In the 1990’s, there were a lot of action movie stars popping up, but most didn’t have what it took to break out of the direct-to-video market. However, I think Thomas Ian Griffith really had the talents to make it, but never really did. This might be a simple fact of not having a breakout film or role like Steven Seagal or Van Damme had early on. Regardless, Griffith had two vital qualities of a successful action hero in the 90’s. First off, he was trained in Kenpo Karate and Tae Kwon Do, so, he could do far more than just shoot things up. Secondly, he had charisma to spare making for some fun, lively performances. All of this could be seen as the villain in The Karate Kid, Part III, of which he was the best thing about that movie. So, I want to explore some of Griffith’s action films and find out exactly what he had to offer. With Excessive Force, Griffith is supported by such solid actors as Lance Henriksen, James Earl Jones, Tony Todd, and Burt Young for something that looks very solid, but let’s see if it really holds up to that appearance.
When $3 million disappears during a drug bust, undercover Chicago cop Terry McCain (Griffith) is pitted against Sal DiMarco (Burt Young), a sadistic mob boss who will do anything to get his money back, and a conspiracy of corruption from within the police department. After McCain’s partner is brutally murdered and his ex-wife is threatened, he strikes back the only way he knows how – with force! Framed for a murder he didn’t commit and hunted by his own friends on the force, McCain finds refuge with his old pal Jake (James Earl Jones) and his ex-wife Anna (Charlotte Lewis) as he’s lead into a desperate showdown with dangerous forces.
This movie has a fairly straight forward plot with only a few clever turns, but it’s not intended to be a wickedly twisting and turning crime thriller. It starts out as a revenge movie, but then, shifts into a web of deceit as McCain goes on the run once people start gunning for him. The script by Thomas Ian Griffith really makes good use of Chicago to this effect. He really incorporates the crooked politics and mobbed up history of it in a couple of smart ways. There are corrupt cops and deceptive allegiances at play in this story, and it really feels like authentic Chicago organized crime. The story twists around enough to where Terry doesn’t know who he can trust, and thus, he feels betrayed by every friend he has left living. It’s never a very taut sort of plot thread that forces McCain into heavy paranoia, but its place in the story is dealt with quite well and where it’s most effective. It also has some good pay-off and turnarounds at the end.
Thomas Ian Griffith leads this film very solidly. Having wrote the script himself, the more personal depth of his performance is apparent. Early on, we see the driven, charismatic, and lively cop who can kick ass with the best of them. He sets the energy for the film from the start, and continues to keep it exciting and interesting. As events progress, we see the drama and emotion sink into Terry McCain with plenty of weight that propels him forward through the film. Griffith has great chemistry with everyone especially Charlotte Lewis, Tony Todd as a fellow cop Frankie Hawkins, and Lance Henriksen as the soon-to-be Police Chief Devlin. Terry and Anna gradually reconnect and spark off some steam later on, but it’s very brief. Surely, a hot, erotic sex scene would be gratuitous, but I would not have complained if they injected some of that.
And of course, Griffith delivers on the action. I was really impressed with the martial arts moves he employed, mainly the number of high and roundhouse kicks he dished out. He really kicks some guys silly, and bashes up a lot of heads on a regular basis. While its not as intense as what Seagal was doing at the time, Griffith has his moments of bone breaking bad assery. If there’s any one shortcoming is that there’s no adversary that’s a real physical challenge for him, and so, there’s not a great single fight that stands out. Regardless, the action scenes are all very competently shot, choreographed, edited, and solidly executed overall.
Burt Young is pretty impressive as a ruthless Mafioso. He’s bluntly violent killing someone with a pencil through the ear, and having peoples’ legs bashed in with a baseball bat. He’s quite convincing with the balancing of the supposed sophisticated businessman and the merciless big crime boss. However, his screentime is shorter than you’d expect, but it leads to more interesting plotlines.
