2010 is moving along, and I’m telling you that if this early run is any indication, then we’re in for a good time on the Bad Ass Cinema front. Denzel Washington and Mel Gibson proved to be stars that still shine brightly when it comes to being able to kick some ass on the big screen. The Book of Eli and Edge of Darkness aren’t movies that are going to set box office records or become anyone’s all-time favorite movie, but each of them featured some terrifically stylish action, and reminded us why we started watching the movies from these men in the first place.
As much fun as I had watching these films though, I’m shocked to say that the best action film that has come out this year and hence is currently positioned as the current best action film of the decade, came out straight to video. Perhaps even more shocking is that the movie is a DTV sequel, and that the original film in the series isn’t exactly considered a classic. Now, in the near future I’m going to devote a whole column to this series, so I won’t go into huge detail now, but last weekend I rediscovered the Universal Soldier series. Like I said, I don’t think the original film is a classic or groundbreaking film like T2 or Hard Boiled, and I don’t even consider it Van Damme’s best (that would be Hard Target), but I will say that I had a blast watching it this past weekend and even had fun watching its awful sequel featuring Michael Jai White and Bill Goldberg.
What I wasn’t prepared for though, was Universal Soldier: Regeneration.
Like I said, I’m not going to go into a ton of detail, but I will say that this movie absolutely blew my mind. As far as DTV movies go, I believe it is absolutely the pinnacle of what can be accomplished on the format with a lower budget. I think Van Damme gives a tremendous performance, as does Andrei Arlovski playing as menacing a villain as I’ve seen in a while, and Dolph Lungdren in maybe his best performance ever. I can tell you that I didn’t think it was possible for me to be more excited about The Expendables, but after seeing Lungdren in this film and the original, I can’t wait to see him as the villain in Stallone’s new film. If you’re an action fan and you don’t believe me, I’m imploring you to check out Universal Soldier: Regeneration, and see for yourself why I’m so excited.
Alright, so while the bad asses of yesteryear are getting another shot at glory, let’s continue to look at the amazing crop that 2009 gave us.
The Bad Asses of ’09, Part 3
11. Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington – Avatar
“The Sky People have sent us a message… that they can take whatever they want. That no one can stop them. Well, we will send them a message. You ride out as fast as the wind can carry you. You tell the other clans to come. Tell them Toruk Makto calls to them! You fly now, with me! My brothers! Sisters! And we will show the Sky People… that they can not take whatever they want! And that this… this is our land!”
Taming a dragon will go a long way to getting you on a list like this. Sam Worthington’s Jake Sully is a man cut out of a classic hero mold. Like Lawrence of Arabia, he’s an outsider who manages to unite a vast native people in a revolt against their oppressors. Like Luke Skywalker, he must better himself and learn the gifts of an ancient race of heroes. Like the heroes of Sci-fi novels such as Dune and Princess of Mars he must cast off his former life on his home world to become the hero of an adopted planet. This is the stuff that heroes have been made of for centuries and Jake Sully fits those criteria perfectly. On top of that, Sam Worthington is ridiculously charismatic onscreen whether human or N’avi and moments like facing down the Thanator with a machine gun or Colonel Quaritch’s Mech with just a knife make him an easy pick.
10. Tallahassee, played by Woody Harrelson – Zombieland
“Time to nut up or shut up!”
My apologies to Ken Foree’s Peter from Dawn of the Dead and Bruce Campbell’s Ash from the Evil Dead Trilogy, but there’s a new zombie-killer in town, and I’m not sure that I wouldn’t prefer to have him at my side when the undead apocalypse finally goes down. Whether it’s taking down a trio of gigantic redneck ghouls with banjos and garden tools, running over wayward zombies, or cutting down an army of flesh eaters with some heavy firepower, the man seems completely unstoppable. As they say in the movie, Tennessee is in the business of ass-kicking and when he’s onscreen business is good.
9. Snake Eyes, played by Ray Park – G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
I think it’s funny that when he’s not starring as an iconic bad ass, Ray Park fades into relative obscurity. Say what you want about Star Wars: Episode I, but can you really tell me that Ray Park wasn’t awesome for every single second he was Darth Maul? Or how about when the Headless Horseman was decapitating fools in Tim Burton’s Sleep Hollow? Now he’s back as Snake Eyes, and again he proves his awesomeness with one ridiculous fight scene after another, and even though he doesn’t speak one line of dialogue, he ends up being G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra’s most compelling character.
