Winter Movie Preview 2012: Action Movies

An action triple-header comes in January this year, with a few more offerings in February. George Lucas is responsible for 1/3 of the films on this list and half of them will be presented in 3D. Highlights include a rare winter offering from an acclaimed director in Steven Soderbergh’s “Haywire,” the fourth “Underworld” film and a sequel to a Marvel superhero film you may have forgotten.


Haywire (Jan. 20)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Lem Dobbs
Starring: Gina Carano, Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas

Summary: Covert operative Mallory Kane is hired for government dirty work, but when she’s double-crossed, she must escape an international hunt for her head, return to the U.S. and exact her revenge.

The Word: Rarely does a name like Soderbergh come up in January, but you can bet many have their eyes on this star-studded cast in addition to a natural curiosity as to whether former MMA fighter Gina Carano can be the next big female action star (or the first, depending on who you ask).

My Thoughts: Revenge films have become a motif for the winter months, and with so much talent behind it, one has to think if any film has a chance of being a rare January gem, it’s “Haywire.” Originality might be lacking, but the delivery could well be pristine. The breadth of talent compares equally to the depth with proven vets such as Douglas and Banderas to rising stars such as Fassbender and Tatum.


Red Tails (Jan. 20)

Directed by Anthony Hemingway
Written by John Ridley and Aaron McGruder
Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, David Oyelowo, Bryan Cranston

Summary: Based on the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a team of U.S. Air Force fighter pilots kept grounded due to segregation and prejudice, who rise to the challenge when given the chance to escort bombers to and back from targets.

The Word: George Lucas produces this action-oriented take on this Civil Rights story, which features an all-star black cast. Longtime TV director Hemingway (“C.S.I – NY”) and writers Ridley (“Three Kings”) and McGruder (“The Boondocks” TV series) worked on bringing this story of heroism to the big screen.

My Thoughts: Based on the marketing, Lucasfilm and Fox want this historical action epic to appeal to a younger audience who might be less inclined to see a film about Civil Rights and more inclined to watch visually stunning aerial dogfights. With Industrial Light & Magic behind the VFX, expect that part to at least be worth the admission. The originality of the storytelling, however, might be another story.


Underworld: Awakening (Jan. 20)

Directed by Måns Mårlind, Björn Stein
Written by Len Wiseman, John Hlavin
Starring Kate Beckinsale, Michael Ealy, India Eisley, Theo James

Summary: Vampire Death Dealer Selene (Beckinsale) awakens in the future to find humans have discovered the existence of vampires and lycans. She leads the battle against the human race, which seeks to eradicate both species.

The Word: Beckinsale returns to the franchise that helped make her a cult star after stepping out for the prequel “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.” Her husband Len Wiseman continues as a producer for this fourth go but keeps distance from the director’s chair, giving the Swedish duo of Mårlind and Stein (“Shelter” starring Julianne Moore) a shot. Beckinsale remains the franchise’s biggest as Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy have all come and gone.

My Thoughts: I lost interest in the franchise after the first sequel, “Underworld: Evolution.” At first we weren’t being inundated with vampire and werewolf films — obviously things have changed. Glossy action, 3D and Beckinsale in skin-tight clothing might be enough to entertain the series’ devoted fans (see the “Resident Evil” franchise), but it will be hard to claim new ones, especially in a weekend full of action releases.


Safe House (Feb. 10)

Directed by Daniel Espinosa
Written by David Guggenheim
Starring: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson

Summary: At a CIA safe house in Cape Town, aspiring CIA field agent Matt Weston (Reynolds) is charged with looking after Tobin Frost (Washington), a former operative that went violently rogue. But when the safe house is compromised, Weston finds himself in the mix of a possible mole situation.

The Word: The talents behind the camera might be amateur, but Washington is far from it. He does evil as good as anyone and he does ambiguous intentions better than everyone. With Reynolds as another recognizable draw, this one should have no problem at the box office compared to its competition.

My Thoughts: Are you sure Tony Scott isn’t directing this film? I guess if he were, Washington would be playing the good guy. Regardless, the trailer paints this one as reliable action/thriller material with a surefire twist, the kind of stuff that moviegoers crave in these less-than-dependable winter months.


Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D (Feb. 10)

Written and Directed by George Lucas
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Jake Lloyd, Natalie Portman

Summary: In the first of “Star Wars” prequel trilogy, we meet Anakin Skywalker — the future Darth Vader — as a young boy. Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn (Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) discover him and try to convince Yoda and the Jedi Council that he is the “one who will bring balance to the force” as political unrest builds in the Galactic Republic.

The Word: “The Phantom Menace” spawned the love-hate relationship between George Lucas and his fans, but it also introduced a younger generation to the “Star Wars” universe. The original trilogy was re-released in the late ’90s right before “Menace” in 1999 and now more than 10 years later, the prequels will get their own theatrical re-releases in 3D provided “Menace” makes a penny.

My Thoughts: As someone who fell in love with “Star Wars” as a kid thanks to the first wave of re-releases, I can’t condemn the notion here, even if the prequels are inferior and the 3D likely to do nothing to enhance the film. Lucas can do whatever he wants to tamper with these films; you won’t see me on the front lines of the verbal hatred or in line period to see this in theaters again.


Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (Feb. 17)

Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Written by Scott M. Gimple and Seth Hoffman, David S. Goyer
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Violante Placido, Ciarán Hinds

Summary: Johnny Blaze a.k.a “The Ghost Rider” (Cage) has a chance to rid himself of his curse by saving a young boy being targeted for the Devil’s (Hinds) new physical form

The Word: “Ghost Rider” made a killing (for February) when it opened in 2007, but it wasn’t nearly popular enough with audiences and ultimately didn’t justify the $110-million budget Sony gave it. Now the studio has called upon “Crank” directors Neveldine and Taylor to inject their signature adrenaline into the franchise and with a much more reasonable $75-million budget.

My Thoughts: Having purged the original from my system (despised it), I feel better about the direction of this franchise. Neveldine and Taylor might not elevate this franchise to the level of work that Marvel Studios is doing with its “Avengers” superheroes, but they should deliver an action-packed good time and possibly a successful apology for the 2007 original.


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