The Best Action Movies to Watch Out For at Fantastic Fest 2023


Here we are again at another Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas. One of our favorite film festivals here at the Ultimate Action Movie Club, this genre-specific fest is one of the best kept secrets for true, blue ultimate action fans.

And while, it’s true, that Fantastic Fest might be better known for its horror and schlock features, it’s always been a great home for action flicks both new and old. And this year is no different.

There’s a lot that we’re looking forward to from internationally acclaimed action directors, to lost classics, to up-and-coming stars, so — if you happen to be at Fantastic Fest this year, or are simply looking to keep tabs from the fest — here are our top picks for the most ultimate action movies at Fantastic Fest 2023.


101 minutes | Japan | 2023

On a whim in high school, our favorite pair of assassins joined a gym to get into shape. To no one’s surprise, the two haven’t gone back since, and now four years of overdue fees must be paid before they lose their membership in their assassin guild. While trying to send a last-minute payment, Chisato and Mahiro’s bank is taken hostage, and they miss the deadline. With all their money spent on elaborate sweets, the pair are forced to take part-time jobs while waiting to be reinstated as hired killers. Unfortunately for our free agents — but fortunately for us — two assassins have been tasked with killing them in the meantime.

Our beloved baby assassins make their ice-cream-covered return to Fantastic Fest. As with the first installment, the performances from Saori Izawa and Akari Takaishi literally take the cake, as they struggle with their day jobs while scheming to get good with the guild. Both actresses take the over-the-top humor and ridiculous fight choreography to even greater heights by channeling millennial existentialism into the everyday lives of these low-level assassins, but Izawa in particular gets to use her prodigious experience as a stuntwoman to show off her comedic timing combined with her expert martial arts.

There are more stunts, more kills, more bizarre assassin handbook rules, and a pair of cute boys who want them dead. Welcome back, Chisato and Mahiro. (AUSTIN KING)


94 minutes | USA | 2023


You’d be hard pressed to find another actor who could be identified based on just a few yelps, but somehow, immediately, you know the man I’m referring to here.

Although Bruce Lee’s best-known films — THE BIG BOSS, FIST OF FURY, and THE WAY OF THE DRAGON — weren’t produced for audiences outside of Hong Kong, his cool blend of rakish charm and unparalleled martial arts skill caught the attention of the global market and quickly established him as an international star. When he died in 1973, it left an indelible mark on a genre that was just beginning to establish itself, and film studios around the world jumped into the fray to capitalize on Lee’s incomparable presence, giving birth to a kung fu subgenre — Bruceploitation.

From spitting-image clones like Dragon Lee in South Korea and Bruce Le in Myanmar to spiritual successors like Blaxploitation icon Jim Kelly and the pioneering “Lady Kung Fu” Angela Mao, the ripple effect of the Dragon’s death lasted over a decade, spawning countless careers and hundreds of movies.

ENTER THE CLONES OF BRUCE tracks down producers, scholars, aficionados, and some of the movement’s biggest stars, all skilled martial artists in their own right, as they reminisce over a bygone era of gonzo plotlines, shoestring budgets, and questionable taste. (LORI DONNELLY)


115 minutes | Estonia, Latvia, Greece, Finland | 2023

Rafeal is the sole survivor of an attack on a Soviet outpost. Inspired by the three martial artists who easily dispatched the other guards on duty with him, Rafeal decides to learn kung fu. Unfortunately for him, “everything cool” is banned in the USSR, and he’ll have to seek martial arts teachers at one of the unlikeliest places: the local Eastern Orthodox monastery.

With a disapproving mother, a rival monk/kung fu student, and a possible girlfriend pulling him in separate directions, Rafael will have to resolve his calling to kung fu mastery at the monastery, suppressing his heavy metal, rebellious nature to subvert all authority, in order to unlock the greatest martial art of all.

THE INVISIBLE FIGHT features over-the-top costuming and production design, a quick wit, and monks fighting. Each action setpiece feels unique, using the Orthodox monastery setting to its full potential with fun takes on martial arts movie staples like doing chores as a beginner’s training tool or harnessing one’s inner self to unlock your full potential.

The movie’s best regional adaptation is probably its take on the stock character of the old, ailing master looking for a successor. Nafanail (Indrek Sammul) is the monastery’s greatest monk and martial artist, and he enjoys overseasoning his food, asking his students difficult questions about the origin of sin, and spending time with his monk boyfriend. In addition to being a key figure in the narrative and comedic setpieces, Nafanail is a teacher, a theologian, and politically outspoken. He also gets the best fight in the movie.

Director Rainer Sarnet harnesses the action movie history THE INVISIBLE FIGHT needs, in particular the Chinese wuxia roots, and uses this to tell a Northern European story. Explicitly referencing genre classics like ENTER THE DRAGON, the film does not rest on just being a comedy or an action fan’s game of “spot the reference,” but asks questions about faith, spiritual duty, and the modern state of Russia and Europe. And if that all sounds too serious, don’t worry. There are monks flying on wires through Orthodox cathedrals. (AUSTIN KING)


108 minutes | India | 2023

Army commando Amrit (played by Lakshya, an actor to keep an eye on) has just finished a mission off the grid, and he’s looking forward to spending his time off-duty with his girlfriend, Tullika. Unaware of their clandestine relationship, Tullika’s father has arranged a marriage to another man. She’s set to travel back to New Delhi by train with her family the next morning.

Strong headed Amrit is not going to just stand by, and he boards the train with his best bud, another commando named Viresh, in the hopes of getting her back and proposing to her. The plans are rapidly shattered by a group of 40 violent, blade-wielding thugs led by Fani (handsome Raghav Juyal), who have boarded the train to relieve the passengers of their precious belongings. Amrit and Viresh are men of action, and they’re not going to just sit and watch. Let the skull crushing begin.

For all our audience members who cheered for PROJECT WOLF HUNTING and squirmed in their seats during THE RAID, this new film, written and directed by Indian director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat, is for you. This is probably the first Indian film of its kind, and it’s BRUTAL! With all the action and close combat taking place in the confined spaces of a few train cars, Bhat makes sure that every piece of furniture and every prop at hand is used to crush some bones or puncture some organs… including a fire extinguisher.

KILL is fast-paced, and the action choreography (signed by Se-yeong Oh and Parvez Shaikh) is brutal. With some very dramatic key scenes serving as gear shifts, Bhat turns up the dial on savagery throughout the film, to the delight of the audience. (ANNICK MAHNERT)


124 minutes | UK | 2023

Cliff Twemlow gives a whole new meaning to the term Renaissance Man. Musician, author, bouncer, stuntman, and director, Twemlow is a legend in his hometown of Manchester. Now the rest of the world has a chance to catch up on one of the UK’s most prolific indie filmmakers, who spent the ‘80s and ‘90s creating outrageous low-budget flicks with a cast of friends and family.

This engrossing documentary chronicles the many exploits of Twemlow, celebrating his tenacity and legacy of independent filmmaking. He first came into the spotlight with his book TUXEDO WARRIOR, based on his time as a bouncer. When the book was adapted into a film, Twemlow was inspired to start shooting his own direct-to-VHS films. Through sheer willpower, Twemlow created a mini-film industry in Manchester that lasted nearly a decade, giving birth to B-movies like G.B.H. (GRIEVOUS BODILY HARM), which was banned as a “video nasty” at the time.

