The formula of using a Philip K. Dick short story as a foundation for an action film had been established by the time director John Woo got around to making “Paycheck” (2003). It’s the earliest PKD story – written in 1952, published in 1953 — to be turned into a film. Writer Dean Georgaris (“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider — The Cradle of Life”) takes the hookiest part of the story – a person sends clues to his future self before his mind-wipe – and builds a fairly engaging mystery-actioner around it.
Green Lantern” (2011) has a reputation for being garbage, but it’s a perfectly fine adaptation of the DC superhero who was created in 1940 by Alan Scott and Martin Nodell. If you go in hearing about how bad it is, you might even think “Hey, that wasn’t so bad.” Since my superhero-watching journey is partly for the sake of learning about the major figures in comic-book lore, I found this to be a painless piece of homework.
Zorro is a rare superhero who doesn’t come from comic books, and indeed he predates the 1938 invention of Superman. He was created in 1919 by pulp novelist Johnston McCulley. The “Zorro” film series, of which the two Antonio Banderas-starring entries are the 10th and 11th American outings, dates back to 1920. Arguably, Zorro is not a superhero (he has no superpowers and did not originate in comics), but he’s listed as such enough times that I’ll categorize him as a proto-superhero for now and let the debate continue.
My friend who likes to laugh at bad movies dragged me to “Transformers” in 2007, but I’ve forgotten everything about that movie and haven’t followed the franchise since. The prequel “Bumblebee” (2018) gives people like me a new entry point into the saga as it tells of an “E.T.”-style friendship between 18-year-old California grease monkey Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) and relatively small (and therefore cute) and mute Autobot Bumblebee.
Ilove the two “Sin City” films (2005, 2014), so the existence of “The Spirit” (2008) is both good and bad. On one hand, it’s another hardboiled movie in the style of a black-and-white comic (along with red and some washed-out colors). On the other hand, it’s a much lesser installment in this little subgenre, even though it’s written and directed by “Sin City’s” Frank Miller.
For the fourth “Rambo” film, simply titled “Rambo” (2008), director/co-writer Sylvester Stallone taps into one of the world’s longest-running civil wars. The Burma (aka Myanmar) military’s attempt to extinguish the Karen ethnic group has been going on since 1949, right after Burma gained its independence from Britain. What better location for the most violent “Rambo” film than a country whose entire independent history has been perpetual violence?
Wading into the “Rambo” sequels, I braced myself for the point at which they’d get dumb. It doesn’t happen with the underrated “Rambo: First Blood — Part II” (1985), a top-shelf example of 1980s action with a tight plot that gives Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) a chance to “win” in Vietnam. But it does unfortunately happen with “Rambo III” (1988). Granted, this is the best kind of dumb action movie, as some of cinema’s most quotable one-liners come from this flick.
Iimagine director/co-writer Jake Kasdan and his four lead actors, upon finishing 2017’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” – the surprisingly great sequel to 1995’s dull “Jumanji” – got together and said “That was fun. Let’s do it again.” So two years later we have “Jumanji: The Next Level,” which does give us one fresh angle but mostly coasts by on its proven premise.
These were my 10 favorite movies of 2019, a year when superheroes continued to dominate but when we also got prime slices of action, comedy and history – plus one of the most masterfully haunting horror films in a long while:
Writer-director Jeff Wadlow, taking the reins from Matthew Vaughn, delivers a funnier and more focused “Kick-Ass 2” (2013). It’s formulaic, but that makes it better than the flailing 2010 original, the primary value of which is to introduce us to purple-haired Mindy/Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) and green-suited Dave/Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).