The below list isn’t in any specific order, perhaps other than Limbo in first place which was truly one of the best action thrillers I had seen in some time. You will probably note that there’s a couple of films that are on my list that I didn’t initially review for MAAC, but this was more down to when I finally got around to seeing them, hence their appearance here at the end of year.
You may also notice some films by their absence. I was tempted to add Everything Everywhere All at Once, as it was one of my favorite film of the year. But I don’t know if you could truly call it an action film. Sure, there were some beautifully choreographed fight scenes, but they were never really the focus of the film, with a lot more going on. Still, if I had to pick it does have one of my favorite action scenes of the year, so it is at least worthy of a mention.
Also, I have yet to see Avatar: The Way of Water, hence its exclusion. Saying that, with me not being the biggest Avatar fan to start with, I’m not sure it would have appeared either way. Even so, I look forward to finding out how it would compare to what I have included below.
Kind of cheating with this one seeing as it came out in its home country last year, but I felt I was justified in including it as it didn’t see the light of day in my country till 2022. Further justification is down to it possibly being one of the finest action thrillers I have seen in years.
Director Soi Cheang creates a visually stunning vision of a dystopian Hong Kong. I’ve never seen such a garbage strewn city made to look so beautiful, thanks to Johnnie To regular Cheng Siu-Keung stunning monochrome cinematography.
Limbo was a real return to form for Cheang after working in the fantasy genre for the past number of years, turning out The Monkey King 2 (2016) and its sequel. While both were enjoyable enough, they seriously paled in comparison to his best work such as Dog Bite Dog (2006) and Shamo (2007).
Limbo returns him to the dark and twisted world that he had previously visited in those features, but easily surpasses both with a gripping detective story, which finds burnt out detective Cham Lau (Gordon Lam) partnered with rookie Will Yam (Mason Lee) on the hunt for a serial killer. Thrown into the mix is reformed drug addict Wong To (Cya Liu) who has a personal connection to Cham which puts her life in serious jeopardy, not just from the killer but from Cham himself.
Although Limbo isn’t a full blown actioner, it still has several terrific action set pieces that set the pulses raising, the best of these a chase come fight for her life with Liu facing off against a group of bloodthirsty Triad members.
All the performances are on point, with screen veteran Gordon Lam giving it his all in a rare leading role. However it is Cya Liu that really holds the audience’s attention, with her Wong To going to hell and back. At some point I actually wondered how much more she would be put through, as I can’t remember the last time I have seen a female character being treated so poorly on screen.
Be warned, Limbo isn’t for the faint of heart, with its extremely nihilistic approach to storytelling being sure to upset many viewers. This is definitely one of the bleakest action thrillers to come our way in some time, but it is also one of the most rewarding. It has certainly whetted my appetite for Cheang’s next feature, the martial arts actioner Kowloon Walled City which has spent years in development hell, with the likes of John Woo and Johnnie To at one time touted to be co-directing. It finally went before cameras at the tail end of 2021 with Louis Koo in the lead.
Khuda Hafiz 2
The first Khuda Hafiz came as something of a surprise. Released straight to streaming on Disney+ Hotstar, it turned out to be an excellent action thriller that was only let down by a few minor issues. However, as action packed as it was, it didn’t show off the full range of skills of its leading man Vidyut Jamwal. This has more to do with the more grounded approach director Faruk Kabir was taking rather than Jamwal’s abilities. It wouldn’t make sense that all of a sudden his software engineer starts displaying acrobatic martial arts moves. That isn’t to say that there weren’t fight scenes, just that they were more unrefined which was in line with the character Jamwal was portraying.
I can’t say that I was initially expecting a sequel, but at the same time it doesn’t come as a surprise considering how successful the first film was. This is one sequel that manages to surpass the original, and while there is the odd issue, this is one terrific action film.
The sequel once again takes a grounded approach when it comes to the action, but manages to top any of the set pieces of the first movie. Jamwal’s character has become seriously hardened after the events of the first film, with him progressing even further during the sequel. By the mid way mark he is a deadly killing machine.
Kabir takes his time getting to the action, with the first half of the film being more build-up, but once it comes it is relentless. A word of warning however, like the previously mentioned Limbo, Khuda Hafiz 2 is not a film you should watch to cheer yourself up. It is an extremely bleak actioner, that makes one wonder how unlucky one family can be. I thought what the characters went through in the first movie was bad enough but it seems I was wrong.
