I am as amazed as the rest of you that I am writing about Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. While I've long since learned not to dismiss animation as a medium – not after a year when we had Turning Red, Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio, Wendell & Wild, and Entergalactic – I'm less forgiving of what we might describe as 'kids movies'. Sure, we've seen countless examples of movies being made for kids that have a rich appeal for adults too (The Lion King, Toy Story, more recently Frozen and Encanto), but I've also endured the likes of Minions. Considering Puss in Boots originated in Shrek, that would arguably make The Last Wish Shrek 6, and that's not a compelling thought. But make no mistake – Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is neither a 'kids movie' nor a Shrek movie. Instead, it's the best action movie of the year.
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I know what you're thinking. It's only January 10. It's a little early to call that race. But remember, Puss in Boots came out in 2022, and that shop has already closed. I think Puss in Boots was the best action movie of last year, and there was some stiff competition. Going by Letterboxd categorisation, the most popular action movie of the year was Everything Everywhere All at Once, but I'm not sure that's an accurate description, so I'm discounting it. After that, there's Top Gun: Maverick, which I was a little cooler on than most but which I would accept as a worthy foe to Puss. Meanwhile, RRR is busier than a raw action flick, but it too gets a hat tip. The Batman, not categorised as action by Letterboxd for some reason, is another worthy opponent. But Puss runs rings around all the rest.
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Thor: Love & Thunder? Black Adam? The Gray Man? Ambulance? Puss in Boots laughs in their faces. Even Bullet Train, Prey, and Doctor Strange are off the pace of Puss. I did not expect it to be this good. I did not expect it to be good full stop. It's perhaps hyperbole to say it's the most interesting use of animation in mainstream movie making since Into the Spider-Verse, but at the same time I can't think of an example to counter it. Much like Spider-Verse animating Miles on twos (meaning every other frame, rather than every frame), Puss in Boots plays with the animation speed of each character during action sequences, imbuing them all with a sense of personality. The animation is vibrant and hectic, but always purposeful, with fantastic use of colour, visual metaphor, and angled shots to highlight the emotion of each scene.
Movies like this are often discussed primarily for their animation. Into the Spider-Verse is a great example. Despite having one of the most compelling Spider-Man stories and a selection of some of the best written supporting characters of any comic book adaptation anywhere, Spider-Verse is mostly talked about for how good it looks. Likewise, early discussion of Puss in Boots (it's out in Europe and on VOD in the US, though won't hit UK theatres until February) is focussing on the stellar animation of a handful of scenes in particular. I'm not here to discourage this celebration, but this is more than just moving pictures that look good. As I said, this is a grade-A action movie.
You take away the animation and strip back some of the fantastical elements and this is the sort of movie Bruce Willis (the greatest action star of all time, no questions taken at this point please) would have rocked in the '90s. Puss is facing death – no, not facing, fearing – and we see him struggling with PTSD. His heart slams in his chest, his breath catches in his throat, his legacy flashes before him. Antonio Banderas is not just back for a paycheque and the sequel is not a cheap way to pump out Shrek-adjacent merchandise. Like 16 Blocks, Die Hard with a Vengeance, or Sin City, this is a dark tale with a flawed lead, and behind all the action and splashes of colour, there is real heart and real hurt.
Puss, working with the woman he almost married and a friend he just met who brings out the best of him, must conquer his quest. He faces physical battles, sure – battles and bridges and boats – but far more than that, he faces emotional battles, presented to the audience in ways that are so compelling and relatable. It is impossible not to root for Puss, but things are not so simple.
For the majority of the story, the foes he faces are Goldilocks and the Three Bears, who are equally compelling, equally complex, and equally deserving of our love. Goldilocks is voiced phenomenally by Florence Pugh, who should do cartoons far more often, while the Bears are played by Ray Winstone, Olivia Coleman, and Samson Kayo, who have the warmest chemistry of any family I have seen on screen this year, animated or not. This is a well rounded tale with characters worth caring for everywhere you look.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a brilliantly constructed movie with varied arcs that feed into one another, satisfying wrap-ups, earnest character development, and spectacular set pieces. It doesn't have car chases, it doesn't have bombs, it doesn't have high speed fighter jets, but it is nonetheless the best action movie of the year.