The Best Action Movies on Netflix Right Now

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The Best Action Movies on Netflix Right Now

The best action movies on Netflix reflect an unheralded Golden Age of ultra-stylized, bone-snapping violence: hand-to-hand combat, car chases, gun fights, sword clashes, spaceship battles, derring-do and great escapes, jungle adventures and animated spectacle. Bring the excitement into your home (where you live forever now) care of the following, which range from martial arts classics and war movies to sci-fi superhero blockbusters, not to mention the Netflix original Extraction, starring Chris Hemsworth as a man named Tyler Rake who kills a man with a rake, as well as the likes of The Old Guard, a Netflix original starring Charlize Theron as an immortal woman named Andromache who kills multiple people with this Pokemon-ball-looking ancient axe thing, and Beyond Skyline, a DTV gem starring Frank Grillo as a cop on leave named Mark who defeats an entire advanced, warlike alien civilization, and Manhunt, a culmination of John Woo’s entire career.

Here are the best action movies streaming on Netflix right now:

Kill Bill Vol.1, Vol. 2

Year: 2003, 2004
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah
Rating: R

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The greatness of Kill Bill Vol. 1 was in its finely tuned balance between acting as an homage to classic martial arts movies (both Chinese and Japanese) and as a blistering entry into the genre canon on its own visceral, offbeat merits. In the early 2000s, there was perhaps no cinematic experience like it (well, at least until Vol. 2 arrived). The gory but graceful tea house battle with the Crazy 88; the intensely claustrophobic kitchen showdown—these are only two excellent examples of everything that makes a martial arts movie superb. That Tarantino filled two movies with this stuff of greatness makes for some truly transcendent viewing. —K. Alexander Smith


Athena

Year: 2022
Director: Romain Gavras
Stars: Dali Benssalah, Sami Slimane, Anthony Bajon, Ouassini Embarek, Alexis Manenti
Rating: R

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It’s been more than a decade since Romain Gavras filled his raw music video for “No Church in the Wild” with Molotovs, stolen police horses and dropkicked riot shields—visual motifs of protest heroics—and the only thing that’s changed is our familiarity with the aftermath. The rage behind these images still burns, but we know the cold comfort left behind when the embers are finally stomped out. Yet, the only thing to do is light the blaze again, which Gavras does in the riveting, vital Athena. A war epic between the people and the state, it sprints through a grassroots resistance movement like a brushfire: Blinding, dangerous, all-consuming. The warzone is Athena, a French housing project, where tragedy has assembled a community, grown from a family. Idir, 13 and the youngest of four brothers—Karim (Sami Slimane), Abdel (Dali Benssalah) and Moktar (Ouassini Embarek)—has been beaten to death by police. Someone recorded it on their phone. But we find this out in sprinkled bits of exposition, blown to confetti and wafting through the smoke-filled air. Our immediate attention is on Karim, leading a tracksuited pack of neighbors and like-minded young people, raiding a police station. The opening scene, the first of many incredible feats of planning, camerawork and drone operation, will make you vibrate through your seat. Gavras shoots long tracking shots like caffeine straight into your eyes: Painfully energizing. Athena’s opening is one of the year’s best, a piece of relentless, fist-pumping, jaw-clenching, goosebumping action that doesn’t stop until you’re fully radicalized. It’s then that you start peering through the style, seeing how it mirrors the personalities of its perspective characters. There’s a reason Athena feels like a heart attack in motion. There’s pain and panic. Your heart rate isn’t spiking just from the rush. But until we realize that, Karim and his crew star in a sweeping, large-scale epic—a modern 1917 where the horrifying euphoria of war has come home. Athena isn’t here for subtlety. It’s here to blow the drums out of your ears, the lids off your eyes, the lead from your shoes. With shots that start at “un-fucking-believable” and rocket towards “im-fucking-possible,” its grandiose vision aims to define an international symbol of modernity: Protest As War. Benssalah and Slimane, more political gradients than people, guide us along the mythmaking until we’ve fully grasped the absurdity of Athena being both the God of wisdom and war. But, as Frank Ocean sings in “No Church in the Wild,” what’s a God to a nonbeliever? Athena burns bright and fast, searing its unforgettable battle cry into the screen over just 99 minutes. Its idealistic action will stay with you for far longer.—Jacob Oller;


Damsel

Year: 2024
Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Stars: Millie Bobby Brown, Ray Winstone, Nick Robinson, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Anegla Bassett, Robin Wright
Rating: PG-13

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Netflix’s Damsel lands in a well-realized fantasy niche and earns all the huzzahs for gifting us with a rare female dragon characterization that possesses the actress’ smoky tones. Supporting her on the human side is the always great Millie Bobby Brown, who brings equal passion in portraying characters who are meant to reframe their traditional storybook roles. Together, they plant their flag in this genre with an eye towards making an exciting action-adventure tale that rewards justice and compassion instead of vengeance. And they mostly hit their mark in this clever revisionist fairy tale. As a fantasy, Damsel convincingly transports us into the lair of a dragon that is often stunning and always intriguing. Aghdashloo and Brown create memorable rivals that evolve into something so unexpected that it leaves you pondering what could come next. And even if this is the end of Elodie’s adventures, Brown has given young girls a next-gen fairy tale heroine capable of saving not only herself, but her worst enemy too. —Tara Bennett


RRR

Year: 2022
Director: S.S. Rajamouli
Stars: Victoria Justice, Adam Demos, Luca Sardelis, Samantha Cain
Rating: TV-14

