Back in 2014 I was as excited as anyone by the energy, invention and polish of “John Wick,” directed by former stunt coordinators Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. It was an unexpectedly transformative action movie that went on to basically redefine, or at least reshape, how we think about the genre. Stahelski went on to direct, by himself, two “Wick” sequels, each sadly more tedious than the previous. Leitch largely repeated the same pattern: as a solo director he turned out “Atomic Blonde,” “Deadpool 2,” “Hobbs & Shaw” and, last summer, “Bullet Train,” which I saw in theaters back in September. All of them tested audiences’ tolerance for an unending procession of violent stunts, comic book gunplay, and poorly articulated revenge fantasies, and the overall trend has been one of diminishing returns.
To be fair, there’s some fun to be had with most of these (except maybe “Hobbs & Shaw”). In “Bullet Train” most of the pleasure comes from the game performances from Brad Pitt, Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Johnson. But by the end I felt past the point of saturation for this kind of highly polished, minimally thoughtful action fare. The elaborately staged fight choreography, which was a revelation nine(!) years ago, now seems pro forma, and the convoluted script, which focuses more on hipster posing than any real narrative velocity, feels perfunctory at best. What I’m hungry for is the next “John Wick,” a new, left-field action movie that will show us a different way of thinking about the action genre, ideally with an emphasis on thinking as much as on action—and one that will be as surprising and energizing as Stahelski and Leitch’s work once used to be. Things to hope for in 2023.
Here are all sixteen movies I watched in September.
“Bullet Train” (2022) ★★½ Admittedly rather fun for a while, but probably about twenty minutes too long.
“Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn” (2021) ★★½ Over-the-top bonkers Romanian morality play that’s really just a one-act show stretched out to feature length.
“On the Count of Three” (2021) ★★★ A tidy little indie film made with heart and smarts, but maybe not quite with enough ambition.
“Police Academy” (1984) ½ Vacillates wildly between slapstick farce, horny 80s comedy, bland actioner and limp morality play, with the only consistent throughline being its utter incompetence from start to finish—and its utter lack of laughs.
“Do Revenge” (2022) ★½ Another frustratingly self-aware yet clueless Netflix original that no one will remember in thirty minutes.
“Heat” (1995) ★★★★½ Rewatched. They’ll never make a heist film to top this one.