20th Century Fox / Warner Bros. / TriStar Pictures / Focus Features
The action genre is no longer made up of films strictly intended to dominate the summer box office. Now they are released all year round, and they always dominate the box office, but they’re also getting smarter, more sophisticated, and attracting Oscar-caliber actors who want to showcase their talents and get big payouts. This year has seen new installments in beloved action franchises, timely and grainy reboots, and the required superhero movies. But while these will appeal to anyone looking for thrills and explosions, they also manage to be superbly made.
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This sleek, supercharged spy thriller stars Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton, an M16 secret agent stationed in Berlin just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Tasked with retrieving a list of double agents, she confronts KGB henchmen and voice actors and discovers that she cannot trust anyone but herself. Rent / Buy from Amazon and iTunes.
Yes, this is another Spider-Man movie. But this one skips the heaviness of Sam Raimi’s original trilogy (and whatever happened in the reboot with Andrew Garfield, did you even see it?) Immediately. And because it’s a Marvel movie, there is also a lot of Tony Stark. Rent / Buy from Amazon and iTunes.
Kong: Skull Island
No one needed (or frankly asked for) this new feature of King Kong. But it’s a roller coaster of legitimate action, adventure, and comedy. Immediately after the Vietnam War, a government-led expedition seeks to explore a mysterious island that has surfaced on satellite imagery in the South Pacific. But their exploration is interrupted when the crew discovers that they are inhabited by a giant ape and that they are not the only massive creature to roam about. Rent / Buy on Amazon and iTunes.
John Wick: Chapter 2
This sequel to the 2014 hit sees Keanu Reeves’ titular hero once again facing an onslaught of assassins, murderers, and bullies. An assault of bullets and carnage and combat, John Wick: Chapter 2 is a supercharged action thriller that’s as elegant and thoughtful as it is vicious. Rent / buy on Amazon and iTunes.
Ansel Elgort’s baby, who is a driver, finds himself embroiled in a complex heist in an attempt to free himself from his domineering crime boss (Kevin Spacey). A musical disguised as an action movie, Edgar Wright’s hit features a powerful soundtrack that flows from Baby’s iPod, with sports cars maneuvering into beautifully choreographed numbers. Rent / Buy on Amazon and iTunes.
War for the Planet of the Apes
This is not your parents’ campy Planet of the Apes franchise, and the third installment of the series’ latest reboot has come a long way since the first (a silly origin story with James Franco). Here we have Andy Serkis doing some of his best motion capture jobs as Caesar, the ape who leads an army against his human enemies. It’s dark, brutal, and intelligently written, and features a breathtaking performance by Woody Harrelson as a cold, obsessive man determined to destroy the apes. Rent / Buy from Amazon and iTunes.
Latest in the dark and bleak anti-superhero genre finds our favorite mutant Wolverine lying (alongside Professor X, who suffers from dementia) in the desert long after his X-Men cohort and other mutants have been wiped out . James Mangold’s feature isn’t just brutally violent, it’s a tough, serious look at mortality, pushed home by a character we never thought we would grow old. Rent / Buy on Amazon and iTunes.
One of the most terribly serious characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor was never ready to be a comedy star, that is, until acclaimed director Taika Waititi breathed a new life to the franchise, cutting the fat off the overworked superhero genre and allowing Thor to flex some comedic muscles. Joined by Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Chris Hemsworth’s hero finds himself imprisoned on a strange planet where he must fight against his compatriot Avenger in a gladiatorial battle to the delight of the grandmaster of Jeff Goldblum, while trying to ‘escape this ordeal in order to save his home from the deadly Hela (Cate Blanchett). Pre-order on Amazon.
Wonder Woman’s appearance on the big screen was a long time coming, and her debut standalone feature was well worth the wait. Patty Jenkins’ epic serves as the origin story for the Amazon superhero, and her third act contains all of the typical comic book movie clichés. But it’s also charming, funny, immaculately filmed, and features a star-making performance by Gal Gadot, the one bright spot in DC’s dismal cinematic universe. Rent / Buy on Amazon and iTunes.
Christopher Nolan approaches the epic of WWII with its characteristic intensity, incorporating his obsession with the intricacies of time as a framing device for this look at the disastrous evacuation of British soldiers from the French seaside town that gives the film its title. . Nolan looks at historical events from every possible angle – land, sea, and air – and delivers an intense, terrifying, and incredibly suspenseful action thriller that we’ll likely see copied for decades to come. Rent / Buy from Amazon and iTunes.
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