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This action-packed historical drama is the most expensive film in Indian history and already one of the biggest box office hits. N.T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan play two Indian revolutionaries pitted against the imperial British Raj. Released in March of 2022, RRR (Rise, Roar, Revolt) follows the two men and their very different paths to revolution. Komaram Bheem (Rao) is the champion for a rural tribe trying to rescue a stolen daughter and Alluri Sitarama Raju (Charan) is the police officer tasked with catching him when the pair form an unwitting friendship after teaming together in a daring rescue of a young boy. But this is Bollywood, so while trying to fulfill their opposing missions, they also show up arrogant British officers with a full-fledged dance off. It’s a riotously fun and twisty journey celebrating two heroes of Indian independence. —Josh Jackson


The Matrix

Year: 1999
Director: Lana and Lilly Wachowski
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano
Rating: R

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There is little to add about what’s been already codified about the film that made cyberpunk not stupid—and therefore is the best cyberpunk movie of all time, amidst its many accomplishments—or that made Keanu Reeves a respectable figure of American kung fu, or that finally made martial arts films a seriously hot commodity outside of Asia. The story of a computer hacker who woke up to the reality that everything he knows is an illusion constructed to placate humanity under the reign of a super-race of robot squids, The Matrix is—next to the Wu-Tang Clan—what proved to a new generation that martial arts films were worth their scrutiny, and in that reputation is bred college classes, heroes’ journeys and impossible expectations for special effects. Even today we still have this film to thank for so much of what we love about modern kinetic cinema, about how malleable genius science fiction can be, about just how deeply our connection to mythmaking—to the religiosity of civilization’s symbols—can reach. This is our red pill; everything else is an illusion of greatness and everything else is an allusion to what the Wachowskis accomplished, including the two sequels—bloated and beautiful and unlike anything anyone could have expected from the relatively self-contained original—which in turn earned the distinction of setting the course for every multi-part franchise to come —Dom Sinacola


The Woman King

Year: 2022
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Stars: Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, John Boyega
Rating: PG-13

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Because The Woman King is “inspired by true events” and stars a predominantly Black and African cast, telling the story of African women soldiers, it feels important before we even know if it’s any good. That could lead to warping expectations or shaping the viewing experience. Luckily, The Woman King is strong enough to shoulder whatever weight is foist upon it in the context of its release. Acclaimed actors portraying women warriors in a 19th-century African kingdom are bound to draw interest in 2022. With Viola Davis as the central figure, Lashana Lynch stealing the show, and John Boyega strutting in director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s homage to African resistance and ’90s historical epics, The Woman King knows how to keep that interest. The Woman King splits its narrative to follow two women: Nanisca (Davis), as she leads her all-female soldiers against Dahomey’s enemies in the early 19th century, and young recruit Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), as she finds her place in Nanisca’s Agojie. We don’t usually get to see armies of female African soldiers hip-throwing men or winning large battles with brawn and ingenuity. Here we do. But that wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t any good, because the novelty is in the specifics, not the broad strokes. The Woman King is confident of its indulgences—a few moments of melodrama, a natural but questionable romance subplot—because it earns them. It invests in its characters so that each new wrinkle feels meaningful. It may feel like an assemblage, but I could stand to sit longer in the beautiful space it cobbles together. The world would be better off for more movies set in Africa before colonization, especially if they’re as good as this one. —Kevin Fox, Jr.


All Quiet on the Western Front

Year: 2022
Director: Edward Berger
Stars: Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Aaron Hilmer, Moritz Klaus, Edin Hasanoviç, Daniel Brühl
Rating: R

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There are now three major screen adaptations of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front. The first two were grim reflections of the wars of their time, and remain fascinating not just for their treatment of Remarque’s work, but for viewing them in the context of the time in which they were made: Lewis Milestone’s 1930 film landed in the precise middle of the two World Wars that forever reshaped Europe; Delbert Mann’s 1979 television adaptation inescapably called back to the Vietnam War. Edward Berger’s new adaptation, distributed by Netflix, is unique among these in that it’s actually a German-language and German-led production. Despite their clear dedication to paint a universalist picture of the futility and inhumanity of modern war, the previous productions were, on some level, putting an American spin on this tale. Berger (born in then-West Germany in 1970) is not. It’s therefore somewhat perplexing that this adaptation ditches a lot of the particulars of the novel, widens its perspective characters to include top German brass, elides characters and even changes the particulars of major plot points to tell what amounts to an almost completely different story—one with a wider scope. By virtue of including two other characters, it makes an attempt to go beyond the trenches and indict the inhumanity of the people whose words cause wars. It’s wild, compared to the mostly faithful adaptations of the past. It also, inescapably, feels as if it’s more of a war film than the others, with more action scenes and necessarily less of an examination of the effect of war on the individual soldier. It’s a completely different perspective that is exceptionally well-shot and directed and raises its voice about Germany’s part of culpability for the war. It’s therefore profoundly frustrating that All Quiet on the Western Front, at times, bucks against Remarque’s thesis. It is, nonetheless, the first All Quiet on the Western Front adaptation in wide release that we’ve got from an actual German perspective. As we grow more and more distant from the war to end all wars, that kind of reappraisal becomes even more important. —i>Kenneth Lowe


Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Year: 2023
Director: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson
Stars: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar Isaac, Issa Rae, Jason Schwartzman
Rating: PG