A larger-than-life figure, the doc is filled with amusing anecdotes and wild tales from Twemlow’s friends and co-creators. However, beneath all the hijinks, Twemlow’s real passion for cinema and creation, by any means necessary, shines through in this comprehensive tribute to his life and work. (LISA DREYER)


133 minutes | Indonesia | 2022

Alana is a boxer with aspirations of competing against men and taking her rightful place as the champion of her local boxing circuit, despite not being taken seriously due to her gender. The tournament is a front for a local gang, and Alana’s on the verge of discovering that she’s the reincarnation of the ancient Goddess Asih. This revelation comes with super speed, inhuman strength, a magic scarf, and the attention of an evil deity seeking a human host.

Many American superhero movies of late have been, let’s say, inconsistent in quality. It’s easy to feel burned out on the genre. Luckily, SRI ASIH is here to prove that the Indonesian Bumilangit Cinematic Universe is just getting started. There’s a focus on martial arts fighting and sparingly used CGI. If you’re worried about not understanding this movie’s place in the overall narrative, have no fear. This is a mostly standalone story focused on Alana and her personal journey and is only the second outing in this budding cinematic universe.

Pevita Pearce plays Alana with a barely contained rage, intense physicality, and a chip on her shoulder against the rich and the patriarchy. SRI ASIH doesn’t shy away from adult themes around gendered violence and class while maintaining an eye on thrilling action set-pieces. Director Upi Avianto, styled as just Upi in the film’s credits, keeps the action grounded in Alana’s boxing background even when mystical elements are introduced, with incredible single-take battles against a hallway of nameless goons or one-on-one ring fights with dudebro assholes.

Coming up in Indonesia’s film industry directing comedies and crime dramas, Upi stakes her claim in the emerging superhero world as a director with intense, real-life fight choreography, physical stunts, and female empowerment. All of these elements build to one of the most impressive spectacles of the Fantastic Fest 2023 program — Alana facing off with ninjas and a shadow demon in an all-out factory brawl to prevent the resurrection of a fire goddess.

Strap on your bulletproof wristbands and get ready to box your way to SRI ASIH. (AUSTIN KING)


113 minutes | Philippines | 2023

Miguel is the sole survivor of a military operation gone horribly wrong, haunted by the brutal death of his best friend at the hands of a militant cult in the heart of the Philippine jungle. Still suffering from the effects of PTSD, Miguel procures a job as a night watchman in a Manila warehouse where (in)conveniently “everything is flammable and explosive” as he attempts to uneventfully re-enter civilian life.

Living in the city’s northern slums, Weng attempts to keep her good-for-nothing younger brother, Bogs, on the straight and narrow. When he runs afoul of the local kingpin, Weng reluctantly agrees to return to her illicit past as a drug runner for the notorious Valdez crew in exchange for his life.

Meanwhile, Romero, the head of a by any means necessary anti-narcotics unit, has been given orders by his colonel to wipe the Valdez crew out to keep the corrupt mayor’s ties to cartel money off the record. When Weng and Bogs narrowly escape the bloody scene and take shelter in Miguel’s warehouse, he escorts the interlopers from the premises, but not before the police intervene. Now Miguel and Weng must engage in the most brutal warfare in a no-holds-barred fight for their lives.

Boasting a massive body count that would make John Woo proud, TRIGGERED revels in decadent ‘80s- and ‘90s-style bloodshed. A must-see for action fans who prefer their movies with large doses of firepower. (LORI DONNELLY)


90 minutes | France | 2023

“Wake up, people! You’ve awoken the beast, and now we’re coming for you. It’s gonna be blood for blood.”

“That was savage, bro.”

So begins the clarion call from a group of Gen Z self-styled activists. Incensed by the environmental destruction wrought by a fictitious minimalist Swedish furniture store, the band of six sneaks into the big-box store after hours to wreak havoc of their own, gleefully destroying displays and smearing animal blood on bathroom fixtures for the benefit of the ‘gram.

As emboldened as they may be, their sense of outrage pales in comparison to the seething, decades-long resentment of the night watchman, Kevin. Already teetering on the edge of sanity and now piqued by his mistreatment at the hands of management and the disrespectful 20-somethings, he eagerly accepts their bloody invitation, putting his “primitive hunting” techniques to good use. As Kevin creatively picks off members of the collective one by one, those that remain stage a final stand in an attempt to make it out alive.

One of two films screened at Fantastic Fest this year by the Montreal trio known as RKSS (namely Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell, and François Simard), practitioners of ‘80s retro pop nostalgia (TURBO KID, SUMMER OF ‘84), WAKE UP channels the likes of classics like CHOPPING MALL for contemporary audiences, dripping with equal measures of cheeky cynicism and sincerity. (LORI DONNELLY)

Paired with Short: THE INFLUENCER


99 minutes | Argentina, Uruguay | 2023

In a rural village, two brothers find a badly mutilated corpse next to a mysterious journal at the edge of their property. Determined to figure out the cause of death, the brothers uncover a local man harboring an evil spirit who has been waiting for a specialist to come and rid him of his demon. Unfortunately, help hasn’t arrived speedily enough, and the demon is ready to possess its next victim. Thus begins a race against time and evil as the brothers and eventually the entire village are drawn into the chaotic, heart-pounding mission to save their families and hometown from this nightmare.

Fantastic Fest regulars are no strangers to director Demián Rugna, who won Best Horror Picture for TERRIFIED in 2018 and was again awarded as part of the team of directors behind last year’s anthology SATANIC HISPANICS. Rugna is a master at creating scenes that will scare the crap out of you, and WHEN EVIL LURKS is no exception. This film is truly unrelenting, with a propulsive energy that carries you from one horrific scenario to the next. If you don’t audibly gasp (or scream out loud) at least once during this movie, I’m going to have to check your pulse to make sure you’re alive. (LISA DREYER)

The Ultimate Pulp Franchise — What Sets the John Wick Saga Apart

2014 saw the beginning of one of the most unique sagas in recent action cinema history: John Wick (Keanu Reeves), also known as the Baba Yaga, was born in an era where brainless blockbusters were the norm, and immediately offered something different.

The 2014 movie focuses on the grieving Wick, a retired hitman who just lost his beloved wife Helen after a long illness. When the puppy she left him is killed by the son of a local kingpin, John has no choice but to get back in the business and avenge the dog.

The rest is history: after four films and an upcoming spin-off titled Ballerina, featuring Ana De Armas, John Wick is recognised as one of the most solid action franchises. 

The Book of John Wick

The fourth film in the saga, released a few months ago in 2023, was met with critical acclaim from fans and critiques alike, and is, indeed, a quintessential action movie! Yet to get to that place, Wick has outlived three other movies, and managed to stay a step ahead of other action franchises. In 2014, the first entry got off to an excellent start: John Wick’s slow pace and simple plot offered a stark contrast to the action blockbusters of the time. Like John McClane in his glory days, Wick isn’t trying to save the world, but is just involved in a small-scale story that snowballs into something bigger. At the turn of the 2010s, John Wick’s beautiful editing also made it a standout – it avoided the common choppy editing which makes so many movies of the early 2000s hard to rewatch. With its dark and mature tone and its beautiful shots, the film broke the mold of action films, and put some “gravity” back in them. Wick himself, a grieving anti-hero who simply wants to avenge his dog, is easy to root for, and his fights feel warranted – and thus, impactful. 

