2014: The Year In Action

For F*** Magazine

Text:
2014: THE YEAR IN ACTION
Top 10 action movies of 2014
By Jedd Jong
Action movies kind of get a bad rap in high-brow film criticism circles and there’s a perception that film critics will turn up their noses at any movie in which stuff blows up, dismissing an action film outright as “brainless”. Sure, as with every year, 2014 has had its mediocre franchise movies (Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t make the cut for this list). But we’ve also had a good number of high-quality action blockbusters too. At F***, we believe there’s definitely such a thing as a “good” action movie, and not just films that are so dumb they’re enjoyable – though there’s a place for that too. On this list, there are a few films that have scored a 90% approval rating or higher over on review aggregating site Rotten Tomatoes, so let it not be said that movie critics as a whole are unable to appreciate the explodier things in life. Let’s get rollin’!
JOHN WICK

During the holiday season of 2013, the Keanu Reeves-starring 47 Roninopened to a largely negative response. It was a historical fantasy mishmash that never quite gelled and Reeves looked out of his element in it. In this year’s John Wick, Reeves gets his mojo back in a big way. 47 Ronin was the inauspicious feature directorial debut of Carl Rinsch. John Wick is the first feature film directed by stunt performers/choreographers Chad Stahelski and David Leitch but it’s a slick, well-constructed affair complete with a colourful mini-mythology built in. There’s a “hitman hotel” called The Continental which is neutral ground and there’s a hitman bar where they all hang out when they’re off the clock! Keanu may not have a ton of range as an actor, but was there anyone who thought the dude from Bill & Ted could pull off playing a highly-trained, cold, lethal assassin? There’s also a pretty badass supporting cast, with Michael Nyqvist as the head of the Russian mob, Willem Dafoe as Wick’s fellow hitman and old friend and Ian McShane as the owner of The Continental. Practically no shaky-cam is a plus as well.
GODZILLA

The King of All Monsters turned the big 6-0 this year and got a grand birthday bash in the form of his second proper Hollywood movie. Die-hard Godzillafans have made no secret of their distaste for the 1998 Roland Emmerich-directed film, so there was a lot riding on this reboot. We at F*** love stories of “promoted fanboys” and Gareth Edwards, a monster movie fan as a kid and the director of the indie creature feature Monsters, landing the job of directing Godzilla ’14 is a great example of that. Sure, it isn’t exactly the best use of Bryan Cranston or Ken Watanabe (not to mention Oscar-calibre actresses Juliette Binoche and Sally Hawkins) but this one does get a good deal right. It manages to be respectful of the source material, taking the premise as seriously as possible while serving up lots of large-scale spectacle. Godzilla actually fighting other kaiju(the Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms, or MUTOs)? An Akula-class submarine regurgitated by a MUTO and stranded in the trees? An airport monorail action sequence? That glorious atomic-breath-down-the-MUTO’s-throat bit? Deserving of a celebratory roar in our book.
RUROUNI KENSHIN: TOKYO INERNO

This year, fans of the Rurouni Kenshin manga series were treated to the second and third instalments in the movie adaptation trilogy back-to-back, with Tokyo Infernoreleased in August and The Legend Endsin October. Live-action adaptations of manga and anime haven’t exactly had a sterling track record so the quality of the interpretation with this movie series did delight many fans of the source material. Our writer said “Kyoto Inferno is literally the best of both worlds: the stylised action and rousing storyline of a manga, and the star power and production values of a blockbuster movie.” The historically accurate period details and intricate, tightly-choreographed sword-fighting sequences created with minimal CGI assistance also added to the film’s appeal. Most adaptations of manga and anime are notorious for struggling to present their dense, complex plots to neophytes unfamiliar with the source material, but director Keishi Ohtomo was able to strike an adequate balance. If you’re not into the plot, there’s plenty of action to keep you entertained but if you’re a fan, it certainly caters to you too.
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