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Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse webs its way into a far more jaded world, one overstuffed with superhero sequels, and specifically, multiverse storytelling. And yet Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse swings in and, yet again, wipes the floor with its genre brethren by presenting a sequel that is both kinetic and deeply emotional. The script by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Dave Callaham (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) smartly builds upon the foundation of its already established characters, their relationships and the ongoing consequences from the first film to further explore the lives of secret teen superheroes Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) and Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) a year after the first film. The writers do so with a clear agenda to not only best themselves visually, but by upping the game of the now-familiar multiple-timeline tropes. Together with the talents of directing team Joaquim Dos Santos (The Legend of Korra), Kemp Powers (Soul) and Justin K. Thompson (Into the Spider-Verse), Across the Spider-Verse—across the board—swings for the cinematic fences in the rare sequel that feels like every frame has been crafted with the intention of wringing every bit of visual wonder and emotional impact that the animators, the performers and the very medium can achieve. The hybrid computer-animation meets hand-drawn techniques established in the first films returns with a more sleek execution that’s a bit easier on the eyes, which affords the animators to get even more ambitious with their array of techniques and character-centric presentations. The depth and breadth of the animation and illustration styles are jaw-dropping. There are frames you just want to fall into, they’re so beautifully rendered and conceived. If there’s any critique, it’s that the more action-centric sequences are almost too detailed, so that the incredible work of the animators moves off-screen so quickly that you feel like you’re not able to fully appreciate everything coming at you. As a middle film in the trilogy (Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse is due in theaters in 2024), it’s a joy to be able to say that Across the Spider-Verse stands well on its own, based on the merits of its story and stakes. There’s also a killer cliffhanger that sets the stage for a third chapter that doesn’t feel like it’s cheating its audience like some other recent films have done (cough Dune cough). In fact, repeat viewings of Across the Spider-Verse to bridge the gap until the final installment next year sounds like a great way to savor this film as it so richly deserves.—Tara Bennett


The Equalizer 3

Year: 2023
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Stars: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, David Denman
Rating: R

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With Denzel Washington on the cusp of 70, The Equalizer 3 certainly qualifies as a “Geriaction” film of the kind Liam Neeson now almost exclusively appears in. But Antoine Fuqua’s trilogy-capper handles the age factor with unusual grace for the genre. Much of the movie is centered around the toll that opening massacre took on Washington’s aging body, and his slow recuperation with the help of his new Italian friends. However, rather than the long wait for him to be fighting fit again becoming dull or frustrating, it only adds to the tension. The bad guys are so resoundingly, sadistically awful, it truly does seem that only Robert McCall can stop them. And while he’s not able to, they direct all their violent energies towards Gio—a sweet local cop with an adorable young family. Gio’s survival is intimately linked to McCall’s recovery, and that makes it feel all the more urgent. And yet conversely, the other reason The Equalizer 3 fares so well among its peers is that Washington is so charming, such a radiator of unbridled star power, we just don’t need to see him embroiled in violence to have a good time watching him. The Equalizer 3 knows and loves its leading man, and trusts we’ll be happy to bask in his charisma as he sits in cafes and chats with the friendly citizens. Yes, he is still doing the teabag thing, only this time it’s against the most picturesque of backdrops. As he walks around the local market with his new friend Aminah (Gaia Scodellaro), who’s just gently teased him about his new purchase (“Ah, I see Stefano finally sold that hat!”), it’s hard to imagine anyone not being content to watch Washington relax and live the dolce vita for the next 90 minutes. Alas, there are bad guys to equalize! It’s the mix of sentimentalism and splattery violence that makes The Equalizer 3 so unexpectedly endearing. There’s a whole subplot here involving Dakota Fanning as a CIA agent, and it’s completely superfluous; clearly just there as a nod to the rapport she and Washington had in 2004’s Man on Fire, when she was 10 years old. Though the narrative would have rolled along fine without her, the two are still so lovely to watch together, it’s difficult to begrudge The Equalizer 3 for leaning into that schmaltzy nostalgia. Another sugary twist, as to her character’s parentage, is a little eyeroll-inducing—and yet there’s something weirdly sweet about that detail being in the same movie that was, only minutes earlier, so enthusiastic to show us what a man looks like with a hacksaw bisecting his face. Although the John Wick franchise, which also started in 2014 and (sort of…) finished this year, has understandably stolen The Equalizer’s thunder when it comes to action scenes, Antoine Fuqua can still engineer them with impressive verve. Maybe it’s just the Italian setting, but there’s a majestic sweep to the setpieces in the franchise’s third entry that gives them an operatic feel; the pulse-pounding, classical-infused musical leitmotifs add further excitement and propulsion to the already robust sequences. Yet, there’s a stripped-down simplicity to the climactic one that has a gratifyingly nasty bite. In terms of the pure pleasures of solidity, of seeing a movie work within well-worn conventions to such a nourishing degree, of basking in the reflected glow of the starriest of star power, of seeing a trilogy arc ended with care and love, The Equalizer 3 was unsurpassable.Chloe Walker


Manhunt

Year: 2017
Director: John Woo
Stars: Zhang Hanyu, Masaharu Fukuyama, Ha Ji-won, Qi Wei, Angeles Woo, Jun Kunimura, Nanami Sakamura
Rating: NR

