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Free Guy

Free Guy

Oh look it's generic Guy in his generic Tie, looking so
generically Fly

dir: Shawn Levy

2021

Free Guy is the recent update to The Truman Show that you never knew you wanted and probably aren’t going to enjoy that much anyway. It does have the benefit of not having Jim Carrey in it.

On a different hand entirely, you may find Ryan Reynolds even more annoying that Carrey in his SMOKIN’ prime, in which case you are never going to watch this flick and why would you care anyway?

Yes, this is perennial fratboy Reynolds’ gig, in which he is in almost every scene and talks to us, the lucky audience, in voiceover, constantly. This is literally one of those movies where if the main character isn’t on screen, any other character is talking about him. He is the one who wakes up in the same place, dresses the same way, experiences the same day every day for our amusement

The city in which he lives, being Free City, is like something out of a computer game. Specifically, it’s a very violent but cartoonishly so game, in which there are two classes of people from Guy’s perspective. Oh yeah, the main guy played by Reynolds is called Guy, or Blue-Shirt Guy. How generic, you might think. Anyway, there are the regular shmoes like Guy, and then there are cool people who wear sunglasses and commit all the crimes and have what seems like agency and self-determination.

Guy wants to have self-determination and agency too. He has a best friend called Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), but Buddy doesn’t aspire to anything. Every time the bank in which he works is attacked by robbers, he drops his gun belt to the floor and lies on the ground, as does Guy, who is a teller in that bank.

I don’t know that it’s that much of a spoiler to mention that this is a game, and these “characters” are what are generally referred to as NPCs or Non-Player Characters, and that the people with sunglasses are avatars for actual people in the “real” world who play this game.

The thing is, though, at least at first, all the other NPCs stick to their stock scripts. They are very limited in their programming. They have no hopes or aspirations.

But not Guy. Like Wall-E in the Pixar flick of the same name, something magical has happened over time that has raised the humble program to something more complex. But like Emmett in The LEGO Movie, he’s the generically everyman Everyman who exists in a constructed world not of his making for the amusement or therapy of someone else within the movie. Media within media.

That is, if you can accept the concept of Ryan Reynolds as a generic everyman character, which I don’t think anyone can.

Rating:

The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad 2021

This looks fun, especially if you're trapped in a lockdown
and can't go anywhere

dir: James Gunn

2021

Every review of this starts with “the first one was pretty shit”, and, indeed, Suicide Squad was pretty shit. Who knew just making another one with many of the same characters, adding a “The” to the front, and setting most of it in daylight would make a profound difference to so many people?

The Suicide Squad is not really that much better than its predecessor. It looks better, because it probably had a bigger budget. It benefits from James Gunn’s brutish, comedic sensibilities, but it also suffers from them too. It employs the (what I think of as lazy) technique of doubling back and explaining something that happened a few minutes ago in order to explain how a person right now probably isn’t going to be murdered by the person standing over them., which became tedious 4 Guy Ritchie films ago.

It has massive action set pieces that don’t really feel that real, a villain who’s controlling the squad, who’s somehow worse than the threats they’re facing (Viola Davis, with all the venom and cold fury you’d expect and demand), way too many characters who are thankfully whittled down quickly to a core group, a strangely generic island nation in the Caribbean or off the coast of South America, and plenty of splatter and humour.

We watch the core business of this Dirty Dozen construct occur pretty quickly right from the start: a group of crims is put together, has an explosive inserted into their brains which can be exploded if they don’t follow orders or try to flee, they try to do the mission, then almost all of them die.

And then of course the credits start, to the tune of The Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died”, and the credits are basically a raucous In Memoriam for a bunch of dickheads who died within seconds of the movie starting, and who (in most cases) we will never see again.

Of this group (yes, I am going to belabor several points, why do you ask?), there is Pete Davidson, of Saturday Night Live fame, playing one of the “villians” called Blackguard. When I heard that Davidson was going to be in a Suicide Squad movie, and that so were thirty or more other people as well, I guessed pretty easily that he would be dead within minutes.

