A few weeks ago, I joined the 21st century and got a Netflix account. I don’t know why it took me so long. But I’m glad I did, and with everyone stuck at home for the foreseeable future, I’d imagine that streaming services are doing pretty well. But then the question becomes: what to watch? Well, I am here to help answer that question, at least if you like action movies. Read on for reviews of a bunch of action movies that are currently streaming on Netflix. I’ll be writing about these in the order I watched them in, and then ranking them at the end.
The Night Comes for Us
The Night Comes for Us (or Night, as I will be referring to it from here on) is an Indonesian martial arts/gangster film that is one of the most gruesome action movies I’ve ever seen. This movie is NOT for the faint-hearted. It’s like the Saving Private Ryan of martial arts flicks, it’s THAT gory. I have a high tolerance for violence in movies, but even I found some of the violence in Night to be difficult to stomach. The film stars Joe Taslim and Iko Uwais, both known for the excellent Indonesian flick The Raid: Redemption.
Taslim plays Ito, a top Triad enforcer who decides to turn his back on his former employers and protect a young girl who is the only survivor of his most recent mob hit. This doesn’t go down well with his bosses, who dispatch Arian (played by Uwais) and an army of thugs to kill Ito and the girl. Ito and Arian used to be in a gang together, and the relationships between Ito and Arian, and Ito and Reina (the girl he rescued) are what provide the emotional core of the movie.
But enough about emotions! Let’s talk about action. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Asian action and horror films, it’s that they are UTTERLY MERCILESS. People are killed in this movie in some of the grisliest ways I’ve ever seen, and I watched all eight seasons of Game of Thrones. Blood sprays, limbs are snapped and severed, people are blown to bits, set on fire, etc. It’s all…a bit much, to be honest.
But why watch this movie, since it’s such a cavalcade of carnage? Well, the fights are excellently choreographed and edited, and genuinely thrilling to watch. The final showdown between Ito and Arian is a punishing ten-minute brawl that involves screwdrivers, boxcutters, circular saws, thumb tacks, and jagged splinters of wood. It is vicious, and one of the best one-on-one fight scenes I’ve ever seen. The movie was written and directed by Timo Tjahjanto (who we will be hearing from again later in this list), and he knows how to film brutal action with characters that you actually care about.
Joe Taslim and Iko Uwais are both excellent, as is Julie Estelle, who plays a mysterious government agent known only as The Operative. Estelle played Hammer Girl in The Raid 2, and is officially the latest actress that I have a huge crush on. She kicks all kinds of ass, and at one point she loses a finger without batting an eyelash. She’s awesome.
If you can stomach the violence, I highly recommend The Night Comes for Us. It may well be one of the most gruesome action movies ever made, but if you’ve got the tolerance for it the movie is well worth watching. It is brilliantly well-made and relentlessly thrilling, but you might want to bring an umbrella to protect yourself from the constant rain of blood.
Polar, by contrast, is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. It is an absolutely abysmal viewing experience, and I can’t remember the last time two hours felt so endless. I really wanted to like this movie, since it has two actors I like a lot. The first is Mads Mikkelsen, best known for playing Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. Mikkelsen is a terrific actor and I have no problem believing him as a badass, but he can’t save Polar. The same must be said of Katheryn Winnick, best known for playing Lagertha on Vikings, who is a badass in real life as well as onscreen. She has black belts in taekwondo and karate, has founded multiple martial arts schools, and is a licensed bodyguard. She is 42 but looks 25. She is basically a goddess.
But even her awesomeness cannot redeem Polar. That’s how bad it is. Mikkelsen plays a former assassin named Duncan, who for reasons we never learn is known as The Black Kaiser, a cool nickname that is ultimately meaningless. Duncan is targeted for elimination by his former employers because, and I swear I am not making this up, they don’t want to pay his pension. That is probably the dumbest reason to kill someone that I’ve ever seen in a movie. It’s so lame that I don’t know if it’s meant as a joke or not. Mikkelsen is a badass actor but Duncan has no personality whatsoever and it is impossible to care about him.
Polar is basically what you would get if a coked-out 14-year-old made an action movie. It is full of bloody violence, gratuitous nudity, constant profanity, and an endless parade of crude and juvenile attempts at humor, none of which are remotely funny and are tasteless at best and offensive at worst. The only shred of anything resembling recognizable human behavior or emotion comes from Vanessa Hudgens’ character, a young woman whom Duncan befriends. But then the bad guys capture both of them and there is an appalling montage of Duncan being brutally tortured while Hudgens’ character is turned into a heroin addict. It is utterly vile. The Night Comes for Us is incredibly violent, but there is a level of craftsmanship to its filmmaking and pathos for its characters that the crude, inane, incoherent nonsense of Polar lacks utterly. Avoid Polar at all costs. It is atrocious.