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Increasingly inactive, rumors of future film projects long ago gone to pasture, John Woo might be building his mythos by default, his latest opus (from three years ago) the work of an icon undoubtedly aware of the reputation he has, which has only grown the more he’s kept quiet. Manhunt presents less of a return to form for the action movie maestro, more a culmination of his legend-making preoccupations: brotherhood, duty, vocation, trial by slo-mo obliteration, morality cut in epic swathes of gunfire, unlimited bullets forever and ever, amen. How does one celebrate one’s visual obsessions? By going belligerent with the doves, having them form a dove tornado that serves as the backdrop between our two brawling protagonists, a dove at least once giving each combatant an advantage, if brief, over the other—doves everywhere, doves as weapons and as symbols of grandiosity and as cheap plot devices, representing all that is great and all that is parodic about the director. Two men, exemplars of their professions—super lawyer Du Qiu (Zhang Hanyu) and excellent-but-troubled detective Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama)—develop something more intimate than friendship as they unearth a vast conspiracy somehow involving corporate espionage, police corruption, secret high-tech prisons and assassins enabled by super-soldier serum: bloated plot contrivances were they not indebted to every masterpiece John Woo’s ever made. These are the facets of Woo’s gun operas that we adore, and with Manhunt he’s just taking the opportunity to curate his own greatest hits collection. —Dom Sinacola


Looper

Year: 2012
Director: Rian Johnson
Stars: Bruce Willis, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan
Rating: R

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Joseph-Gordon Levitt channels his inner badass to act as the younger version of Bruce Willis, nailing (with the help of some CGI and prosthetics) Willis’s ubiquitous action presence. The best case made on film for “If time travel is outlawed, only outlaws will have time travel!”, writer/director Rian Johnson wisely treats the tech as a given, focusing instead on the dramatic scenarios humans’ use of it would create. The result is one of the more thrilling time-travel-infused flicks of the last few decades, ably merging its paradoxes with a story about whether human change is ever truly a real possibility. —Jim Vorel


The Nice Guys

Year: 2016
Director: Shane Black
Stars: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Margaret Qualley, Keith David
Rating: R

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Good performances can polish average movies with just enough elbow grease they end up looking like gems. Think Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, or Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Every advance that Shane Black’s The Nice Guys takes toward quality is made on the strengths of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. Black is as quick with action scenes as with punchlines. The Nice Guys is funny. It’s exciting. If you find yourself growing tired of wordplay, Black will turn things around and slide in some Three Stooges slapstick. If you get tired of that, he’ll set off a gun or throw a few punches, though it is impossible to imagine anybody finding the clownish sight of Gosling tumbling off of balconies or crashing through plate glass tiresome. Gosling and Crowe are a great pair, so great that their team-up should justify funding for a buddy picture series where Holland and Jackson undertake jobs that spiral out of hand and above their pay grades. Crowe plays it straight and grumpy, and you half expect him to declare that he’s too old for this shit at any given moment. Gosling, on the other hand, shapes Holland through boozy tomfoolery and pratfalls. They’re a standout odd couple, but Black’s films are defined by great odd couples as much as they are by great scripting. In The Nice Guys, he leaves it up to Gosling and Crowe to use the former to fill in the gaps left behind by the lack of the latter.—Andy Crump


Day Shift

Year: 2022
Director: J.J. Perry
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Dave Franco, Karla Souza, Meagan Good, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Snoop Dogg
Rating: R

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Day Shift is a successful directorial debut for long-time stunt coordinator J.J. Perry. It isn’t a revelation, but it’s mirthful and violent and feels like everyone involved had fun making it while taking their jobs seriously. Streaming is essentially the contemporary version of straight-to-video, and for some movies (like Prey) that feels like a major distribution-side miscalculation. Day Shift isn’t quite at that franchise-affirming level, but I’d have loved to have seen it in a theater. Part of me wishes it was a grimier, rougher film released on Shudder, with the same cast and creative team more directly evoking 1970s exploitation over 1980s action-comedy-horror, but, if you spent the early 2000s wishing Blade crossed over with Bad Boys or Lethal Weapon, Netflix has got your ticket. —Kevin Fox Jr.


Bullet Train

Year: 2022
Director: David Leitch
Stars: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada
Rating: R

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What can I say about Bullet Train? Well, Hiroyuki Sanada is in it as a sage old warrior. Despite being based on a novel by Japanese author K?tar? Isaka, Sanada’s presence feels like an analogy for the film’s relationship with Japanese culture. Sanada was the samurai that bullied and trained Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai. He’s Scorpion in the most recent Mortal Kombat. He’s the Yakuza that Hawkeye kills in his global quest for justice (read: murdering non-white criminals) in Avengers: Endgame. He’s opposite Hugh Jackman in The Wolverine. Where on that iffy continuum of American films engaging with Japanese culture does Bullet Train fall? It’s a surprisingly complex question when asked of a film that is at times too clever, but lacks depth or innovation, unlike a real bullet train. A lack of innovation in and of itself isn’t a failure if the execution is spectacular, but Bullet Train uses a familiar tale of murderers clashing along intersecting storylines centered on a couple of objects to demonstrate another familiar tale: Plenty of flash and too little substance. Bullet Train will be a rewarding ride for some, but I’m not sure they should have let it leave the station. —Kevin Fox, Jr.


The Old Guard

Year: 2020
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Stars: Charlize Theron, Kiki Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Chiwitel Ejiofor, Van Veronico Ngo, Henry Melling, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli
Rating: NR

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Gina Prince-Bythewood, given a budget more than worthy of the best DTV action flick anyone could hope could make it to permanent Netflix browsal, succeeds in towing, and then mildly subverting, the genre line: She proves she can capably steer a high-concept action blockbuster while cobbling together something that feels like the kind of movie “they” just don’t make anymore. All of it amounts to a one-step-forward-one-step-back appraisal: There is much to cull from the travails of Andromache the Scythian (Charlize Theron), an immortal warrior who, thousands of years later, still questions the purpose of her own endlessness, and sequels, given Netflix’s ostensibly unlimited resources, are all but guaranteed—but one wishes for more capably clear action auteurism, even when Prince-Bythewood’s action chops confidently step up. Still: There are countless joys to behold in The Old Guard, most of all the emergence of Kiki Layne—last seen as hyper-dramatic personae #1 in If Beale Street Could Talk—as exceptionally promising action star, executing a one-handed pistol cocking so confident and so unremarked-upon it automatically achieves cinematic canon. Otherwise, trigger-happy editing gets in the way of itself too often, admirable set-pieces sometimes chopped to shit, though plenty of violence—squelching and tendon-splitting—abounds, and the final villain is dispatched with such disregard for the human body that one can’t help but applaud Prince-Bythewood for getting it—for knowing that the key to good action filmmaking is treating people like piles of wet meat. —Dom Sinacola