If the flick can be said to be surprising, it’s that it takes even less than that! Way to go Pete! Your post-SNL career is off to a great start.

It then backtracks to show us another completely different team being set up, with a different leader, and a similar objective, but, really, are they the main team, and the other is the distraction? It’s hard to tell. The people running stuff, under Amanda Waller’s direction, seem both good at their jobs of running black ops, but also kinda half-arsed and haphazard, as in almost random in their bad choices.

The leader of the ‘real’ group is called Bloodsport (Idris Elba), which is pretty much a generic name so generic that I keep having to remind myself what the name was by looking it up. And I have a passing familiarity with DC comics, so it shouldn’t be so hard. And yet it is.

Rating:

Boss Level

Boss Level

You cannot kill that which refuses to stay dead, like
Mel Gibson's career. Every time you hear someone
blabbering on about 'cancel culture', remind them
that this supreme piece of shit is still get working

dir: Joe Carnahan

2021

Ugh. No-one told me there would be any Mel Gibson in this. Should have checked beforehand.

Nothing good comes from having Gibson in your flicks any more. At least they’ve abandoned trying to “redeem” his heroic image, and just have him playing awful villains, like we now know he is in real life.

No, the hero here is played by Frank Grillo. Grillo looks like some of the guys I went to high school with, crossed with the kinds of guys you see hanging around the front of protein supplement selling places. Also, they’re often smoking when they do that, and, these days, you also see them at the front of anti-lockdown, anti-vacc protests, complaining about what the government is making people put into their bodies.

Grillo usually plays villains in stuff, most recently in the Marvel monstrosities, but even though he looks like the kind of guy who’d fuck your grandmother, they sometimes put him forward as a heroic type.

I don’t buy it. And here he’s the front and centre hero, and we’re meant to believe he wouldn’t punch a baby penguin in the face?

This is the most recent in a long line of Groundhog Day variations, with more of an action / blow-uppy emphasis. There are more variants of Groundhog Day than there are of the coronavirus, and the action ones are something of a Delta variant, one could say. Edge of Tomorrow was probably the best of the action-y ones, but that can’t stop people from trying again and again, unfortunately.

This one not only has a sci-fi explanation for what’s happening, it uses the aesthetics and concepts of ye olde video games as well. For a long while I thought what was actually happening was that a character, being the hero, was realising somehow that he was a character in a video game, repeating the same sequences and facing the same enemies game after game after game. As trite as I thought that was while watching it, when it’s revealed that the character and this artificial seeming, flat yet cartoony world is actually the “real” world, and the generic hero with the square jaw and the generic backstory is meant to be a real person fighting ‘real’ assassins with swords and helicopter gun ships and such I thought “Somehow that feels even more fake”.

Roy’s days are numbered as “attempts”, and they all start at 7am with an assassin’s machete narrowly missing his head. He kills that guy, and then has to survive something with a helicopter, and then goes out into the world, and more people try to kill him, and he searches for meaning.

He survives up to a certain point, dies, and repeats. If he forgets his timing at any stage, he dies early. Doesn’t know what’s going on, doesn’t know how to enquire about his existence or vary things significantly. Or at least that’s what he keeps telling us, because the fucking voiceover narration never fucking ends.

He remembers previous things, or starts sussing out other elements of what might be happening, but of course it’s within the format of a flick where he’s only going to finally solve things with the final playthrough, so to speak. Like all these Groundhog Day ripoffs, the point is generally about a shitty person realising there’s more to life than being shitty, and so they learn all they can about the people around them, learn to be helpful and selfless, and then become enlightened or something.

Roy has to realise that he knows very little about Egyptian mythology, or quantum physics, or sword fighting, and only through mastering those will he be able to kill Colonel Fuckface (Mel Gibson) and his goons.

