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While 2021 was a satisfying year for action cinema fans, 2022 is shaping up to be even more thrilling. With several action movies of all budgets slated for theatrical and streaming release this year, let’s take a quick look at what film industries worldwide have in store for us.
There may well be over 100 action movies released in 2022, this is not an exhaustive list, but an overview of some of the most exciting items on the menu.
American theatrical blockbusters
Hollywood is back in full swing despite ongoing pandemic-related obstacles, and both Marvel and DC have multiple superhero blockbusters coming this year. Aside from the expected MCU installments like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder, it’s the animated sequel Across the Spider-Verse, due this fall, that looks like it could be the most likely to embrace the wonder and the unexpected. It’s also hard not to eagerly await Matt Reeves’ version of The Batman despite the character’s ubiquity — with its stacked cast and gorgeous trailers, the film could end up being one the year’s biggest events. Other blockbusters that could prove interesting include Ambulance (where it seems Michael Bay has discovered drones) and Bullet Train (the next outing from David Leitch and 87North, known for John Wick, Atomic Blonde, and Nobody), telling the story of five assassins on a bullet train who discover their missions have something in common. And, of course, James Cameron’s Avatar 2 is finally coming out at the end of the year.
The boys are back in town
Aside from the main superhero and sci-fi tentpole events, Hollywood also has a couple of wild cards up its sleeve with the return of old action stars. Tom Cruise and the Mission: Impossible team will be back, still with Christopher McQuarrie at the helm of the seventh installment. Cruise will also headline Top Gun: Maverick, this time directed by Joseph Kosinski. On the Stallone side of things, his franchise will make a comeback with The Expendables 4. While the third film left a lot to be desired, one can hope the team can salvage the series with less winky-winky dialogue and more competent action. It’s always a pleasure to see the Stallone-Statham-Lundgren trio back together on the screen, and the addition of amazing martial artists such as Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais seems like a good thing. Statham will also star in his own fun-looking actioner, the Guy Ritchie-directed Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre which, after the unexpected success that was Wrath of Man last year, could very well surprise viewers more than one might have thought possible for a Ritchie joint.
The Netflix slate
The streaming giant has been on the mind of every action fan lately with the announcement of a forthcoming The Raid remake produced by Michael Bay and original director Gareth Evans. In the meantime, the latter’s new film is scheduled to drop on the platform in the coming weeks. Little is known about Havoc aside from the fact that Tom Hardy stars as a cop fighting his way through the criminal underworld. The film already has the longest stunt department crew list of the year, and is expected to be Evans’ return to the highest levels of cinematic brutality. Chris Hemsworth’s Tyler Rake is also alive and well, and Extraction 2 is set to continue his adventures. The film is directed by former stunt choreographer Sam Hargrave, who worked with the Russo brothers on the Infinity War/Endgame diptych. The Russos are also set to release a massive film this year, namely The Gray Man, Netflix’s most expensive movie to date (tied with Red Notice). And it would feel wrong not to mention the vampire action movie Day Shift, starring Jamie Foxx and directed by J. J. Perry, a former stunt performer and coordinator who has worked on dozens of the most beloved actioners of the last 30 years.
Indian mass entertainers
The many film industries of India have been postponing major releases for months because of the ongoing Covid crisis. Unfortunately, the worsening situation has led to another delay for RRR, S. S. Rajamouli’s massive follow-up to the game-changing Baahubali series. Originally slated for an early January release, it now looks like the rip-roaring Tollywood blockbuster might open in April — a crowded month if the Kannada-language competitor KGF: Chapter 2 keeps its current release date. The sequel to the rousing 2018 hit — in which a gangster went undercover as a slave to eliminate the owner of a gold mine — KGF: Chapter 2 might be the most anticipated film in the history of Sandalwood. It’s hard to know which release Indian cinema fans are more hyped up for, but it appears the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been in Kollywood for Ajith Kumar’s Valimai, which looks like an extravagant love letter to motorcycle stunts the likes of which only India can produce.
Just like in India, the Japanese market is interesting in that films produced exclusively in Japan tend to make their money back on the national market without having to be exported. Unlike Indian movies, however, which have become more and more available worldwide, this partly explains why some Japanese releases take months if not years to reach Western shores. Let’s hope it takes less time for Shin Ultraman to cross Japan’s borders. This new adaptation of the 1966 series is expected to be a spiritual successor to Shinji Higuchi and Hideaki Anno’s acclaimed Shin Godzilla.
The other big release on the horizon is Shinsuke Sato’s Kingdom II. The director’s resume, which includes intense actioners such as Library Wars, I Am a Hero, and Inuyashiki, as well as the Netflix series Alice in Borderland, has made him a household name. Also keep an eye out for the work of talented action designer Kensuke Sonomura in Bad City starring V-Cinema legend Hitoshi Ozawa, and in Tak Sakaguchi’s One Percenter.
No one punches people as beautifully as Ma Dong-seok (aka Don Lee), of Eternals and Train to Busan fame. Well, rejoice! Ma will be back this year to take names and kick butts in The Roundup, a sequel to the 2017 hit The Outlaws. The South Korean film industry continues to thrive while the country does remarkably well against the ongoing pandemic, so there is no shortage of local blockbusters on the way. Among the most promising ones are Special Delivery, a Transporter-like actioner starring Park So-dam (“Jessica” in Parasite) that came out in early January in Korea, as well as the swashbuckling adventure The Pirates: Goblin Flag, the intense sounding, Die Hard-like Project Wolf Hunting, about prisoners revolting on a ship at sea, and of course the return of Korea’s most acclaimed action filmmaker Ryoo Seung-wan with his 1970s-set film Smuggling.