The Harder They Fall

Year: 2021
Director: Jeymes Samuel
Stars: Idris Elba, Jonathan Majors, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, RJ Cyler
Rating: R
Runtime: 139 minutes

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The importance of Black folks to the “taming” of the West is a central thrust to The Harder They Fall, both as a motivation for first-time feature director Jeymes Samuel, who grew up watching Westerns and wanted to see one starring Black people, and for the plot. The actors, visual style and musical choices elevate an imperfect script with memorable if not completely unique dialogue and scenes. The cast and performances are remarkable and it’s an aesthetically striking film with great set, sound and costume design. Real-life historical figures are treated like folk heroes, for better and for worse. The Harder They Fall has its problems, but it’s a testament to the idea that there are still interesting things to be done in familiar genres, like inserting color aesthetically and demographically. —Kevin Fox Jr.


Beyond Skyline

Year: 2017
Director: Liam O’Donnell
Stars: Frank Grillo, Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Jonny Weston, Bojana Novakovic, Callan Mulvey
Rating: NR

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In which Frank Grillo’s “Mark” joins the cinematic pantheon of “hard-living L.A. cops somehow able to defeat a technologically advanced, warlike alien civilization” alongside Danny Glover’s Lt. Mike Harrigan. Mark, a police detective suspended for—one can only guess in retrospect—some infraction having to do with violence, has barely any time to catch up with his estranged son Trent (Jonny Weston), fresh out of the clink, before an alien invasion quickly decimates Mark’s scummy West Coast metropolis. Though the debatably successful 2010 Skyline ended on a clear setup for a sequel, with the brain of Jarrod (anthropomorphic goatee Eric Balfour) bringing an alien exoskeleton to life to protect pregnant girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson), Beyond Skyline works overtime to justify its existence, sucking up its predecessor’s humorless worldbuilding and disaster movie plot to spit out a wildly imaginative barrage of setpieces and sci-fi wonkery. Mark’s adventure takes him from LA to outer space to Laos, affixing a Mega-Man-brand hand cannon to his beefy middle-aged arm for a final shoot-out and bone-splitting melee involving Yayan Ruhian and Iko Uwais from The Raid movies assaulting the ever living shit out of aliens among ancient Southeast Asian ruins. Along the way, Mark helps Elaine give birth, on the alien ship, to a baby girl who grows at such an accelerated rate she becomes a three-year-old in just a day, and who just may hold the key to defeating the aliens in her DNA. It’s pretty fucking nuts. Wall-to-wall action, buttressed by dependable fight choreography and a script that refuses to back down, Beyond Skyline is a relentless delight—all the better for the fact that it maybe should have never existed at all. —Dom Sinacola


Baby Driver

Year: 2017
Director: Edgar Wright
Stars: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal
Rating: R

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Baby Driver is a sugar missile of endorphins aimed directly at the movie dork’s pleasure center, a film that is so eager to get you on its candy-crush wavelength that resistance doesn’t just seem futile, but downright uncharitable. This is nothing you haven’t seen before—I’ve seen it joked that Baby Driver is sort of a YA Drive—and I suspect Wright’s fully aware of that. This movie is all about sensation, about grooving on the very specific but unquestionably catchy hook Wright has laid down for you. The movie is wall-to-wall music, seemingly taken straight from Wright’s own iPod, and his enthusiasm is infectious. We’ve all imagined ourselves, while walking down the street listening to the music in our ears at maximum volume, in a private movie of our own creation, and it is quite the achievement of Wright to have essentially made that movie real. —Will Leitch / “Full Review”:https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/06/baby-driver.html


Gunpowder Milkshake

Year: 2021
Director: Navot Papushado
Stars: Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Michelle Yeoh, Carla Gugino, Angela Bassett, Paul Giamatti
Rating: N/A

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Can we ever really protect our children from the violence of the world we’ve created? Gunpowder Milkshake dares to sort of pose this question, then double dares the audience to try to follow an ultra-convoluted plot that is simply an excuse to watch hot mother figures (Lena Headey, Michelle Yeoh, Carla Gugino and Angela Bassett) bash in the heads of a horde of generic hitmen. The film’s thin thread of emotional sincerity gets lost in Israeli horror director Navot Papushado’s gory venture into big-budget action. His movie favors neon lighting, intricate set pieces, slow-mo as storytelling and the squeezing of brilliant actors into minimally backstoried, fabulously outfitted cardboard characters over much in the way of development or consistency. It’s a bloody feast for the eyes, and if you’re looking for a movie sprung solely from the iconography of other neo-shoot ‘em ups, it’s got some fun in store—you just might have to leap over the plot holes and massive tonal shifts while wielding customized mini-bayonets to enjoy the good stuff. —Shayna Maci Warner


Da 5 Bloods

Year: 2020
Director: Spike Lee
Starring: Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo, Norman Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Jonathan Majors, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Lê Y Lan, Johnny Trí Nguy?n
Rating: R

