• John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

    John Wick: Chapter 2 is both one of the few action movies that actually has a reason to exist and that can compete with its predecessor. The former is confirmed since the titular main character has killed so many criminals in the predecessor that he has become public enemy number one which is the central plot element of this film. The latter is underlined by this film's similarly straight pace, pitiless action sequences and cool acting performances which make the transition between the two films very smooth. I would actually recommend watching the entire trilogy back to back since the films take place over a few days in the life of professional assassin John Wick.

    Just like its predecessor, this movie obviously doesn't feature an intriguing plot. However, it expands the universe of John Wick as well as his associates and competitors. It gives us more details about the lead character's impressive reputation and explores his life before his initial retirement. The film adds a few new characters such as a shady crime lord played by Riccardo Scamarcio and an enigmatic underground cult figure who controls a large network of homeless gangsters incarnated by Laurence Fishburne. The film also introduces new spectacular locations such as a stealthy infiltration sequence to assassinate a powerful woman at the heart of Rome.

    To keep it short, this sequel is as good as its predecessor and offers a whopping two hours of passionate action with spectacular locations, cool characters and some interesting background stories. This approach makes me think of a fast-paced video game like Hitman on steroids. The John Wick franchise doesn't reinvent its genre but offers unpretentious fun for fans of gritty action films for adults.

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  • Peppermint (2018)

    Peppermint is at heart a feminist version of John Wick and shows how a mother who lost her family to a drug cartel goes into hiding and comes back five years later to take her pitiless revenge. The story might be simplistic at some points and quite predictable but that is the movie's only minor flaw.

    Jennifer Garner's performance is stunning as you really root for the hurt family mother who disciplines herself to become a resilient killing machine. The fight scenes are spectacular, involving martial arts elements and well as gun fights. The numerous settings are also used during the movie's numerous ferocious combats. The intense action sequences are interrupted by entertaining scenes showing how police, media and civilians react to the lead character's revenge.

    If you like spectacular action movies with a dramatic background story and some tension leading to a climatic showdown, you will enjoy every minute of the very compact Peppermint. Despite the predictable story, it's one of the best contemporary action movies I have seen. You will only find better films of that kind in Asia these days. Overrated action actors like the dull Dwayne Johnson should take some notes from a spectacular Jennifer Garner.

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  • Mile 22 (2018)

    Be warned that if you watch this movie, you won't get a proper conclusion. The film doesn't have a true climax and ends on several cliffhangers. A sequel has already been announced as well as a spin-off web series. If you want to watch a movie with a coherent exposition, intense rising action, concise climax, gripping falling action and satisfactory resolution, you shouldn't watch this movie at all. I actually felt cheated watching this film because Mile 22 is rather like a television pilot than a genuine standalone movie.

    That isn't the only thing that is wrong with this flick. Mile 22 actually has a decent plot and a little twist but instead of developing this potential, the writers threw everything overboard. The twist is revealed very early in the movie, hence depriving the film from a real climax. In addition to this, the film chaotically meanders from scenes in the present to scenes in the past which is particularly confusing in the first few minutes. The perspectives also change as we follow friends and foes alike without any coherence. The shaky cameras make this film even harder to digest. The structure of this movie is also quite strange, since the first half focuses on a massive number of dialogues with the exception of the intriguing opening ten minutes while the second half offers non-stop action sequences. The plot is basically quite simple but is told so chaotically that it ironically fits the movie: American intelligence officers need to escort a potential double agent with important information to an airport in Indonesia but local law enforcers as well as Russian terrorists are trying to prevent this by any means necessary. The whole film feels disjointed, messy and unfocused.

    One thing that saves this movie from being below average are the great action scenes in the second half. Iko Uwais' skills alone are worth watching the film alone as he uses feet, hands and even his head to fight relentlessly while also using authentic weapons as well as improvised weapons such as chairs, tables and windows. Mark Wahlberg also plays some tough action scenes, handling his weapons fearlessly and skillfully to find a way out of the most challenging situations. His female sidekick played by Lauren Cohan has to fight for her life several times and performs her role with energetic despair. Among wolves in wolves' clothing, she is the character viewers might sympathize with most.

    Another positive element are the characters that have some depth even though this movie only scratches on the surface of this potential. Mark Wahlberg plays a grumpy sociopath who constantly plays with fire. Lauren Cohan incarnates a divorced mother with anger management issues. Iko Uwais convinces in the role of a sinister, quiet and intelligent agent who has numerous hidden agendas. The side characters remain more superficial but interesting nonetheless for an action movie, especially since there are some intriguing cameos by well-known household names of the genre.

    The movie feels aborted when the credits start rolling after less than ninety minutes. Several questions remain unanswered. The film doesn't offer a proper resolution to the events that were meticulously prepared over the course of about eighty-five minutes. You will leave the cinema scratching your head and wondering whether you have just experienced ninety minutes that were wasted or well-spent. Mile 22 is an entertaining film and especially the second half will please to those who like films in the key of The Raid or The Villainess. On the other side, it's a chaotic, inconclusive and simply stated unfinished mess of a movie. If you care for a story, I would suggest you to avoid this movie altogether. If you just want to see Iko Uwais, Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan and their sidekicks kicking ass for about forty-five minutes, go ahead and enjoy yourself.