What’s left of the Hong Kong glory days?
The fate of the Hong Kong film industry is still up in the air, but it did give us one of last year’s best action films with Raging Fire. So what do filmmakers have in store for us? Quite a few action films are on the cards, actually, but the biggest one is probably Warriors of Future, a sci-fi apocalyptic action blockbuster that should finally be coming out this year even though production wrapped in 2017. It’s hard not to be curious about The White Storm 3 as well, since the two previous installments managed to solidly entertain while recalling the good old days of the early 1990s, when the industry could go all out and offer a spectacle the likes of which we couldn’t see anywhere else.
But the most exciting film of the year might very well be Kowloon Walled City, which is currently in production and slated for a late 2022 release. Directed by Soi Cheang, the man behind the incredible SPL II: A Time For Consequences (Tony Jaa! Wu Jing! Max Zhang!), this new film stars some of Hong Kong’s greatest action stars, including the legendary Sammo Hung, with action choreography by the equally talented Kenji Tanigaki. The story is an adaptation of the cult manhua series City of Darkness, set in the 1980s. And yes, in case you were wondering, all three films mentioned here star Louis Koo, the most ubiquitous Hong Kong actor in recent memory.
The Chinese conquest
While the latest Spider-Man flick recently conquered the worldwide box office, Chinese blockbusters regularly come out on top without even factoring in the money they make outside China. Last year, two films crushed the box office: the family comedy Hi, Mom, and the war film The Battle at Lake Changjin. The latter is getting a sequel named Water Gate Bridge, still co-directed by three of the top current Chinese filmmakers, namely Dante Lam, Chen Kaige, and the legendary Tsui Hark. Unsurprisingly, it looks even more spectacular than its already impressive predecessor.
Designed to arouse patriotic feelings and celebrate Chinese victories over foreign forces, these films have become a staple of the country’s output. Internationally renowned director Zhang Yimou has co-directed another one of them with his daughter Zhang Mo entitled Sniper, the story of a young sniper who takes out an incredible number of American soldiers during the Korean war. Yes, it sounds exactly like Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper. But war films are hardly the only genre China intends to conquer. The $445 million budget project Fengshen Trilogy, now in post-production, aims at becoming the “Chinese Lord of the Rings,” according to its director. Little is known about the project so far, but an early teaser video has been online for a couple of years. Let’s hope 2022 is the year they finally unleash it on the screens.
Western direct-to-video actioners
Sure, DTV movies aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. The trick is to not approach all DTV films the same way we do major releases, because despite their limited budgets, these films often contain action gold served up by some of the most hard-working and talented people in the business. Undisputed indie action king Scott Adkins will be back on your screens soon with Accident Man 2, the sequel to the 2015 British comic book adaptation. Building on the charm and energy of the first film, this sequel should benefit from the talent of action designer Andy Long, regular collaborator of Indian action super star Vidyut Jammwal. Seeing as the Accident Man comics hold a special place for Adkins, this is no doubt his most personal upcoming project. Reliably solid DTV filmmaker William Kaufman (The Marine 4, Daylight’s End) has a few films coming up, the first of which will be The Channel, which sounds like an old-school, hard-boiled actioner about a gang of criminals on the run after a bank heist gone wrong. DTV action fans probably also know that Invincible, starring the great Johnny Strong and the absolutely jaw-dropping Chilean martial artist Marko Zaror (seen in Undisputed III and Alita: Battle Angel), is finally coming out this March. If you’re not much into DTV, just watch Zaror move for a couple of minutes. The man never fails to impress. He will also be in John Wick 4 next year.
Let’s finish up with three auteur-driven, mid-budget oddities — neither blockbusters nor DTV indies — no one was really thinking about in the action film category a mere few weeks ago. First, the Robert Eggers-directed The Northman revealed itself in a recent trailer as what appears to be an epic journey of revenge born of the same mould as John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian. The director being who he is, however, there is probably more than meets the eye and there is no telling just yet just how much the action will really matter in the end. Still, with swordmaster C.C. Smiff (Star Wars, Outlaw King) on duty, and Eggers’ incredible eye for striking visuals, there is enormous potential. Next up, the Daniels’ version of the multiverse Everything Everywhere All at Once has several things going for it beyond the outlandish premise: action legend Michelle Yeoh herself, of course, but also the amazing Martial Club brothers on action duties. This is a big deal, as the YouTube stars, who have proven over and over again to be both talented and creative, were hired by the late Brad Allen (Jackie Chan’s protégé) himself to train Simu Liu for his Shang-Chi role. Now in the big league, they have everything to prove with this film, which looks like it could deliver big time.
Closing this overview is one of the 2022 films we know the least about: Timo Tjahjanto’s The Big Four, which is currently filming. Why? Well, it’s a Timo Tjahjanto movie, for starters! The Indonesian director has proven himself a major voice on the international genre scene with acclaimed works such as Headshot and The Night Comes for Us, which made a big splash when it came out on Netflix in 2018. One of the most visceral and entertaining action films in recent memory, it reunited Iko Uwais and Joe Taslim a few years after their collaboration on The Raid. Last year, he also directed a segment in the V/H/S 94 horror anthology. Not much is known about The Big Four just yet. It is reported to be an action comedy and seems to have a cast of mostly unknown actors outside Indonesia, with the possible exception of Abimana Aryasatya, who appeared in The Night Comes for Us and had the title role in the Indonesian superhero film Gundala. In any case, Tjahjanto has never disappointed, and we very much look forward to what he has in store for us.