Maybe I’m just young, but a good movie fight is the quickest way to my heart. A well-choreographed or inventive action scene appeals to a certain part of my brain in ways I don’t quite understand yet. For an action junkie, 2013 was disappointing and delightful in equal measure. There were few standouts, but the ones that stood out?
Man, did they stand out.
5. Attack on Asgard – Thor: The Dark World
Going into Thor: The Dark World, I heard a lot of people comparing it to Star Wars. And once the Dark Elves started attacking Asgard, I totally got it. You have the science fantasy aspect, you’ve got lasers, the Dark Elves feel like Stormtroopers, their ships feel like TIE Fighters, and that big ship is basically the Death Star. But, most importantly, the tone of the action feels like something right out of the original Star Wars trilogy. Essentially, Thor: The Dark World is the best Star Wars prequel. It also helps that The Dark World’s action is well-paced, often epic in scope, and just plain fun.
But the absolute peak of the film comes around the second act, when the Dark Elves storm Asgard. I felt like a kid again when Heimdall jumped on that ship and blew it up. Every small moment like that one felt like its own little scene, making the whole affair feel like a real battle. It’s the kind of sweeping action setpiece you don’t really see too much of anymore, whether for budgetary reasons or lack of vision. Director Alan Taylor has vision to spare, especially here. With this scene, he’s laid the groundwork for what the Thor movie franchise should ape going forwards.
Read our review of Thor: The Dark World here.
4. Hong Kong – Pacific Rim
Of all the lessons future blockbuster filmmakers will take from Pacific Rim, I hope they pick restraint. Yes, there is restraint in a film where giant robots punch Godzilla clones in the face. You can count the number of big action sequences on one hand (there are three), there are only a few robots, a small amount of named monsters, and a very large portion of the film is character building. Pacific Rim could’ve been this Michael Bay-esque slurry of violence, but it’s smarter than that. And no moment highlights the film’s mindset quite like the Hong Kong battle: specifically, Gipsy Danger VS Leatherback / Otachi.
When people get excited about Pacific Rim, they always get to “that part where the robot uses a cargo ship as a baseball bat.” And why wouldn’t they? It’s a clever use of the environment. But the whole sequence is a lot of fun. Leatherback’s head crushed between shipping containers, Gipsy Danger’s fist going through that office building and tapping the perpetual motion machine, Raleigh yelling out attack names like he’s in an episode of Power Rangers, and some rad guitar riffs. This fight contains dozens of small things, each with enough imagination to power a short film. It’s also the most inventive and colorful fight in a generally inventive and colorful movie.
Read our review of Pacific Rim here.
3. “They got a tank.” – Fast & Furious 6
I still don’t get why people hate the Fast and Furious series, especially after the delightful highway chase in Fast and Furious 6. It’s everything good about this franchise: quick cuts of gear shifts and pedals being manipulated in ways that probably would break an ordinary car, fun banter, ridiculous car stunts, and ridiculous people stunts.
But what sets it apart from the pack, especially this year, is the way everything works together. Much like — if you’ll forgive this incredibly on-the-nose analogy — a well-oiled engine. Each individual part would be enough to carry a scene, but put them together and you have some of the most genuine fun I’ve had at the movies in years. I speak with no hyperbole when I call this chase jaw-dropping. Plus, it’s got practical effects!
Read our review of Fast & Furious 6 here.
2. A Glove and a Boot – Iron Man 3
The Mark 42 is the best thing that’s ever happened to the Iron Man franchise since Robert Downey Jr. The adaptability of the suit had real potential, and giving Tony Stark a broken prototype for most of the film was a stroke of genius. Even now, I’m still thinking about the Mark 42, and how I would love to direct an action sequence with one of those. This scene is the reason for my incessant ruminations.
As you might expect from a Shane Black-helmed Iron Man flick, it’s a generally quick movie, but even by those standards, this scene is fast. It’s not quite an unbroken shot, but the way everything flows certainly gives it that feeling. The most interesting parts of the film are when the Mark 42 is broken. When that happens, Stark’s vulnerability makes him a more interesting character, and results in some pretty inventive scenes.
It’s a small fight, but it’s super creative, with an excellent use of verticality and humor. Thematically, Iron Man 3 is about the overlap between the man and the suit. In this scene, the suit and Stark are practically a single entity. Thematic action is a rarity in superhero movies. When it appears, we should be grateful.
And be honest, wasn’t the guy who dropped his gun one of your favorite moments in that movie?
Read our review of Iron Man 3 here.
1. “I fucking hate this town!” – The World’s End
Throughout the entirety of Edgar Wright’s superb The World’s End, Nick Frost deftly played against type. He was a straight-laced businessman, with little to no patience for the antics of others. Both Gary and the Blanks pushed him, and pushed him, until he finally snapped.
Perhaps the best part of this sequence — possibly the whole film, but that’s for another time — is Nick Frost. He got some pretty rad moments in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but here, Frost has finally become an action star. When grabs those barstools and goes to town on a Blank, you see the face of a man who’s just done holding back. He’s ready to unload on someone, and the Blanks just happened to be in his way.
The rest of the fight is just as great. The way the action flows would not be out of place in a dance film, like a ballet with punching. And, in some ways, it’s an encapsulation of the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy. It’s a very snappy fight, which brings to mind Wright’s quick-cut scene transitions. The characters develop just enough to keep the audience’s interest. I’ve watched the scene multiple times, and there’s always a new, cool little aspect I notice. It’s a great moment in an overall fantastic movie.
Read our review of The World’s End here.
Those are my picks for the Top 5 Action Sequences of 2013! Did I miss anything that you really enjoyed? Let me know in the comments, or write your own on the cBlogs! Stay tuned for the next two weeks for other “Best of” lists here on Flixist!