Unlike our first quarter look at the best horror movies of the year so far, the action pickings are pretty slim. So rather than fill slots with mediocre examples of the genre our look at the first quarter’s best action movies is currently capping out at a measly six films.
And yes, I did see and very much enjoy Black Panther.
New Scott Adkins movies will pretty much always be contenders for the year’s best action as the guy is a stupidly talented fighter who takes to acrobatics as easily and frequently as I take to pizza. His latest shows off a sense of humor too as he plays a hitman whose shtick is killing people in ways that don’t look like murder. He narrates and introduces viewers to the various personalities in his assassin club, and there are some funny gags along the way. The focus, though, is action, and Adkins shows yet again that crossing him means he’ll most likely be kicking you to death before the credits roll.
Jason Momoa plays a character named Joe Braven, and honestly, that’s already more than enough to land it on our action list. Happily, there’s also some actual action too including well-choreographed brawls in the snow, gunplay, deadly displays of archery, and a viscerally gorgeous sequence involving a man doused in flammable liquid and a flaming hatchet throw. It’s old-school action done well with characters we care about — including family members who prove to be Bravens in training — and a beautiful landscape as a backdrop to the fun.
This feels at times like a sloppy, low budget riff on The Bourne Identity, but all is forgiven when lead Chris Mark begins showing off his talents. He keeps busy in the movies as a stunt performer, but while his acting chops are sketchy his fighting chops are stylish, brutal, and wickedly fast. Just go with the sci-fi gibberish and mildly dramatic story beats because the action is kick-ass fun.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure
One of the only YA franchises outside of the big three to actually finish its story on the screen, The Maze Runner trilogy starts weak, peaks in the middle, and ends strong with this terrific piece of post-apocalyptic fun. It wraps up the narrative and delivers some solidly thrilling action set-pieces along the way. There’s a Fast & Furious vibe to some of the scenes with heists and off-road vehicle shenanigans, but we also get fist/gunfights and some zombie-ish antics.
Pacific Rim: Uprising
I don’t typically like to include CG-fests on my action lists as there’s something impure and non-tangible about cartoon “action,” but this sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s original puts the focus on giant mechs bashing the hell out of each other and even bigger creatures. Even better, the city-wide carnage includes an unexpected amount of skyscraper-sized martial arts as chops, kicks, and take-downs become the norm for kaiju fights. (But yeah, while the top two film’s below will most likely survive these quarterly lists until the end of the year this one most definitely won’t.)
Matt Murphy’s action/comedy from New Zealand is actually a remake of his dad’s 1980 film Goodbye Pork Pie, and while I imagine that’s even nuttier (due to the time period and the region’s notable lack of safety concerns) Murphy the younger does him proud with this joyous blast of a road trip/chase movie that also speaks to romance, regrets, and the mistakes we make in life. It’s funny, thrilling, and filled with the kind of rousing heart we don’t see in a lot of action/comedies.