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The hunt for buried gold neither ends well nor goes off without a hitch. The long road to reconciliation, whether with one’s trauma, family or national identity, is never without bumps. Glue these truths together with the weathering effects of institutional racism, add myriad references to history—American history, music history, film history—and you get Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, a classically styled Vietnam action picture made in his cinematic vision. As in 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, Lee connects the dots between past and present, linking the struggle for civil rights couched in conscientious objection and protest to contemporary America’s own struggle against state-sanctioned fascism. After opening with a montage of events comprising and figures speaking out against the Vietnam War, referred to predominantly as the American War throughout the rest of the movie, Lee introduces four of the five bloods: Otis (Clarke Peters), Paul (Delroy Lindo), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), bonded Vietnam vets returned to Ho Chi Minh City ostensibly to find and recover the bones of their fallen squad leader, Norman (Chadwick Boseman). There’s more, of course, “more” being around $17 million in gold bars planted in Vietnamese soil, property of the CIA but reappropriated by the Bloods as reparations for their personal suffering as men fighting a war for a country governed by people who don’t care about their rights. Lee’s at the height of his powers when bluntly making the case that for as much time as has passed since the Vietnam War’s conclusion, America’s still stubbornly waging the same wars on its own people and, for that matter, the rest of the world. And Lee is still angry at and discontent with the status quo, being the continued oppression of Black Americans through police brutality, voter suppression and medical neglect. In this context, Da 5 Bloods’ breadth is almost necessary. As Paul would say: Right on. —Andy Crump


Kate

Year: 2021
Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Miku Patricia Martineau, Woody Harrelson, Michael Huisman
Rating: R

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It’s been a busy year for that busiest of professions, the best-in-class lone female assassin. Killing dudes, getting revenge, revealing vulnerability by unexpectedly caring for a child, bathing in neon light, ripping off Crank…these daughters of John Wick and Atomic Blonde truly have it all. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s titular Kate fires precision kill shots from rooftops; she has the obligatory male-mentor father-figure handler played by another name star, in this case Woody Harrelson; she has easy-to-remember rules (in Kate’s case, don’t involve children at the scene of her crimes) that exist to be broken (guess who shows up at her opening hit). And, of course, she wants out of this life. Before she can become the first female assassin to retire with no fuss whatsoever, there’s, well, some fuss, in Crank form: Kate is severely poisoned, and suddenly has just about 24 hours to live. She chooses to spend this time gunning for revenge, of course, a plan that is complicated not just by the sheer number of Yakuza henchmen she has to fight her way through but also Ani (Miku Patricia Martineau), a girl who is both the daughter of a recent target and the key to locating Kate’s unseen enemy. —Jesse Hassenger


Extraction

Year: 2020
Director: Sam Hargrave
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Golshifteh Farahani, Rudhraksh Jaiswal, David Harbour, Randeep Hooda
Rating: NR

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One can imagine Extraction as something better during its interminable downtimes—something that would have allowed Chris Hemsworth some room to turn on the charm; something that could have been tighter in less franchise-greased hands; something that doesn’t revel in the orientalist filth of Bangladesh—but then a man named Tyler Rake (Hemsworth) splits a man’s skull apart with a rake. First-time director Sam Hargrave knows his way around a visceral action scene, most likely earning his A-list star and substantial budget from working with the Russo brothers as stunt coordinator on a few of the biggest MCU entries, and Extraction goes HAM once Rake’s full powers are unleashed, stabbing a man’s brain with the aforementioned rake and/or kicking a table so hard across the floor its edge crushes another man’s throat. Carnage reigns; sound design feels wet and sloppy, organs rupturing everywhere. The film’s second act culminates in a fake one-take that actually begins by Rake telling his handler over the phone that he’s now officially in “survival mode,” continues as a teeth-shaking car chase, followed by a murder spree through an apartment building, a knife brawl and vehicular manslaughter. Later, an RPG tears a helicopter asunder; Rake ring-around-the-roseys a dead guy to use the dead guy’s legs to break another guy’s neck. One can imagine a movie that doesn’t look like it cost this much, but then again: This is Netflix. It’s OK to just fast-forward to all the mayhem. —Dom Sinacola


Rush

Year: 2013
Director: Ron Howard
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde
Rating: R

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James Hunt and Niki Lauda were competing world champions during the 1976 Formula One season, and if their mutual dislike and comparable skill wasn’t enough to make them famous adversaries, the extreme differences in their lifestyles was. What makes Rush special is that the conflict is not one between good and evil, but rather between two very different approaches to living one’s life. Though it would be easy to paint Hunt as an egotistical reprobate or Lauda as a heartless brainiac, Howard takes a more balanced, objective approach. Hemsworth and Brühl both deliver impressive, nuanced performances. If Howard’s latest was just about cars, the film’s 123 minutes might prove a pretty tedious drive. It’s not just about cars, though—it’s about how we interact with people different from ourselves, what we learn from them, and how those experiences can enrich our lives. As a result, Rush is worth the trip.—Leland Montgomery


The Night Comes for Us

Year: 2018
Director: Timo Tjahjanto
Stars: Joe Taslim, Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Sonny Pang
Rating: NR

