Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
Summer blockbuster season is officially upon us, and you can’t have a summer blockbuster without a proper action hero. After all, someone needs to stare into the distance with grim determination, crack jokes in the middle of a tense fight, run in slow motion away from an explosion, and make audiences everywhere swoon over the silhouette of their perfect profile in the sunset. 2014 has its own crop of actors competing for our affections and wallets, all of them hoping to be the next big movie star. But which one is truly the most heroic? Who stands triumphant over his fallen comrades as the best action hero of the year?
The Ones We’ve Seen:
Mark Wahlberg, Transformers: Age of Extinction
Who He’s Playing: Cade Yaeger, a struggling inventor who stumbles across and injure Optimus Prime and restores him to health.
Strengths: No matter what he’s in, Wahlberg gives off an intimidating vibe – he seems like the kind of guy who would punch a giant robot in the face without thinking twice about it – but he’s also able to give whichever tough guy he’s playing this time some charm. Wahlberg isn’t afraid of anything, especially not the rules of logic that state a born and bred Texan shouldn’t speak like he grew up in Boston.
Weaknesses: It’s a Transformers film, so ultimately, character is less important than robots punching each other. Wahlberg doesn’t get a lot to work with here, but he doesn’t seem to put in enough work to make Cade anything other than a generic tough guy. He could be giving this same performance in basically any action movie.
Tom Cruise, Edge of Tomorrow
Who He’s Playing: Major William Cage, a solider in the United Defense Forces who goes back in time to one day in particular every time he dies.
Strengths: Everyone knows that Cruise can perform impressive stunts or drive alien spaceships with ease, but Edge of Tomorrow brought back a side of the actor that we haven’t seen in a while, something that was dearly missed in many of his recent blockbusters. We are, of course, talking about his ability to play a complete jackass better than almost anyone in Hollywood. As Cage, Cruise was sarcastic, rude, obnoxious and more charming than he’s been in years, and it felt like a proper return to his former action hero glory.
Weaknesses: Once he stops being so obnoxious, we like him less, and the movie suffers for it. Plus, all of the charm in the world isn’t able to distract us from how awkward Cruise looks in the battle skeleton, which seems uncomfortable and unwieldy.
James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, X-Men: Days of Future Past
Who They’re Playing: Professor X and Magneto, of course.
Strengths: One of the things that make the X-Men movies so great is the chemistry between Professor X and Magneto, and McAvoy and Fassbender have it in spades. Every time these two are onscreen together it’s exciting, which makes them one of the best action hero teams around. They also bring a sense of gravitas and depth to their characters, rather than just letting the stunts and effects carry the film, which makes their characters and relationship even more compelling, and the X-Men films as a whole more enjoyable. McAvoy’s drunk, depressed Charles is a tour de force performance that you’re unlikely to see in most summer blockbusters.
Weaknesses: As interesting as they are together, their performances can easily get lost in the complicated plot and cast of thousands. Sure, McAvoy and Fassbender are brilliant together, but when you left the theater, the only person you were still talking about was Quicksilver.
Chris Evans, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Who He’s Playing: Captain America, duh.
Strengths: A lot of the time, people seem to think that Cap is a dull, by-the-book, overly-serious character who’s focused on nothing but rules and easily confused by technology. But Evans gives him dimension, charm and the kind of biting wit that is normally associated with Tony Stark. He easily carries the film with his performance, which is by turns sympathetic, intense, and incredibly hilarious, and he managed to make the most impressive, complicated stunts look simple and graceful. Plus, he has the best profile of anyone on this list, and everyone knows an action hero is nothing without a strong jawline.
Weaknesses: As charismatic as Evans is, Cap often gets overlooked in favor of the more dramatic or hilarious characters, like the Winter Soldier or Falcon, since they’re a bit flashier.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Godzilla
Who He’s Playing: Ford Brody, a US soldier specializing in EODs.
Strengths: Like Wahlberg, Taylor-Johnson looks like an action hero. He’s got the steely gaze, the clenched jaw and the trademark action hero biceps, all of which help him come across as a tough, capable soldier. He’s best in the quieter moments when Ford is reuniting with his family or connecting with his father or comforting a lost child on the train, which gives him a bit more depth and charm than the average hero.
