What makes a good action movie? Strategically placed action - not lots of it, just enough. Also, plot - we have to be invested in the characters and their motivations to care about all of those backflips, bullets, and blood. The right balance of action and story is hard to achieve. Unfortunately, there are a lot of films that miss the mark; they either become subpar, guilty pleasures, or downright unwatchable.
Given the amount of money, work, and time that go into moviemaking, it’s not uncommon for a generally bad movie to have one good or even fantastic sequence. These films are worth watching just for those undertakings alone. It’s almost as if the filmmakers were so pleased with a part that they worried less about the whole. For example, The Phantom Menace, for all its faults, has arguably one of the best lightsaber battles in Star Wars history, and Thor: The Dark World (one of the MCU’s worst entries), still succeeds in delivering a thrilling finale. Shade will be thrown and fingers waved, but some bad action movies still have one amazing scene.
- Photo: 20th Century Fox
After Return of the Jedi, the world waited 16 years to return to a galaxy far, far away. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace wasn’t exactly what fans were hoping for: The dialogue felt stiff, the plot was convoluted, and Jar Jar Binks wasn’t the charming comic relief that George Lucas intended. The first prequel introduced us to a golden age of the Jedi Order in the waning days of the Old Republic - and it turned out to be more tediously political than we would’ve thought possible.
The best thing about the prequel trilogy is its dazzling collection of lightsaber battles. The original trilogy, limited to old-fashioned stage-fighting techniques, only teased us with the Jedi's capabilities, but the prequels really delivered on fast-paced action. By making the saber lighter and the heroes/villains more athletic, Lucas made the Jedi seem far more powerful. This is never more apparent than in Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace. In what is arguably the greatest duel in the whole franchise, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan take on the duel-saber-wielding Darth Maul. The sequence climaxes when Qui-Gon perishes and Obi-Wan is left to prove himself the better man - all scored to John Williams's epic "Duel of the Fates" choral theme.Standout scene?
- Photo: Warner Bros.
The Matrix set the bar pretty high. When the first film in a trilogy ends by having its protagonist come back from the grave and embrace his destiny as the chosen one, what happens next? This was essentially the problem with The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions; those follow-up films seemed to be desperately trying to compete with their predecessor.
The Matrix Reloaded isn’t a bad film. It just isn’t great. One CGI-heavy sequence featuring Neo and a handful of Agent Smiths does not hold up. On the other hand, the freeway chase has aged like fine wine.
After Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity visit Merovingian, they free the imprisoned Keymaker. The resulting pursuit, involving Morpheus, Trinity, the Keymaker, the Twins, and several agents, makes for one of the most exhilarating setpieces in Matrix history. The Wachowskis built an entire 1.5-mile fake freeway, costing $2.5 million, and GM donated more than 100 cars to be used (and in some cases destroyed). Many moments you might think are CGI are not; for example, Agent Johnson actually does land on the hood of that car (or at least his stunt double does).Standout scene?
- Photo: 20th Century Fox
The opening 10 minutes of X-Men Origins: Wolverine shows Logan (Hugh Jackman) and his brother, the future Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber), participating in every major conflict in US history. It shows the two men trapped in a cycle of recurring violence, while also highlighting their differences. It’s one of the coolest opening title sequences ever created, and what everyone thought they would be getting when they saw the trailer.
It’s too bad that what they actually got was the worst X-Men film ever made. Heck, X-Men Origins: Wolverine almost ruined Deadpool. Enough said.Standout scene?
- Photo: Warner Bros.
In retrospect, there are a lot of similarities between Troy and the final season of Game of Thrones. This is not a coincidence. Troy was one of Thrones showrunner David Benioff’s first writing gigs. The Homeric spectacle hits the obligatory story beats but doesn't fulfill the potential of the (literally) epic source material. While beautiful (having been filmed in Malta and Cabo San Lucas) and bolstered by some amazing fight scenes, Troy is far from a worthy adaptation of its immortal source material.
Still. The fight scene between Achilles (Brad Pitt) and Hector (Eric Bana) is incredible. Whether you're on board with the story or not, a mano-a-mano between two protagonists needs to deliver, and this one does. Given Achilles’s backstory, the viewer knows he will not lose, but there’s a part of you that still wants Hector to win. The choreography is superb, making it feel like Hector has a chance to win, while still showing him to be fundamentally outmatched. As with Game of Thrones's famous fight between the Mountain and the Viper, you can watch it again and again, knowing the outcome, yet still hoping this time it might turn out differently.Standout scene?