How do you top a simple and effective action film? John Wick: Chapter 2’s answer was straight to the point: the sequel, released in 2017, decided to expand the first film’s universe – rather than simply topping its action. Yes, the second movie does go where the first one didn’t: the assassin now finds himself fighting the Camorra in Italy and, in one of the saga’s most memorable sequences, he kills a man with a pencil! Yet John Wick: Chapter 2’s real achievement is its world-building: creating a universe which could only be imagined in the first film. An entire underworld of assassins exist in front of our eyes, led by a mysterious and threatening High Table. Continental concierge Charon (the late Lance Reddick) and manager Winston (Ian McShane), who run a safe haven for killers, are just the tip of the iceberg, and Wick is just one of many sharp guns in a merciless world. The second film lacks some of its predecessor’s gravity, but it does allow the Wick saga to embrace its over-the-top and pulp nature.

The John Wick-verse

This is thanks to a unique universe, which uses neo-noir tropes in a witty way. Wick might be serious, but his movies never pretend to be more than hours of beautiful, unbridled chaos. The ending of the second film sees John transgressing the rules of the Continental hotel, much to the dismay of Winston who has to declare him “Excommunicado”  – effectively putting a bounty on his head. This leads us to Parabellum, the third entry in the franchise, released in 2019. On paper, this third movie could be called the weakest in the franchise: it serves as a filler before the final chapter, and keeps toying with the same themes, by having Wick trying to survive in a world where his friends are ever less numerous. Yet Parabellum lives up to its name: it raises the stakes for the final film, and it keeps the saga’s pulp formula alive and well. The neo-noir  clichés are now pushed to the maximum, with the franchise even starting to design its own tropes. John Wick 3 knows that the saga has become iconic, and now has fun getting Wick to kill with the most improbable objects. In the movie’s most interesting sequence, John reclaims his former name, Jardani Jovonovich, to get back to his original crime family. Said brood features a stern matriarch (a delightful Anjelica Huston), some killer ballerinas and a few steampunk assassins. The imagery of the underworld would not be complete without the coolest radio operators possible, and a colour palette which has banned all shades other than blue, orange and purple. The franchise has now successfully developed its own universe and themes, making it a literal standout.

Of course, Reeves’ ghost-like presence is essential to the saga, and the actor arguably gives his most compelling performance in the fourth and final chapter. In one of 2023’s best action movies, Keanu Reeves has few lines, but a lot to say with his body language and longing looks. John Wick: Chapter 4 sees Wick desperately trying to regain his freedom – in life or in death. This fourth entry is an apotheosis: while it does feel a little bloated towards the end, its fighting sequences are action at its finest! Not only does Keanu get some excellent moves, but he is joined by other fighters such as Hiroyuki Sanada, Rina Sawayama and the incredible Donnie Yen. Here, the carnage gets more personal: for once, we see John truly haunted by friendships from his past. Even Wick’s status as a legend is constantly tested. He is pushed to the limits by the High Table’s final trial, and death is getting closer.

The Saga’s Ultimate Action

John Wick 4 is an excellent end to an equally powerful franchise: it offers a testament to the saga’s unique action – by featuring some iconic villains, such as the nasty Killa (Scott Adkins) – and perfectly matches its central themes of grief, freedom and acceptance of death.

The film also takes a final step towards the expansion of its universe: as justified by its ending, the world is not just about John Wick anymore, and we meet his friend Kenji Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his former ally turned rival Caine (Donnie Yen). We now have a much wider view of the assassins’ universe, which exists beyond our favourite hitman and will continue after him.

In an era where pulp is less present in action movies, John Wick’s brutal and fun films, which fully embrace their over-the-top nature, feel refreshing!

How ‘Beyond Thunderdome’ Became the Eternal Mad Max Classic

A look back at how the absence of cynicism and brutality makes Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome a humorous and emotional action classic.

George Miller almost single-handedly invented the modern post-apocalyptic action film, and the Mad Max saga belongs to the best that the genre has to offer. After his legendary masterpiece The Road Warrior he dialed the insanity level back just a little and created Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome in 1985. Max Rockatansky’s third trip to the wasteland gave us a fresh perspective on the post-nuclear world, so let’s have a look!

Wasteland drifter Max (Mel Gibson) arrives in the settlement Bartertown to find his stolen car. Bartertown’s ruler Aunty Entity (Tina Turner) is in constant conflict with Masterblaster, the lord of the subterranean plant that provides energy for the surface dwellers. Max is coerced to solve Aunty’s problem by challenging Masterblaster to a lethal fight in the Thunderdome arena. After winning, he is betrayed and exiled to the desert. Max is rescued by a tribe of children who welcome him as their messiah, but he is drawn back to Aunty’s anger.

What’s a little fallout, eh?

The preliminary closure of the trilogy gives a more optimistic and humorous take on Max’s endeavors than the previous installments. Millers serves us a three-course menu that turns from campy action into an emotional journey and closes out with a fantastic car action finale. The sudden turns of mood and pacing may not appeal to viewers who expected another non-stop action masterpiece, but the film has a lot to offer beyond its action sequences.

Miller puts a strong focus on world-building and does it so convincingly that it became the template for dozens of copycats in the decades to follow. He fleshes out the world with incredibly detailed sets and fantastic cinematography that captures the proceedings against the backdrop of an epic desert landscape. The outrageous costume design with shoulder pads, mohawks and armor corsets became equally iconic and was imitated countless times.

Bartertown’s energy supply is provided by pig excrements from an underground facility. The city’s dependence on biogas draws obvious parallels to our society that is still powered by fossil fuels for the most part. So we might argue that business is going on as usual even after the big war. And yet Auntie’s rule has not created an evil society, but her hard rules for a hard world have enabled Bartertown to thrive to some extent.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: Dying time’s here!

The alternative concept is the tribe of children, who are depicted as noble savages with a cargo cult, and Max is destined to be their savior. After being forsaken by the adults, the adolescents are given a chance to be truly free and build a society devoid of aggression and not corrupted by technology. These two approaches both work in their own ways, even though they require different types of attitudes, and the children’s society may lend itself better to bring actual peace of mind to its inhabitants. 

Tina Turner oozes an incredible amount of charisma and brings a lot of energy to the film. She will win you over in an instant, and we instantly forgive her any fits of malice she occasionally has. Gibson’s Max also loosens up a bit compared to the previous films. He talks more and even rediscovers his emotions when he starts to care for the children. And there’s plenty of memorable and fun characters in the film besides its two main stars.  The action is more playful and significantly less brutal than in the previous films, which is in line with the overall more mellow presentation. There are two major set pieces: the Thunderdome fight and the essential car assault sequence towards the end of the film. 

Thunderdome: Two men enter, one man leaves

Thunderdome has found its way into the pop culture canon with its iconic call to battle and Masterblaster, a brain and a brawn melded into a single terrifying creature. The scene takes movie cage fights to a new level thanks to Miller’s stroke of genius to create a semi-spherical arena where the contestants swing through the air strapped to rubber bands, with a raving audience covering the fences, and deadly weapons placed in the arena ready for taking.

