I've always said that this is the movie that Shaft should have been. I remember my college friends and I were so excited when it was announced that Samuel L. Jackson would play John Shaft in a movie. The idea of Jackson walking around talking smack and being awesome just sounded like a can't miss. It missed. Shaft is incredibly densely plotted, confusing, and poorly acted. I'm looking at you, Vanessa Williams. Payback stars Gibson as Porter, an armed robber who wakes up after being ambushed and left for dead by a former partner. He's owed $70,000 from the last job they pulled, and he goes about getting it back, killing his way to the top of the local crime syndicate. He's John Shaft with a bigger gun: walking around, talking smack, and being awesome.
The Road Warrior
The second movie in the Mad Max trilogy, The Road Warrior is by far the best. Again, a simple premise: in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, gas is gold. A lone cruiser, Gibson comes across a compound under siege. He trades his expertise and violence for all the gas he can carry. Post-apocalyptic chaos ensues. And is awesome.
One phrase is all that's necessary: "Diplomatic immunity!" "...has just been revoked." Awesome.
Mel Gibson has good comic timing. I think his cameo in The Hangover 2 would have been hilarious and winning (which is probably why certain co-stars couldn't allow it). His interplay with Jodie Foster and James Garner is really well done. Maverick, of course, is an adaptation of the late 50s-early 60s television show of the same name, starring Garner and Jack Kelly. A well-dressed gambler always looking for a good game? Complete with witty banter? Awesome.
Early enough in M. Night Shyamalan's catalog to not be completely terrible, Signs is a good, old-fashioned thriller. An alien invasion story that is narrow in scope, it centers on a single family (Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Abigail Breslin, and Rory Culkin...a great cast) on their farm, needing to survive. Gibson plays a faithless former Episcopal priest (a little close to home...) who needs God to help him get through. Oh, and he looks awesome in a clerical collar.
We Were Soldiers
The "other" Vietnam movie, I liked We Were Soldiers more than either Platoon (the most overrated movie of all time) or Apocalypse Now (how many times can I type that word in one blog post?). Dealing with the human stories in the midst of war, both home and abroad, this movie is pretty moving. But Mel is Mel, using his limited range to walk around upright in the face of enemy fire, lead men, and be awesome.