Action movies have always served as the genre of the masses, the place where muscular directors with a strong eye for visual spectacle and energetic motion can create entertaining exhibitions that sell a lot of popcorn. When being judged for this category films will mostly just be judged for how they work as action movies, so other components like story structure and acting will be taking something of a backseat (within reason) and I will mostly just be looking at how the film works when the set-pieces get going. Oh, also, I’ve ruled that Gravity is more of a suspense/thriller type thing, so that’s why that isn’t here.
- Elysium: Saying that a movie plays out like a video game is a rather hackneyed criticism and one that often gets misapplied. Elysium is one of the few films that actually seems worthy of the label, and I don’t mean that as a bad thing necessarily. What diffentiates most action video games are the weapons and equipment, and its in creating things like exo-suites and selecting cool weapons like modified AK-47s, samurai swords, and grenades that Elysium differentiates itself. It also doesn’t skimp on the gore.
- Fast & Furious 6: Fast and Furious 6 is probably the most purely action driven of the five nominees here. Like the other films in the franchise it really doesn’t make any bones about the fact that it doesn’t have many goals beyond blowing things up and making its characters look cool, and there is something oddly refreashing about that. Its also interesting how this series has managed to keep up with the superhero movies in the CGI arms race that’s been going on. It’s a dumb movie, but it does deliver when the action gets going.
- Iron Man 3: I haven’t been overly supportive of Marvel’s lineup, but I don’t hate them necessarily, and I definitely liked this one a lot more than the latest Thor movie. Director Shane Black is of course an action movie veteran going back to the days of Lethal Weapon and he does a better job than most at mixing action and comedy. Here he manages to mix up the usual Iron Man formula by having Tony do some fights outside his suit and there was that cool barrel of monkeys scene that just missed getting a set-piece of the year nomination.
- Man of Steel: Outside of its iconography and the work it does re-imagining Superman for the 21st century, Man of Steel is also a badass action movie, especially in its second half. Superman’s extreme power has all too often been a hindrance for the property, firstly because he all too often overpower’s his enemies and secondly because his powers haven’t always been the easiest to render to their full potential, but Zack Snyder finally unleashes the full potential of the character within an action context.
- Olympus Has Fallen: We live in times where action films feel less like traditional shoot ‘em ups and more like CGI bonanzas. There’s nothing inherently wrong about that, and I don’t fight it too much, but I do like to reserve at least one space in this category each year for action movie throwbacks like this. The film is a pretty blatant ripoff of Die Hard, but unlike this year’s other Die Hard ripoff this movie has the courage of its meatheaded ambitions and knows the value of a good bloody shootout.