I’m painting with broad brush strokes here, but if there’s a masculine counterpart to the romantic comedy in film, it’s the action genre. Like romantic comedies, the characters are often one-dimensional and the dialogue is terrible… but with the added bonus of explosions and some gratuitous nudity.
However, when done right, action films can be entertaining and engrossing pieces of cinema.
*I’ve excluded superhero films such as The Dark Knight and fantasy films such as Lord of the Rings because at this point they’re basically their own genres*
I saw Gladiator in the theater when I was like 14, and it blew my mind. It confirmed my suspicion that Ridley Scott has some sort of the deal with the devil. After making, Blade Runner and Alien he could have just called it good. But then he made Gladiator.
It’s the type of film that is rarely done well–a detailed historical drama mixed with a smart and purposeful action scenes. Russel Crowe, a man not known for his gentle demeanor, and Joaquin Phoenix, a known weirdo, are perfectly cast as Maximus the vengeful gladiator and Commodus the creepy emperor.
Also, that scene is how I feel continuously writing free content on the Internet.
4. Snatch (2000)
Of his body of work, Snatch probably epitomizes Guy Ritchie’s style. Per usual, it focuses on a variety of London lowlifes and gangsters whose previously unrelated lives become intertwined.
The large ensemble cast, including Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Vinnie Jones and Benicio del Toro, deliver smart, fast dialogue. But it’s more than fast-talking limey hoods. It also delivers great action sequences, such as the bare-knuckle boxing matches, and plenty of humor.
There’s not a sophisticated or verbose way to put it: this film is just flat-out cool.
3. The Bourne Identity (2002)
The adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s first novel in the Bourne series was a huge success. It marked the return of spy films and showed audiences that Matt Damon isn’t a “Streissand,” as Paul Rudd’s character put it in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
The film begins with Jason Bourne floating adrift in the ocean. After being rescued, he realizes he has no memory of who he is. From there, it’s an unraveling mystery interspersed with car chases and close quarters combat.
If you don’t find any of that entertaining, your idea of a fun time probably involves ice breaker games and charades, and I don’t want to hang out with you. Ever.
And it was directed by Doug Liman, who also directed Swingers, which is pretty cool.
2. Taken (2008)
For the most part, you can’t go wrong with Liam Neeson. I don’t know anyone who dislikes him, but Taken was a still a surprise hit. It was surprising because the plot sounds like something Jean-Claude Van Damme would have starred in during the 90s. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll watch the hell out of The Quest, but I’m aware it’s a ridiculous film.
The plot of Taken is improbable–the teenage daughter of a former counter-terrorism operative is kidnapped in Europe, and he takes revenge on everyone involved. Neeson makes it work because he is equal parts tough and endearing.
He makes you believe it’s possible one man could take out an entire gang of sleazy Albanians. By the time the credits close, you’re strangely okay with the idea of vigilante justice and certain you never want to have a daughter, or at least a daughter who travels abroad.
1. Casino Royale (2006)
Casino Royale revived a James Bond series that, let’s face it, was on death’s doorstep. Some people were critical of the casting of Daniel Craig, a blond (for some reason I remember that being a big deal) English actor no one in the States knew, but he started kicking ass and taking names from the get go.
The film starts with one of the most entertaining chase scenes in history and only gets better from there. Craig’s turn as Bond was reminiscent of Sean Connery, a more masculine, every-man type. Credit must also go to Eva Green as Vesper Lynd, the perfect counterpoint to Bond, and Mads Mikkelsen as the cold, collected villain Le Chiffre.
While it’s easy to be awed by the gorgeous set pieces (the Bahamas, Miami, Montenegro, etc…), the dialogue is often overlooked. The first meeting between Bond and Vesper is one of my very favorite exchanges. It’s sharp but not forced. It’s almost as if it were written by a British Quentin Tarantino.
If that doesn’t stir something inside of you, you’re dead inside.