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While Gareth Evans confounded fans of The Raid movies by giving them a British folk horror film (but a darn good one) this year, Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes for Us scratches that Indonesian ultra-violent action itch. Furiously. Then stabs a shard of cow femur through it. Come for the violence, The Night Comes for Us bids you—and, also, stay for the violence. Finally, leave because of the violence. If that sounds grueling, don’t worry, it is. You could say it’s part of the point, but that might be projecting good intentions on a film that seems to care little for what’s paving the highway to hell. It’s got pedal to metal and headed right down the gullet of the abyss. It’s also got the best choreographed and constructed combat sequences of the year, and plenty of them, and they actually get better as the film goes along. There’s a scene where Joe Taslim’s anti-hero protagonist takes on a team inside a van, the film using the confines to compress the bone-crushing, like an action compactor. Other scenes are expansive in their controlled chaos and cartoonish blood-letting, like Streets of Rage levels, come to all-too-vivid life: the butcher shop level, the car garage level and a really cool later level where you play as a dope alternate character and take on a deadly sub-boss duo who have specialized weapons and styles and—no, seriously, this movie is a videogame. You’ll forget you weren’t playing it, so intensely will you feel a part of its brutality and so tapped out you’ll feel once you beat the final boss, who happens to be The Raid-star Iko Uwais with a box-cutter. It’s exceptionally painful and it goes on forever. Despite a storyline that’s basically just an excuse for emotional involvement (Taslim’s character is trying to protect a cute little girl from the Triad and has a lost-brotherhood bit with Uwais’s character) and, more than that, an easy way to set up action scenes on top of action scenes, there’s something about the conclusion of The Night Comes For Us that still strikes some sort of nerve of pathos, despite being mostly unearned in any traditional dramatic sense. Take it as a testament to the raw power of the visceral: A certain breed of cinematic action—as if by laws of physics—demands a reaction. —Chad Betz


Avengement

Year: 2019
Director: Jesse V. Johnson
Stars: Scott Adkins, Craig Fairbrass, Thomas Turgoose
Rating: NR

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The second of three films directed by Jesse V. Johnson released in 2019, Avengement is as crystalline, as empirically precise, as micro-budget VOD martial arts action can aspire. With that kind of prolificacy, a journeyman director’s bound to do something right—which would be a valid assessment, were everything Johnson’s done not so undeniably solid. Thanks goes, of course, to Johnson’s muse, Vicious Beefcake Scott Adkins, a flawlessly sculpted humanoid so squarely planted in Johnson’s sweet spot—melodramatic, archly brutal action cinema with enough wit and heart to leave a bruise—a Johnson film without him as the protagonist doesn’t quite feel fully realized. Look only to Triple Threat, Avengement’s 2019 predecessor, to yearn for what could have been, mollified by a scene in which Adkins body slams a sedan going at least 40 mph. Triple Threat boasts three writers and a cavalcade of international action cinema stars, from Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa, to Tiger Chen and Michael Jai White (still in decent shape, but so outclassed by Adkins and his peers’ athleticism he seems pretty much immobile), while in Avengement Johnson works from his own script, winnowing the plot to a series of increasingly higher stakes brawls as wronged nobody Cain (Adkins) makes his bloody way through the criminal organization (led by his brother, no less) that left him to rot in prison. As is the case with Savage Dog and The Debt Collector (both on Netflix), Avengement thrives on the preternatural chemistry between director and star, the camera remarkably calm as it captures every amazing inch of Adkins in motion, beating the living shit out of each chump he encounters, Adkins just as aware of how best to stand and pose and flex to showcase his body. Charming character actors cheer from the sidelines; the plot functions so fundamentally we hardly realize we care about these characters until we’ve reached a satisfying end at their sides. Perhaps Scott Adkins is a better dramatist than we’ve come to expect from our kinetic stars anymore. Perhaps we’ve set our expectations too low. —Dom Sinacola


Space Sweepers

Year: 2021
Director: Jo Sung-hee
Stars: Song Joong-ki, Kim Tae-ri, Jin Seon-kyu, Yoo Hae-jin
Rating: NR

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Netflix introduced its audience to Southeast Asian big-budget sci-fi with the Chinese film The Wandering Earth, a mess of a story that was still beautiful to look at. Space Sweepers, from Korean filmmaker Jo Sung-hee, is a much more cohesive and coherent offering with just as much flash. The dystopian setting sees the head of a giant tech company creating an Eden on Mars, essentially consigning most of humanity to poverty and pollution. A ragtag team of space-junk collectors is each looking after their own self-interest when they find a mysterious young girl who entangles them in much larger worries. With compelling characters, thrilling action sequences and an engaging plot, it’s a strong entry for Korea’s first sci-fi blockbuster. —Josh Jackson


Army of Thieves

Year: 2021
Director: Matthias Schweighöfer
Stars: Matthias Schweighöfer, Nathalie Emmanuel, Stuart Martin, Guz Khan, Ruby O. Fee, Jonathan Cohen
Rating: TV-MA

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Army of the Dead is a film full of pleasant surprises, but Matthias Schweighöfer, playing a German safecracker with a hair-trigger for impassioned speeches about locks and bolts, is perhaps the most pleasant surprise of them all. The man has a twitchy sort of charm easily misidentified as “quirkiness.” In reality he’s well-mannered to a fault and polite to the point of timidity, but with one other propulsive quality buried beneath the affable veneer: Intensity. Everything Schweighöfer does in Army of the Dead is informed by a vigor belied by his nervousness. He’s a squirrely burglar, quivering one moment over flesh-eating ghouls and doing a heroic sacrifice the next. This intensity carries over into Army of Thieves, the prequel film to Army of the Dead, where Schweighöfer replaces Zack Snyder in the director’s chair. To allay any fears that Schweighöfer might copy Snyder’s style, don’t worry: Schweighöfer is not Zack Snyder, because nobody is. Everything that singled out Schweighöfer’s work under Snyder’s guidance is infused into Army of Thieves on a molecular level, as if he managed to get his hands on Shay Hatten’s screenplay and bleed all over its pages. Army of Thieves replaces the doom, gloom and zombie chaos with deep-rooted joy, as if Schweighöfer, behind the camera, can scarcely believe he’s directing a film this big established by a filmmaker like Snyder. It’s impossible to resist that sort of bubbly, crackling enthusiasm, which makes Army of Thieves’ predictable elements easier to countenance. —Andy Crump


