To most people “action film” means violent, whoop-ass shit with lots of leaping around, automatic rifle fire, squealing tires and non-stop adrenalin. But when it comes to deciding on the best action films, most viewers aren’t that demanding. They love their jizz-whiz and don’t care about the shadings and subtleties. But I am demanding, you see. To really love an action film I have to believe that (a) what I’m watching bears at least some relation to human behavior as most of us have come to know it and is therefore delivering a semi-believable, well-motivated thing, and (b) what I’m watching could actually happen in the real-deal world of physics (i.e., no idiotic swan dives off 50-story office buildings).
I don’t care, by the way, if the action content in a film takes up the first 10 minutes or the last half-hour or the whole damn running time. All I care about is whether or not I believe what I’m seeing, or…you know, whether I’m distracted or dazzled enough so that I don’t pay attention to logic or realism factors. Whatever works. As long as action defines character and vice versa.
If I’m enjoying an action flick it’s because I fucking believe it, and I never believe anything that doesn’t respect some grown-up concept of reality. Fantasy flicks can blow me for the most part. I want an action movie that will plant its feet, look me in the eye and tell the fucking truth.
Very few 21st Century action films live up to HE’s rules and standards, or even give a damn about doing so. The Fast and Furious franchise is notorious for spitting in the face of reality. Almost all superhero comic-book movies revel in the fact that their realm allows them to ignore logic and believability. Once in a great while and in a very blue moon, a first-rate action flick will come along that defies HE rules but gets away with it. One of these was Ang Lee‘s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (’00), but that’s a very rare occurence. On the other hand Crouching Tiger led to the stars of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle flying around on wires, and that was an awful thing to behold.
Here are Hollywood Elsewhere’s choices for the 11 craftiest, best-made, most believable action films of the 21st Century, and in this order:
(1) The Bourne Ultimatum (’07), (2) Man on Fire (’04), (3) Doug Liman‘s Edge of Tomorrow (aka Live Die Repeat), (4) George Miller‘s Mad Max: Fury Road, (5 & 6) Kathryn Bigelow‘s Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, (7) Michael Mann‘s Collateral, (8) Roger Donaldson‘s The Bank Job (’08), (9) Kevin Costner‘s Open Range (’03), (10) Steven Soderbergh‘s Haywire (’11) and (11) J.C. Chandor‘s All Is Lost (’13).