Also, the role of the police commander can often fall into clichéd territory, but thankfully, Lance Henriksen does a very subtle, understated job with Devlin. While he and McCain aren’t the best of friends, they can have respect despite their friction, and it’s really that relationship which gives Henriksen something fresh to work with. I also especially like the turn he has about halfway through as he becomes a bit more sleazy and brazen. As he gets deeper into this character, Henriksen gets more and more awesome.
I dearly love Tony Todd. Many know him as the horror icon Candyman, but he has such a wide range of talent that he also excellently displays here. He has one great scene in this film of emotional depth and strain which really sets him apart as a special, standout actor. A lot of other actors wouldn’t have put as much real heart and passions into such a small supporting role, but Todd does nothing less than superb work in everything he does.
These characters are interwoven into this decently forged conspiracy effectively. There’s a surprise or two to be had, and the characters themselves are fleshed out by the performances even if the dimension isn’t written on the page. A really good actor can always add and enhance what’s written in the script into something special or at least entertaining. I’ve seen enough standard fare action movies where lackluster performances make the film nothing but mediocre. Yet, vibrant and solid ones can make all the difference, and that’s certainly the case here. Like I said, when I saw the cast list I was impressed and intrigued if that acting quality would show through, and I think it really, really did.
The score of this movie was surprisingly done by Charles Bernstein, who I’ve only known from A Nightmare On Elm Street. His work here is distinctly early 90’s action, but he mixes in enough dramatic cues and moments of tension in certain scenes to give it some personality. James Earl Jones’ character of Jake runs a jazz club, and so, we get some smooth, lively sounds out of that early on. Bernstein’s score surely isn’t going to stun and amaze you, but it does its job very, very well. I would suppose that’s a good summation of the whole movie.
Excessive Force is not a great action movie, but it’s a really good effort that I did like. The script is well written, and very well directed by Jon Hess, but it’s really the exceptional acting talents of its admirable cast that allows this movie to be as good as it is. If filled with lesser grade talents, this would really falter, but putting guys like Griffith, Henriksen, Todd, Jones, and more into it gives it some extra substance. Each of them really put a real dedicated effort into their roles, and it made the film enjoyable outside of the nicely put together action scenes, of which Excessive Force does have a nice even helping of. Something exciting does happen about every ten to fifteen minutes, but the pace overall is quite consistent and well balanced to make it feel natural. There’s never action just for the sake of action. It all flows from the slightly twisting story, and Griffith’s athletic talents really make it all work. He certainly shows a lot of potential here in all aspects, and he’s a really fun, exciting lead. While Excessive Force doesn’t have the makings of a blockbuster success, I think it deserved better than grossing less than half its $3 million budget at the box office. It’s not a big explosive thrill ride, but it’s quite an enjoyable piece of low budget action fare.
To this very day, I am still a Street Fighter II gamer fan, but I have never seen either of the live action movies based on that video game property. Instead, Mortal Kombat is the one that I have always greatly enjoyed. I was subscribed to a few video game magazines back in the day when I owned my Super Nintendo, and I remember all the hype and articles that were published on the making of this film. With how poorly received the Street Fighter movie was, fans were clamoring for Mortal Kombat to succeed and dominate at the box office, which it did. Although, I’m glad my tastes matured to realize how bad this film’s sequel was, but this rather impressive first film by, of all people, Paul W.S. Anderson still holds up rather well today.
Summoned to the mysterious land of Outworld by the sorcerer Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), three martial arts warriors engage in the ultimate battle of good against evil – the supernatural tournament of Mortal Kombat. The honorable Liu Kang (Robin Shou) seeks to avenge his brother’s death, action film star Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) desires a validation of his skills, and the dogged law enforcement agent Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson) hunts a murderous underworld criminal. They are all brought together under the guidance of Lord Raiden (Christopher Lambert), God of Lighting, to put them on the path to victory, or else Earth will fall to the forces of darkness forever.