While fans have generally been happy with how things are progressing at Marvel Studios, it’s a different story with the Marvel properties that still reside at other studios, like with Fox’s X-Men series. There’ve been highs (X2: X-Men United, X-Men: First Class) and lows (X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) so it is understandable that many were sceptical about X-Men: Days of Future Past. This era-spanning odyssey, taking place simultaneously in a post-apocalyptic future and in 1973, brings together much of the cast from the X-Men trilogy and their younger brethren from First Class. Adapted from the monumental 1981 comic book story arc of the same name, this is a “retroactive continuity” or “retcon” story, in effect wiping the slate clean so we can all move on from some of the spottier entries in the mutant filmography. However, this was a retcon done right, where it wasn’t too convenient or effortless to change everything. We also got Evan Peters as a gleefully scene-stealing Quicksilver, quelling fears of a poor portrayal based on the questionable character design.
SNOWPIERCER

Here’s a movie completely different from your run-of-the-mill action flick. This adaptation of Jacques Lob’s French graphic novel Le Transperceneige owes much of its unique feel to Korean director Bong Joon-ho, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Kelly Masterson. A dystopian sci-fi fable, Snowpiercer is set aboard the eponymous train, perpetually circling an otherwise-uninhabited earth, stuck in a catastrophic ice age. Boasting a unique design sensibility, a talented cast, incisive, sometimes disturbing social commentary and intense, brutal action scenes, Snowpiercer was the “I’ve seen this really cool movie and you should too” flick of choice this summer. U.S. distributors The Weinstein Company insisted on cutting about 20 minutes of footage and adding voiceovers, but Bong refused to compromise. Bong was eventually successful in getting the original, uncut film released and even when the film was restricted to a limited release, the positive response was enough to win it a wider release. If there’s still anyone who thinks Chris Evans is nothing but a pretty boy, this is the movie to point them to.
EDGE OF TOMORROW

It’s a shame Edge of Tomorrow wasn’t a box office champ, because we sure were entertained. Adapted from the Japanese light novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the film meshes a Groundhog Day-style time loop with futuristic mech suits, an alien invasion and a D-Day-esque beachhead battle. It also gives us Tom Cruise putting aside some of his ego to amusing effect as a military PR guy with no combat experience plonked into the middle of battle, having to seek out a seasoned warrior played by Emily Blunt to guide him through his predicament and teach him the ropes. The action in this is truly exciting stuff, sufficiently different from the battles with alien invaders taking place in big cities we’ve seen in blockbusters past. It’s also always great to have a badass female character show the guy just how it’s done and while “Emily Blunt” isn’t the name that immediately comes to mind, she sure looked awesome in this movie be it slicing at Mimics with a giant sword forged from a helicopter blade or rising from a downward facing dog yoga position. Top all that off with a hilarious turn from Bill Paxton as a blowhard drill sergeant-type and you’ve got a howling good time.
THE RAID 2: BERANDAL

Action movie junkies went positively nuts over The Raid: Redemption, a badass film in which two SWAT officers face off against an apartment block full of deadly thugs. As such, there were high expectations associated with the sequel, expectations which The Raid 2: Berandal certainly met. It upped the ante when it came to the hyper-violent action spectacle when such a thing seemed impossible given all that happened in the first Raid. Iko Uwais returns as Rama, his opponents this time around including the trio of hired killers comprising “The Assassin”, “Hammer Girl” and her brother “Baseball Bat Man”. The film concludes with a virtuoso kitchen fight which took 10 days to film and comprises 196 shots. In order to shoot the car chase sequence, one of the cameramen was actually disguised as a car seat, passing the camera from the Director of Photography on one side of the car to a camera assistant on the other side to create a seamless shot through the car. Fans of this film are understandably weary of the upcoming Hollywood remake of The Raid, but apparently selling the rights for the remake was how director Gareth Evans was able to fund the sequel.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER