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  • Tomb Raider (2018)

    I have been a fan of the Tomb Raider franchise for more than twenty years which means more than two thirds of my lifetime. I have played all the video games and watched the previous movies with Angelina Jolie. The first one was a little bit shallow while the second one had great pace and was an improvement. This reboot however is easily the best of the three films for numerous reasons.

    Let's start with the movie's only downside. The first fifteen minutes that are meant to introduce the protagonist and show us her tough life are overtly sentimental. If this were to be a drama, it would blend in nicely but it doesn't quite go along with an adventurous action movie. The movie's final twist is also foreshadowed so obviously in the first fifteen minutes that it almost feels ridiculous. Please take the viewers more seriously.

    Other than that, Tomb Raider is a stunning experience. The locations look gorgeous. The stormy sea, the mysterious island and the gloomy catacombs are fascinating. The number of traps, riddles and dangers that Lara Croft encounters are as challenging, diversified and intense as in the best video games. The story is closely inspired by the excellent video game that successfully rebooted the franchise five years ago. The special effects are absolutely stunning as this movie is one of the greatest visual experiences I have ever seen on screen. Still, the movie doesn't lift off and keeps a realistic edge thanks to precise camera work and light techniques as well as genuinely exotic locations. The acting performances are great. Antagonist Mathias is a pitiless lunatic, Lara Croft's sidekick is a resilient sailor with an alcohol problem and Lara Croft's father is meandering between cleverness and madness. I really appreciated Alicia Vikander's performance as she portrays a cultivated yet adventurous young woman with a strong moral compass who has to deal with demons of her past, shady family members and arrogant guys who constantly underestimate her. She is much closer to the essence of Lara Croft than Angelina Jolie's character that was rather built upon stereotypical physical appearances. Alicia Vikander's performance is as fresh as the movie itself and the rebooted franchise as it doesn't have anything in common with the quiet, one-dimensional superhero with the big breasts of yore.

    Fans of the Tomb Raider franchise should really love this movie as it offers everything that makes the video games so outstanding: a brave protagonist with an intellectual side, diversified exotic locations, a series of traps, riddles and dangers, a dangerous antagonist and a few cultural and historic references. The only reasons why this movie didn't get the highest possible grade are the unnecessary opening fifteen minutes and the fact that 2013's Tomb Raider game is even better than the movie. If you have played this game, you have to watch the movie. If you have watched this movie, you have to play the game. It's as simple as this. Enjoy the wild ride!

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  • Den of Thieves (2018)

    Den of Thieves might be a stereotypical movie about tough guys trying to outsmart one another but it's a really entertaining ride and worth the praise it gets.

    First of all, the story is fast-paced without any lengths. Each character is introduced appropriately, the tension slowly rises until a gripping climax and the final twist is quite impressive as well.

    Secondly, the acting performances are stellar. Gerard Butler fully impresses as tough and pitiless detective who convinces with unshakable determination but also shows his flaws with his aggressive recklessness. Pablo Schreiber offers a very solid performance as strong, intelligent and ambitious criminal who turns out to be much more complex than meets the eye. The secret protagonist of the movie is O'Shea Jackson Junior's character who goes through a spectacular development from being a curious bartender, becoming involved in a gang of highly trained criminals and ending up what seems to be an undercover collaborator with the local police force. Each character has important flaws and strengths which makes everyone of them particularly authentic. Identifying a clear protagonist or antagonist is nearly impossible which sets this movie apart from other genre flicks.

    Thirdly, the action sequences are quite spectacular, including car chases, gun fights and hand-to-hand combat but these elements are never overused and keep the movie diversified yet credible.

    Fourthly, the main heist is truly spectacular and nerve-firing as the clever criminals face quite a few serious challenges. The whole sequence lasts about half an hour but feels less than half as long because it's so gripping.

    Fifthly, despite being an action movie, this film doesn't overuse special effects, employs lighting techniques smoothly and utilizes calm camera work. Stylistically, this movie goes back to the great action movies of the eighties which is quite refreshing and not headache-inducing. Great action movies don't need shaky cameras and zombies but should stick to the simplest ingredients to fully convince. This is what Den of Thieves accomplishes very successfully.

    In the end, watching Den of Thieves was a surprisingly positive experience. I haven't watched such an overall enjoyable action movie in a very long time. Fans of action cinema with tough guys in the key of the Die Hard franchise just can't get around this film. I certainly don't aim to sound controversial but the only thing to point out is that this movie was made by men for men and might appear somewhat stereotypical to most women. On the other side, it's just the other way around with films like Pitch Perfect. If this movie seems to be right down your alley, you will enjoy it for sure but if it's not your type of movie, just ignore it.

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