6 Underground is such a Michael Bay movie. I lost track of the number of times I had this thought while watching 6 Underground, Bay’s latest film, which is a Netflix exclusive. If you are familiar with Bay’s work and started watching 6 Underground without knowing it’s a Bay film beforehand, you’d figure out it’s a Bay film before the opening car chase is over. The movie has all the hallmarks of Michael Bay movies: big, chaotic, destructive action scenes; lots of slow-mo and macho tough-guy bullshit; big explosions; wildly uneven tonal shifts; and a plot that is semi-coherent at best. It is in all respects a Michael Bay film.
Ryan Reynolds stars as a billionaire who faked his death and now runs a vigilante squad that goes after criminals and the like that governments won’t touch. He has set his sights on the dictator of the made-up nation of Turgistan, a fellow who enjoys using chemical weapons on his own citizens because…he can, I guess? Character motivation is not one of this movie’s strong suits. Reynolds’ character refers to himself as “One,” and the other members of his squad are also known only by numbers.
Throughout the movie, the thought I had most (aside from “This is such a Michael Bay movie”) was that Reynolds’ character was a terrible leader. He doesn’t do much of the fighting himself, he keeps trying to leave people behind, he insists everyone in his squad are called by numbers instead of their actual names because he doesn’t want any of them to get attached to each other, and is generally, for lack of a better word, an asshole. There’s a certain assholishness to many characters Ryan Reynolds plays, but his character in 6 Underground lacks the crude charm of Deadpool. Which is surprising when you consider that 6 Underground was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who scripted both Deadpool movies.
But despite the semi-coherent plot and muddled character motivations, there is still quite a bit of fun to be had with 6 Underground. It’s never boring, there’s always something interesting or cool to look at, and the action sequences are undeniably entertaining. To tell the truth, I was actually kinda grateful to this movie, because it delivered the kind of over-the-top blockbuster action of the type usually found in big summer movies, and since nobody will be going to the theater anytime soon (ah…theaters. Remember those?), 6 Underground is the closest we’ll be getting to a summer blockbuster for a while. It’s a mess, but it’s a fun mess.
Of all the movies I watched for this post, Headshot was the one that surprised me the most. Given its B-movie title, I wasn’t expecting much beyond kick-ass action, but what I also got was a surprisingly involving story and characters that I genuinely cared about. The movie was written and co-directed by Timo Tjahjanto, whom you might remember from the blood drenched The Night Comes for Us. Headshot is marginally less violent than Night, but it’s still pretty damn brutal.
Image: Vertical Entertainment
Think of Headshot as The Bourne Identity, but instead of a government assassin, the amnesiac protagonist is a mob hitman. Iko Uwais plays the main character, Abdi, who was one of a group of people abducted as children by a vicious gangster named Lee and raised to be brutal mob enforcers. At the beginning of the film, Abdi washes up on a beach with no memory of who he is and is cared for by a kind doctor named Ailin while he recuperates. He takes the name Ishmael from Moby Dick, which Ailin is reading. Ailin is eventually kidnapped by Lee’s men and Ishmael/Abdi sets out to rescue her. Along the way he must come to grips with his violent past and confront the mob killers he grew up with.
So yeah, there are some similarities with The Bourne Identity, except that Headshot is a mobster/crime film instead of a spy flick. The violence in Headshot is brutal, although it is slightly less gruesome than The Night Comes for Us. The fights in this movie are excellent, and they carry a surprising amount of emotional weight, since the people Ishmael/Abdi fights are people he grew up with, and there’s a sense that he doesn’t want to hurt them, but he has to. The fights are as full of mental and emotional pain for the protagonist as they are full of substantial physical pain. And in the end, the protagonist must confront Lee, a twisted father figure. It’s surprisingly compelling stuff.
Headshot is a movie that deftly balances emotional stakes and character development with thrilling, brutal action, and features what is probably Iko Uwais’ best performance. The excellent Julie Estelle is also in the movie as one of the assassins Uwais’ character must battle, and their showdown on a beach is beautiful and brutal in equal measure. The movie also has a surprisingly uplifting ending, and actually leaves you feeling pretty good despite the harrowing cavalcade of grisly violence that preceded it.
In short, Headshot kicks all kinds of ass. Check it out ASAP.