Marvel Studios has just announced their exciting Phase 3 line-up, but let’s take a moment to look back on just how amazing both entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2014 were. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is adapted from the story arc written by Ed Brubaker (who gets a cameo) in which a figure from Steve Rogers’ past returns in a new form to haunt him. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo set out to create a film which harkens back to the political conspiracy thrillers of the 70s, even managing to rope in Robert Redford. They definitely succeeded, creating a film which had just enough real-world resonance without compromising on the big-budget spectacle. It’s even more impressive considering this is the Russo Brothers’ first big studio action film, going from paintball battles in TV’s Community to super-soldiers duking it out as giant helicarriers fall out of the sky. The events in this film also upend the status-quo for the MCU at large and gave so-so TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. the kick it needed. We also get introduced to Anthony Mackie as the Falcon, who is the current Captain America in the comics. The special features on the Blu-ray also teach us Mackie’s catchphrase, “Cut the check!” which we cannot stop saying.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY


It’s kind of funny to think of it as such seeing as it’s a $170 million movie from a major studio, but Guardians of the Galaxy has an appealing underdog quality to it. It’s based on more obscure source material than its counterparts in the MCU, its most famous names voice CGI creations, it’s weird and woolly and some feared inaccessible but as it turns out, everyone loves this. Young or old, male or female, tree or raccoon, audiences fell in love with this “bunch of a-holes” in a big way, and at the time of writing, this is the highest-grossing movie of 2014. Director James Gunn crafted a spectacularly entertaining film populated with loveable oddball characters and packed with cosmic adventure, comedy and a heady dose of nostalgia in the form of Star-Lord’s precious mix-tape. Also inspiring was the physical transformation actor Chris Pratt, known for being the schlubby dude from Parks and Recreation, who inspired swoons with his chiselled bod and Han Solo-style roguish charm. There’s also just how genuinely moving this turned out to be; we doubt there’s another film that had you misty-eyed over the bond between a gun-toting raccoon and his tree friend.
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
“Apes with guns” – sounds silly, doesn’t it? Well, director Matt Reeves and crew managed to take that and turn it into one of the most intelligent, riveting mainstream films of the year. 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apessurprised many moviegoers by being a relevant, superbly-made reboot of the flagging Apes franchise, bringing it back from the misfire that was Tim Burton’s 2001 remake. The sequel skips ahead a decade, with Caesar leading a shrewdness of apes as the human population dwindles. Caesar forms a fragile alliance with the human Malcolm (Jason Clarke), but second-in-command Koba is none too happy about it. The clash of ideologies is presented compellingly, aided in no small measure by the impressive, hyper-realistic visual effects work by WETA Digital. Fox is pushing for Andy Serkis to be considered for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and if this awards bid is successful, history will be made. There’s no doubting the legitimacy of the performances Serkis, Toby Kebbell and the other performance capture actors turn in. And on top of all that, we get Gary Oldman as the leader of the human survivors! “Apes together strong!”

STGCC 2014 Day 2: Mega Picture Post

DC Day! I was in something of a euphoric state through much of this day. Also got some halfway-decent photos of the big cosplay runway event! Thanks to everyone for letting me hang around to take photos, crack jokes and just be a generally annoying fanboy.

Kai Le as Jason Todd, Red Hood

The gang’s all here, thanks to Hot Toys.

“I utinni! you.” “I know.”

Jaye Tempest as Elizabeth from Bioshock 

Reno in a Bram Stoker’s Dracula-inspired outfit

Sara as street Cass Cain

Matt as “Rico Vrataski”, a gender-flipped version of Rita Vrataski from Edge of Tomorrow

Frasier as Huntress and Jenny as Black Canary

Cry for Justice

This one’s for the Helena/Dinah shippers

It’s no use, he’ll just wake up and re-live the day again!

Mini-Steve and Natasha

Batgirl finds herself stuck in this fiendish trap called the “Skyhook”

That smile is made of pure evil. Which is to say Sheril did a good job as the character because she is very nice in real life. 