Rating:

Fast & Furious 9

Fast Furious 9

Very colourful, way too many characters, but lots of colours

dir: Justin Lin

2021

The physics insulting bullshit rolls on and on…

This film series is renowned for violating everything we know about what cars and people can physically do on this plane of reality, but they’ve somehow upped the ante in two key ways – they put two characters in goddamn space, just beating the billionaires who went on their joyrides to the upper atmosphere by days, and now they feel like they can just add whoever they feel like, and say that long established characters have entire families they’ve never told anyone about.

It's really soap opera bullshit when you do shit like that, and this series has been indulging in that kind of shit since about the 4th one onwards. They’ve done the tropes where someone you thought was dead isn’t dead a couple of times, and they’ve even done the one where someone everyone else thinks is dead is alive, but HAS AMNESIA.

They’ve done the one where the ‘hero’ is forced to ‘pretend’ to be a bad guy because of a surprise baby someone is holding hostage, but they can’t tell anyone about it because reasons.

They haven’t done the one where someone has an evil twin, with the same actor playing both roles, which would have been great, with maybe Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) also playing an evil twin he never spoke about or knew about, called Tom, or Don Toretto, which is just Vin Diesel with a fake goatee.

Save it for the next one, definitely. Instead they decide to invent and wedge in a new character, being Dom’s hitherto unmentioned younger brother Jakob, so that John Cena has something to do. Now, as ex-wrestlers go, I don’t actually dislike John Cena, but when you’ve already brought in The Rock to play a superfluous character, you either have to stop providing charity work to ex-wrestlers or, alternatively, get all the old wrestlers.

I’m not talking about Andre the Giant or Randy Macho Man Savage or the Ultimate Warrior, because they’re all dead, and even they can’t be brought back to life by the keystrokes of a screenwriter. But they should at least get CM Punk, the Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, just anyone to annoy The Rock. They wouldn’t have to do much, except maybe drive a car? But they’d definitely earn their paycheck by grimacing and grunting at the appropriate times.

Cena shows us what a lot of muscular definition, mass and probably heroic amounts of human growth hormone does to a person: gives them a face like an Easter Island statue. He is a villain, for the most part, and has one of the most pointlessly convoluted reasons for ‘hating’ his brother Dom, and Dom for hating him. It involves something that happened to their father, but the way it’s resolved involves Dom having a near death experience and somehow accessing memories from thirty years ago in order to realise “oh, wait, that thing I blamed Jakob for happened differently”.

Rating:

Those Who Wish Me Dead

Those Who Wish Me Dead

Those who wish to see performances with lead characters
who don't have lips that look inflated beyond safe levels
should look elsewhere for their entertainment

dir: Taylor Sheridan

2021

This film… makes no sense. Angelina Jolie being in this film makes not much sense at all.

She is there, as in, you can’t miss the fact that she’s in the film, but she doesn’t really do much of anything. And there’s so much else happening around her, and being done by other people, that you wonder why we’re spending any time with her and her weird feline features.

So, wow, what a title. Those Who Wish Me Dead seems like it’s been truncated, like it’s missing Can Go Fuck Themselves or something similar. The “Those” of the title are two lethal hitmen played by Aidan Gillen (of Lord Bailish / Littlefinger in Game of Thrones fame) and Nicholas Hoult (of, uh, About a Boy fame?) Both have played monsters in other flicks or shows, but here they play cold government goon sociopaths that have no problems murdering entire families, torturing pregnant women or starting fires that can kill any number of people.

In some ways, because we spend so much time watching them work, it’s like they’re the main characters, it’s just that we really don’t want them to succeed. After killing whole bunches of people, their objective ultimately is to kill a kid that’s running around a forest in Montana.

And if they can kill a whole bunch of other people along the way, they’re cool with that.

