As summer movie season has inched its way earlier and earlier to the point where we’re regularly getting major blockbusters in March and April, so too has more and more of the calendar been overtaken by IP-driven megatainment. But the past few weeks have given us something special: in between the Sonics and the Morbiuses, the jaded moviegoer could find their way to the multiplex and see a trio of electric spectacles, each with their own specific stylistic pleasures. If you’re craving a better brand of action movie in your life, find eight hours and buy some tickets — your wish has been granted.
Start your triple feature with the word-of-mouth sensation sweeping the nation, Everything Everywhere All at Once. Directing duo Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), determined to one-up themselves despite already being best known for a movie in which Daniel Radcliffe earns second billing playing a farting corpse (the charmingly weird Swiss Army Man), craft a uproariously wild action comedy that results in one of the most ecstatic theatrical experiences in years — pre-pandemic included. Orbiting around the brilliant Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere taps into the hot new trend of metaverses, but instead of showing you exactly what you’ve been clamoring for (e.g. multiple Spider-Men) the film promises — and delivers — the completely unexpected in the most thrilling way possible. In many ways it’s a film that has to be seen to be believed, such is the pure inventiveness of a screenplay that wears its influences on its sleeve but executes its premise in a manner that feels wholly original.
From the Wachowskis and Jackie Chan to Stanley Kubrick and Wong Kar-wai, Daniels expertly thread the needle of homage while giving the audience plenty of opportunity to scream and laugh with delight, but the film’s biggest gift to movie lovers is the elevation of its two stars: Yeoh, of course, remains a master of the art, a pleasure to watch in any setting, and she’s gifted here with a role worthy of her skills and stature — she excels at tear-jerking drama, witty comedy, and general ass-kicking in equal measure. But as capital-G Great as Yeoh is, the story of the film may just be the belated re-emergence of Ke Huy Quan. Best known for his childhood roles in The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Quan acted sporadically in the years following and had been more or less retired for the previous two decades — a fact you wouldn’t have guessed based solely on his performance here, a wonderfully funny, nuanced, and moving piece of acting that achingly paints the leading man career that should have been, while making it clear that his best years are far from behind him.
Once you’ve wiped the tears from your eyes (the product of both laughing and crying), it’s time to strap on your seatbelt for Ambulance, arguably the most Michael Bay-esque movie to ever hit the silver screen. Now, to be fair, I said basically the same thing about his last film, but the difference between 6 Underground and Ambulance is that — not to be too reductive — regardless of their superficial similarities, the former kind of stinks and the latter unequivocally rocks. While it’s impossible to assign a singular cause to the discrepancy in quality between the two films, it’s also hard not to look at their respective budgets — $150 million for Underground, $40 million for Ambulance — and not be reminded of the fact that Bay, despite his reputation for bombastic filmmaking, tends to produce some of his best work under relative financial restraint. In many ways, Ambulance represents a throwback to the mid-budget actioner that existed prior to the IP takeover: star- and premise-driven, thrillingly nasty, and focused on wringing as much excitement and tension as possible out of the two hours it holds you captive in the theater.
Bay borrows liberally from other standouts of the genres he’s playing in — Ambulance essentially boils down to one part Heat, one part Collateral, and two parts Speed — but dials everything up to 11 in the way that only he can. From a wonderfully unhinged Jake Gyllenhaal to an unbelievable amount of drone shots, from an extended surgery sequence in the middle of a high-speed chase to characters having extended conversations about other Michael Bay movies, the finished product is an exercise in unbridled machismo and gleeful “why the hell not” filmmaking. Is it mostly ridiculous? Certainly. At 136 minutes, does it overstay its welcome? Sure, but — somewhat miraculously — only slightly. With Gyllenhaal chewing every piece of scenery in sight, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II planting yet another flag for superstardom, and Eiza González holding her own as the beating heart of the movie, I imagine you’ll find it surprisingly easy to forgive Ambulance its faults and excesses and just go along for the ride.
Speaking of excess, the final entry of our hypothetical triple feature might just take the cake. Maximalism is the name of the game when it comes to RRR, S. S. Rajamouli’s three-plus-hour genre-defying action-musical-bromance, but I’m confident you’ll find it worth every minute. Rajamouli’s epic period piece fictionalizes the lives of two early-mid 20th century Indian revolutionaries, Komaram Bheem and Alluri Sitarama Raju, by asking the all-important question: what if these two men, who by all accounts never met, were actually…best friends? If that sounds a little silly it’s because it is, but that’s a feature, not a bug, and one that clearly plays to the strengths of the film’s leads. N.T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan count among Indian cinema’s biggest superstars and it’s not hard to see why: the two are true renaissance men on the screen, able to move from comedy to drama or song and dance to action at the drop of a hat. Their chemistry and sheer charisma power the movie in a way I’ve rarely seen in recent years, keeping various threads connected as they stand steadfastly at the film’s center.
That chemistry combines with a staggering array of inventive action sequences and at least one incredible musical sequence (an early contender for scene of the year) to help neutralize the intimidating runtime, an approach so effective that I was actually disappointed when I realized the film would be ending soon. Rajamouli continues to up the ante with every new setpiece in a manner reminiscent of the Mission: Impossible franchise, and makes up for the occasional shagginess of the CGI with a go-for-broke mentality in how (and how frequently) digital effects are implemented, often in service of the creative slaughter of cartoonishly evil British colonizers — though I’m woefully undereducated on the historical and political contexts with which the film is playing, it’s hard not to stand up and cheer when the hammy, Ray Stevenson-led Englishmen get their comeuppance over and over. RRR is messy, exhilarating, overlong — and ultimately, one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year.