Movies adapted from video games have been a notoriously bad film genre. So many filmmakers find it difficult to adapt the material into a recognizable product, but Mortal Kombat had a very well fleshed out story built into it. Still, Hollywood seems to make a habit out of screwing up the easiest of adaptations, but here, it is a stunningly near faithful job. Sure, Kano is changed from Chinese to Australian, and maybe a few details are messed with here and there. However, this film is executed exceptionally well from a fairly good screenplay with a lot of fun to be had.
The only real shortcoming this movie has, which does date the film, is the quality of the digital effects. The filmmakers really kept the budget down under $20 million, which was very smart on all levels, but especially in 1995, that really limited what CGI could do for them. Even the bad CGI of today is better than what we get here. However, if the film is good enough in story, characters, and entertainment value, I can forgive substandard effects. The most impressive effect, which is done entirely practically, is the towering Prince Goro. Surely, if made today, he’d be 100% CGI, but these filmmakers made the smart and economic choice of creating an animatronic character. He can be a little stiff at times, but frankly, I’d take a well implemented practical creature over a cheap CGI one, which we do get in the form of Reptile.
What really makes this film work, in my opinion, is that it does take the property fairly seriously, but keeps the tone comfortably open for humor and light fun. There are bright, cartoonish characters like Kano, Sub-Zero, and Scorpion, but there’s a firm enough sense of danger and gravity attached to them to make them formidable, not funny. There is an emotional story for Liu Kang to traverse dealing with fate, destiny, grief, guilt, and his own inner strength. That gives the film its weight of drama and heart, but it’s never bogged down by heavier subject matter. Anderson hits that right balance to give the film some substance, but maintain a tone completely conducive to fun. It’s sad to say that many of his subsequent films couldn’t achieve that respectable balance.
They say a hero is only as good as his villain, and in this case, we have a great villain in Shang Tsung perfectly cast with Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. He is a rock solid serious threat enveloping himself in a dark, haunting mystique. You can tell he was enjoying playing this meaty role. He has an authoritative presence, but wisely maintains a low key, confident manner showing that Shang Tsung is truly in control every step of the way. However, Tagawa can unleash a vicious mean streak when the moment calls for it. He just portrays a great, smart, subtly charismatic, and cunning villain that I have always thoroughly enjoyed. Better yet, he gets to speak all of the game’s signature lines such as “flawless victory” and “finish him!”
While Johnny, Sonya, and Liu are treated fairly equally through most of the film, it is indeed Liu Kang that is the intended lead hero. Robin Shou does a very admirable job taking Liu on a progression from the skeptical, slightly arrogant young man to a wiser, stronger fighter. Shou shows he can handle the lightly introspective and soul searching qualities of the role very well, and is a very capable martial artist. I really like the journey he takes Liu Kang on, but the film, almost wisely, doesn’t dwell on these character development aspects. I have no doubt that Shou could have done more with it had the script called for it, but the film maintains a tight and consistent pace of excitement. So, there’s hardly a lull in the action or momentum, and Paul W.S. Anderson fits everything comfortably into a 101 minute runtime.
Johnny Cage is charismatically portrayed by Linden Ashby. He really is a well-rounded fit into this group of characters adding in the needed arrogant wiseass comments, but being charming and likable all the way through. It’s interesting to note that the role had been previously offered, supposedly, to both Jean-Claude Van Damme and Brandon Lee. Van Damme chose to do Street Fighter while Lee had tragically died before production began. It’s interesting to think how the film would have been different with either of them as Cage. Regardless, Ashby proved way more than capable, and really shined flawlessly in this role.
Of course, Christopher Lambert is just delightful. I could probably watch a movie of any quality as long as Lambert is having fun in it, which says a lot for why I own the first three Highlander sequels. As Raiden, he brings both a weight of wisdom and levity of charm into the mix. His slightly raspy voice really lends towards the ancient mystique of the God of Lightning. Lambert, overall, just delivers the dramatic, thematic weight of these warriors with Raiden’s perceptive words of wisdom, and just makes things a little more fun and charming at times.
