of it was corny and silly (on purpose), but I didn’t care. I walked out of that movie theater feeling like a million dollars. For several days. It’s not a perfect film, but I loved. Every. Single. Scene. You just don’t see masculinity in movies like this any more.

– When all the old guys see the one young guy in group run up a hill fast and they look at each other and say “Shit, do you remember when you could run like that?” (And the answer is “No”.)

– When Dolph Lundgren says his favorite meal before dying would be “Baby seal and whale ass.”

– When Schwarzenegger is shooting bad guys, and when Chuck Norris suddenly appears next to him helping out, he says “Who’s next? Rambo?”

– When Bruce Willis refers to the guys as a “team of male pattern badness.”

– Sly’s look of sheer disgust when he’s told he has to add a female member to the team. “A woman? No way.”

– When Jason Statham punches Scott Adkins while wearing brass knuckles, shoving his head into spinning helicopter blades, exploding his cranium into a bloody mess, then happily quips, “Always stick with the classics.”

– When my heart sank when they added a new, young, skinny, pussy-dude character to the team, only to have my heart sing with joy when he quickly gets killed. At the beginning of the movie. By Jean Claude Van Damme karate-kicking a knife into his chest. (There is a God.)

Fuck yes. Now that’s quality entertainment right there. The politically correct, frightened, feminized, beta-male, pussy world of the 21st century just doesn’t make films like this any more. This is a movie I’ll treasure for a long time and one I’ll be watching again. And again. And again. Shit, I’m laughing with joy right now as I’m typing this.

One slight twinge of sadness though. With the possible exception of Statham (who himself is no spring chicken), the movie icons of masculinity are all old bastards. That means in the next ten years they’ll all be gone. Who then shall carry on the torch for Alpha male testosterone badassary into the future? What will it be like when there is no more Stallone or Schwarzenegger? Or when men like Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson and Clint Eastwood are gone forever? Seriously, if they don’t make an Expendables 3, this may literally be the last film like this, ever. Sure, they’ll be more action movies occasionally, but not like this. I weep for the future of the masculine man. But at least, for a brief moment, the good lord has bestowed upon us men Expendables 2.

Dredd 3D – (As usual, I did not see the 3D version, on purpose, because 3D sucks.) Surprisingly, this movie wasn’t bad. The first Judge Dredd movie back in the 90’s (Stallone’s version) was silly and comic bookish and way too Star Wars/Blade Runner-like (and failing on both counts). This Dredd is completely different; much more terrestrial, realistic, serious and less fantastical. Karl Urban is one of the most boring actors in history and I usually hate him but as Judge Dredd, amazingly, he’s perfect…far better than Stallone was (and I love Stallone). The fact he kept his helmet on during the entire movie (to remain true to the comic books) probably helped. I always enjoy Lena Headey and as the villain she was interesting. Surprisingly, Dredd’s female rookie (Olivia Thirlby) was actually not corny and somewhat believable. This movie was cast very well and it’s one of its strengths. Again, I’m shocked. This is not a wall-to-wall action film like most. There’s lots of action but just lots of quiet moments too. Dredd 3D suffers from bad timing, in that the plot is essentially identical to The Raid: Redemption which I reviewed back in May (a small group of heroes trapped in a building chock-filled with bad guys). But that’s okay, it’s still a good film. It featured a drug called slo-mo that slows your perception of time to 1% of normal, and I actually liked the slow-mo drug sequences, which is surprising since I usually roll my eyes at that kind of thing. All in all, Dredd 3D is a solid action film, and expecting to see a pile of shit I was very pleasantly surprised how well done it was. Apparently they have two more planned and I’m excited to see them provided the keep the same cast, director, and writers.

Resident Evil: Retribution – Like all the Resident Evil movies, it’s stupid. Horrible acting, stiff direction, stupid dialog, plot that makes no sense, action that makes no sense, corny outfits, the works. However if you like watching action movies and you have a very compartmentalized personality like I do, you can go into a movie like this expecting all that bullshit and enjoy yourself anyway. I realize a lot of higher-intelligence guys (if not most of them) can’t do this, but I can. Despite all the negatives, the action is fun, the visuals are fun, and the special effects are good. But again, I know how to shut off certain parts of my brain in order to enjoy garbage like this. It also helps that Milla Jovovich has the most beautiful face of any female celebrity probably in history. (I said her face. Her body is disgusting. She’s one of those hot-face-but-body-like-a-12-year-old-boy actresses Hollywood loves to shove down our throats.) If you can’t shut off parts of your brain, don’t go anywhere near this movie. You’ll be pissed. If you can, go for it and enjoy the ridiculousness.

Looper – Fascinating. I’ve never seen a movie like this. Looper starts out like a typical (but cool) sci-fi action flick. Then about halfway in, the movie pulls a hard right and completely changes its plot and tone into something completely different. It goes from a badass action movie to a suspenseful psychological thriller, with a quiet dark tone almost like a horror movie. When you walk out of the movie it’s like you’ve watched two completely different films, both of them very good. A strange experience. I highly recommend Looper but do not expect to see the movie you saw advertised in the trailers. Interesting side point: The movie’s predictions about the long-term future are exactly what mine are. It’s set in the 2040’s, and America’s economy has collapsed and most people are bums in the street. When the hero (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) talks to a guy from the further future (the 2070’s) and tells him he wants to move to France someday, the future-guy says, “France? Never mind France. Move to China.” “I want to go to France,” the hero says. Future guy says “Hey. I’m from the future. Move to China.” (The hero eventually moves to Shanghai, which is exactly what I plan on doing in a few years.)

Taken 2 – Finally, Taken 2, starring Liam Neeson, the coolest 60 year-old man in the world. For me this was the second biggest action movie event of 2012 behind Expendables 2. Sadly it was nearly as awesome as the first Taken. Taken 2 was a good movie, don’t get me wrong. You should go see it. It just lacked the relentless Terminator-like action focus of the first movie. This movie focused a little more on the suspense angle, which occasionally it overdid. The best part was when Neeson is chained up and uses his daughter over the phone to tactically determine his location. Fun stuff. I wish there had been more of it. Oddly the Taken movies follow an odd pattern where Neeson starts out as a super pussy beta male then sudden switches to mercilessness masculine Alpha, then in this movie he switches right back to beta again, taking orders from his ex-wife, who apparently “still loves him” in true Hollywood fashion. Oh well. Can’t win them all.

With the exception of The Hobbit which comes out around Christmas, that pretty much ends 2012’s “Year of Cool Movies”. 2013 won’t be as cool for movies as 2012 was, but it’s been a fun year for films!

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