Not all movies are meant to be award-caliber blockbusters. There are many movies simply created to be entertainment and claim nothing more than that. What some consider bubble-gum action movies have settled into their place alongside the award-caliber dramas and period pieces.
What makes a great action movie stand out as great cinema is the ability to present the action while retaining a smart and interesting story as well. With those qualifications in mind, here are the best action movies of 2011.
It seems like comic book adaptations are getting better and better as the years go on. "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" seemed to finally bridge the gap between comic book fans and mainstream movie audiences. Much of it had to do with quality directors taking the material seriously. Then "The Dark Knight" came out, and a movie about Batman winning an Oscar didn't seem so strange anymore.
"Thor" continues the integration of superhero flicks into quality movies. Kenneth Branagh, a director known more for Shakespeare than superheroes, came aboard and crafted an amazing Shakespearean movie about a god on earth. What makes "Thor" so much better than many other comic book adaptations is the scenes in the mythical land of Asgard use Shakespeare-style tragedy to tell a story that is more Hamlet than Spider-Man. "Thor" is a movie pulled from a comic book that takes its subject matter seriously, making it one of the most inspired action movies of 2011.
Wrap your mind around this. The director who brought the world period pieces such as "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement" directed a movie in 2011 that features a 16-year-old girl on the run from a government organization that wants her dead. This young girl is also genetically engineered to be the perfect assassin. "Hanna" is a long way from corsets and courting dances.
Saoirse Ronan, who earned an Oscar nomination for "Atonement," stars in an action movie that never slows down but allows one of the most visually talented directors in Hollywood to still work his magic. For fans who loved his single-take tracking shot from "Atonement," Joe Wright adds a nice one here where Eric Bana fights a group of assassins in a subway tunnel. This is a wild departure for the British director but remains one of the best thrill rides of 2011.
With his debut movie, Duncan Jones created one of the most visceral science-fiction films in years with "Moon." While the movie, and the lead performance by Sam Rockwell, was criminally overlooked when awards season rolled around, Hollywood stood up and took notice. This meant Jones's second film would get a bigger budget and more quality actors. What resulted is one of the smartest movies of 2011.
"Source Code" is another smart sci-fi movie from the son of David Bowie. Jones created a world where a soldier could be transported into the mind of a person five minutes before he/she dies. The government uses this technique by sending Jake Gyllenhaal's Colter into the body of a man before a train explodes to search for clues revealing the terrorist responsible. The ticking clock is the fact the terrorist is threatening to drop a dirty bomb on all of Chicago. The real story is Colter trying to save people on the train and break the code to allow him to escape from the puzzle as well. It takes close concentration, but for those who watch it carefully, there is a great action movie here to enjoy.
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