They don’t start the fire in the forest to kill the kid, but to distract law enforcement, which, I dunno, doesn’t seem very bright. Almost everything they do, which is intended to cover up some government shenanigans, makes it seem like it would just make government shenanigans even more obvious. The fire, I would have thought, would just bring more attention to what they’re doing. Killing all these people in ultra-professional-killer ways would just make it look like a bunch of government goons killed a bunch of people to cover something up, not, like, the opposite of that.

But what would I know. The fire at least gives Angelina Jolie an excuse to shout “Fire, Fire!” in a not-at-all crowded theatre, and to point her pouty lips at the conflagration’s wall of flame.

Rating:

Gunpowder Milkshake

Gunpowder Milkshake

Fuck with the sisterhood, get your balls crushed by hammers!

dir: Navot Papushado

2021

Well. That movie had a lot of stuff in it.

It had a lot of shooting, a lot of stabbing, a few cinema legends in key roles, and a lot of colour and momentum.

It’s also pretty silly, which is something I can appreciate.

I mean, John Wick is pretty silly, but it takes itself deadly seriously. Gunpowder Milkshake does not. Probably cannot.

It’s not entirely ruled out that this film doesn’t exist in the same universe as the John Wick flicks, but it might as well. It’s also almost cartoonishly similar to a movie Clive Owen starred in that absolutely died at the box office called Shoot ‘em Up too many years ago now. It’s a world seemingly ruled by assassins, with very few civilians in between them. No cops seem to exist whatsoever. There are massive criminal organisations with masses of people in them, and every business or building seems to be connected to them, but the main difference here is this isn’t meant to feel deathly important. And everything isn’t filmed at night in the rain with a blue filter.

Our protagonist Sam (Karen Gillen) is also not trying to get revenge on crims for the death of her wife / dog / guinea pig, though she is angry, and stern, though she is trying to protect a little girl mixed up with the shenanigans going on.

What Sam is angry about is being abandoned, she feels, by her assassin mother (the almost always awesome Lena Headey, of Cersei Lannister of Game of Thrones fame) fifteen years ago. That abandonment has fueled her anger, which she’s channeled into being The Firm’s number one killer.

It is not clear what The Firm really is, other than The Patriarchy. In this flick The Firm is represented by Paul Giamatti, who took Sam in when her mother disappeared, and employed her for The Firm’s benefit. She is sent on a job where she kills a whole bunch of people, presumably just before the movie started. One of those people has a father who is quite upset about this. I would have thought all of the people Sam kills, or that The Firm kills could potentially have parents that are saddened by their deaths, but it’s only this one, to Papa McAlester (Ralph Ineson), that seems to matter.

Papa McAlester wants revenge, and The Firm, being a boys’ club only, they are happy to feed Sam to the wolves in order to keep peace with their rivals.

Sam doesn’t play that shit, though, so it’s up to her to enlist the aid of other murderous women in order to stay alive long enough to protect, um, whatever the girl’s name is, um oh yeah Emily (Chloe Coleman).

Sam has to kill and maim a lot of people to achieve that, but thankfully most of those people are pretty shit at their job, and she’s pretty good at hers. What ensues is long sequences of Sam fighting people (contrived reasons are given to stop people constantly shooting at each other, which makes for more inventive fight scenes) with whatever comes to hand, and then, even “better”, contrive a way to make it even harder for her to fight off multiple opponents by temporarily paralyzing her arms.

Rating:

Black Widow

Marvel's Black Widow

Family that kill evil misogynists together stay together

dir: Cate Shortland

2021

I know this sounds weird, but the reason I was excited when I heard about this film being made was the fact that Cate Shortland, Australia’s Own Cate Shortland, would be directing.

You don’t know who Cate Shortland is? She made Somersault way back in the day, and that was a pretty good moody Australian film (one of the few). I’m sure she’s done a bunch of stuff since then, but that’s what I remember her for. She might be a strange choice for an action flick, but I guess they wanted a cis female director for a film pretending to make up the difference with the 20-plus Marvel films in which women mostly played supporting characters, and the now 2 that had female protagonists.