Many of these actors really deliver on the physical and martial arts demands, and the film throws some regular action scenes their way. While none of it is the best martial arts fight choreography you’ll ever see, it serves its purpose towards an exciting and thrilling movie. The only weak link is probably Bridgette Wilson as she doesn’t come off as a very skilled fighter using very basic kicks and punches. Even taken as just law enforcement training, it’s still nothing special. Shou and Ashby show off much more diverse and dynamic skills, and are much more interesting and fun to watch in their fights. Thankfully, they are the ones given the most opportunity to show off those skills.
Of course, the possible biggest point of contention is that the video game was famous for being a very graphic and bloody video game, but this is almost an entirely bloodless PG-13 film. However, this movie does its job quite well enough that the absence of blood and gore has never bothered me. Certainly, many fans likely still wanted to satiate their cinematic bloodlust when the end credits rolled, but this Mortal Kombat movie is still primed to please, regardless.
While I wouldn’t say there’s anything special to say about the cinematography as a whole, Anderson does have everything shot very smartly. A lot of sets are utilized to create the exotic feeling of Outworld, and enough is done with lighting, camera angles and framing, and a little bit of haze to make these sets work solidly. There are some very visually sharp moments utilizing some light, shadow, and fog to build up mystique, which is really the film’s strong suit. There’s a respectable amount of atmosphere in this film which creates the sense of unease and danger for our heroes. Everything is being fought on Shang Tsung’s world and his terms, and that world is indeed very intriguing with some very smart production designs, borrowing from some Asian cultures for a little added exotic flare.
Mortal Kombat really does succeed in putting the concepts and characters of the video game into a respectable feature film package. Unlike the live action Street Fighter, this movie is able to retain its tournament format as it is entirely connected with the larger plot. Fight and lose, Earth falls to Outworld. Fight and win, and we are free from their impending tyranny. Every character motivation and arc is intertwined with that very logically, and the film smartly contains its cast of characters to avoid spreading itself thin. Everyone has the right amount of screentime to flesh out their roles and progress the plot forward in just the right ways. While the script is nothing spectacular, it hit all the right marks and kept everything very manageable in story structure and characters for its director to make the most of the concept under fairly tight constraints.
Mortal Kombat might not be a flawless victory, but it was a very solid first step forward to one that never happened. Believe it or not, I actually gave this film’s sequel a positive review upon its theatrical release. An avid video game friend of mine made me realize the error of my ways a few years later, and I retracted and rewrote that review in a much more negative, yet honest light. Anyway, what we’ve got with Paul W.S. Anderson’s 1995 live action film is a surprisingly damn good movie filled with a consistent current of energy flowing through it, which is electrifyingly reflected by its intense electronic techno dance remix soundtrack. Overall, it’s just a fun martial arts action fantasy film that is definitely one of the best video game-to-film adaptations ever done. I really, seriously love this movie completely. It’s a great piece of exciting entertainment that will get you jonesing to play one of these games all over again!
The late 1980’s was the debut of a new action star – Steven Seagal. By the dawn of the 90’s, he had already done Above the Law and Hard to Kill, but he was still finding his footing. However, Marked For Death finds him successfully planting his feet and launching forward with a gritty, hard edged action blockbuster. Helmed by Dwight H. Little, who I’ve found to be a very solid director starting with Halloween 4, this delivers qualities that I find severely lacking in modern action cinema. Here, Dwight Little demonstrates his merit alongside Seagal in excellent fashion. This is my best friend’s favorite Steven Seagal film. So, I hope I do it justice for him.
Burned-out after losing his partner on the job, Drug Enforcement Agent John Hatcher (Steven Seagal) hopes to find some calm and serenity by returning to his hometown. But things at home have changed and not for the better. Jamaican drug lords, led by a black-magic high priest named Screwface (Basil Wallace), have completely infiltrated the small town. But this gang soon learns that they’ve met their match in John Hatcher, and all the mystical voodoo in the world won’t be enough to stop Hatcher’s wrath!