Accident Man: Hitman’s Holiday
This wouldn’t be a proper best of list without a Scott Adkins actioner on it. He had a few films out during 2022, but the best of these was clearly Accident Man: Hitman’s Holiday. Filled to the brim with awesome fight scenes, it is one sequel that is almost on par with the original.
Like the first film, the script has the right mix of action and comedy, with the introduction of some new weird and wonderful characters that manages to make things feel fresh rather than just a retread of the original.
Everyone is on top form, with Adkins as expected showing off his considerable martial arts skills throughout, taking on a variety of deadly opponents, best among them the awesome Andy Long Nguyen who also assists with the film’s fight choreography.
This is clearly a role close to Adkin’s heart and I for one can’t wait to see where he takes the character next. Fingers crossed for a sequel in the near future.
To date, I don’t think David Leitch has directed a bad film. Sure, some are certainly better than others, but all of his films have a sense of fun about them and are packed with excellent action scenes.
Bullet Train sits somewhere beneath what I think is his finest effort, Atomic Blonde (2017), but does its best to match it with its well crafted action and abundance of humor. The fact that Bullet Train is more in the vein of Leitch’s Deadpool 2 (2018) than Atomic Blonde may put people off, with Bullet Train having a much stronger focus on comedy than his cold war set actioner.
Personally, this is what made the film for me, as I found some scenes hysterical, especially several of the cameos that are peppered throughout the film. Mix this with some extremely over the top action scenes that homage everything from Jackie Chan to Jidai-Gecki.
The film was more of an ensemble than I expected, with Brad Pitt not being the sole focus even if he is given top billing. There isn’t one poor performance amongst the cast, with Pitt excelling in a role that seems created solely for him as well as the double act of Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry almost stealing the show. Throw in the likes of Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon and Joey King and you have one of the best cast’s of 2022.
The Gray Man
As much as I enjoyed The Gray Man, I still wonder how it cost $200 million. Sure, it has some large scale set pieces, but lower budgeted films have managed the same, some with even better results. Surely such a large budget would have paid for better CGI.
Even so, The Gray Man was lots of fun, with no shortage of exciting action scenes, the best of these being the shootout come chase scene in Prague which showed the Russo brothers hadn’t lost their touch since Avengers: Endgame (2019).
Sure, the story and character development was a bit lacking but the cast made up for this, with Ryan Gosling being as cool as ever as Sierra Six, even if Chris Evan managed to steal the show as the sociopathic Lloyd Hansen. Notable turns from Ana De Armas, Billy Bob Thornton and Dhanush also kept events entertaining until the explosion-filled finale.
In no way perfect, The Gray Man still managed to be a well crafted blockbuster. It made a nice change to see such a large scale action movie not focus on superheroes, even if the action does stretch the realms of plausibility.
Michael Bay gets a lot of flack with many overlooking the fact that he has made several of America’s best action movies. Bad Boys (1995) and The Rock (1996) are regularly appearing on best of lists and although some of his Transformers films leave a lot to be desired, he has still managed to fit in some quality movies between them such as Pain and Gain (2013), 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016) and this year’s Ambulance.
In Bay terms, Ambulance could be considered small scale, even if it does feature a plethora of action scenes. Compared to his usual output, it was relatively low budget, coming in at $40 million.
Unlike the Transformers franchise, Ambulance had a stronger focus on character, with most of the film being focused around the relationship between brothers played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, with Eiza Gonzalez’s paramedic thrown into the mix for some added tension.
The cast all did great work, especially Gyllenhaal who excelled as the more sociopathic of the brothers. Michael Bay has a ball with the action, even if he does overdo the drone photography on occasion.
Although I’m sure people would be put off at the mere mention of Bay’s name, I would still urge them to reconsider as this was certainly one of the better action films of 2022.
I understand that The Batman has been a divisive film for some. Personally I think it’s one of the best Batman films to date, coming only second to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008). When this take on the film was first announced, I will admit that I was disappointed. Not because Robert Pattinson would be donning the cowl, which would appear to be many people’s issue, but more because it meant that Ben Affleck wouldn’t be bringing his version of the character to the screen in a solo adventure.
While I would still love to see an Affleck Batman movie, director Matt Reeves created a visually stunning Batman film that finally portrayed him as more of a detective than he was a vigilante. Reeves took a more lo-fi approach to the material, with some parts being reminiscent of the great thrillers of the 1970s. This was especially evident during the rain filled car chase that takes place at the middle point of the film.
