5 - 1
Living in an age where either the sword or the arrow commanded respect, the characters of Peter Jackson’s epic extravaganza make mincemeat out of those without the ability of the blade. Even when their foes turn malevolent and monstrous, our hobbits and humans, dwarves and elf descendents use the cold edge of steel to make sure their cause is vindicated. And thanks to the talent in the director’s chair, who clearly believes in the old school dynamic of show (not shaky-cam) the action, we wind up with something both exhilarating and engaging.
Though not a real Jedi quite yet (at least, that’s what Master Yoda thinks), our holdover hero from the original Star Wars has a score to settle with Sith Lord Darth Vader, and this time, it ends up being doubly personal. Of course, Luke is seeking revenge for the death of his buddy and mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi. During his epic duel with the man-machine however, he learns a lesson that makes his heart even heavier. While he ends up losing a hand during the melee, he gains an insight into his foe that will help him win out in the end.
While there have been several versions of the Alexandre Dumas tale, our money is on this cheeky ‘70s take from famed Beatles barker Richard Lester. The casting is impeccable - Oliver Reed, Frank Findlay, and Richard Chamberlain as Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, Michael York as wannabe d’Artagnan - with supporting players equally impressive (Charlton Heston! Raquel Welch! Faye Dunaway! Christopher Lee!) and the storyline does stay (somewhat) true to the original novel. But it’s the swordplay that really sells things, a clever combination of slapstick and seriousness that would come to characterize the genre for decades to come.
Like a direct byproduct of Lester’s lunatic fringe, Gore Verbinski clearly saw the comic possibilities available to the genre when it came to giving his twee buccaneer dandy a blade. Indeed, Johnny Depp’s performance as the fallible skipper of the Black Pearl personifies the current cultural obsession with the swashbuckler. No matter the adventure (even the lame fourth installment of the series, On Stranger Tides), one can always count on the balletic back and forth between the jaunty Jack Sparrow and his various foes. It’s like having a hit song at the center of every musical you make - he’s that important…and good.
Okay, so she’s an assassin, and yes we remember what we said about leaving the Asian angle out of this for the time being, but Uma Thurman in a yellow jumpsuit, taking out the entire membership of the Crazy 88 gang singlehandedly cannot go without mention. As a matter of fact, for Tarantino’s fastidious recreation of his favorite Hong Kong tropes alone we’d pick this babe with a badass blade. But there is such artistry in the fighting, such a sense of narrative urgency and aggression that we can’t over look it. Besides, it definitely bests almost everything else herein.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.