“Sometimes, a bad headache can feel like a knife through your head.” 

Shaun shows off his T-800 makeup

Sandy! 

Crane!

Orbakat Cos as Scarlet Witch

Rachel Rynx as Hawkgirl

I hope he finds it soon.

The game is afoot.

Gun show courtesy of Jes as Wonder Woman and Ka as Power Girl! 

Rul as Nathan Drake! 

Statue re-enactment attempt #1

Lil Steve and Lil Natasha are welcome even if they aren’t DC.

First the Joker cripples Batgirl, then he takes the chattering teeth to her crotch. 

I call this one “a guy can dream” *goes to cry in my corner*

Joel Schumacher wasn’t the only one with Bat-nipples on the brain

A single tear. “MY PARENTS!!”

Rorschach realises my journal isn’t quite as interesting as his own.

Run little Barry! 

It’s Kie as Tim! 

Theodora as Black Widow

THERE WAS A SHAUN! Come and get it, it’s a running buffet!

Don’t nobody tell Frasier, but I think Sarah was the better Huntress.

Alright, they’re both great.

Zann as the smiley Squire! 

Statue re-enactment attempt #2

Don’t shoot the fanboy!

Cards against Bat-family

“You broke the fourth wall INTO THE WRONG UNIVERSE!!” 

Rex as Green Lantern – toting an actual green lantern! 

Fun fact: the Evil Queen never says “mirror mirror”, it’s always “magic mirror”. This is like “Beam me up, Scotty”.

Double the Loki

Don’t tell my pastor I bowed my knee to an outlaw spirit

Popular Australian cosplayer Evey Dantes as Supergirl. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see her in her Batgirl get-up.

Zack as Star-Lord is holding my tiny Baby Groot sculpture.

Magic-users unite! 

Isobel, Wanping and Charissa

Snowman already built.

Ollie & Helena

With a sketch by Cameron Stewart

That’s Rocky as DoFP Wolverine

The story of Bucky is about how one guy realised “Bucky” wasn’t all that cool a name and spent his next life trying to make up for that.

Scythe Scythe Baby

Don’t cross the streams!

So. Much. Abs. Envy.

Nathan Drake can’t grasp the concept of a superselfie

Tim & Conner 4eva!

The Predator macho hand clasp

Gwen as classic Star Lord

Batgirl has every right to be scared – there’s Raymond as the Joker, combining the New 52 Death of the Family look with the Bronze Age one.

Sakura Llama as Legolas!

Archers showdown!

Bat-family for life.

Jason’s revenge

The feels

Batman facepalm.

“Alas, poor Jason”. Isn’t “infinite jest” more the Joker’s thing though?

When the helmet goes on, the gloves come off.
Accidental whirly shot is probably one of my favourite photos of the day.

Get lost, Joker!

Not so cool when I wear it. No fair.

My Little Tony (yes, I’m way prouder of coming up with that than I should be.)

Cosplay runway time!

The Mass Effect trio

Goin’ Rogue

The Iron Giant is puppeteered by Orvis Evans. It is an amazing piece of craftsmanship.

Father-daughter day!

Cameron Stewart nailed the scowly face.

The “trophy case” in the hotel room some of my friends were staying at. I guess the glasses are Commissioner Gordon’s trophy.

Edge of Tomorrow

For F*** Magazine

EDGE OF TOMORROW

Director : Doug Liman
Cast : Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Kick Gurry, Dragomir Mrsic, Charlotte Riley, Jonas Armstrong, Franz Drameh
Genre : Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Opens : 6 June 2014
Rating : PG13

It’s like this: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Major Bill Cage (Cruise) learns this the hard way, forced onto the frontlines against his will. In the near future, Europe has been invaded by a vicious alien species called the Mimics, and former ad man and PR guy Cage hasn’t the first clue how to fight them. He has no idea how to work his Jacket exo-suit and dies in battle, but reawakens, living the whole day over again. Over the course of several “tries”, he realises he is caught in a time loop, and seeks out the help of Rita Vrataski, a seasoned warrior nicknamed “The Angel of Verdun”. Through lots of trial and error and under the tutelage of Rita, Cage starts to get the hang of it, figuring out how to outwit the Mimics in the hopes of winning the war.