I also appreciated that Pattinson was able to silence many of the naysayers who thought he was the wrong choice for the role. He was perfect for this take on the caped crime fighter, with him spending the majority of his screen time under the cowl. It was a performance free of vanity. Many higher profile performers would have been remiss at their face not appearing on screen more.
It wasn’t only Pattinson that made the film great, with the supporting cast all being on top form, with the likes of Zoe Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright and especially Colin Farrell making an impression. The planned sequel may be a few years off yet but at least we will have Farrell returning as the Penguin in his own show in the near future.
Top Gun: Maverick
I have to admit, I was never the biggest fan of Top Gun (1986). I enjoyed it enough, but to me Tony Scott would follow it up with much better films. Even so, I was still looking forward to the long awaited sequel. Partly it was to do with the fact it had been put back so many times during the Covid-19 pandemic that it made me wonder if I would ever get a chance to see it.
This was one sequel that more than surpassed my expectations, and even ended up becoming something of an emotional experience which was mostly down to a re-appearance from Val Kilmer, reprising his Iceman role. The scene between him and Tom Cruise brought a tear to my eye, with it not only fitting into the film’s narrative but mirroring Kilmer’s own health battles. Kilmer’s screen time may have been limited, but for me was the most important part of the film.
Cruise of course gives the role his all, with his dedication to the aerial sequences paying off dividends, with director Joseph Kosinski creating some startling imagery. For me it felt like Michael Mann had decided to make a mainstream blockbuster.
The plot isn’t exactly original, and goes exactly where you expected, but this isn’t much of an issue. It’s more how the story is told that matters, with everything coming together to make a beautifully made blockbuster. The action mostly comes in the final third, and as expected is beautifully realized. Of course it isn’t exactly realistic, but it was so exciting it didn’t seem to matter in the long run.
I can’t say that I was expecting a Christmas movie to be one of the most enjoyable action films of the year, but Violent Night was just that. Playing like a fantastical take on Die Hard, with Santa taking on the John McClane role, Violent Night is full of terrifically violent action and just the right amount of humor that it doesn’t become unbearable.
David Harbour relishes the chance to play the lead, and it’s great fun to see someone who isn’t exactly in their prime being an action star. John Leguizamo makes for a worthwhile villain and is joined by a roster of memorable henchmen who Harbour takes down in brutal fashion.
Tommy Wirkola carries over the same action sensibilities he crafted in the likes of Dead Snow (2009) and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) to make a truly fun action comedy, one that I will certainly be revisiting come Christmas time next year.
Lee Jung-jae made an accomplished directorial debut with Hunt, with it being an fantastic action thriller filled with action scenes that are so well done that it is hard to believe this is Lee’s first film behind the camera.
Admittedly the plot of the film is heavily convoluted, with the audience being kept in the dark for long periods. It’s never 100% clear which of the cast you should really be rooting for, but even then, their actions are at least understandable.
Lee Jung-jae does as well in front of the camera as he does behind it, which isn’t surprising considering his track record. He is capably matched by his long term friend Jung Woo-sung, who gives a suitably intense performance.
As well as the leads, there are a host of enjoyable cameos, best of these being from the always fun Hwang Jung-min. Add these to the already mentioned quality action and you have one of the best action thrillers of the year, and one that will hopefully find a larger audience going forward.
Detective vs Sleuths
Fifteen years ago, directors Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai helmed the crime thriller Mad Detective (2007). The film focused on a detective with serious mental health issues played by the great Lau Ching Wan. However, rather than hindering him, it enables him to see a person’s hidden personality, giving him an almost supernatural ability in catching suspects.
Whilst not a full on sequel to Mad Detective, Detective vs Sleuths is very much in the same wheelhouse, with Lau Ching Wan once again playing a detective whose mental health has taken a turn for the worse. Although Johnnie To doesn’t return, Wai Ka-fai does, marking his first solo directing credit since Written By (2009).
Detective vs Sleuths is a more commercial affair than Mad Detective, with it having some fantastic action sequences peppered throughout. The best of these is a shootout in and around a set of Hong Kong flats which harken back to the great Hong Kong actioners of the 80s and 90s.
Not a full on classic, Detective vs Sleuths still managed to be an excellent action thriller that had enough original touches that made it stand out from the crowd, and definitely a must see for any fans of action or Hong Kong cinema.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Alienoid is fun. It’s a true genre mash up that really shouldn’t work, but for some reason does. Considering its director Choi Dong-hoon at the helm, I wasn’t surprised. Having already directed some of the finest action thrillers to come from South Korea, with the likes of The Thieves (2012) and Assassination (2015) amongst them, I knew we would be in safe hands.