Even when Park isn’t playing Snake Eyes during flashbacks, the character remains the movie’s most entertaining, as we see youngster Leo Howard in fun training sequences and even the movie’s best fight, as Howard and Brandon Soo Hoo as a younger Storm Shadow have a bone crushing brawl in the kitchen of a ninja dojo. The fight scene actually shocked me at how inventive and brutal it was, and children or no, the combatants seemed to be at each other’s throats, throwing in some awesome MMA moves for punctuation. Add in how unrelenting he is in the chaotic Paris chase, various face/offs in both secret lairs, and the final showdown with Storm Shadow, and what you end up with is hands down the best action hero of any Hasbro-related movie so far.
8. Rorschach, played by Jackie Earle Haley – Watchmen
“None of you seem to understand. I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with ME!”
While I’m a huge fan of Watchmen, if I had to boil it down to a single reason to see the movie, without a doubt that reason would be Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach. Pretty much a perfect representation of Alan Moore’s original comic character, Haley does this character proud by presenting a character that is endlessly charismatic onscreen, but one that is constantly on the edge of insanity. Really, Rorschach is a psychopath, but one who fights for justice, so we still stay with him despite the fact that he kills and maims anyone he pleases.
He’s not the most powerful of Watchmen’s heroes by a long-shot, but Rorschach is definitely the most interesting and driven. His descent into madness is a fascinating journey, with plenty of bone breaking and cleaver slicing fights along the way. Rorschach is just an ordinary man, but I think villains would rather take on Dr. Manhattan and risk getting vaporized more than they’d want to go one on one with the guy in the trench-coat and the inkblot mask.
7. SSgt. William James, played by Jeremy Renner – The Hurt Locker
“There’s enough bang in there to blow us all to Jesus. If I’m gonna die, I want to die comfortable”
You’d have to be a little insane to do what SSgt. William James does for a living, and that comes through loud and clear in Jeremy Renner’s performance in The Hurt Locker, a movie that’s poised to take home a bunch of Oscars. While defusing bombs has to be nerve racking, Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq War movie shows how the adrenaline rush can be addicting. James is fearless in the face of constant danger and seems to have no regard for his own safety, just the missions he is assigned. Whether trying to track down a killer or trying to save the life of a suicide bomber, James is unrelenting in his zeal to get his job done, and fear seems to be a part of the equation he would rather see excised.
6. Sgt. Donny Donowitz, played by Eli Roth – Inglourious Basterds
“We punch those goons out, take their machine guns, and burst in there blasting!”
Straight up, I just love Eli Roth as Donny Donowitz. In a movie where so much of his “team” ends up being kind of a faceless deathsquad out to kill Germans, Director Quentin Tarantino really let Eli Roth cut loose with this character and let us see why this man would be the type of character that would give Nazis nightmares. The “Bear Jew” is the type of character that comes right out of a Spaghetti Western, like a bounty hunter who keeps trophies of the men he’s killed, and strikes men with fear at just the mention of his name.
To be honest, I was really unsure of what to think when Tarantino cast Roth in the role. The man was untested as an actor to say the least, and while I have enjoyed his directorial efforts, there was nothing in those that really showed me he was capable of carrying a role like this. Kudos has to go to Tarantino though, for shooting and directing Roth as such an imposing character. An introduction like he gets in this movie lets Roth have the ball pretty easily, but to his credit the man runs with it. Roth imbues Donowitz with the characteristics of one of those heroes you’d see on a pulp novel slaughtering Nazis, his eyes full of hate and madness as he sends the Germans to their graves. At least while he was filling Nazi faces with baseball bats and their bodies full of lead, Roth proved he could hang with the big dogs in this cast.
Alright folks, we wrap this up next time and also I’m starting some new features as well. See you then!
Tags: Avatar, Eli Roth, G.I. Joe, Inglourious Basterds, Jeremy Renner, R0BTRAIN’s Bad Ass Cinema, Ray Park, Rorschach, Sam Worthington, Snake Eyes, The Hurt Locker, Woody Harrelson, Zombieland