Split Decision: Best Action Scenes of 2018
Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!
This week’s question:
Which is the best action sequence in a film this year that is not in Mission: Impossible - Fallout?
I saw literally a handful of pure "action" films this year--from the Dwayne Johnson vehicle Skyscraper, to the little seen I Am Vengeance--that I really want to use the word "action" in the sexual sense. Therefore, the best "action" scene all year was the Jamie Dornan/Dakota Johnson ice-cream scene from Fifty Shades Freed. It oddly got my heart racing.
My action consumption was at an all time low this year, but that being said, the heist sequence in Widows got my heart rate up quite a bit and I really enjoyed it. It may not have been my favorite McQueen, but I thoroughly enjoyed it on the whole, and that scene is excellent. The opening scene of the film is great too, but the stakes are understandably a lot lower.
In addition to the great films my colleagues have mentioned, might I suggest A Prayer Before Dawn and any of its fights (let's go with the last one, which lasts the longest). A British fighter living in Thailand gets busted for drug possession and sent to a prison where nobody wears shirts and everybody is always about to get the hell beaten out of them. And that's the plot, really. Our protagonist doesn't get much of a backstory, though he's based on a real man, and we just watch him try to navigate a broken, frightening system. As he gets better at Muay Thai and gains the respect of his guards and fellow inmates, the extremely verite movie makes you feel every hit. There's a joy in watching a Mission: Impossible action scene, where everything perfectly clicks (until something goes wrong and then everything perfectly clicks a few seconds later than you expected it to), but A Prayer Before Dawn repeatedly makes the argument that getting kicked in the head is painful (?), and that there's nothing fun about fighting.
This year I was absolutely floored by the fight choreography and stunt work in Timo Tjahjanto's The Night Comes For Us. Iko Uwais and Joe Taslim, stars of The Raid, go head to head in this one and the result is nothing short of spectacular. The choreography itself is what we've come to expect from these stars and their stunt team, and by that I mean it continues to set a new bar for visually appealing intensity. But it's the sheer amount of splattery gore that Tjahjanto adds to their formula that further raises that bar; this movie is fucking crazy and fucking gross - it's crazy gross. Think Peter Jackson's Dead Alive meets John Woo's The Killer with the precision of a Jackie Chan movie and you're somewhere in the ball park of what's going on here. The movie is basically wall-to-wall set pieces, so if great action is what you're after, and you've got the stomach for a true splatter movie, I can't recommend this highly enough. That said, if you don't have the stomach for this, might I suggest Leigh Whannel's Upgrade? The fight scenes in it are some of the most innovative I've seen in years and it is equally deserving of this praise.
I have to second Garrett with The Night Comes For Us . Take your pick of at least six or seven jaw dropping fight sequences. Otherwise, I would go with the central shootout in Jeremy Saulnier's Hold the Dark. In the middle of the film, wolf expert Russel Core (Jeffrey Wright) travels with Chief Marium (James Badge Dale) to pay a visit to Cheeon (Julian Black Antelope), a resident of a small Alaska town, and best friend of suspected murderer Vernon (Alexander Skarsgaard). They have with them a sizeable police force. Though the film is set in 2004, what happens next feels very much like something ripped out of 2018- an unsettling onslaught of carnage, with weaponry that no American citizen should have, but many have easy access to. Saulnier's typically grim and unflinching depiction of violence is once again put to use here, with graphic depictions of what bullets do to human bodies. It's just relentless.
The Night Comes For Us infuses the utterly brutal choreography of The Raid with pure splatter goodness, and I share in the enthusiasm that Garrett and Andy have for the film. Literally every fight sequence is the best non-M:I action scene of 2018. So instead of saying what they've already said, let me point your attention to a movie that does the opposite. Overlord takes what is a splattery concept by design (Allied forces coming up a against a lab filled with angry, undead human experiments) and imbues it with classic WWII military action. A highlight comes at the beginning where a plane full of soldiers falls to pieces amidst a war zone. The crash kills a lot of men in a lot of gruesome ways, and does so amidst a supremely well choreographed air battle. As our protagonist falls away from the flaming hull, the camera follows him all the way to ground, capturing the calamitous war zone surrounding him in the sky. Bullets whiz by, planes explode, and men fall from all angles, only a handful of which have parachutes. It's beautifully shot and performed (Jovan Adepo wears the fear brilliantly), and about as intense as a first-act action sequence can be.
Don't worry, the film doesn't blow its wad there. There's plenty of action-packed carnage all the way to the end. Overlord rules!
It was a great year for action in animation this year between The Incredibles 2 and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and there were a few good action scenes which heavily relied on computers in other films this year, including Ready Player One. While the chase is exceptionally well-done, reminiscent of Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin in terms of 360 degrees of action, the tribute to The Shining is one of the most fun experiences I had at the theater. Having only seen The Shining for the first time a year ago, seeing these idiot teenage characters stumble around the Overlook Hotel was a great use of iconography for a sequence that wasn’t as scary as Kubrick’s film, but managed to respect the original work while having fun with it. Truly a love letter to movies. Thanks, Dad.