Spider-Man: No Way Home (4*)
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (3.5*)
No Time to Die (3.5*)
Free Guy (2.5*)
Raya and the Last Dragon (2*)
‘Action’ movies are films that emphasize a lot of human physical action with an emphasis on chase scenes, fighting, and things going boom. They usually have a lot of special effects and they are the kind of movie that makes you say wow!
There are six movies classified in this genre this year, but I can’t really recommend two of them. Free Guy, despite a wonderful performance from Jodie Comer, was basically a trivial and unimaginative look at artificial intelligence that has been done much better in several other films. There are lots of visual effects, but they are largely irrelevant. Raya and the Last Dragon is an animated film that is lush with visual details that develop the worlds the characters visit extremely well. But the failure is an overly complicated story that tries to emphasize difficult issues like trust and responsibility and doesn’t quite make it.
The James Bond flick, No Time to Die, has all the elements that make a Bond film part of the longest lasting franchise in movie history (60 years and still going). And, as a long-time Bond fan (I saw the first one in the theaters), this one fires on all cylinders. The practical special effects are especially good and it is clear that women are starting to achieve an equal position in the “Bond” world.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings and Spider-Man: No Way Home are both comic-book films coming out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Shang-Chi is essentially an origin story recounting where this new character comes from and reveals some interesting family dynamics. It is good, but maybe not terrific and seems to be holding back on a lot of ‘inside secrets’. Meanwhile, I really liked the Spider-Man film because it feels so much more personal and intimate than most comic book movies. Yes, the special effects are all outrageous, but the story is on a human level, especially the relationship between Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and his girlfriend (Zendaya). Especially if you are into this kind of movie, either one of them is refreshingly new as the MCU inters a new saga: The Multiverse.
Finally, at the top of my list is Dune. In my review, from early March, I predicted it would become the new Star Wars. Well, I was wrong about that – it didn’t generate anywhere near that level of enthusiasm. Still, it is the best representation of the Dune story yet – the special effects are terrific, and the story is complicated enough to keep your interest without becoming overwhelming. Like Star Wars, the worlds it is creating are fascinating and the characters that live in them are engaging. So, I still don’t think you can go wrong.
There are three films from the 2021 Oscar season that are considered Action movies and that I would recommend. Greyhound stars Tom Hanks as an unshakable naval commander who, over the course of more than a day, guides his convoy and his ship through a harrowing sea battle with German U-boats. I loved this movie because of how it managed to sustain action and thrills all while in a slow-turning ship. News of the World, also starring Tom Hanks, is a western and has all the elements of an action western plus a few that you don’t normally see. Finally, Tenet, is more along the lines of a traditional “action” movie with special effects to match. Beware, though, that the backwards and forwards movements through time can get a little difficult to follow.
There are seven “action” movies I can recommend. You should have enough to pick from until next year.