Manhunt is the latest film from legendary action director John Woo, quite probably the most influential action-movie director who ever lived. Before Manhunt’s release in 2017, it had been quite a while since Woo made one of his signature shoot-‘em-ups, known for their bombastic, firing-two-guns-whilst-flying-through-the-air action sequences. And while Manhunt isn’t as good as early Woo classics like The Killer and Hardboiled, it’s still quite a lot of explosive fun.
Image: Media Asia
Manhunt is basically Woo’s version of The Fugitive, but with more gunfights and explosions. A lawyer is framed for a murder he did not commit and goes on the run and is pursued relentlessly by a determined police detective who eventually becomes convinced of his quarry’s innocence and the two team up to bring down an evil pharmaceutical company that is testing strength-enhancing drugs on homeless people.
Generic? Maybe (yes), but the movie delivers where it counts: ACTION. Woo is in his 70’s now, but he still knows how to bring the noise. Manhunt is chock-full of trademark Woo action and is an absolute blast, despite the thoroughly predictable plot. In a particularly glorious sequence, the lawyer and the detective are handcuffed together and stuck in a house that is under attack by motorcycle-riding assassins crashing through the windows. It’s just fantastic. It’s not a profoundly moving cinematic masterpiece, but if you want a fun popcorn movie, Manhunt delivers.
Much like Manhunt, Triple Threat has a generic plot and lots of fun action. The movie’s cast is a who’s who of action stars, including Tony Jaa, Tiger Chen, Michael Jai White, Scott Adkins, and our old pal Iko Uwais (I am a big fan of Iko Uwais). You might not recognize those names, but if you’re an action fan chances are good you’ve seen these guys in other movies.
Image: Aurora Alliance Films
The plot of Triple Threat is basically an excuse to get different groups of these Action Guys to fight each other, and the fights are awesome. Scott Adkins in particular is a hugely underrated action star, the guy is just a beast. Remember the scene in Doctor Strange where Doctor Strange fights a guy in his astral form in a hospital while Rachel McAdams tries to keep his physical body alive? The bad guy he fights in that scene is Scott Adkins. Check out Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning for another badass Adkins performance, even though that film’s plot is utterly incomprehensible.
Triple Threat is basically The Expendables with a smaller budget, and I think I prefer it to The Expendables, if I’m being honest. And if you just can’t get enough Iko Uwais, check out the series Wu Assassins on Netflix, in which Uwais stars (along with the excellent Katheryn Winnick, whose talents are put to much better use here than they were in Polar). The show’s plot is a bit of a mess and the special effects are cheesy, but the characters are cool and the fights are very good, so it’s worth checking out.
Triple Frontier isn’t an action movie so much as a tense military/survival thriller, and a very good one at that. The film stars Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund and Pedro Pascal as a group of ex-military operators who team up to rob a South American drug lord. The cast is very good, I had no trouble buying this group of guys not only as ex-military badasses, but also as guys who have known each other for a long time and been through a lot of shit together.
This is the least action-heavy of the movies I watched for this post, but the movie more than makes up for it with a top-notch cast, an intriguing plot and razor-sharp suspense. Triple Frontier is a very well-made film that also presents some intriguing moral quandaries. There’s never a clear path forward for the protagonists, they are very good at what they do but the movie does a good job at presenting them with obstacles that are not easy for them to overcome.
There are several tense and memorable sequences, including a very cool one where the guys discover that the walls of the drug lord’s house are literally lined with bricks of cash. Transporting said cash turns out to be extremely difficult, and I had never considered the logistics of transporting large amounts of cash. Big duffel bags full of cash are heavy, and it makes you rethink all those bank-heist movies where robbers effortlessly run around with bulging bags of cash.
I don’t have much else to say about this movie, other than that it was good and I liked it. Check it out.
Here are my rankings:
- Headshot – Tense, brutal action, a surprisingly moving story, and solid character development.
- The Night Comes for Us – The extreme violence won’t be to every viewer’s taste, but if you can stomach it this is a thrilling martial arts/gangster flick that is well worth your time.
- Triple Frontier – Great cast, solid suspense, a plot that keeps you guessing.
- Manhunt – John Woo’s solidly entertaining return to the shoot-em-up genre that he pioneered.
- Triple Threat – Lots of badass martial artists in a movie designed to make them fight each other. What’s not to like?
- 6 Underground – The plot is a mess and the tone is wildly uneven, but the action sequences are fun and over-the-top. It is, in every respect, a Michael Bay movie.
- Polar – Literally one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Avoid at all costs.