Today sees the New Zealand release of The Raid 2: Berandal, a two-and-a-half-hour martial arts action epic that counts as one of the most bad-ass movies to come out in a cinema in a while. (Check out the review here.)
As I've lamented many times in this space, the broad commercial pressure on modern mainstream cinema means fewer and fewer movies qualify as genuinely bad-ass these days. Which is tough for anyone who grew up devouring those sort of movies from the '70s and '80s.
As family-friendly superhero flicks and animated comedies increasingly dominate the marketplace, bad-ass movies have been pushed to the side. So when a great one comes along and makes it into theatres, it's cause for celebration.
What is bad-ass cinema you ask? Violence and language can both play a role, but neither aspect solely defines this type of cinema - it's about attitude and tone. The Saw sequels are all incredibly violent, but none of them qualify because they're impossible to take seriously. The whole torture porn fad has muddied the waters of bad-ass cinema, but anyone who loves bad-ass movies can spot one easily.
Some classic examples: Deliverance (1972); The Mechanic (1972) Taxi Driver (1974); Hard Times aka The Street Fighter (1975); Southern Comfort (1981); Robocop (1987); Bad Taste (1987); Starship Troopers (1997).
Bad-ass movies are willing to push the edges of their genre in service of their central thrust; they embrace an R rating and are all the more impressively hardcore for it. They shamelessly ooze anachronistic, fist pump-inducing testosterone, and speak to the little boy in every viewer. Basically any movie that causes anyone to stop and remark "Whoa! That was bad-ass!"
A film like We Need To Talk About Kevin is searing and devastating, but it's too serious to be truly considered. There must be some hint of gleeful mayhem for a film to qualify.
But The Raid 2 is bad-ass cinema of the highest order. As if its predecessor didn't hit the mark enough, The Raid 2 is peppered with many wonderful little moments amongst some of the most bad-ass fight scenes ever committed to screen. More than once during the film, I paused to thank the gods of bad-assery for its existence.
It also got me to thinking about what other recent cinematically-released movies qualify. The first one that came to mind was 2009's Taken, starring Liam Neeson.
The influential action hit harkened back to an era when action heroes weren't teenagers, and they took care of business with violent flair. While rarely less than utterly ridiculous (a trait that often goes hand-in-hand with bad-assery), Taken nevertheless impressed me with the severity of its action, and the moustache-twirling awfulness of its villains.
Unfortunately, Taken 2 failed to reach the same heights. The recent Liam Neeson thriller Non-Stop (which could easily have been Taken 3) was a little more bad-ass, but I just hope the recently-announced actual Taken 3 harkens back to the original in this regard.
While Jason Statham's unique talents make him a natural fit for bad-ass cinema, of his oeuvre, I think only Crank and Crank: High Voltage count - but they count big time, thanks to Neveldine/Taylor, the crazy geniuses behind both movies, and probably Hollywood's most enthusiastic purveyors of bad-ass cinema. It even came through in their not-as-terrible-as-you'd-think 2011 effort Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.
District 9, my favourite movie of the last ten years, is distinctly bad-ass, thanks to the tangible grime of its setting and characters, and the eye-popping mayhem caused by the truly bad-ass weaponry on display.
When it was released in 2009, The Hangover felt like breath of fresh bad-ass air in the comedy genre, but the two painful sequels have wholly destroyed any goodwill I had for the movie. The same year's Oscar winner for Best Picture The Hurt Locker, was very bad-ass. But in a kind of sterile way.
Inglourious Basterds was extremely bad-ass, but that wasn't really a surprise I guess - Quentin Tarantino is cinema's most famous and successful proponent of the genre. Although I gotta say, I think Django Unchained suffered for hanging the entire film on its bad-assery.
French prison epic A Prophet is a great example of a European inserting a stale genre with considerable bad-assery.
In the comedy arena, the underrated Seth Rogan vehicle Observe and Report espoused a bad-ass attitude that I appreciated, one that was explored even more successfully in last year's This Is The End, which fully ruled.
Another modern bad-ass film that deserves celebration is 2008's Rambo, which was hardcore bad-ass. I talked about that and also very bad-ass, very under-seen 2007 Clive Owen flick Shoot 'Em Up here.
Despite only receiving a PG-13 rating, Sam Raimi's horror throwback Drag Me To Hell was truly bad-ass - it qualifies for the kitty-killing alone. Can you imagine what an R-rated version of the film would've been like? Sigh.
The determinedly bad-ass Final Destination movies must top themselves with every sequel to remain in the category, and this was very much the case with 2011's Final Destination 5, which found new hard-core places to go after the disappointing previous two entries.
On the whole, judging horror films as bad-ass is tricky as many of them attempt to qualify by gore alone, and up just being grisly. However, The Cabin In The Woods was bad-ass in a way that spoke specifically to movie nerds; and 2012's Sinister creeped me out in all the right ways.
The Coen brothers' increasingly nihilistic cinematic proclivities make most of their recent films pretty bad-ass, none more so than the chilling No Country for Old Men.
I predict time will be kind to last year's widely-panned The Counselor, which I admit to struggling with initially. The more I think about the film, the more I love it. And there can be no doubting its bad-ass credentials, dodgy Cameron Diaz performance or not. This is newly out on DVD. Look past all the scoffing to see the gloriously trashy, bad-ass masterpiece within.
The films of David Fincher rarely lack bad-assery, but his take on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo had all its thunder stolen by arriving too soon after its widely-seen inspiration. I don't usually associate Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's 11; Erin Brokovich) with bad-ass cinema, but his overlooked 2012 action flick Haywire qualifies.
Robert Rodriguez clearly has a basketball-sized jones for bad-assery, and while his films El Mariachi, Desperado, Sin City, The Faculty, From Dusk Till Dawn and Machete definitely qualify, last year's turdful Machete Kills does not. Terrible production values can easily undermine bad-assery. And I'm still can't work out whether I love or hate Planet Terror.
To finish up, here are some disappointing films from the last five years that failed creatively due to their lack of bad-assery: Predators, Die Hard 4.0, The Expendables 1 & 2, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Sucker Punch, Conan The Barbarian, Shark Night 3D, Immortals, A Good Day To Die Hard, Total Recall (the remake), The Wolverine, Escape Plan, Robocop (the remake) and The Smurfs 2.
* Do you perceive bad-ass cinema the same way I do? Do you lament the lack of bad-ass movies in the modern marketplace? What are some of your favourite examples? Comment below!