Max’s return to Bartertown from exile also brings back the action and shows how Auntie’s project literally is built on a volatile basis. After demolishing the underground plant, Mad and his crew hijack an old train with the motorized Bartertown motor pool on their heels. Miller demonstrates again that he is a master of car action when the train is besieged at 50 mph. It’s a fantastic sequence with the adrenaline level cranked to the maximum, and occasionally just as perilous for the stunt crew as in the Road Warrior.

The absence of cynicism and brutality makes Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome a rare entry to the post-apocalyptic action genre. Miller created an often humorous and emotional tale that became an eternal classic just like all other installments of the movie series.

Remembering the Ultimate and Unapologetic Violence of ‘The Punisher’ (2004)

How ‘The Punisher’ avoids the beloved spectacle of comic book movies and goes for something much darker and more ultimate.

The Punisher (2004) trades the explosiveness of the 1989 film for the unapologetic violence of the films that inspired the character. It avoids the beloved spectacle of comic book movies and goes for something much darker.

As a child, I feverishly clung to anything comic book-related, from watching my older cousin play Spider-Man on the PlayStation One to watching the X-Men animated series on Fox every Saturday morning.

Although I never read many comic books during that time, my admiration for the medium was neverending thanks to video games, television, and mostly film. I saw Spider-Man (2001) and Daredevil (2003) on the big screen when I was young, but the film that left the biggest impression on me was one I saw on TV a couple of years after its release.

I am referring to none other than The Punisher (2004). 

UAMC Reviews ‘The Punisher’ (2004)

Based loosely on the comic book series, Welcome Back, Frank and The Punisher: Year One, the film follows FBI agent Frank Castle’s quest for revenge after his entire family is murdered under the orders of crime boss Howard Saint (John Travolta) in retaliation for Castle inadvertently killing Saint’s son Bobby during a sting operation. The film marks the directorial debut of Jonathan Hensleigh (the writer responsible for Die Hard with a Vengeance and Armageddon). He plants his feet close to those roots of 70’s vigilantism the character is known for. 

If you have the smallest amount of comic book knowledge, it wouldn’t be difficult to figure out that most characters are usually tied to a specific location. Similar to how Daredevil and Spider-Man live and breathe New York, The Punisher is a staple to New York vigilantes in the Marvel Universe. So, the elephant in the room is that the film trades the usual dark and grim atmosphere of New York for the sun-filled sky of Florida. While New York is integral to The Punisher, the change of setting in the film never feels as if it is a hindrance thanks to Thomas Jane’s devoted performance. 

Before filming, Jane took part in a six-month-long NAVY SEAL training regiment; it becomes very apparent in his physique (gaining 20 lbs of muscle) and when he gets his hands wrapped around a weapon. If the training was not enough to convince you of his devotion, Thomas Jane did most of his stunts in the film as well. Emotionally, it’s easy to see echoes of Paul Kersey or Harry Callahan in his steely cool rage, but he manages to carve out his own space in the “man out for revenge” corner. Where Dolph Lundgren’s Frank Castle was a gun-wielding zombie towering over victims, Jane’s Punisher has the face of a man who has been stripped of everything and reborn to float through the world as a raw nerve. 

Thomas Jane vs John Travolta

Opposite Thomas Jane is John Travolta as Howard Saint. At first, he felt like a lousy proxy for the well-known villain Kingpin. But through repeat viewings, it becomes clear that the character’s hammy-ness is more of a compensation for his frail ego. He comes across as an abhorrent monument crumpling in a sweaty panic. Around his wife and his underlings, he reeks of insecurities, clawing for control. While Frank Castle methodically tears his life apart, it becomes clear that he does not own his empire, his empire owns him. Once that empire implodes, his death is brutal and cathartic. 

Those familiar with the comics will quickly recognize the supporting cast, which includes Spacker Dave (Ben Foster), Bumppo (John Pinette), and Joan (Rebecca Romijn). The three friends Frank Castle reluctantly meets in his apartment building provide brief instances of humor reminiscent of the comics. But more importantly, they offer  Castle some way out of the pool of sadness he’s drowning in, they motivate him to become a “hero.” In a minor role that would be a disservice to go without acknowledging, is Roy Scheider as Frank Castle Sr. In the short time with him, you can see the type of man he raised Frank Castle to be as he jumps to action during the beach assault.

When you watch the film you’ll notice the supporting character Jimmy Weeks (A. Russel Andrews) disappears halfway through. This is only because his subplot was left on the cutting room floor and can only be found on the director’s cut. The subplot involves him being the reason Saint can locate Castle’s family, from there it takes a very dark turn. If you watch the director’s cut You’ll also find a prologue that centers around Frank’s and Jimmy’s time in the military. Deemed too expensive to film, Tim Bradstreet’s art and photographs were used to create a motion comic.

But How Ultimate is it?

The film turns Castle’s heartbreaking murder of his nuclear family into a cold-blooded killing of his entire family. This sets the stage for the rest of the violence in the film. Where most comic book adaptations give way to action steep in violence designed for spectacle, The Punisher goes in the opposite direction. There aren’t winners or losers, only survivors. With clarity, the audience is confronted with the blunt impact of the action. You can’t help but feel the influence of 1970s action films. It is even possible to find Hensliegh and cinematographer Conrad W. Hall ripping shots from Dirty Harry and using the cowboy shot several times throughout the film.

It would be criminal not to mention the standout fight featuring WWE legend Kevin Nash as The Russian. This fight is one of the many instances where we see Castle’s tolerance for pain and his ability to survive. Additionally, there’s the perfect use of their environment with a great sense of escalation that ends in one of the most gruesome images of the film. Practical effects and crude action give the violence a real sense of authenticity. With Taxi Driver, Scorsese likened Travis Bickle to a crab by having him move in very straight lines. Frank Castle resembles a shark, devouring everything in his path and only moving forward. Whether a knife to the mouth, an arrow to the neck, or boiling water to the face, each bit of cruelty sinks its teeth into you.

While bolstered by Thomas Jane’s outstanding performance in the titular role, The Punisher (2004) trades the explosiveness of the 1989 film for the unapologetic violence of the films that inspired the character. It avoids the beloved spectacle of comic book movies and goes for something much darker. The grim and bloody story might not cover any new ground, however, I don’t believe it wants to. It only cares more about the execution, and that’s all that matters. 

Article By: Cameron Levins is a filmmaker, comic book lover and fight scene enthusiast. Ever since his dad showed him Bruce Lee as a kid, he became obsessed with action films. In his free time he’s either day dreaming about an action scene or researching fight choreographers. Follow Cameron on Twitter here.

Rage: Gary Daniels Shines in PM Entertainment’s Spectacle Actioner

A look back at how Gary Daniels’ Rage has become an ultimate classic of 1990s DTV entertainment. 

Making an action film is a complex craft, and production company PM Entertainment deservedly entered the hall of fame of their guild. Their inspiration and drive to create astonishing action sequences catapulted them to the forefront of 1990s DTV actioners. Where many 100-million-dollar productions have the excitement level of a TV soap, PM showed what can be done with a fraction of that money.

