The Top 10
"See, you thought I was a cripple but you didn't know that I'm a ninja."
Ostensibly emerging out of nowhere, 2018's Upgrade is one of the biggest film-going surprises of the year; an old-school, dark, noir-ish sci-fi action-thriller reminiscent of The Terminator and RoboCop. Upgrade was written and directed by Australian filmmaker Leigh Whannell, who knows a thing or two about genre pieces after scripting both Saw and Insidious, among other titles. Flying solo without frequent collaborator James Wan as a producer, Whannell acquits himself admirably here, elevating what is essentially a B-movie into A-grade territory. More or less an Australian movie with Blumhouse backing, this is precisely the type of inventive, smart, brutally violent, darkly humorous and high-concept picture that John Carpenter would have created in the 1980s - in fact, it feels like a movie you would discover on a well-worn VHS cassette hiding at the back of a video rental store back in the day. (If somebody spearheads a VHS release, I want it.)
It's so rare to see a film like Upgrade in today's cinematic climate, and it's therefore perhaps no surprise that it didn't perform at the box office. Then again, various cult sci-fi movies flopped back in their respective eras before demonstrating incredible staying power across the decades (The Thing). The movie may prove to have wide appeal, but it is one for the blokes - one that manly men will enjoy with a case of beer and a few pizzas. The violence is hard-hitting, the tone is relentless, it refuses to let pretentious moralising bog down the fun, and it's the story about a man avenging the murder of his wife. Hell, Grey Trace even loves his muscle cars and has a few badass lines of dialogue to spare. You must get this movie in front of your eyes.
Upgrade is my favourite film of 2018. It's also my favourite manly movie of 2018.
"In the ring, you got rules. Outside, you got nothing. Life hits you with all these cheap shots. People like me, we live in the past. You got people that need you now. You got everything to lose, this guy has got nothing to lose."
1985's Rocky IV is not an especially good Rocky movie, but as a cheesy '80s boxing/action movie? It's fucking epic; a manly classic for the ages. From the exaggerated boxing action to the manly soundtrack, plus Dolph Lundgren's epic performance as Ivan Drago. The decision to turn Creed II into a glorified Rocky IV sequel had me afraid that this new series would instantly plummet into the ground, as it would be impossible to capture the lightning-in-a-bottle awesomeness of that Rocky sequel. Much to my amazement, the resulting movie is compelling as all hell, filled with gravitas, and it manages to deliver some Rocky IV fan service along the way. This is an exceptional film; it's moving and powerful, and the sight of Rocky and Ivan sharing the screen again is a real treat. Best of all, it brings Rocky's story to a close at last. Yes, Rocky Balboa was a fitting ending, but Stallone goes even further here - this is the send-off the beloved icon deserves.
Creed II is an instant manly classic. Even the burliest of men can and will cry without shame, and the tears are well-earned.
"Family's the most important thing... Don't do what I did. I put work in front of family."
The Mule is precisely the type of motion picture we expect and want from Clint Eastwood at this point in his career; a simplistic but effective drama with true story roots, and with the same screenwriter as Gran Torino, it features the exact same combination of drama and humour. Indeed, The Mule made me laugh more than virtually any comedy released during 2018, but the jokes aren't dumb or slapstick - they are character-based, with Clint's Earl Stone casually wielding offensive terms under the umbrella of ignorance. Even as he approaches the ripe old age of 90, Clint was able to add another iconic character to his ever-expanding stable, unleashing his trademark growl once more. Any manly man worth his salt will enjoy this one for that alone, but the manliness runs a bit deeper - The Mule is ultimately a story about family and what means most to a man, while the movie exudes masculine values. Just see the womanising Clint getting lucky with women throughout, or standing up to the cartel to visit his ex-wife following a medical emergency. It's emotional stuff at times, and though the narrative is constructed from spare parts, the combination of good acting and Eastwood's old-fashioned filmmaking allows it to work.
The Mule is very good. It's not Gran Torino, but it's a satisfying companion piece to it, and I'll be watching it again & again at home. But the movie's gleeful political incorrectness has made it a target for the easily offended. Fuck 'em I say, the film wasn't made for them!
"I am a member of a gang... Only we have badges."
Den of Thieves is good old-fashioned cops and robbers, heists and shootouts. It is certainly assembled from various genre cliches, from Gerard Butler's character having marital issues (totally superfluous and gratuitous) to a Heat-style rivalry between hero and villain, but it's executed with enough flair and genuine style to elevate it above the ordinary. At a beefy 140 minutes, this is one long flick, but not exhaustively so; it takes its time to build the characters and the story, while the actual heist sequences are totally riveting, and the climactic shootout is one for the ages. This is a brutal, visceral, bruising action-thriller, and everything is shot cohesively for maximum effect. Den of Thieves gives us action, masculine male characters, plenty of guns, some colourful dialogue, and hot women - some of them naked.
"You Chinese think too highly of yourself. Always wanting to be the hero."
