Top 5 Action Set Pieces of 2013

Though quite a few of the blockbusters in 2013 have been remarkably below average, that doesn’t stop the creative team behind them from making them as crazy and fun as they possibly they can. This year we were greeted with onslaught of incredibly well executed action set pieces that deserve recognition, even if the rest of the movie might not live up to them. Though I’m sure a lot of you will disagree I’ve taken the liberty of counting down what I believe to be the best 2013 had to offer, as far as action is concerned. Take a look:

5. The Lone Ranger (Finale):

Many of you probably just went “WHAT?! THE LONE RANGER?” but bear with me. The first 2 hours of The Lone Ranger is a hard sit: it’s boring, strange and weirdly paced, however the last half hour has a train sequence finale that is so brilliant that it’s almost worth watching the 120 minutes leading up to it, almost. It’s a fun and exciting sequence with two trains taking part in a chase. They occasionally cross paths with one another, gunfights ensue across carriages, Armie Hammer rides atop one of the trains on horseback, and the whole scene climaxes at bridge covered in dynamite. It’s well shot and beautifully cut together that for those last few minutes you’ll find it hard to believe you’re watching the same movie.


4. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Barrel Ride):

Many have already pointed out that this particular action sequence is begging to have a ride designed after it, and I’m inclined to agree. It’s a deliciously overlong and childish, but that’s what makes it so much fun. With 13 dwarves and a hobbit flying down stream each in their own barrel, desperately trying to escape a few Elves, the stakes are irreversibly raised when a pack of Orcs decide to join in and capture the group as well, and all of a sudden we have Elves and Orcs duking it out while both trying to fish for our heroes riding in barrels. If it sounds ridiculous that’s because it is. This is one of the cases where the video game-y CGI isn’t bothersome because everything you’re watching is so ridiculous and over the top it feels like it was designed for a video game. It’s a fast-paced sequence, ripe with tension, that has one moment in particular with a Dwarf spinning out of control and bouncing around so much that the entire theatre I was with went mad with laughter. No doubt that this is probably the most enjoyable moment in the film.


3. The Wolverine (Bullet Train Sequence):

One of the coolest aspects of The Wolverine is its location, Tokyo, and the many uses the film finds for it, and one of the best cases Mangold found to show off was in the surprising bullet train sequence, which is both highly entertaining and unquestionably exhilarating. With Wolverine being chased by the Japanese mafia he takes the fight outside and atop the train where everything is moving at a lightning pace and everyone is struggling to get a hold of themselves whether it be by knife or claws, if you are lucky enough to have a pair. Though I’m uncertain whether this comes from a comic book it feels like it was ripped right out from one because it’s just so insanely fun to watch. Perhaps one of the greatest achievements in the scene is a hilarious character moment for Wolverine that brings to light everything we love about watching him fight. I won’t spoil it, but just know that the entire sequence is handled with a level of wit and restraint, which makes it one of the best of year.


2. Iron Man 3 (Plane Rescue):

Though the general conversation after Iron Man 3 was more about The Mandarin and the amount of humor in the film, two things it should be commended for rather than attacked, it’s as if those that saw it were distracted, or simply forgot that it had some of the most inventive action set pieces we’ve even seen in a Marvel film. The thing that stands out about these set pieces is that Drew Pearce and Shane Black have ensured they were all character-driven — every moment meant something to our characters, like Tony being forced to go home alone on the bad guys after losing his armor, and even the final battle, which even though it featured a heck of a lot suits the reason for the suits existence was for character reasons (re: Tony’s anxiety). All of this culminates into one sequence that many refer to as “barrel of monkeys”. After the bad guys blow up the side of a plane, many passengers fall out the side and Tony is faced with the task of trying to carry them all to safety, only problem is there’s far too many of them. Running out of time he decides to wrangle them all together telling them to grab one another, like you would in the game barrel of monkeys. It’s Iron Man at his most heroic moment, and Tony at his best. A fun fact I learned about this particular scene after watching it was that it was shot practically; these are real people free falling, and when you watch the scene again knowing that it becomes even more fun to watch. However, like everything, Shane Black finds a way to twist the scene on us and ends this particular one on a rather shocking moment that is scary, then hilarious. It is a truly wonderful scene to watch.


1. The World’s End (Bathroom Brawl):

Who could have possibly guessed that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost would be the two biggest action stars of 2013? Not me, that’s for sure. I think one of the best, and most underrated aspects of an action set piece is how organically it stems from the story, and for that reason alone I consider Edgar Wright one of the best directors when it comes to action. His work on Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is incredible, and he’s brought a lot of the zaniness along with him to The World’s End. The World’s End features three highly memorable action scenes but the best one is the very first one, which changes the entire tone and feel of the film. Up until this moment we had a fun comedic-drama with middle-aged men, then Simon Pegg’s Gary realizes something off about the kid in the bathroom and manages to remove his head, revealing that he is in fact some sort of alien robot. Quickly following this the whole gang is in the bathroom and up-close and personal brawl kicks off that’s handled nearly all in one-take. Spending a little time getting to know these characters you notice how their fighting style reflects their characters jut as well as their words do. The camera moves swiftly between characters capturing each ones shining moment, and is just as intense as it is gut wrenchingly hilarious. All three times I saw this film in theatres that sequence was met with wild applause.


Honorable Mentions:

Though I only counted down the top 5 there were plenty of good ones that deserve to be recognized, like the runway chase in Fast 6, the battle for Hong Kong in Pacific Rim, the Krypton prologue in Man Of Steel, the cliffside battle in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the ISS destruction in Gravity and of course the portal finale in Thor: The Dark World.

Josh is an independent Canadian filmmaker studying out of the Toronto Film School. In his spare times he combines his passion for writing with his passion for film, and contributes his voice to whoever is looking to listen.

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