In 1994, Speed gave us a bus that wouldn’t stop, and one year later PM followed up with a human in total overdrive mode. 1995’s Rage was the overture to PM’s and Gary Daniels’ fantastic triple-R trilogy (Riot and Recoil being the other two), so let’s have a look! 

Elementary school teacher Alex (Daniels) is abducted by a group of rogue military scientists. He turns out to be the perfect subject to experiment on after many failures with Mexican immigrants and is turned into a killing machine. Not overly content with his fate, Alex uses his newly acquired superpowers to escape the lab and keep his numerous pursuers at bay. 

“I’m just trying to stay alive!” “Do it on somebody else’s time!”

The plot inevitably is thin, as lots of room is required for the action sequences. After setting up the premise, Alex is chased by corrupt cops and a TV reporter, even though a right-wing conspiracy as well as some criticism of sensationalist media and consumerism (“In this city mall, people try to improve their life by buying whatever is offered to them.”) provide at least traces of originality.

Despite what the title may suggest, our British fugitive Alex is not really raging, but just trying to make it out alive of every peril director Joseph Merhi puts him in. And yet the film is almost constantly in mayhem mode, with a few breaks that do nothing for the story but provide some occasional comic relief.

I was a bit tired when I started to watch Rage again for this article, but after ten minutes it woke me up like the blackest of coffees. The film starts with Daniels giving an endearing portrayal of an incredibly kind elementary school teacher who wants to talk about monkeys but accidentally ends up profiling Jeffrey Dahmer.

After his abduction we see a laboratory with a hideous set design. It seems we might have landed in C-grade territory, but do not worry, this sequence marks the beginning of an action inferno. Daniels wakes up with superhuman powers, throws some guards and scientists through windows, perforates the rest with machine pistols akimbo, sets the whole place on fire, and gets his balls tasered.

He’s a Foreigner, a Limey. He don’t speak good English.

After that it’s showdown after showdown with three spectacular set pieces sticking out the most:

  • An explosive highway chase with two colliding rigs, a school bus and countless police cars flipping and spinning while engulfed in flames
  • Daniels (mostly his stunt double) hanging from the ledge of a skyscraper while getting shot at from a helicopter, falling onto a window cleaning platform, and from there all the way down to the ground and through a glass roof 
  • A shootout in a shopping mall that pays homage to the Police Story mall fight. It’s less elaborate but compensates with more violence and even more people thrown through windows and down escalators. Also, the best video store in existence (it carries only PM titles) is razed to the ground.

The real star of the film: Spiro Razatos’ action unit

Daniels is a fine action hero and gets to do a couple of nice fights, but the real star of the film is the action crew led by legendary stunt choreographer Spiro Razatos. His people jump from burning trucks, pull off insane driving maneuvers, crazy high falls, and fight on a helicopter skid in mid-air, the list goes on and on.

It’s obvious that the stunt people put themselves at high risk during the production. In our time, greenscreens and CGI drastically reduce the dangers for them, and yet I’m glad films like Rage got made. Maybe it caters to our voyeuristic instincts, but I don’t care, it’s just all so awesome to watch!

PM Entertainment and Daniels can be proud of what they achieved with Rage, a spectacle that puts a lot of action blockbusters of its time to shame, and which has become an ultimate classic of 1990s DTV entertainment. 

DOA: Dead or Alive — A Giddy Action Comedy with Uplifting Vibes

A look back at Corey Yuen’s beat ’em up video game ultimate actioner.

Most movie adaptations of Beat ‘Em Up video games have not been highlights of martial arts cinema, even though this is what we would expect this subgenre to deliver in abundance. Films like Double Dragon and Streetfighter are entertaining endeavors but were total fails as fight flicks. In 2006, it was up to no one less than grandmaster Corey Yuen to show the world how it’s done! Yuen gave a huge boost to US martial arts cinema with the first two No Retreat No Surrender films, and his last directorial effort so far in 2006 became another highlight of his career.

With DOA: Dead Or Alive he created a film based on a fight game where the action sequences finally do the game justice, so let’s have a look! The world’s best fighters are invited to a tropical island to fight for big money in the DOA tournament. But organizer Donovan (Eric Roberts) has a sinister plan that puts everyone on the island in danger.

“You’re beneath me.” “I sure would like to be.”

The Dead or Alive video game franchise became known for its oversexualized female fighters. The film thankfully dials this aspect back quite a bit (and earned a PG-13 rating), even though most female protagonists are lightly clad, and the camera occasionally captures the fighters in sexy angles. Criticism of objectification is justified here, but the movie never devolves into a voyeuristic experience. The counter perspective is that a group of strong, confident women are kicking (mostly) men’s asses, and embrace their femininity while doing it.

The main story features your typical 2000s biotech nonsense with nanobots and genetic experimentation. It lines up nicely with the several other subplots (romantic and/or revenge) that are also incredibly cheesy. Fortunately, the plot points are processed at breakneck speed and give plenty of space to the action sequences. The film puts a sugar coating on everything with a glossy, almost plastic look of the fantasy island, silly humor, and a flamboyant color palette, even the ninjas are purple!

I’ll put your double-dealing arse in the “D”-Column of Dead or Alive

The cast features no A-list actors, but everyone delivers a charming performance, and the occasional over- and -underacting works really well here. There’s plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor, with PG-13 approved sexual innuendo galore. Eric Roberts, as ever the charmer, gives a laid-back villain portrayal, and this vibe holds for all characters who are always having a good time, even during the fights.

Yuen’s creative vision is most visible in the action department, and he presents us furious sequences of high-caliber martial arts action. The duels truly radiate the energy of a fighting game, with slick visuals in a style similar to his The Transporter film.  Action movies at the time demanded that fights were edited to look as flashy as possible, but Yuen managed to fulfill this requirement by staging the action sequences fast but not hectic, and smooth instead of choppy.

Cheerful Martial Arts Action in a Tropical Plastic Paradise

Fight after fight keeps coming, with a creative choreography, fantastic wirework and furious attacks. Everything retains a playful vibe, and there are even some fantastic whuppings by towels and pillows! The film also has the perfect length for a non-stop actioner, this undiluted spectacle clocks in at a crunchy 76 minutes.

DOA: Dead or Alive never pretends to be more than a giddy action comedy with an uplifting vibe that hopefully will put a big smile on your face. And thanks to its fantastic martial arts sequences it also became one of the best video game adaptations of all time!

Broken Arrow: One of the Forgotten Action Gems of the 1990s

The 1990s was one of the best periods for action movies, but some have been remembered for longer than others. At the time of its release, Broken Arrow was a box office hit. However, it’s rarely talked about these days, with John Travolta and Christian Slater having lost their status in the A-list category in Hollywood.

For anyone in search of a 1990s action epic that has it all, Broken Arrow is a great option to watch again. It has all the components that you need in a thrilling movie, including an exceptional cast and setting.

Broken Arrow One of John Woo’s Best

John Woo is one of the greatest action directors of all time, and it’s often hard to pinpoint what his best work is. Broken Arrow is somewhat of a forgotten gem, but many action fans who revisit it would put it down as one of his best.