Admittedly, not everything in the film works 100 percent, with there being some rough edges, however everything eventually comes together to make a truly satisfying whole. The special effects are especially impressive, being almost on par with anything coming out of Hollywood, all the more remarkable considering it was made on a fraction of the budget of its Hollywood competitors.
If there’s any complaint is that it is merely the first part of a two part story, with the cliffhanger ending leaving you seriously wanting more. Thankfully, the sequel is scheduled to premier at some point in 2022, so fingers crossed we won’t have long to wait to see how the story concludes.
It was director Lokesh Kanagaraj’s previous film Kaithi (2019) that initially got me interested in Vikram. I didn’t realize at the time that it was going to be a semi sequel to an earlier film of the same title that also featured leading man Kamal Haasan. Not only did it work as a sequel to the earlier Vikram, Kanagaraj unexpectedly managed to tie it into his own Kaithi, with this working something like a spin off, sharing some of the same characters.
I honestly wasn’t aware of Kamal Haasan as an actor, but upon checking he has a filmography going back decades with over 250 film credits to his name. To say he is prolific would be an understatement. He is terrific in the lead role, being totally believable as the veteran badass. At 66, he looks terrific in the film’s multitude of action scenes, with Kanagaraj making each set piece more impressive than the last.
Vikram now forms part of Kanagaraj’s ongoing cinematic universe, with sequels to Kaithi and Vikram already being planned. He already has Thalapathy 67 planned for next year, which has since been confirmed will be yet another entry. It looks like Kanagarai is going to be increasingly busy for the next few years, and I can’t wait to see what these further entries will bring to the franchise.
It would appear that I enjoyed Day Shift a lot more than others. Maybe that says more about me than them, but I thought Day Shift was terrific fun, and was a perfect showcase for J.J. Perry who was making his directorial debut.
Jamie Foxx was his usual charming self and handled his action scenes with aplomb. He shared great chemistry with co-star Dave Franco, who’s character development was unexpected. Best of all was an extended cameo from Scott Adkins, with him and screen brother Steve Howey sharing the film’s best action scene, with them accompanying Foxx and Franco into a deadly vampire nest.
Some points the film did feel more like the pilot episode of a television show, introducing story elements that will play a part further down the line, but I was fine with this as everything was moving at such a fast pace and I was having so much fun I didn’t initially pick up any of the drawbacks.
My only real complaint would be, how the hell did this cost $100 million? As nice as the production looks, there’s no way that money is on the screen. I think someone is at the fibbing here.
You can always trust South Korean cinema to bring the bone crunching action and The Killer certainly doesn’t disappoint in those regards. If I was judging a film solely on its action scenes, this would have placed much higher on my list. South Korean cinema has a tendency to be slightly overblown and overlong, with much of their films clocking in at well over 2 hours.
Surprisingly, The Killer doesn’t stick to this rule, being a lean and mean actioner, coming in at just around 100 minutes. This is both a bonus but also a detriment. With a shortened run time it doesn’t waste any time getting to the action, but it also means there’s less in the way of character development, with the plot additionally being a bit thin on the ground.
Still, this shouldn’t detract from what is an otherwise awesome action film. Jang Hyuk is fantastic in the lead role, giving an especially physical performance. He had already impressed in The Swordsman (2020) but this takes him to the next level. Apparently he is a professional Taekwondo athlete as well as having trained in Jeet Kune Do, which any martial arts fan will tell you was conceived by the legendary Bruce Lee. From his performance here, it is clear he should be acting in more action movies.
I also appreciated the villainous turn from Bruce Khan who had impressed me previously with the martial arts actioner Revenger (2018). Like Jang, he is a force to be reckoned with and makes you wonder why he isn’t in more movies.
Uncharted already had marks against it before I even viewed the film. Being a massive fan of the games, I was dumbfounded at the casting of Tom Holland in the lead role. A likeable performer, Holland is great in the right role, but was totally miscast as Drake. Something it would seem Holland agrees upon going by some of his comments since the film’s release.
I could have gotten over his casting though if the film surrounding him was up to par, but everything in Uncharted was a disappointment, with the filmmakers doing their hardest to shit on the source material. None of the cast act like their video game counterparts.
While Holland was clearly miscast, he does his best to try and emulate the Drake of the games. Mark Wahlberg on the other hand is playing a character that is almost fully removed from the ones fans grew to love in the game franchise. His Sully is a complete asshole who up until the final moments of the film is continually willing to stab Drake in the back. As mentioned before, Wahlberg would have been a better fit for Drake and while he is getting on in years, shows here he can still handle action.
