Superheroes, Check. Spies, Check. These Are The Best Action Films of 2012

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Though the year began, as all years do, with the unceremonious secretion of studio afterbirth (Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance, Wrath Of The Titans), 2012 ended up with some clearwinners in the action department. A year that brought us James Bond, Batman, Marvel’s premiere non-mutant super-team making their debut, and the rebirth of Spider-Man in a younger, sleeker package was bound to bring some hair-raising beatdowns, explosions, vehicular chases and firefights for the ages, as big budget spectacle continues to raise the stakes each passing blockbuster season. Let’s see which movies brought us the most bang for our box office bucks in the year of the Apocalypse:

5 Django Unchained

This typically wordy Tarantino romp did not skimp at all on the outrageous violence and gore, with ChristophWalz’ bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz kicking things off by performing some keen revolver artistry on a band of slave traders in the film’s opening scene. From there he embarks on a journey with a slave he frees, Django (Jamie Foxx), enlisting his help in bringing down a trio of vicious outlaw brothers (a sloppily brutal piece of work which Django plainly enjoys, having been already acquainted with the men as slave overseers) then trains the vengeance- seeking freeman in the finer points of manhunting before making a run for a fabled plantation where Django’s beloved wife is presently enslaved. Much like Basterds, Django builds up to an inevitable cathartic orgy of blood splattering, bodies piling and nicely punctuating explosions that honors the best and hardest of the Spaghetti Western and Blaxploitation genres, and filters them through Tarantino’s own zany cinematic overzealousness. The film equivalent of a well-pointed cowboy boot to the nether-region.

4 Dredd

This second attempt at adapting the UK-created yet distinctly all-American comic character Judge Dredd failed to ignite the box office this side of the pond, which is a real shame since it made such good use of its grim, ultraviolent lawman protagonist, and his grim, ultraviolent hometown, Mega City One, a futuristic hellhole that was once the American East Coast. Unlike Stallone, Karl Urban keeps his helmet on just like his comic counterpart, remaining an inhuman vessel of snarling, white-hot justice as he and psychic rookie Judge Anderson lay waste to an entire sky-high tenement full of criminal scum hopped up on the designer drug Slo-Mo, which does about what you’d expect. The film plays out like a sci-fi version of last year’s Indonesian action crack-binge The Raid, as the duo ascend the rundown complex performing copious bullet facials on the underlings of Ma- Ma, the ice-cold manufacturer and distributor of the drug, which itself seems to be present purely as a logical excuse to display a lot of strangely beautiful slowed-down carnage. Dredd wins by keeping things as harsh and simple as its scowling hero.

3 The Dark Knight Rises

This film upped the ante from its predecessors in every possible respect, not least of all, the action. Gotham sees mayhem and destruction in its streets this time out the likes of which make the Joker’s reign look like a toddler having a tantrum in an aisle of your local supermarket. We can thank Bane, a globetrotting terrorist who is just as apt to use his fists and feet as he is guns and bombs, giving the Caped Crusader the greatest run for his money (he literally takes all of his money) ever seen in a Batflick. Starting with an eye-popping midair hijacking, peaking with a wave of explosions that destroys the field of a packed football stadium and cuts the city off from law enforcement and the rest of the American mainland, and culminating with a massive pitched battle in the streets and a high speed chase involving a bomb-carting truck, Catwoman riding the Batpod, several hijacked Batmobile prototypes, and our hero’s new state of the art flying vehicle, The Bat. This is the biggest and boldest Batman yet.

2 Skyfall

This film arrived just in time to commemorate Bond’s 50th anniversary as a movie mainstay, and could not be more perfect for honoring both the modern/realist tone established by the stripped-down, classed-up reboot Casino Royale and all things previously associated with 007 throughout his entire existence (flamboyant villains with their own islands, Aston Martins with ejector seats). The opening 15 minutes amount to one of the best action sequences of this or any series, and though the film lags a bit at the middle, it comes roaring back to life with the appearance of Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva, a grinning, Jokeresque terror genius who puts the proverbial screws to MI-6 and Bonds surrogate mum M. Standout sequences include the derailment of a London subway train and subsequent detour of said train to the general direction of Jimmy Bond’s face, and a climactic old-fashioned shootout/explosion gala at Bond’s decrepit family home in rural Scotland. Poetic, no?

1 The Avengers

Its all been leading to this. Starting with 2008’s The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man, Marvel Comics’ own in-house movie studio had been working to build a shared universe culminating in this all-star team-up of epic proportions. The two aforementioned titans get together with Captain America, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye to beat on each other a little bit first and then bring the pain to butt-hurt Asgardian adoptee Loki and his on-loan army of giant worm-riding extra-dimensional troops. The Avengers delivered on balls-out comic book throw-downs (Thor vs. Iron Man & Cap, Thor Vs. Hulk, Cap vs. Loki, Widow vs. Hawkeye), even if the scuffle with the climactic invaders proved a tad tiresome and underwhelming (save for anything the never-more-Incredible Hulk did). Our socks had been well-rocked off by that point, and it was all capped off by Unjolly Green Giant’s brutal, hilarious thrashing of “puny god” Loki.

Honorable Mention

Haywire – Director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven, Magic Mike) turns his sly, low-key approach on the spy action genre, with MMA star Gina Carano quite forcefully and convincingly kicking male ass all over the screen as a Blackwater-type operative wading through the usual shadowy intrigue. First rate cast incudes Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender and Ewan McGregor.

The Amazing Spider-Man – Though not quite perfect, this film shows promise by establishing a darker, more real tone than the Raimi films, and employing more practical effects in its depiction of the wall-crawler’s acrobatics. It also contains two of the year’s greatest action sequences : Spider-Man’s fight with the Lizard at Peter Parker’s high school, and the final confrontation between the hero, the villain, and Dennis Leary’s shotgun-wielding police captain high above Manhattan.

Those are 2012’s prime action movie cuts. Expendables 2 fans will no doubt mount an offensive in the comments section. It may have been better than the first, but that still doesn’t make it good, guys.

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