Woo used two of the hottest 1990s action stars in the picture: Travolta as Major Vic “Deak” Deakins and Slater as Captain Riley Hale. The two start off as buddies in the United States Air Force but are then forced to face off against each other when Deakins tries to steal two nuclear bombs.

Along with the excellent chemistry between Travolta and Slater, Samantha Mathis was also lauded for her turn as Park Ranger Terry Carmichael. Hale and Terry form an unlikely alliance against Deakins and his formidable crew of criminals. It’s the classic underdog story, with the two joining forces to take down a highly organized band of terrorists. It’s a good against evil offering with a highly satisfying ending and a memorable showdown between Slater and Travolta.

Deep Mines Make Excellent Setting for Action Offerings

There’s no doubt that the setting of Broken Arrow added a lot to the film’s thrills. One of the best action sequences in the movie was when Hale and Terry took the warheads to an abandoned copper mine. The theory is that the mine is so deep that it could contain a nuclear blast. This scene leads to an amazing shootout and a getaway along an underground river.

Mines have frequently been used in the entertainment industry. They offer mystery and danger and have appeared in other cinematic offerings like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. They are prevalent in gaming. For instance, there a numerous mining mobile titles like Stone Miner and Deep Town. There are also many UK casino site games about mines, such as Misery Mining and Dynamite Riches. These titles feature deep caves on the thumbnail to attract players, and it’s clear that this theme is a popular one.

Broken Arrow had various other great scenes aside from the mine shootout, and the scenery in the picture is stunning. It was all filmed at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Kane County, Utah, which is renowned for its stunning landscape.

If you’re looking for a great action pic from the 1990s with two of its hottest stars at their peak, Broken Arrow is one of the best titles. This forgotten gem needs to be brought back and dusted off, as it is an absolute classic.

Why Fallout Remains the Peak of the Mission: Impossible Franchise

If you want to start an online brawl and decide to ask fans which Mission: Impossible film is their favourite, you will usually get one of three answers: the purists name the first M: I movie as the best that the franchise has to offer – praising the elegance of Brian De Palma’s direction and the twisted plot. Others cite Ghost Protocol (2011), for its humour, the epic stunts on the Burj Khalifa and the unique aesthetic which stems out of director Brad Bird’s background in animation. Finally, you’ll find fans like me, who will cite Fallout (2018) as their favourite film of the franchise. While its director Christopher McQuarrie is no Bird or De Palma, a solid case can still be made that Fallout is the pinnacle of the cinematic series – just let me show you why.

Teamwork at its finest

Unlike other action franchises (the most obvious comparison being, of course, Bond), Mission: Impossible has always centred on a team of spies, and while Ethan Hunt takes most of the cinematic screen time, his teammates Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) have always had a strong presence in the saga. And of course, Rogue Nation brought us shady British spy Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who has a complex relationship with Hunt and some impressive combat scenes.

Fallout does a near-perfect job of integrating this myriad of characters into the plot: the team is very present throughout Ethan’s adventure, with Luther and Benji able to do more than just some hacking – and the latter even gets to wear two masks! As for Ilsa, she keeps her own agenda, which made her so interesting and unpredictable in Rogue Nation (2015). Here, she butts heads with Ethan and his IMF team as they attempt to free evil mastermind Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and exchange him for some plutonium spheres. Ilsa has been ordered by MI6 to kill the bad guy, but once again, her love for Ethan and moral compass get in the way.

As mentioned above, Fallout is centred around this myriad of characters, who all have something to do. The movie even adds in returning secretary Hunley (Alec Baldwin), and August Walker (Henry Cavill), a brutal CIA spy whose hidden agenda is revealed partway through the film. All protagonists and antagonists have distinct motivations and goals, and the IMF really feels like what it is – a team. On that account, Fallout’s third act is an excellent example of on-screen teamwork. It takes place in Kashmir, where the heroes attempt to defuse nuclear bombs planted by Walker and Lane. The final act is extremely well-constructed, and sees the entire team working hand in hand with Ethan’s ex-wife Julia to neutralise both villains – the perfect example of an ensemble cast smartly used in an action film.

Between change and continuity: the right action formula?

Among fans, Rogue Nation is generally a more divisive entry than Fallout. While I have a soft spot for RN, I understand why some viewers struggled with its anti-climatic ending (which does not feature any major stunts) and its much darker tone (almost reminiscing of films noirs), so different from Ghost Protocol’s goofiness. Christopher McQuarrie’s second entry strikes a better balance: Fallout’s plot has an innate gravity which makes its stakes believable, but also a cinematography and some large-scale stunts which remain true to the spirit of the Mission: Impossible franchise. Fallout might not be the funniest entry in the saga, but it also will elicit some laughs from viewers (many of which are due to Benji’s antics!).

The action in the film is also a standout, to the point where it would deserve its own article: the movie has some of the best sequences of the entire franchise, and their diversity is especially striking. It isn’t all chases and pursuits here, as we also get some breathtaking skydiving, tense bouldering (a nice nod to M: I II) and of course, many well-choreographed fights. What really makes Fallout’s action sequences impactful is their structure: they do not feel disconnected from the main plot and all have a purpose. On that account, Dead Reckoning Part 1’s stunts will be more divisive. While its chases remain well-crafted, they can get a little repetitive after a while.

In Fallout, the plot dictates the action, not the other way around, and the scenes thus feel more plausible and gripping. A perfect illustration is the pursuit throughout London, which has the always-running Ethan taking off on foot to stop August Walker (Henry Cavill) after realising the latter is nefarious terrorist John Lark. The chase takes place on the roofs and in the streets of the city, and has Hunt running, helped by Benji and his team aboard a van. On top of the incredible BTS story – Cruise broke his ankle on set and kept going – the sequence is breathtaking, and makes it into the pantheon of M: I chases thanks to a single shot. During it, Ethan realises that he is going to have to jump out of a window, and while standing on the edge, gets some encouragement from office workers who saw him burst into their open space. This short scene is perfect: not only is it funny, but it helps to make the action far more impactful. Seeing that even the great Ethan Hunt is afraid of jumping instantly renders the fall tense and meaningful. This is just one of many examples which make Fallout an incredible Mission: Impossible movie as well as an excellent action flick. If you haven’t watched it yet, you definitely need to – if only to get your own ranking of M: I films!

Ranking the Rambo Movies

A look at how the Rambo franchise films stack up against each other today.

With the Rambo saga, Stallone built himself a monument right next to his Rocky films. In the 1980s he created three ultimate classics, and the trilogy was expanded twice with more badassery and explosive action. In this article, we will honor Stallone’s ultimate achievements and give you our ranking of his Rambo movies!

5) Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

The last chapter of the franchise attempted to provide a closure for its titular character. John Rambo has retired to the family ranch in Arizona where he lives with his friend Maria and her granddaughter Gabrielle. When Gabrielle travels to Mexico, she is abducted by a Mexican gang, and it is time for one last fight of Rambo vs. Evil. If you ever asked you how Rambo is as a private citizen, Rambo: Last Blood has the answers. 

The film leans heavily towards melodrama and is a slow burn for a Rambo film, that often feels more like an entry to the Taken movie series. The finale brings back the spirit of the old days, when Rambo pulls out his entire armory to fend off a small army attacking his house, which he disposes of in classic ultraviolent fashion. And yet the film can’t shake off the impression that the Rambo saga fizzles out instead of going out with a bang.

4) First Blood: Part II (1985)

Stallone’s new take on his character in the sequel to First Blood was that of a stoic killing machine which defined the Rambo brand from that point on. Rambo is released from jail in exchange for going on an undercover mission in post-war Vietnam to investigate the fate of war prisoners still held by the Vietcong. The trip turns into a private war between him and the Vietnamese and Soviet military.

First Blood: Part II defined a whole subgenre of action that was ripped off countless times, but this film is the only one that really matters. A razor-thin plot, one-dimensional characters and stilted dialogues permeate this film, but we’re only watching it for Rambo’s rampage anyway.  And the movie delivers some of the best action the genre has to offer. With an M60 that has infinite ammo seemingly fused to his body, Rambo leaves an enormous trail of bodies in the jungle. First Blood: Part II is as undiluted as an action film can get and has become an essential member of the action Olympus.

3) Rambo III (1988)

Rambo III was the preliminary culmination of the one-man-army genre and became an action inferno of a gigantic scale. John Rambo is called from his retreat in Thailand to rescue his former commander Trautman from a division of Spetsnaz operatives in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. If really you want to enjoy this film, you will need to fade out everything that happened between the US and Afghanistan since the early 1990s, as the plot really lays it on thick when portraying the Mujahideen as heroic freedom fighters who are besties with Uncle Sam.

Stallone is the ultimate action hero, doing impressive stunts and mumbling many bad-ass one-liners while firing off a megalomaniacal pyrotechnics inferno. The jaw-dropping action sequences have a scale, depth and clarity almost unsurpassed to this day. With Rambo III, Stallone created a pinnacle of blockbuster macho cinema, a perfectly choreographed ballet of destruction.

2) Rambo (2008)

Twenty years after Rambo’s last rampage, he returned with a blood-soaked bang. Once again, Rambo lives in voluntary exile in Thailand. When a band of Christian missionaries is abducted by a Burmese warlord and his sadistic soldiers, Rambo snaps out of his lethargy and crosses the border. The years have made John more cynical and monosyllabic with an ever-increasing sadness in his eyes.

But the shocking images of massacred villagers create a new enemy for Rambo that needs to be wiped from the face of the earth. The violence depicted in this film is unparalleled to this day in the action genre. Hordes of enemy soldiers are killed with bodies exploding and being ripped apart, the graphic detail rivals that of horror gore films. Rambo is one of the most intense and violent action films ever made and guaranteed to leave you in shock and awe.

1) First Blood (1982)

With First Blood, Stallone created a film that made the traumas of Vietnam veterans more approachable by casting it into an action thriller template. John Rambo returns from Vietnam, and while passing through a village gets harassed by the local Sheriff (Brian Dennehy). Their encounter escalates badly, and triggers Rambo’s PTSD as well as his killer instincts. The forest and mountains become his refuge from the state police, and soon the line between who is the hunter and the hunted becomes blurred.   

The film is an allegory for the tragedy of so many soldiers who believed they were doing the right thing just to be forsaken when they returned home. This message is wrapped in a thrilling cat-and mouse game. The action sequences are flawlessly filmed and will keep you on the edge of your seat all the time. Stallone nails his role, excelling physically, but especially in the emotional moments of the film that range from melancholia to utter despair, and culminate in a heart-breaking ending. It cannot be understated what a masterpiece First Blood is, an ultimate classic not just of the action genre, but of American cinema!

Pierce Brosnan in ‘Casino Royale’: How Would Have It Worked? 

Casino Royale was first published on April 13, 1953, only thirty-three days before Pierce Brosnan was born in Ireland. At this point, we all probably know about Brosnan’s long and winding road to becoming the fifth official Bond actor: his experience watching Goldfinger aged 11, how he lost the role in 1986 during his Remington Steele time, his marriage with For Your Eyes Only actress Cassandra Harris, and other things. But considering we have celebrated the 70th anniversary of both Brosnan and the literary Bond, let’s look at what a big screen adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first novel could have been with the fifth Bond actor.

The first thing we have to know is that Casino Royale is quite atypical from the other Fleming works: Bond is limited to defeating Soviet agent Le Chiffre during a baccarat game held at the title casino in Royale-les-Eaux, France. The man has been using SMERSH’s funds to recover himself financially, so Bond has to clean him out. This way, the organization itself will liquidate him. Bond triumphs, but the villain kidnaps Vesper Lynd, the secret agent’s love interest. Attempting to rescue her, 007 is also captured and horribly beaten on his sensitive parts before SMERSH expurgates the traitor with a single bullet in the forehead. The secret agent recovers as he shares a romantic time with Vesper, pondering to resign. This changes when Vesper commits suicide with a pill overdose, leaving a note revealing that she had been blackmailed by SMERSH into working for them and saw no other way out. A sad and enraged Bond is now determined to bring the organization down, and go after “the hand that held the gun and the whip, the threat that made them spy”. 

Unlike future Fleming novels, little events take place outside a casino, a hotel and the beaches of northern France. The next Bond outings would deliver elements that would be the staple of any 007 adventure: ambitious villains, globe-trotting action, chilling moments of suspense and a romantic finale between Bond and the girl, to name a few. Despite being a first novel, Fleming reveals little about his character’s past throughout Casino Royale, only how he terminated two enemy spies to get to the Double-0 section.


This novel couldn’t be initially adapted into the official film series. Long before Dr No was released in 1962, produced by Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, Fleming had sold the rights to his first book to Gregory Ratoff. This allowed a small-screen adaptation of the book for CBS in 1954 as part of the Climax! TV show and, later, an extravagant spy spoof in 1967 when the rights reached the hands of Charles K Feldman. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that EON Productions finally took total control of anything related to the cinematic Bond, including the rights of that novel and 1983’s Never Say Never Again, the other “rogue” production.

Of the five pre-reboot actors, Pierce Brosnan was probably the closest to star in an official adaptation of Ian Fleming’s opera prima. Sean Connery could have also had that honour if Broccoli and Saltzman had reached an agreement with Charles K Feldman in 1966. Feldman was dismissed by Broccoli, and thus he decided to betray the source material by making it a spoof “suggested” by Fleming’s book, where David Niven’s retired Sir James Bond faced off his nephew Jimmy, played by Woody Allen. 

But after the release of Die Another Day in 2002, the possibility of integrating this singular adventure into the official film series became a reality: the producers had the rights to the novel, and they were also contemplating toning down the profusion of special effects Brosnan’s fourth Bond film had.

The first rumours regarding an EON film adaptation of Casino Royale came by mid-2004 when sources connected to the industry reported on Bond fan sites that the Bond 21 script was “largely based” on the 1953 book. Some noted that it was being written for a generic Bond actor, yet screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade claimed that at one point they wrote it with Brosnan in mind. By that time, rumours that the Irishman’s run would end up with Die Another Day (or the Everything or Nothing video game, where he provided his voice) floated all over the tabloids with varied declarations of the actor. At times, Brosnan said Bond was “a lifetime” behind him, others that he was just tired of answering questions regarding his return, but that nothing was confirmed. 