Only the film’s final action scene comes close to feeling like Uncharted, but by this point it is too little too late. It’s a shame, as Uncharted could have been the start of a great film franchise. Now that Indian Jones is finally coming to an and, this could have filled that void.
Here’s hoping someone more qualified in the future makes a more faithful adaptation, such as Allan Ungar who directed the critically acclaimed fan film that starred Nathan Fillion in the lead role of Drake. They managed to do in 15 minutes what director Ruben Fleischer couldn’t do in a full length feature.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
I don’t think I have felt so disappointed with an MCU release. Although I wasn’t the biggest fan of Black Widow (2021) and thought Eternals (2021) was pretty much a waste of time, my opinion of them has certainly risen upon viewing Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
I will give Ryan Coogler some leeway, as it must have been a terrible position to be in, continuing a franchise after the death of a friend and colleague. It is commendable that he tried to respect Chadwick Boseman’s passing in the completed film, but ultimately the film failed to generate much in the way of emotion from me, which I found surprising considering the subject matter.
I know many will disagree, but personally I would rather have seen the role of T’Challa recast which I think would have been a greater honor, creating continuing adventures for a character Boseman clearly loved. Letitia Wright just doesn’t seem strong enough to carry the franchise, although it was hard to judge with the inclusion of so many characters managing to distract you from realizing that she only portrays Black Panther in the final 30 minutes of the film.
As disappointing as the film was, I will still watch with interest in how the MCU uses Black Panther in the future. Hopefully it will improve on what was shown in this entry.
With director Jung Byung-gil behind this, I really expected better. With his two previous movies, Confession of Murder (2012) and Villainess (2017), he showed that he preferred shooting action in seemingly long takes. This choice paid dividends in those films as the plot surrounding the action was worthwhile, and while the action was exhilarating, the remainder of the film was shot traditionally so as not to overload the viewer.
Jung really should have done the same with Carter, instead he chose to shoot the entire film in one long continuous shot, although his attempts at masking the joins become ridiculous as the film progresses. Although there is some well done action during the film’s running time, his decision to shoot it in this way makes the whole endeavor feel like a long cut scene from a video game. Additionally, shooting the film in real time robs the film of any chance of character development, with leading man Joo Won appearing more like a machine than an actual person, even if he does work his ass off throughout what would have been an extremely tiring shoot.
It clearly did find an audience, with many people enjoying Jung’s approach to action filmmaking, but personally I thought this was his poorest feature to date. It was especially disappointing when compared to his awesome debut feature Confession of Murder, which I think is still his most accomplished work.
Last Seen Alive
I wasn’t expecting an action classic with Last Seen Alive, but considering that it starred Gerard Butler I had hoped that it would be better than what was ultimately presented. Butler’s previous couple of films were Greenland (2020) and Copshop (2021) which were both excellent and showed Butler at his charismatic best. Last Seen Alive seriously paled in comparison, with it having an extremely cheap digital look and having very little in the way of memorable action.
Butler at least made the film worth watching, putting in a dedicated performance alongside a decent supporting cast, although some cast members were certainly better than others.
Last Seen Alive was the first film of Butler’s that felt like a DTV effort, with it being seriously beneath him. It is the type of film I would expect to see the likes of Steven Seagal appearing in rather than someone like Butler, who I still consider to be an A-lister.
I had already heard how poor Morbius was before I even saw it, but even then, I always like to make up my own mind. Comic book movies like The Shadow (1994) and The Phantom (1996) were universally derided upon release, but I still love both of them. Perhaps Morbius could be the same.
Of course this was wishful thinking, as the film is pretty much a train wreck from the first scene, with it being totally devoid of the qualities that should make a quality comic book adaptation.
Jared Leto is especially poor in the lead role, making his Oscar win years back seem like a fluke. The stories of his “method” acting on set sound hilarious, especially when you realize this contributed nothing to his performance, which gets more mind numbingly dull as the film progresses.
Thankfully Matt Smith knows shit when he’s appearing in it, being one of the only bright spots of the film. Smith chews the scenery every chance he gets, giving an increasingly more energetic performance than Leto.
It doesn’t help that the film appears to have been restructured during production, with certain scenes not making sense or having no pay off due to parts of the film being missing. Add that to some incredibly poor action and you have one of the poorest comic book films in some time. It’s so bad Venom (2018) looks like a masterpiece in comparison.