We usually roll our eyes at reboots, but the James Bond series was in dire need of one when Daniel Craig was cast as 007, and the brains behind the series decided to go back to Bond’s roots with an official version of the first Ian Fleming novel (which had been loosely and unofficially — and badly — made as a spoof back in 1967). In the first scene, director Martin Campbell made it clear that this was a leaner, meaner, post-Bourne James Bond, with a beautiful black and white pre-title sequence that juxtaposed Bond’s signature cool with a rough-and-tumble bathroom fight. It was the first of several memorable action scenes in a film that beautifully jump-started the ailing franchise. (Watch it here.)
Restaurant fight, The Protector
If you’re as sick of choppy, disorienting action sequences as we are, feast your eyes on this masterful scene from Prachya Pinkaew’s 2005 martial arts extravaganza, in which Thai superstar Tony Jaa works his way up the five stories of an elaborate restaurant, taking out dozens of bad guys along the way — and does it all in one beautifully choreographed, unbroken shot. It’s showing off, sure, but to an end; by the time Jaa gets to the top level, we understand why he’s a little short of breath, and the accomplishment of that ascent is rendered all the more impressive by the fact that we’ve watched him do the whole thing in one go.
Hallway Fight, Oldboy
Speaking of exhausting, one-take fights, we couldn’t forget this amazing sequene in Park Chan-wook’s 2003 film Oldboy, which finds Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) taking on a hallway full of goons single-handedly — first with a hammer, and then with his fists — all in one stylized rolling shot. It’s a thrilling scene, but it’s also scrappy, messy, and ugly (y’know, like a real fight). There are no subtitles in the embedded clip, but don’t worry — you won’t need ’em.
Entire film, The Raid: Redemption
It would seem a sacrilege to leave out this year’s must-see action flick, Gareth Evans’ hyper-kinetic The Raid: Redemption — but the trouble is, it’s impossible to pick out a single standout sequence, since the film is basically one, non-stop action scene. “It’s as elegant in conception as a windup toy,” wrote Adam Sternbergh in The New York Times, and “(t)he movie, once wound up, never winds down.” Sternbergh uses The Raid as exhibit A in his argument that the action film “is an American invention that is now produced much better elsewhere in the world,” and while he may be on to something, there are still a few filmmakers doing their best to do it right.
What about you? What are you favorite recent action sequences — and why?