As well there’s this explicitly “smashing the patriarchy” part of the plot which I wholeheartedly support, and if you didn’t have a female director directing it, you’d accuse whoever made it of probably being a Polanski-Weinstein in simp’s clothing.

For all that Scarlett Johansson has done in these movies as someone who doesn’t even have superpowers, this being the 8th time she’s strapped on the outfit, making her the central character doesn’t entirely work here, because she’s the least interesting part of this story. The villain is, like, not interesting at all either, though he is diabolical in his horrible treatment of women, but the interesting characters are really everyone else except Black Widow.

There is a flashback set in the 1990s that opens the film, showing a family going about their general daily American apple pie bullshit, until they bolt from the house and desperately try to get to a plane and fly out of the States, presumably, as they are chased by government types who don’t look like they have any problem shooting children.

The children are little Natasha and her little “sister” Yelena (eventually played by the great Florence Pugh), and the parents are Alexei (David Harbour) and Melina (Rachel Weisz), and though they look like the perfect family, they are all evil Soviet spies! Even the children! Especially the children!

Rating:

Army of the Dead

Army of the Dead

The thing is, the house always wins, because the house
is always so selfish

dir: Zack Snyder

2021

I did not expect to be reviewing another movie by Zach Snyder this year. Perhaps I’m putting him up on a pedestal with directors like Terrence Malick, Scorsese, Sally Potter, Kubrick – auteurs who take multiple years to put their masterpieces together for us, the great unwashed masses.

So, yeah, I sat through all 14 hours of his Justice League, and thought “that’s all the Snyder I need for at least a few years”. But then this came out on Netflix a month or so later, and I thought “I don’t want this.”

But it’s on Netflix, so there’s no excuse. I mean, there are plenty of movies on Netflix, several ‘exclusives’ even, but eh.

Army of the Dead is not terrible. As a zombie flick, it’s okay. It’s not really a zombie flick, to be honest, but it looks enough like one. What it really is, is an update of Aliens.

Aliens was very popular, in its day, and influenced almost every action sci-fi flick that came after it. It’s only natural that, if Snyder is going to make something passable, it should be based on a better film than anything he’s ever managed.

He started off his celebrated career with Dawn of the Dead, a remake of the George Romero classic, so it’s only natural that he (hopefully) finishes his career with one as well. It has nothing in common with the earlier flicks, other than that there are zombies.

Plus it’s a ‘heist’ picture, and it really is a creature feature as well. There are the usual dumb slow zombies, but there’s also a super uber class of more intelligent ones, that are more like a monster / alien / hybrid. Plus they’re not decaying, and they communicate and coordinate amongst themselves. Probably share recipes, too.

And they have taken over Las Vegas. A zombie, or whatever the super Alpha one was called in the lab, gets loose from the Army during transportation, and is unleashed upon the world because in this version of reality, a newly wed bride just so much can’t wait to suck her husband’s dick that she does so whilst he’s trying to drive them away from Vegas. He is understandably distracted, so much so that he drives into one of the military vehicles, unleashing the zombie apocalypse upon the world.

Rating:

Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat 2021

And you know, it ain't fiction, just a natural fact
We come together 'cause opposites attract

dir: Simon McQuoid

2021

I was wrong. I am often wrong, it’s not that big a deal, or that rare.

But in this instance what I was supremely wrong about is that I thought Godzilla Versus Kong was going to be the biggest, utterly fucking dumbest big budget flick of this year. For some reason I was convinced that, because we were going to be seeing flicks produced before 2020, that they were going to run out at some point, and plus a sense of proportion or shame was going to predominate in the minds of studio executives and producers.

They were going to look at the 3 million plus people who have died from the virus, and the many more whose lives have irrevocably changed, and they were going to think “Oo, should do something more respectful with our existences, and our privileges / wealth, shouldn’t we?”

How fucking wrong was I? The way forward, like it’s always been, even more so now, is to keep doubling down.