A bit of quality martial arts cinema is good for the soul, and I'm happy to say that this Ip Man spinoff, Master Z, is a very worthwhile watch, exuding manly values whilst also keeping things satisfyingly violent and entertaining. Just look at that cast - beyond the talented martial artist that is Max Zhang as the main character, we also have Dave Bautista, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Jaa, all of whom get the opportunity to kick some arse. The action scenes are frequent and varied, and this is a story about a man who gets himself into trouble defending a woman, and who spends the movie trying to protect his son. This is more than just a place holder for the upcoming Ip Man 4; it's a satisfying martial arts actioner on its own merits, and a fine piece of masculine entertainment.
Another contribution to the list from China, Operation Red Sea is totally insane from top to bottom. There is simply no other word to describe this wildly insane action epic, which was one of the top-grossing films of 2018 simply because it made around $600 million USD at the Chinese box office alone. Admittedly, this is a long-arse movie which is a bit too convoluted for its own good, and the stuff between the action is hit-and-miss, particularly since the characters are so one-dimensional - this isn't a seriously engaging or emotionally affecting war movie in the same vein as Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan...
But in terms of action? Heavens me, she delivers in spades. There is more pure action in this movie than dialogue; more of the movie is action than downtime. It goes absolutely bonkers with the action, with all manner of shootouts in large-scale locations, from a ship to a Middle-Eastern desert to an entire fucking town, plus a fucking tank showdown in the middle of a desert...while a fucking dust storm approaches. Nobody is safe, as characters get shot, stabbed, beaten, blown apart, exploded entirely, and so on. The body count is in the hundreds. The action is vicious and brutal from the word "go", showing a level of sheer audacity that's so rare in the field of Hollywood blockbusters. This level of scope was achieved on a relatively modest $70 million budget, but if this was made in America with high-profile actors, it would easily cost over $200 million...and there's no way they'd let it be as vehemently R-rated as it is here. The fact that I was taken aback by the sheer brutality at times really goes to show the power of the insanity throughout this monstrous action epic.
To reiterate: Bad characters, bad dialogue, paper-thin story... But sooooo much orgasmic, violent, badass, audacious action. Men who enjoy this type of thing will be in action heaven. I kind of loved it.
"A thousand-year Reich needs thousand-year soldiers."
Overlord feels like the work of somebody who has played the zombie mode on the Call of Duty: Black Ops games for too long, and was inspired to create a big-screen version of it - with an actual, recognisable narrative behind it. A box office flop, the movie is the work of Australian director Julius Avery, and comes from super-producer J.J. Abrams. The resulting movie is surprisingly good; it's lean, focused, and committed to being a nasty, R-rated horror/action hybrid backed by convincing production values and an effective cast. It's definitely ridiculous and B-grade at times, but it's all executed with a deft hand, and one cannot accuse the movie of being boring. I can see this one becoming something of a cult movie down the line; people will rediscover it on home video and wish they saw it in the cinema. I'm certainly glad I made the trip.
"You're just meat. Without a soul, without a brain, without anything. Animal. You, you have no spirit- everlasting! No, no radiant light! I possess elucidations you will never know!"
Arriving from director Panos Cosmatos (son of the late George P. Cosmatos, who was responsible for such '80s gold as Rambo: First Blood Part II and Cobra), Mandy is a weird, hard-to-nail mood piece which finds Nicolas Cage able to both act legitimately, and ham it up. It's a simplistic revenge story, with Cage seeking retribution for his partner's death at the hands of cultists, and the whole thing is executed with a retro vibe. Indeed, the synth-infused score and the deliberate grading (not to mention it's made to look like celluloid) makes this one feel anachronistic, while the reliance on practical effects during the violent set-pieces is appreciated. The flick is not entirely satisfying and it will be polarising, but it is fascinating - and it's definitely masculine through-and-through.
Braven is a fine, entertaining meat and potatoes action flick - simplistic and short, yet effective where it counts. It's headlined by badass manly actors Jason Momoa and Stephen Lang, it's full of practical action sequences and stunts, and the whole thing revolves around defending family, which is a distinctly masculine theme. Above all, this is an R-rated actioner, and the rating permits a satisfying level of brutality throughout, in addition to colourful expletives. It's not the best movie of the year, but it is a reliable slice of manly entertaining which delivers precisely what is advertised on the tin. Sometimes, that's enough. If you like old-school, pared-down action movies from the '80s and '90s (think Sudden Death), this is a recommended watch.
"There are two kinds of pain in this world. The pain that hurts, the pain that alters."
Just as the original The Equalizer made my Manliest Movies list for 2014, this sequel is another reliable piece of masculine entertainment, a well-made R-rated action movie led by the super charismatic Denzel Washington. The Equalizer 2 is a worthy follow-up, retaining a satisfying proclivity for bruising, vicious action scenes as well as some profanity-laden language. And to top it off, the film is about Robert McCall seeking justice for a female friend, another distinctly manly trait. The action culminates with a brutal climax is a hurricane zone, and the ensuring bloodshed further ensures that this is a film for men (and women, I guess) who enjoy this brand of masculine entertainment.