Weaknesses: Unfortunately, that’s the only thing that Ford Brody has going for him. He’s rather generic, staring out at monsters with a blank face and getting little to do other than running from disaster to disaster. If only Godzilla had realized that Ken Watanabe was the real protagonist of the film; maybe then Ford wouldn’t seem so bland.
The Ones We Haven’t:
Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy
Who He’s Playing: Peter Quill a.k.a. Star Lord, a pilot and thief who teams up with a band of misfits in order to protect the galaxy.
Strengths: As anyone who has ever seen a single episode of Parks and Recreation can attest, Pratt basically radiates charm. He’s funny, he’s warm, he’s likable and if the trailer is any indication, he can kick some serious butt as well. A goofy action comedy is the perfect vehicle for Pratt, and the combination of his comedic chops and his natural gift with stunts (he does every single one of Andy Dwyer’s pratfalls himself) should be enough to turn him into a proper movie star.
Weaknesses: Pratt might be just a touch too goofy to be taken seriously as an action hero. Sure, he’s tall and buff, but he seems more likely to hug your than punch you, which might make it difficult for audiences to see him as a tough, intimidating superhero.
Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Who He’s Playing: Caesar, the Simian ruler of the new nation of Apes that has taken over the planet.
Strengths: We might have to wait until July 11 to see Serkis in action, but we did manage to get a good impression of the character in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Serkis is wonderful at communicating Caesar’s thoughts and ideas even without words, which gives him the advantage of not having to deal with the typical cheesy action movie dialogue, and his performance is intense and intimidating.
Weaknesses: It might be a challenge for universal audiences to connect with an ape the same way that they would a human, but Serkis proved in Rise that he can instill Caesar with plenty of empathy. Now able to speak, we imagine he’ll top even himself.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Hercules
Who He’s Playing: Hercules. Who else would The Rock play?
Strengths: Despite his intimidating size, Johnson is an incredibly goofy, charismatic guy, and he’s generally very good a bringing that to the characters he plays. An ideal Hercules would blend the action and heroics with enough charm to make us care about him and root for him, and if there’s one thing that Johnson is good at, it’s winning over an audience.
Weaknesses: Hercules has to follow the dismal Legend of Hercules and Pompeii, so Johnson is under a lot of pressure to create a charming, likable, interesting character in order to avoid being lumped in with the rest of them. That’s a big challenge for his first proper action hero role, and the trailer seems to give off a dismal, serious vibe, so he’ll have a lot working against him.
Scarlett Johansson, Lucy
Who She’s Playing: Lucy, a woman with the ability to access and control her brain’s full potential, which gives her the ability to control the world around her.
Strengths: With experience as both a leading lady and a superhero, Johansson should have no trouble blending both to create an exciting, original character. As Lucy, she gives off a strong, independent vibe that’s at once intimidating and compelling. And we already know that Johansson’s able to inject a healthy dose of charm into whoever she’s playing, so it seems like Lucy might just beat the boys at their own game.
Weaknesses: She’s got a complex, convoluted plot to contend with, which means she’ll need to spend a lot of time rattling off exposition. That takes away from the time the audience spends getting to know the character, and if Johansson doesn’t make it interesting enough, it could keep them from connecting with Lucy.
Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, and Pete Plozek, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Who They’re Playing: Ritchson is Raphael, Fisher is Michelangelo, Howard is Donatello and Plozek will be playing Leonardo, although his voice will be dubbed over by Johnny Knoxville.
Strengths: They’re all practically unknown, which means that audiences don’t quite know what to expect from them – a fact which the Turtles themselves would no doubt use to their advantage. The most recognizable of the bunch is Fisher, whose role as Mickey Milkovich on Shameless has proven that he’s a talented actor who brings a lot of depth and layers to his characters. He turned one of the show’s bullies into one of its heroes, which bodes well for his ability to connect with an audience.
Weaknesses: The Turtles themselves are CGI, and since the trailer promises weird, slightly freaky-looking creatures, it’s going to be a challenge for them to give a compelling performance through all of the effects. Since they themselves will be unrecognizable, it’s going to be harder for them to win over the audience and get them to root for these characters.