            It’s like this: at first glance, Edge of Tomorrow, based on the light novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, looks pretty generic. Once you’ve seen one military sci-fi action alien invasion flick, you’ve seen them all, right? Director Doug Liman knows you’re thinking this, he knows his audience will be familiar with all the genre has to offer, and so he deconstructs the clichés and turns them on their heads. Despite superficial evidence to the contrary, Edge of Tomorrow is fresh and inventive, Liman and co. having unearthed new, exciting elements with which to elevate what could have been loud, dumb, derivative blockbuster fare. There’s a propulsive energy combined with just enough self-awareness, the screenplay by Christopher MacQuarrie with sibling team Jez and John-Henry Butterworth an unexpectedly humorous one.

            It’s like this: Edge of Tomorrow looks a lot more conventional than last year’s Tom Cruise-starring sci-fi action movie Oblivion, but it winds up being the more creative and entertaining of the two. We’ve seen soldiers in robotic exoskeleton suits in everything from G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra to District 9, so that’s not where Edge of Tomorrowstands out design-wise. The look of the Mimics is what gives this film the edge over other alien invasion films in recent memory. Remember how utterly bland the aliens looked in Battleship? Here, we have angry-looking bundles of spiky roots, lashing out and striking with alarming speed and ferocity. These are genuinely scary opponents that are a lot of fun to watch in action. The film’s central beachhead battle is also a refreshing change of locale from the city centres in which such wars are often fought in the movies. From a helicopter crash in a barn to a training arena in which spinning metal blades stand in for the Mimics, the action sequences are consistently terrific and eye-catching.

            It’s like this: Tom Cruise has remained a brand name A-lister for well over 20 years and once again proves why. Instead of being an invincible badass, his Bill Cage starts the movie as a vulnerable, unwilling fighter way out of his depth, someone who tries to charm his way out of combat duty but who is unable to. Just as it was satisfying seeing Bill Murray get better and better at playing the piano or ice carving with every successive February 2nd, it is satisfying seeing Bill Cage gradually grow into a skilled warrior. It seems Cruise has set some of his ego aside, allowing for several amusingly ignominious death scenes early on.

It’s like this: Emily Blunt isn’t who most moviegoers would pin as the next Sigourney Weaver, but darned if she doesn’t kick a whole lot of ass in this movie. The ever-versatile Blunt is able to sell not only Rita’s physical toughness, but her determination and steely demeanour as well. In the interplay between her and Cruise, the Romancing the Stone-style screwball comedy is kept to a suitable level, and the lengths he goes to in order to win her trust and respect are admirable. Bill Paxton does a funny, sly parody of “tough blowhard drill sergeant” types, and Squad J, the group of soldiers Cage is forced to join, are reminiscent of the Colonial Marines from Aliens in the best way possible.

            It’s like this: Edge of Tomorrow takes the time loop, what might be considered a tiresome gimmick, and uses it to give what would already have been a decent sci-fi action flick that extra something. It’s well-paced, it’s well-acted, the action and the spectacle is engaging and immersive and it’s just about the best use of 3D we’ve seen in a live-action feature this year thus far. This puts recent attempts at military-centric alien invasion movies like Battle: Los Angeles and the afore-mentioned Battleship to absolute shame. We didn’t quite expect Edge of Tomorrow to be this clever, this adrenaline-pumping and this much darn fun.
Summary: It’s like this: go see the most invigorating action sci-fi film in recent memory today rather than tomorrow.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong