The Nice Guys: A Forgotten Disco Action Flick

Some box office failures are well-deserved, and others just seem hard to explain: when I saw The Nice Guys in 2016, my naive self believed that the film would get the attention it deserved. But life is sometimes unfair, and good action flicks like The Nice Guys can be ignored by the public.

On paper, this action comedy had everything needed to be successful: it is directed by Shane Black, has a 1970s Hollywood setting, a good dose of humour, positive reviews and of course, Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in the leading roles. Gosling here plays a clumsy private investigator and single father, Holland March, who is desperately trying to make ends meet. He gets hired by the aunt of deceased porn star Misty Mountain, who is certain that her niece is still alive! March’s investigation leads him to cross paths with violent enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe).

The latter is looking for a woman called Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley), who was working with Misty on an experimental film project. Yet Amelia soon goes missing, prompting the improbable duo of detectives to track her down through the hippie gatherings and porn sets of 1977 Los Angeles. Yes, The Nice Guys has a good plot, fun characters, a unique aesthetic, and it definitely deserves a retro review!

A fun and violent buddy movie

The Nice Guys is best defined as an action comedy: the film is fun from beginning to end, and from its protagonists – a duo of down-on-their-luck losers – to its snappy dialogues, everything is as over-the-top as possible. The movie also has what a lot of action blockbusters lack: it is consistently funny, and nearly all of its jokes land, because they perfectly match the general craziness. Everything here has been turned up to eleven, from the stupidity of some characters to the craziness of Hollywood stars. 

The Nice Guys also strikes an excellent balance between humour and more touching moments – most of which include Angourie Rice as Gosling’s witty daughter who endured her share of traumas. These emotional scenes are few and far between, but they ensure that we enjoy following March and Healy all the way, especially as both have satisfying character arcs. The lead actors themselves make The Nice Guys worth a watch: Crowe and Gosling are having the time of their life. They reportedly agreed to take part in the film in order to work together, and Russell Crowe even praised his partner during several interviews. He mentioned that Ryan Gosling helped him to elaborate crazy scenarios, which then made it into the final product. Their on screen chemistry is palpable throughout the movie, and it really cements The Nice Guys as a buddy comedy.

Yet the film also works because it doesn’t verge too much into self-parody, instead offering action scenes which are both fun and fairly believable. Special mention to the short scene where the two protagonists run away from an enemy who is clearly too strong for them – which is hilarious and successfully subverts viewers’ expectations. In between the crude jokes and chats inside a toilet cubicle, The Nice Guys manages to sneak in a creepy assassin in the person of John Boy (Matt Bomer).

The picture perfect hitman can list wearing leather gloves and firing rounds of bullets at any moving target among his favourite hobbies. John Boy isn’t above harming kids, either, and his hilarious brutality makes his climatic fight against Healy a lot more tense and satisfying. Overall, the film does have some good brawls and even a few torture sequences, which help to make it more impactful.

Action and disco music – the perfect mix

All of these elements already suffice to make The Nice Guys a solid action film, but it has even more to offer. The movie has a very unique setting (few recent action flicks take place in 1970s Hollywood, apart from the grittier Inherent Vice). The Nice Guys uses this to the fullest and develops its own universe: it features fun 70s costumes and an amazing set design, but of course, what really sticks with you after a viewing is its music. Throughout the movie, disco hits like Papa was a Rollin’ Stone and Boogie Wonderland will get you dancing, and the soundtrack also offers some of its own compositions, including an excellent main theme.

Whether through music or scenery, The Nice Guys does a perfect job at depicting the madness of 1977 L.A., where lascivious stars meet loser detectives – making the latter both hilariously out-of-place and reliable. The film can also boast a strong screenplay, with plenty of twists and revelations. It is both a proper investigation and an action flick, as not everyone is who they seem to be in the city of angels. This makes March and Healy’s journey a lot more entertaining, especially as despite their frequent screw-ups, the duo really does attempt to solve the case and find the missing women. 

This won’t come as a surprise, but I was sorely disappointed to see that The Nice Guys didn’t get the commercial success it deserved: the film is a great action flick, which mixes disco music with machine guns and will keep you on the edge of your seat for two hours. Fans were calling for a sequel, box-office results decided otherwise, but we can console ourselves with a rewatch of this groovy action film.

The Best Action Quips to Use in Real Life

Long before the MCU added quips to every second sentence, the action movies of the 80s and 90s were doing it bigger, better, and, often, more eye-rollingly. As action fans, we love the world of quips, where even the worst can make a terrible movie somehow great. Whether or not they’re strained, whether they make any sense at all, using these in real life can be a great way to get a laugh from friends or confusion from anyone else. So, what are our favorites, and how could you use them?

I’ll be Back

This legendary line from The Terminator solidifies the eponymous murder machine as an unstoppable force, one of film’s best action classics. While we aren’t going to lean into the more chaotic results of this quote, we do find it a great line that can be used whenever a little time away is needed. Take playing 3 card brag with friends as an example. After learning the strategy of this game, and the different values of hands like the run and prial, 3 card brag can be great for long play sessions, which can necessitate a break. Stopping the game, checking out the table and your surroundings carefully, leaning forward, and dropping an ‘I’ll be back’ can be a great way to both express your intentions and mess with other players’ heads. Just don’t drive a trick through their homes, it’s against the rules.

Say Hello to My Little Friend

Though technically a crime drama, there’s no denying the fame of Scarface’s finale, or just how well-known this line has become. ‘Say hello to my little friend’ is great because of how flexible it is, and how much it can set you up for long-running in-jokes. Surprising friends in a Nerf gun war with a weapon like Caliburn from Captain Slug after being backed into a corner is a great example, and can give you the edge in your mock battle. Even better, it can also be used as a fake out when introducing your family member to a new pet like a kitten, especially if they’re expecting a Nerf bolt to the chest.

I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed

Coming directly from the chiseled jaw of Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura in 1987’s Predator, this line embraced a silly macho approach to life that can easily be adopted. Life is full of little bumps and scratches, and approaching the most minor of injuries with massively overstated bravado as you apply a band-aid never fails to confuse and amuse. Bonus points if you wince and let out an exaggerated wince as soon as treatment on your injured appendage or ‘fingey’ begins.

Before rushing out and making people sigh, remember that a good quip needs to be held until the exact right (or wrong) time. Going out and filling the space with endless quotes is overkill, and not the kind of overkill we’d see Arnie partake in. Pick your battles, load up your quote guns, and most of all, try not to be too inappropriate.

Fast X: The Nos is Back… and it’s Turbocharged!

I was never a huge fun of the first Fast and the Furious movie when it came out in 2001, I thought of it as a supercharged remake of the 1987 movie No Man’s Land staring Charlie Sheen and D.B. Sweeney about an rookie undercover cop chasing a car theft ring. 

But starting with Fast Five and the next two installments, the series evolved from a street racer movie to a heist film to the spy genre, as it introduced villains such as Luke Even’s Owen Shaw and characters destined to join Dom’s crew such as The Rock’s Lucas Hobbes and Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw. 

Action and car chases were in good hands. But then came the eight and ninth entries in the series and the franchise seemed to run out of gas. Blow a gasket. Hit the skids. Ah, pick your metaphor but it seemed to the end of the road for Dom and his family was fast approaching.

But with Fast X, the Nos is back and it’s turbocharged!

This movie had to be written by Artificial Intelligence because there is no way a human being could have conceived of the things going on here. If you thought the last movie where they went into space was absurd, this one flirts with time travel as it employs a Rashomon style narrative that rewrites Fast Five from the viewpoint of multiple characters new to the franchise.

A plot to blow up The Vatican kicks off out tale and splits up the crew into manageable plot sized elements. From there, it has car stunts that not only defy the laws of physics but maybe even CGI. There is so much CGI in this movie, I can’t even tell if anybody was actually physically behind the wheel of a car. 

From there, characters that have no business even being in this movie show up, cause mayhem and then walk off possibly into their own spin-offs. If AI truly wrote this movie, then humanity is fucked because this film firmly reestablished the franchise at the top of the action movie heap.

Jason Momoa Steals the Show

But what drives this movie is Jason Momoa’s portrayal of Dante Reyes- who may be the greatest villain in cinema history, even topping Heath Ledgers Joker! Diabolical, psychotic, cunning and a step ahead of our crew the whole movie as the son of Fast Five’s villain who is inserted into a recut Five finale as Dom robs him of his fortune with the vault heist and his birthright with the death of his father. 

Dante may be the most flamboyant villain in a franchise defined by its villains. He has actually turned Vin Diesel into a co star in his own movie, as he chews up the every scene he is in as he brings the pain. The movie ends on a cliffhanger and it’s recently been announced this will be a trilogy. But you will see why you need three movies to tell Dante’s tale of revenge on all who wronged him. 

But How Ultimate is it?

As for Vin Diesel, he is starting to look every bit of his 55 years. Han is showing grey in his bangs as the crew is starting to look as old as Roman and Tej’s banter. Letty may be the only original cast member that won’t have to be de aged using CGI. The budget for this movie in North of 350 million with all of it onscreen on CGI and actors salaries.

Brie Larson and Jack Reacher’s Alan Ritchson show up as rival CIA agents, as well as Isabel Neves as the street racing sister of the mother of Don’s child. Then there’s Broadway great Rita Moreno as Don’s mother as the family continues to grow and grow.

So start your engines and I’ll race you to the theater for my mini vans pick slip! And stick around as there is a post credit scene that will blow your mind.

The Man Behind ‘The King’s Man’: Exploring the Ultimate Kingsman Prequel

On the list of the most improbable prequels, The King’s Man does rank pretty highly: instead of following up on the story of the spy agency introduced in the first two instalments, this movie focuses on the foundation of said spy agency during WWI.

The 2021 film, still directed by Matthew Vaughn, was released right after the pandemic, which might explain why it bombed at the box-office – though this could also be down to its totally strange setting, darker tone and lack of proper marketing.

The King’s Man seemingly confused audiences and critics alike. They didn’t know what to make of the film, which was meant to be more serious than its predecessors, but still had some tongue-in-cheek moments. The third Kingsman movie is the one no one expected, but is it the one we needed? Today is the day to retro-review it!

An ultimate take on WWI History

The King’s Man introduces new protagonists, played by an all-star cast – as is usual for the franchise. Among them are Duke of Oxford Orlando (Ralph Fiennes), his daredevil son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) and their trusted staff made of Polly (Gemma Arterton) and Shola (Djimon Hounsou). As WWI rages throughout Europe, Conrad is trying to persuade his father to take part in the conflict, but the Duke, a hardened pacifist, is reluctant to intervene. Yet the father and son are forced out of their comfortable life by The Sheperd (Matthew Goode), a criminal mastermind who wants to pit European powers against each other for his own benefit. 

Well, the least one can say is that this pitch is quite a change from the colourful plots of the first two instalments. The era here is much somber, and the tone is appropriately darker than in the previous films. If The Golden Circle delved into self-parody, The King’s Man takes the opposite approach and is definitely the most serious of the franchise’s instalments. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that the film is entirely devoid of humour. Its historical setting allows Matthew Vaughn to make another type of jokes: this time, he is having fun with historical figures, so you’ll be able to meet Lord Kitchener, King George V and even Archduke Franz Ferdinand! The movie has a very “personal” take on 20th century History – and a dancing, wizard-like version of Rasputin (Rhys Ifans, who is having a damn great time).

The film does a great job at fleshing out its characters and spends quite a lot of time exploring their relationships, especially the dynamic between Conrad and Orlando – as the latter desperately tries to protect his son. This is definitely an improvement from the previous movie, which was too focused on goofs to actually develop interesting character arcs. It seems like Matthew Vaughn did a 180 this time around, and attempted to offer a more grounded, edgier take on the Kingsman universe. A pretty dark twist halfway through the film hammers in the message, and gives some tragic roots to the spy agency. The idea of a mentor desperately trying to prevent a young character from entering the world of espionage is also a nice subversion of the first film’s dynamic, though it might be lost on those who haven’t seen (or can’t remember) the first Kingsman.

A hard balance to find

The King’s Man does have a major problem: the film doesn’t know what it wants to say, and goes from trying to discuss grief and how lower socio-economic classes are ignored by the rich, to having a version of Mata Hari fighting with a “strangling scarf” (which I very much wish was historically accurate!). Vaughn learnt his lesson from the last film’s over-the-top antics, but still struggles to find the right tone for his story. The movie tries to have something to say about pacifism and the horrors of war, but somehow ends up combining this message with the crazy fight scenes that are typical of Kingsman. The timing of its release was also puzzling, and it certainly didn’t help that the film came out between The Golden Circle and the final part of Eggsy’s adventures (which will apparently be called Blue Blood, but little info has been released so far). This gives the impression that The King’s Man doesn’t know where to stand – literally.  

The tonal inconsistencies and strange release date did put a lot of viewers off, but they won’t ruin the movie if you are willing to just lay back to enjoy the ride. In fact, The King’s Man’s insistence on keeping some of the previous instalments’ craziness while delving into historical drama makes it a very unique spy flick. Honestly, I can recommend this cinematic UFO: it is a one-of-a-kind action film, more serious than most, but still featuring nods to earlier films and larger-than-life characters. The King’s Man was not a necessary prequel, but it is a very decent one for such an ultimate saga!

Kull the Conqueror: Still a Charming Piece of Fantasy-Action Pulp

Kull Rocks!

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys arguably was one of the greatest 1990s TV shows, I know it was for me. The double feature with Xena: Warrior Princess gave me two hours of campy and action-packed fun each Sunday afternoon. In 1997, Hercules star Kevin Sorbo briefly switched to the big screen for Kull The Conqueror. The film was conceived as a third entry to the Conan saga, but Arnold Schwarzenegger turned down the role. 

This was an unfortunate decision for us action fans, of course, and so Robert E. Howard’s story of Conan the Conqueror was rewritten to fit Kull, a character also invented by Howard. Despite this apparent downgrade, the movie turned out to be a lot better than you might expect, so let’s have a look!

By this axe, I rule!

When Barbarian Kull (Sorbo) kills the mad king of Velusia, he takes the throne from him. His coronation is not greeted with much joy by the designated heirs to the throne, among them the cunning General Taligaro (Thomas Ian Griffith). To make matters worse the resurrected fire demon Akivasha (Tia Carrere) seduces Kull to marry her in human form. Her scheming forces Kull to flee from the palace, and he journeys to the ice caves of the god Valka whose magic is the only force that can destroy Akivasha.

A classic pulp fantasy experience must throw a never-ending stream of excitement at the reader or viewer: exotic locations and costumes, frantic fights, romance, magic, and Kull The Conqueror has it all! The film definitely does not impress with a refined plot, and is also kept relatively brief for an epic adventure with only around 90 minutes of runtime.  But it really nails the pulp fantasy look and atmosphere, and perfectly re-creates that 1980s Sword & Sorcery vibe. Production values are smooth, and the mostly practical special effects (with some additional unobtrusive CGI) fit the purpose.

“Your bride is over 3000 years old.” “She said she was 19.”

Unlike with the Conan films, in Kull the humor is not unintentional. It is dosed well with the occasional cheesy one-liner, and helps to maintain a fairly light-hearted vibe throughout the film. The soundtrack stands out, blending classic orchestration with coarse heavy metal riffs. I’m sure some people will hate but it is a good background sound for this archaic world, and the classical parts evoke the spirit of the legendary Conan The Barbarian score by Basil Poledouris.

Sorbo is a fine choice for Kull, with ripped abs and a wild mane. If you’ve watched the Hercules show you may notice that he sticks to the same acting style (slightly subdued but overall charming), even though he swaps Hercules’ goofiness with a heavy macho attitude. 

Thomas Ian Griffith gets no opportunity to showcase his martial arts skills but gives a fun take on a thoroughly corrupted military commander. Tia Carrere totally nails her role as evil witch queen with some fantastic overacting. And in 1997 the eternal contest for the greatest mullet ever continued with both Sorbo’s and Griffith’s most impressive submissions.

When I get my hands on the bitch demon, I will rip out her evil heart!

The action sequences are staged routinely, with the modest budget not allowing for epic battles, and thanks to a PG-13 rating we don’t see a single drop of blood being spilled. But there’s always something happening, and the pacing is great with our heroes fighting in castle dungeons, on pirate ships and in ice caves. There’s lots of fun brawls, plenty of sword fights, explosive wizardry and a fiery finale. The camel from the first Conan film also makes a return and with not Conan not being around this time, it takes its revenge on an unsuspecting Kull.

Kull The Conqueror may be not as bombastic as the first Conan film, or as intense as Solomon Kane, but it is a charming piece of fantasy pulp that achieves everything it’s going for. If you have even the slightest inclination towards Sword & Sorcery flicks, I think there’s a good chance you will enjoy it.

Retro-Reviewing Kingsman: The Golden Circle – Bigger, Bolder, Better?

Kingsman: The Golden Circle was released in 2017, a mere two years after the first instalment in the saga. Like many other fans of the first film, I had high hopes for this second episode, especially as Matthew Vaughn returned as director, and the trailer showed that Kingsmen would now be working alongside their American cousins, the Statesmen. Unfortunately, the film proved to be quite disappointing, and critical reception was fittingly more mixed than for its predecessor. In The Golden Circle, we still follow Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) now a fully trained Kingsman agent, as he faces the destruction of the agency’s HQ, courtesy of drug dealing villainess Poppy (Julianne Moore). To foil her plans and avoid global chaos, Eggsy enlists the help of the Statesmen, spies who are into the whiskey business. Despite some creative ideas, the film is a letdown, closer to a parody of the first and losing the unique characters which made Kingsman… well, Kingsman!

When is too much actually too much?

While the first Kingsman did have some heavy jokes, is could also boast a good plot, badass action scenes, unique villains and interesting protagonists. Well, forget about (most) of those, because in The Golden Circle, the main goal is to make you laugh – and not much else. I did wonder whether my disappointment with the film was because of unrealistic expectations: one of the trailers’ tagline was “A proper spy movie”, and I was quite eager to see what that meant. Despite these good intentions (Matthew Vaughn mentioned in an interview that Kick-Ass 2 taught him what not to do in a sequel) the end product still feels depressingly disappointing. In fact, TGC is sometimes close to a parody of the first Kingsman movie. The humour is here even more heavy-handed than in the previous film, but far less jokes land. Now, I have nothing against brainless action flicks, but when you are making “A proper spy movie”, you need to offer a little more than brawls and crass puns. 

The first Kingsman film worked well because it mixed humour with an actual storyline and some pretty serious stakes. Here, everything is treated as one big joke, even death: as much as I like his character, seeing superspy Harry Hart (Colin Firth) magically coming back to life is a huge disappointment – and don’t even get me started on his presence being spoiled by the trailers. This lack of seriousness makes it much harder to get emotionally invested in the story, and (spoiler alert here) even agent Merlin’s sacrifice feels like it might be reversed in the next film. Owing to its main villainess and her job as a drug dealer, TGC also looked like it would have something interesting to say on the topical issue of legalisation (much like the first movie discussed climate change), but again, this ended being an excuse to blow things up and deliver more puns.

Kingsmen, Statesmen and a supervillain

The biggest letdown for me might be the characters: Eggsy went from a cool guy trying to get his life back in control to the blandest action hero possible. His personality is far less developed than in the first movie, and the most conflict he has here is arguing with his girlfriend. Even the death of his friends affects him for approximately five minutes – talk about a character arch! Eggsy’s relationship with the resurrected Harry is also dull, missing the mentor/mentee feel of the first, despite the fact that Harry’s injuries could have created an interesting shift in power dynamic. 

Instead, more time is spent focusing on the Statesmen, US equivalent of Kingsmen. The idea of an underground network of super-spies is definitely interesting, especially as we haven’t seen much of it in movies, and are more used to disavowed agents out on their own (or networks of assassins – just think Wick). Yet we never get much info about the Statesmen apart from their passion for alcohol (who designed that whiskey-bottle-shaped HQ?) and cowboy hats. But there are simply too many of them for the Statesmen to become unique and endearing, and they end up being more style than substance.

And, of course, there is the villain: Julianne Moore as the infamous Poppy, a dealer on a crusade to legalise all drugs. Poppy has a passion for 1950s memorabilia, a cool lair in the middle of the Cambodian jungle, and a meat grinder to take care of lazy employees. I love her unique character design and the care put into creating an entire small town in the middle of the jungle for just a few scenes. But despite this and Moore’s solid performance, Poppy suffers from what I’d call “henchman syndrome”: she is the main villain, but is treated as a henchwoman by the narration. We have a very good introductory scene at the beginning of the movie which outlines how dangerous she is (and puts the grinder to good use), but we don’t see nearly enough of her after that. The only thing we do see in Julianne Moore sitting around with her best Stepford Wives smile on. Having a character set up as a force to be reckoned with in their first scene and fading away afterwards is typical of henchmen (who usually let their boss shine), but doesn’t create a memorable main villain. Here, we instead have Elton John in the spotlight – guess at least we got good music!

Formulaic shouldn’t mean soulless 

So, how bad is The Golden Circle? Well, it is watchable, but feels like a huge step down from the first: the originality of the first Kingsman movie, its interesting characters and cool premise (who would’t want to be recruited by a secret service agency?) are replaced by other-the-top jokes and an electric lasso (admittedly pretty cool). This sequel just falls into the classic trap of cashing in on a successful franchise without having enough inspiration for another good story. Watch it if you are looking for a fun Friday night flick – some brawls are entertaining, especially the final showdown which sees Harry and Eggsy fighting side-by-side – but don’t expect anything too ultimate this time around.

Remembering the Insane Extravaganza of ‘Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance’ (2011)

Looking back at the time that Nic Cage kicked ultimate superhero ass as Johnny Blaze.

Fans of darker Marvel heroes such as Blade, the Punisher and the Ghost Rider were treated with a bunch of awesome movie adaptations over the years. In 2011, the second Ghost Rider film hit cinema, the sequel to its sober and overall unremarkable predecessor. The first movie was a financial success, however, and we can be grateful for that, otherwise we would have never been able to witness the insane extravaganza of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

Nicolas Cage reprised his role as Johnny Blade and teamed up with director duo Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. Their Crank films were the adaptations of the best comic that was never written, and delivered non-stop action with insane camerawork, so let’s check how their take on the Ghost Rider franchise fared! 

Johnny Blaze is the Ghost Rider, a former stuntman who is sometimes possessed by a vengeful spirit. The monk Moreau asks Johnny to protect the boy Danny from the grip of the devil’s avatar Roarke (Ciarán Hinds), who thinks Danny would be the perfect vessel for him to walk the earth. In return, Moreau offers to rid Johnny of his curse. 

I prey on the wicked, and I suck out their souls

I guess there is an inherent cheesiness to the whole concept of the Ghost Rider, and Cage fully embraces it.  When portraying the human version of Johnny Blaze, Cage gives his familiar take on the odd, but good-hearted loner. But once the Rider takes over, we get multiple scenes that would find their way into a “Best of Cage losing his shit” compilation when he goes into full lunacy mode. This role is one of his most extrovert outings as an actor – occasionally magnified by psychedelic visuals – and a crazy good time for the audience.

And he’s not the only one going unhinged. Hinds who plays Cage’s supernatural nemesis pulls faces as if he was undergoing a colonoscopy while shooting his scenes. Christopher Lambert has a fun supporting role and delivers his trademark acting style of a person who still needs to fully snap out of hypnosis.

Cage and Neveldine/Taylor bring anarchy back to the comic book genre

The filming locations are magnificent. From a budget perspective it’s a smart move to shoot in Romania and Turkey, as you’re getting the same bang for much less buck compared to Hollywood. The rustic Romanian villages and castles are a nice change of scenery compared to your standard US city backdrop. And the Turkish regions of Pamukkale and Cappadocia with their white limestone mountains, bizarre peaking rock structures and mountain caves create a magnificently atmosphere, beautiful and eerie at the same time.

Kookiness is at an all-time high in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, but how does the action hold up? The masters of non-stop action go all in again, this time PG-13 style. Like in every quality action film the exposition is done in the first 10 minutes, and then it’s showtime! Lots of awesome set pieces are chained into each other, and filled with the glorious trinity of shootouts, car chases and explosions. 

And they are shot in a most awesome way. Just like in the Crank films – even though not as extreme – Neveldine and Taylor have objects and people bounce around like billiard balls, including the camera. Everything is moving or being moved, things are whirling and smashing into each other, it is wonderful to behold.

My guys got turned into matchsticks by a dude on a motorcycle with his head on fire

The goofy vibe is also infiltrating the action sequences, such as when a thug empties a whole magazine into the Ghost Rider’s flaming mouth, who vomits molten metal back onto his pitiable opponent a few seconds later.  Another highlight is a showdown in a mining pit where a giant excavator rig becomes a 100-feet long flaming chainsaw when Blaze takes control of it. It’s all just delightfully over the top and yet still kicks serious ass!

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance has everything I expect from a good comic book adaptation, and is an absolute highlight of its genre. We cannot always escape our lower instincts, and for these moments, this film is a perfect choice! 

Rewatching Kingsman: The Secret Service — More Than Brainless Action

I love the Kingsman saga – and I know I’m not the only one. Granted, its three episodes are of uneven quality (and the second, The Golden Circle, verged into self-parody), but I will defend The Secret Service, first instalment in the saga, until the day I die! When the film came out in 2015, it was hugely successful at the box-office, but some critics dismissed it as a brainless and crass teenage action flick, which had nothing serious to offer.

Yes, the film does have many under-the-belt jokes, but it deserves a reappraisal: there is more to Kingsman: The Secret Service than just stupid humour. Behind the dumb facade, the movie actually pays a vibrant homage to action films, and even discusses some quite deep issues of today’s Britain. So, it’s worth taking a hidden elevator to dive beneath Kingsman’s surface!

More than meets the eye: diving beneath the surface of the film

At first glance, the film offers a fairly classic rags to riches story, following the life of the young Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton), who lost his father – a former secret agent – and lives on a council estate with his mother and abusive stepfather, until he gets recruited by Kingsman – a top-secret independent intelligence agency – where he is mentored by classy spy Harry Hart (Colin Firth). This doesn’t sound like anything groundbreaking, but The Secret Service, adapted from the eponymous comic book, does an excellent job at touching upon deep issues under the fun facade. For starters, the film does not shy away from showing how stark the class divide is Britain, and the characters of Eggsy and Harry perfectly illustrate it.

Besides the clash of generations, one was given opportunities that the other never had access to. It’s also made clear that Eggsy was a very high-achiever at school, but never had the chance to study or get a good job. In fact, the entire movie is centred on the idea of social mobility, and how prejudices prevented the young man from achieving his true potential. Even a tiny detail hammers in the message (spoiler alert here, but this is a 2015 movie!): when Arthur, the posh and corrupt leader of Kingsman, is about to die, his refined upper-class accent slips off, indicating he has Cockney origins – and made it to the top, but doesn’t want others to do the same! On another (but just as serious) note, the movie also discusses domestic violence in a surprisingly harrowing way for an action flick.

The ultimate homage to classic action films

So, not only has Kingsman got some interesting things to say, but it is also an ultimate homage to action cinema – filled with small references and fan service, of course! This is down to director Matthew Vaughn’s real appreciation of the genre, and the effort he put into writing a love letter to classic spy thrillers. I know that some critics called Kingsman a “parody” of action films, but I instead see it as a tongue-in-cheek homage, which pushes tropes to the maximum – but always in a loving way. Perfect proof is the gadgets, which include bulletproof suits and umbrellas, a self-driving taxi and a poison-bladed shoe – obvious nods to classic spy films and old 007 movies. This is even more enjoyable in an era where crazy gadgets are absent from Bond’s adventures and only Mission: Impossible is still having fun with them. Featuring so many improbable devices is the perfect way to bring a knowing smile onto action fans’ faces!

I might be taking things too far here, but it’s nice to see a film which reconciles all generations of action fans: there does exist a divide between those who prefer “oldies” and those looking for something more modern (especially in the 007 fanbase). Seeing Kingsman pay its respects to the foundations of the genre, while having a modern setting, is truly appreciable.  Even its villain-sidekick duo, played by Samuel L. Jackson and Sofia Boutella, is nothing short of awesome. The non-violent big bad, Valentine, who throws up at the sight of blood, and his sidekick Gazelle, who has bladed prosthetic legs, make for a really iconic duo. They play with the cliché of the evil mastermind and his sidekick with an improbably lethal physical feature, and glorious carnage ensues. It feels like the likes of Karl Stromberg and Jaws have been resurrected in the 21st century! 

But how ultimate is it?

Yes, I spoke about reconciling old and new fans, because the film also delivers on the violence and gore, in a way typical of late 2000 action flicks – and of Matthew Vaughn’s work. The movie doesn’t shy away from blood splatters and makes the most of Boutella’s dancing background, as she slices and dices some enemies with style. Yes, Kingsman is heavy on the jokes, and its humour has a tongue-in-cheek feel, but its action scenes deliver, and the film does have some real stakes.

The evil masterplan here is worthy of old 007 movies, and adds in an interesting discussion about climate change – again, a perfect mix of old and new. Overall, the first Kingsman movie is thus an ultimate homage made by an action fan for action fans, and is well-worth a rewatch! Vaughn tried to expand the universe in following film The Golden Circle. This one was less successful and delved far more in self-parody, but that will be the topic of another retro-review!

Top 10 Medieval Action Movies

Ranking the best medieval set (or themed) action movies based on how ultimate they are.

The Middle Ages are a fascinating period of human history, despite the often unjustified romanticization of the times. Medieval settings can be an awesome backdrop for adrenaline-charged adventures featuring ferocious sword fights and huge armies clashing with each other. Many of them belong to the best the action genre has to offer, and in this article we present you the Top 10 best Medieval action films of all time!

10) King Arthur (2004)

Action specialist Antoine Fuqua’s take on the Arthur legend gave us an action-packed epic, that featured no magic but was more grounded in actual history. Arthur (Clive Owen) and his band of knights are sent into the North of Britain to escort a Roman nobleman to safety before the region is overrun by savage Saxons. A dangerous voyage begins during which Arthur forges new alliances and learns to appreciate the beauty and mystery of these wild lands.

King Arthur delivers a standard story and overused character cliches. Fuqua makes up for this by expertly utilizing the gorgeous landscape and harsh weather to create breathtaking images. Arthur and his companions ride and wade through mud and snow, and there’s lots of fun medieval action to be had along the journey. A fantastic soundtrack by Hans Zimmer further ennobles the epic vibe. King Arthur is not perfect, but a fun popcorn actioner overall.

9) Black Death (2010)

Black Death takes two of the most gruesome occurrences from medieval times, the plague and witch hunts, and melds them into a grim and gripping adventure. Witch hunter Ulric (Sean Bean) and his squad are sent across a devastated England to investigate a village that has been unaffected by the deadly disease. The church suspects a necromancer doing his evil bidding, and upon their arrival the men are caught in a murderous plot, and face terrors that are shaking the very foundation of their beliefs.

Our catholic elite squad meanders through haunting landscapes filled with plague victims, witch trials, castigating pilgrims and burned-down villages. Director Christopher Smith delivers a fantastic film with haunting images that is rooted in the tradition of European Medieval exploitation flicks, albeit his take is a lot less voyeuristic and supplemented by a handful of brutal combat sequences. By sword or by plague, death comes for everyone in this film!

8) The Scythian (2018)

In a decade sparse on high-quality medieval action flicks, The Scythian turned out to be a fantastic addition to the genre. Russian nobleman Lutobor becomes entrapped in a conspiracy and needs to flee from his land to rescue his family from the grip of the savage tribe of the Scythians. Together with honor-bound Scythian warrior Marten, he takes up the long and dangerous journey through the steppe.

A straightforward plot, surreal atmosphere, and stunningly intense action sequences are the ingredients for this high-octane action fest The world of The Scythian is filled with violence and tragedy, and almost every man is a warrior or bandit. The many fights deliver ultraviolent medieval action at its best with a raw and intimidating intensity. This film will not allow you to catch your breath for even a single minute!

7) A Knight’s Tale (2001)

According to A Knight’s Tale, jousting knights were the rock stars of their days! When his master suddenly dies, squire William (Heath Legder) decides to take his place in a jousting tournament. He wins, and thanks to his talent makes a name for himself in the jousting circuit, while also trying to win the heart of noble girl Jocelyn. Following William and his friends from tournament to tournament may sound like a flimsy plot but there is just so much fun to be had here. A spirited performance from the cast brings this posse of charming troublemakers to life, and they deliver their witty lines with terrific comedic timing. 

Writer and director Helgeland spices things up further with some fun anachronisms, and we get some fantastic jousting action with armor being smashed, lances splintered, and unlucky knights hitting the dust hard.  A Knight’s Tale radiates so much energy that the Middle Ages suddenly seem like the most fun period ever in human history!

6) Flesh & Blood (1985)

Paul Verhoeven’s first venture in Hollywood already carries all the trademarks he would become (in)famous for: unfiltered violence and sex (sometimes in the same sequence), and the lack of a moral compass of almost all protagonists. After sacking a city, Martin (Rutger Hauer) and his mercenaries are betrayed by the king who denies them their looted treasure. As revenge, they abduct the king’s future daughter-in-law and hide in a castle, to which the king’s son lays siege with his army.

Cleverly hidden underneath its high-budget look lurks an exploitation flick with lots of nasty stuff, cynical humor and some raw contemplations about the dawn of a new age, The Renaissance. Hauer is the villain here for the most part, but he is just so darn charismatic that we can’t help but occasionally root for him. And there’s plenty of bloody sword fights and other types of brutal medieval warfare put on display, so action aficionados will not be disappointed by Flesh & Blood.

5) Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

One of the great adventure tales received yet another iteration, but Kevin Costner’s effort to upgrade swashbuckling action for the 1990s is one of the best. The most famous socialist of the Middle Ages, Robin of Lucksley (Kevin Costner), and his motley crew take it up against the diabolical Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman). In the process they disburden him and other rich folks of their wealth and redistribute it among the peasants.

The film is an action-packed rollercoaster ride that moves at a relentless pace. Production values are top notch and create a fantastic immersion into this medieval world with its lush forests and romantic castles. Kostner is as charming and stoic as always, but our attention naturally tends to gravitate towards Rickman’s legendary role as unhinged Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is classic blockbuster cinema at its prime. It delivers endless excitement and spectacle, just make sure to turn off the end credits before Bryan Adams takes over.

4) Ironclad (2011)

Ironclad is a film made with one single purpose: to put as much bad-ass action on the screen as possible! To thwart the invasion of England by the French Army, king John (Paul Giamatti) plans to seize Rochester Castle, which lies close to the expected landing point of the enemy. A rebel squad led by templar knight Thomas (James Purefoy) takes control of the castle, and a long, bloody siege ensues. Siege towers and catapult attacks wreak havoc galore, and combat is just incredibly brutal in this film. 

Ferocious hacking and slashing are the name of the game, with skulls being smashed and bodies impaled at a staggering frequency. Purefoy and Giamatti give intense performances as fanatic leaders on both sides. Killer action scenes and an A-list cast are the key ingredients for this perfect package of medieval action!