Fresh from the release of Kill Bill: Volume 2, Quentin Tarantino expressed Sci-Fi Wire his desire to turn Casino Royale into Brosnan’s fifth and final Bond film. Earlier in 2003, he shared that vision with The New York Daily News: the film would be shot completely in black and white and set in the late 1960s, right after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with a Bond devastated by the loss of his wife Tracy. While this plan seemed in line with something Brosnan would have liked to explore –the character’s widowhood– it would have felt off to have him losing a love interest in such a short span, considering Vesper Lynd commits suicide in the finale. 

The long chapter of the Casino Royale adaptations was finally closed in 2006 when it served as a reboot for the series starring Daniel Craig, but considering that Purvis and Wade had written early Bond 21 drafts with Brosnan in mind, how could have that worked? A reboot or an origin story was quite out of the question with the same actor we’ve seen in the past four films, so, could it be that this Casino Royale was most likely an integration of this atypical Bond novel into the well-known formula?

We know that the 2006 film directed by Martin Campbell introduced characters that weren’t in the novel: arms dealer Dimitrios and his wife Solange, bomber Mollaka, Le Chiffre’s mistress Valenka, and set pieces in Madagascar, Nassau and Miami before the core of the book’s plot was adapted, set in Montenegro instead of France, and replacing baccarat with Poker Hold’em. There is a chance that these original characters, or earlier versions, could have had their origins in the 2004 drafts, just like that script “largely based” on Casino Royale but with a different title may have had a major gambling scene between Bond and the villain, but how would have things like the torture scene or the death of Vesper played into a formulaic 007 instalment? Were those even present?

We don’t know the answer, and we don’t even know how close or far that pre-Craig Casino Royale was to the novel. Film adaptations of You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever or Moonraker have vastly differed from the source material, retaining a few locations and characters only. Others, like Dr No and Goldfinger, were much closer to the books regarding their structure but still had notable differences. 

Here comes a bit of speculation…


Taking out the reboot elements, Casino Royale starring Pierce Brosnan would have definitely started with the gunbarrel opening. The sequence where Bond prevents a terrorist attack in the Miami Airport could have made a very good pre-credits sequence, leading to the main titles and then to the usual mission briefing scene with M.

Bond learns the terrorist attack he foiled in Miami was backed up by Le Chiffre, a banker of the world’s most dangerous terrorists. On the knowledge that he is a compulsive gambler and needs to recover his client’s funds after major setbacks, M gives her spy an unusual mission: to beat him at cards. This way, he’ll be marked for death and MI6 would give him sanctuary in exchange for valuable information that could prevent future hits. Bond’s contact would be Vesper Lynd, an “unlicensed to kill” agent 3030, and both will begin a short relationship before the game. 


Things progress more or less like the novel, with Bond and Vesper captured, although the carpet beater scene might have to be toned down or not even get to start. A semi-naked 007 would overpower the villain, but before he can give away valuable information, Vesper reveals herself as a mole, takes a gun and shoots them both. Initially, she would be another of Brosnan’s villainesses (three out of his four adventures had evil girls in the dramatis personae) but there could be surprises later. 

Bond recovers in a hospital, surprised that Vesper didn’t kill him. He learns Le Chiffre is positively dead, and traces Vesper to a residence near Lake Como. In a similar way to The World Is Not Enough, he corners her on a terrace, gun in hand. There, she confesses the reason for her betrayal, probably greed or power. Before Bond can bring her in, she says: “I love you, James.” Then she jumps off the terrace and dies. “The bitch is dead,” reports 007 to MI6. Putting his feelings behind, he goes through her cell phone, which leads to a terrorist attack plotted by one Mr White at an opera house in Austria. 

Giving the film an explosive action finale, the last third would see James Bond preventing the attack aided by a team of enforcers. Capturing White alive, he would insinuate the existence of a powerful, bigger organization behind everything, and would die instantly under the effect of a kill chip (a tactic 2010’s Nikita used frequently). Back at the MI6 HQ, M debriefs Bond. After combing every residence associated with Lynd, MI6 found a recorded DVD inside an envelope with the words “For James”. Getting some privacy, Bond pours a glass of whisky and pops in the disc. It’s a pre-recorded message from Vesper, revealing that she fell in love with him and that’s why she disobeyed the orders to kill him along with Le Chiffre. The organization, or the government, would go after her. She had no way out. In the same message, Vesper would hint at the organization as people with “tentacles everywhere”, giving Bond actual information on everything she knows about them. Their main target would be the West and they do not tolerate failure. She finishes her message with a teary-eyed “I love you”. That makes Bond load his Walther P99, place it on his holster, adjust his tie, put on his suit jacket and walk towards the screen, determined to run down this organization and echoing Fleming’s final words of the Casino Royale novel. 


With this ending in mind, the Pierce Brosnan tenure could have gone on for another two films with a new version of SPECTRE as the main antagonist, perhaps with a finale mimicking the events of the literary You Only Live Twice novel with a gruesome hand-to-hand combat and escape from a Japanese castle. 

The excess of special effects and extravagance of Die Another Day was frequently blamed for causing Brosnan’s unexpected axing from the role, although the 2002 movie was a commercial success and MGM was keen on keeping the actor for at least one film more. Producer Barbara Broccoli initially agreed with the executives, but then had a sudden change of heart throughout 2004 and decided to go with someone else. While the studio owns half of the Bond cinematic rights since Saltzman left the series in 1975, selling his share to United Artists which was eventually bought by MGM in the 1980s, and every creative decision on the films (like the casting of Bond) is taken exclusively by the producers.

Considering the excess of special effects in the second half of Die Another Day, having Casino Royale as the starting point of a trilogy to conclude the Brosnan era and reintroduce SPECTRE as a subtler, modern-day terrorist organization would have been a boon, opening the path for a darker, crueller side of Brosnan’s Bond to seal his days. There is a brief moment in Die Another Day where Bond shows regret at seeing Miranda Frost’s dead body (cut short by a Jinx one-liner) that is frequently overlooked along with the many positive things the 2002 film has. That looks like the pain of an older, wiser gentleman at seeing someone so young dying for having picked the wrong side, more than the pain of losing (or having to kill) a loved one as it happened in The World Is Not Enough.

There isn’t too much to elaborate on the romance in the Bond-Frost relationship, since they barely shared a brief sex scene and their interaction was quite chilly (no pun intended at the fact they do it in an Ice Palace room), but a discreet running theme of the Brosnan/Bond and Vesper Lynd romance could be the disparity between a young, rookie agent and an experienced Double-0, letting the public know something on the activities of the other agents without a license to kill as well. Without making Brosnan look old, just experienced, a woman in her mid-20s would have been perfect to play this Vesper. Thinking out loud, Eva Green would have been ideal as she is definitely one of the pros of the 2006 production.

Speculations regarding an official version of Casino Royale stopped in 2006 when it became the 007 series reboot with Daniel Craig in the leading role. The gunbarrel wasn’t placed right at the beginning and the James Bond Theme wasn’t heard until the end credits for stylistic and plot reasons. While the film was a success, it was from that point on that most of the traditions that cemented the character began to wane dramatically.

Nicolas Suszczyk has recently updated his 2019 book The Bond of The Millennium: The Days of Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. Visit the book’s official site here.