Godzilla

Year: 2014
Director: Gareth Edwards
Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn
Rating: PG-13

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The rebooted American Godzilla by Gareth Edwards struggles between two aspirations, to channel the gravitas and meaning of the 1954 original and also satisfy a popcorn-crunching audience of American action movie fans who just want to see some stuff get blowed up real good. At its best, it gives in to the pulpy ridiculousness of being a film about giant monsters, simply stepping back for a second to let the beautifully rendered creatures become the stars. At its worst, it bogs down in endless human drama that is devoid of meaning, following the wrong protagonists (why kill Bryan Cranston? Why?) as they struggle to rescue nameless children and the audience wonders why it should care. A number of awesome moments in the final 30 moments help propel this launch of Legendary’s MonsterVerse up the list, and the film particularly benefits from its sense of scale and awe toward Godzilla in particular, but just as often it frustrates by teasing the audience with expected confrontations that don’t actually happen. It’s a mixed bag, but one that has grown in our esteem in the years since it was first released. Of the modern American Godzilla films, it easily pays the most respect to Godzilla as a character and a force of nature. —Jim Vorel


Project Power

Year: 2020
Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback
Rating: R

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Take a pill, get a new superpower for five minutes. It’s not the most original concept for a sci-fi film, but it should have been enough to lay the groundwork for a fun-if-not-groundbreaking two hours on the couch. Unfortunately not even the cast of usually charismatic actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jamie Foxx could save this dull affair. Instead of an array of imaginative new superpowers, we get to see no more than about a half dozen people take the pill. And while it’s refreshing to see a film like this set in one of America’s most unique cities, even New Orleans gets short shrift here. The brightest moments in the movie are when Dominique Fishback takes center stage as Robin, whether she’s freestyle rapping or connecting with Foxx’s damaged military test subject, Art. —Josh Jackson


Shadow

Year: 2018
Director: Zhang Yimou
Stars: Chao Deng, Sun Li, Ryan Zheng, Qianyuan Wang, Xiaotong Guan, Wang Jingchung
Rating: NR

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Zhang Yimou’s latest is Shadow, a wuxia film based on the Chinese “Three Kingdoms” legend. Where Yimou’s recent filmography either favors substance over dazzle (Coming Home) or dazzle over substance (The Great Wall), Shadow does what the best of his movies do by sewing them together into one seamless package. As in Hero, as in House of Flying Daggers, the anti-gravity fight scenes are stunning to behold, but those movies put performance and action on the same plane, and Shadow deliberately separates them with a gorgeous monochrome palette, backgrounded by gray scale that lets the actors, and the copious amount of blood they spill throughout, hold its forefront. Here, in this tale of palace intrigue, Commander Yu (Deng Chao) employs a double to act in his stead (also Deng Chao)—his shadow, if you will—to seize control of a city of strategic value from invading forces against orders from his king (Zheng Kai). The film twists and turns, but through Zhang’s devoted stylization, the intricacies never overwhelm. Instead, the stylization does. —Andy Crump


Headshot

Year: 2017
Director: Timo Tjahjanto, Kimo Stamboel
Stars: Iko Uwais, Sunny Pang, Chelsea Islan, Julie Estelle, Zack Lee, Very Tri Yulisman, David Hendrawan
Rating: NR

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Anyone familiar with the tropes of this kind of flick can pretty easily guess that Ishmael (Iko Uwais) is a veritable killing machine, a man bred to wreck any poor bastard fool enough to tangle with him. The film takes his backstory beyond the edges of obviousness, though, eventually landing somewhere in the same neighborhood as movies like Louis Leterier’s Unleashed (a.k.a. Danny the Dog), where childhood innocence is tied to adult barbarity. Headshot is surprisingly melancholic, an actioner built to break hearts as easily as Uwais breaks bones, characters paying for the crimes of their past with their lives in the present. In several instances, innocent people end up paying, too: Lee’s thugs hijack a bus on its way to Jakarta, intending on finding Ishmael. When they realize he isn’t aboard, they murder the other passengers and burn the evidence, which just adds to Ishmael’s moral onus. Odds are that you’re not tuning into Headshot for the story, of course. The good news is that the film delivers in the ass-kicking department. The better news, perhaps, is that Tjahjanto and Stamboel have outdone Gareth Evans’ The Raid 2’s bloated fusion of story and action. Headshot clocks in at only 118 minutes and spaces out narrative beats and beatings beautifully, developing the harrowing truth of Ishmael’s upbringing without either belaboring the point or denying the audience the thrill of unhinged but precisely choreographed martial arts violence. Broad swaths of the action movie canon are fist-pumping shindigs that celebrate good guys serving bad guys their just desserts. In Headshot, as in the films of Evans, the action snatches the breath out of our lungs. The end of each fight relieves us of our ratcheting anxiety. Coupling that dynamic with the emotional substance of Ishmael’s existential woe makes the film a soul-rattling, hand-wringing affair made with Tjahjanto and Stamboel’s daringly aggressive sense of craft. You’ll nearly wish that more filmmakers shot action movies the way this duo does—but your nerves probably couldn’t take it if they did.—Andy Crump

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