3) Braveheart (1995)

Mel Gibson’s opus magnum re-imagined the medieval history genre big time. In Braveheart, he tells the story of William Wallace who leads the uprising of the Scots against the English occupation. The film became the first modern medieval epic with a countless number of iconic sequences.

Braveheart is cinematic perfection on every level, with bombastic set pieces, spectacular cinematography, and an iconic soundtrack. The film’s emotional power will even make hardened action fans secretly wipe away a tear. It also redefined medieval action with its immersive and ferocious mass fights that became some of the greatest battle sequences ever put on screen!

2) Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Of all the mega-blockbuster history epics that came after Gladiator, it was up to Ridley Scott himself to create the worthiest successor. It is the time of the crusades. The city of Jerusalem, which is ruled by the Christians, is under constant threat from the Muslim army of Sultan Saladin. Young nobleman Balian (Orlando Bloom) arrives in the Holy Land, and his actions will decide the fate the city.

Scott took one of the most bizarre chapters in medieval history, but he did not care much about the broader political context or historical accuracy. Instead, he delivers an action drama with stunning visuals, gigantic set pieces, and stellar performances from an all-star cast. The action is fantastic, with ferocious fights from duels over skirmishes to armies clashing violently in huge battles. Kingdom of Heaven is a breathtaking history epic of an intensity and scale we haven’t gotten since.

1) The 13th Warrior (1999)

In 1999 Hollywood went all in on the Viking theme, and The 13th Warrior became the most epic medieval film ever. A group of twelve mighty Viking warriors is selected to travel to the aid of king Hrothgar whose kingdom is terrorized by an army of monstrous creatures, with the Arabic diplomat Ahmad Ibn Fadlan (Antonio Banderas) sent along with them on their heroic quest. The film impresses with breathtaking panoramic landscapes of misty forests and mountains and has the most epic soundtrack since Conan The Barbarian.

The charismatic and believable characters deepen the immersion even further, but the centerpiece of the movie are the skirmishes between the Vikings and their unrelenting bestial enemies. The brutal attacks of the savage foes emerging from the mist are staged intensely, with highlights being the night-time combat sequences and some frenetic horseback action. The 13th Warrior is an incredibly captivating action-adventure, and deservedly takes the top spot in our ranking of best medieval action flicks!

Citadel: A Silly and Fun Russo Bros-Produced Action Thriller

Don’t hate the players if you don’t hate the game.

While this new action thriller series Citadel is helmed by veteran showrunner David Weil (Hunters, Solos, Invasion) it’s hard to watch it without knowing the Russo Brothers had some sort of hand in the project as Executive Producers.

And just like Extraction, 21 Bridges and The Gray Man, the Russo brothers have a certain style of action and adventure film and television that is perhaps just a little bit… ultimate.

Let’s take a look at the new Amazon Prime spy thriller action series Citadel to see how it stands up in this action-adjacent genre, and specifically how it stacks up to the spy-thriller shows and films which it clearly aims to pastiche. 

UAMC Reviews ‘Citadel’ 2023

Set to premiere here on April 28th, 2023, this new action thriller series represents a huge investment (and bet) for Amazon Prime as it reportedly brings to the table a $300 million dollar budget — built largely on the back of its action-packed premise and pedigree.

Starring Richard Madden and Priyanka Chopra Jonas as mind-erased ex-lover spies and against the backdrop of a convoluted high-concept world of international spies and syndicates, the show is quite ambitious indeed.

The world plays somewhere between a mix of Jason Bourne and John Wick though as despite its deeply packed narrative, it also has a tinge of self-awareness about it being a bit over-the-top in terms of its spy-ness.

Without this tinge it might be hard to pull the show off at all, but with the right brevity to explore it might find some life as the series continues beyond the first couple of episodes.

Richard Madden and Priyanka Chopra Jonas

While not household action names per se, Citadel’s leading duo indeed do a honest job of keeping the plot and action in the air, although more so for their willingness to pull of high-flying stunts and fights than perhaps in the acting category.

Still, with Stanley Tucci feeling in as their Q-type character (or perhaps the mastermind behind the whole thing), we get a better speaking performer to handle most of the nuts and bolts to the story and its arcs.

And while Madden packs a solid punch for sure, Chopra Jones really stands out. In any Russo-connected project, the action is going to be fast and choppy, which requires a great deal of dexterity as well as an ability to throw in quips and one-liners in the middle of the action — both of which Chopra Jones does exceptionally.

How Ultimate is it?

The real question for Citadel, from an ultimate action perspective though, is how this show stacks up against the more pure action genre. And honestly, for a spy thriller series, it is actually on the high end of fight sequences and explosive set pieces. 

There are plenty of fun Jason Bourne or James Bond moments of unpacking the spy world and the mechanics therein, but while those are so far standard fare, the sheer amount of action attempted in the first episodes is quite encouraging.

I wouldn’t recommend going in expecting Extraction or a full action vehicle by any means, but if you’re only looking for a slow burn John le Carré story you’re going to be blown out of your socks a bit too.

We’ll see where the series goes as it develops, but the Russo bros are at least fighting the good fight in terms of keeping action on the big and small screens, the jury is out though (and up to you) as to whether or not these endeavors are ultimate or not.