Mortal Kombat makes Godzilla versus Kong look like a Shakespearean play written by Professor Stephen Hawking produced by John Bell and starring Dame Judi Dench and even more of a Dame Maggie Smith duking it out over the neon-lit skies of Hong Kong in comparison.

It is so fucking dumb. But, and here’s where I do a heel turn so abrupt it brings whiplash even to me, which is only fair, Mortal Kombat movies have to be fucking dumb, because there is no other way to do them.

The “original” flick from the 90s was utter trash, the sequel Annihilation was somehow even more terrible, and this is the best of the lot, but they are all levels of potent trashy trash. Trash, and I’m ashamed of myself for what I’m going to write next, can still be plenty enjoyable.

This new Mortal Kombat is trash, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Rating:

Nobody

Nobody

Ouch looks painful zero stars

dir: Ilya Naishuller

2021

Who doesn’t feel like a nobody? Drowning in quiet desperation in the suburbs, repeating the same movements, actions and gestures every day, so deep in the ruts that constitute a life that even the people around you who you endure all this for barely seem to be able to see you anymore. And if they do, it’s with contempt, with a bit of loathing.

What to do, what to do…

Well, the average American has the options of : doing the hard work to develop one’s inner qualities, to expand one’s notion of the self and its place in the universe; devoting one’s life to helping others, or fighting for causes bigger than oneself.

Or, they could just get a gun and shoot people maybe?

The premise of this flick is the premise of a lot of flicks, it’s just that it doesn’t usually result in someone killing thousands of people. Killing people in order to feel alive again used to be frowned upon. Now it just seems like another path to self-fulfillment.

This is not a revenge thriller, nor is it Death Wish, where a wronged architect starts walking around New York killing ethnically diverse minorities for revenge and shits and giggles (three for the price of one). The John Wick comparison isn’t valid either. Wick was a retired assassin. Some jerk kills his dog and steals his car, so he gets to work. He kinda wants his car back and revenge for killing the dog, but mostly they just won’t leave the guy alone. He didn’t ask for this shit, but he will finish it over the course of 3 movies and a 4th installment for some insane reason.

The Nobody at the core of this flick did ask for this shit. A break-in at his home, where he lives with his wife who does not like him, if she ever did, and his kids, is the start of something big. As home invasions go, this one isn’t too horrific, especially since no-one dies, thankfully. But what it unearths is the seething contempt of his family against him, and his neighbours. Even the cops are like “why didn’t you even take a swing, bro?”

Everyone’s against him. But he’ll show them, won’t he? He’ll show them all that he’s a man to be feared.

Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t, but for many of us the lead here Bob Odenkirk is best known for his character of Jimmy McGill / Saul Goodman from Better Call Saul, but even more so for Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad is a testament, an absolute bedrock example of a show created with the premise of a middle-aged middle-class white guy feeling like life has passed him by, wishing he could do something extraordinary in order to feel alive again. It helps, for shows like that, that they cater mostly to whole multitudes of white, middle-aged, middle-class white guys who feel like life has passed them by and like if they did something violent and criminal, they’d be really good at it, not like those other lowlives…

Breaking Bad Saul is amoral, not particularly vicious, but without any moral compunctions about doing or saying anything no matter how awful. Better Call Saul Saul / Jimmy is desperate, hopeful, sweating, clinging to some vestige of credibility, fated to be morally destroyed.

He brings those same energies here, but the character is a bit hard to wrap one’s head around. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler, because otherwise it doesn’t make a lot of sense why any of this would be happening: this guy here called Hutch, used to be a hardcore assassin for the agencies known by their three-letter acronyms. He would kill the kinds of people too hard to kill legally, or too hard for the local police to pull over and shoot for no reason other than the car freshener hanging from the rear view mirror or something equally implausible. He chose to try the happy, sedate life of a suburban shmoe, but it does not sit well with his ego.

Rating:

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