I think this would be a great double feature with Predator 2 due to the Jamaican drug gangs in both. The spooky ritualistic and mystical atmosphere around them is very compelling. Screwface, a hell of a weird name if I’ve ever heard one, is a scary, psychotic bad guy. He’s right off the deep end, and like something from your darkest, twisted nightmare. His piercing eyes are haunting, and the fact that he almost never blinks when that fiery intensity is burning inside him enhances that quality. He masterfully builds this aura of mystique around him with a very effective and authentic Jamaican accent. This is a wickedly awesome villain that adds so much horrific danger to this film.
I will admit that Seagal has never been a very dynamic actor, but he carries the dramatic weight and emotional drive of this film well. Along with Dwight Little’s direction, you see the subtle emotion surface when he sits at the hospital bedside of Hatcher’s niece portrayed by Danielle Harris. Seagal can bring some charm and light charisma to the screen in the right moments. Then, when he gets into the heat of the action you see that ass kicking wisecracking bad ass that made Seagal the action star that he was. He’s entirely confident and sharp in this outing showing that this is his signature style, and it couldn’t have been showcased in a better, smarter action picture.
Teaming him up with Keith David just makes everything more bad ass. He brings a wealth of charisma and weight to Max, Hatcher’s old army friend. He’s a tough guy who is ready to take back his community because he cares for the children he teaches every day. So, there’s the light-hearted friend, but also, the skilled soldier ready to unleash a maelstrom on these gangs that are decaying his neighborhood. David’s wide range of talent from the tough bad ass to the heartfelt humanity makes Max a strong complement to Seagal’s more cool, calm, reserved, yet dead-set, bone breaking violent style.
If you want to see Seagal in his most violent, hard edged prime, this is it. These Jamaicans are ruthlessly and graphically violent, and so, John Hatcher has to be a man who is equally as severe. The action highlights are many, but I really enjoy the shootout and fight in the high end department store. It starts as a car chase that crashes into an awesome assault with guns and martial arts violence. And this film keeps upping the action, peril, and explosive caliber. As Screwface becomes more dangerous, so does Hatcher. This is sharp, sleek action with tons of punch that will leave thoroughly satisfied and then some. It’s all evenly paced allowing the story’s momentum to build up tightly while delivering something fresh, dynamic, and exciting at a regular interval. It’s really damn good stuff.
I also find it admirable that this film makes a point to show that they’re not making a stereotype out of Jamaicans. There’s a Jamaican police assistant who is an honest guy that aids Hatcher later on. The film even takes us into Jamaica where we see the people in their vibrancy and hardships. While it was not necessary for the filmmakers to do this, I find it the mark of a well developed and fairly balanced crafting of ideas. If they are going to delve so much into the culture for these abhorrent criminals and killers, it adds more depth and richness to show it in context to the reality of the Jamaican people. The score by the incredible James Newton Howard blends those Jamaican sounds and beat into the film appropriately. His music highlights and drives a fair amount of the action, and brings the flavor of the narrative to just as much life as the visuals.
It’s oddly appropriate that the director of photography on Marked For Death also shot the last film I reviewed, Cobra. Here, Ric Waite gets the chance to work with the wider scope format, and he does a remarkable, rock solid job. He crafts a great atmosphere when Screwface is in his element through smoke, candles, and just excellent moody lighting. The action is perfectly framed with some occasionally intriguing angles, and all around, it’s a greatly lit and photographed film.
And this film has an amazing twist at the end with Screwface’s perceived magic. Not at all would I spoil this for anyone because it’s stunning moment of awe when it happens. Just when you think Hatcher has all things vanquished, it turns around on everyone, and results in another fantastically executed action sequence. I mean, who doesn’t love a good swordfight? It’s one bad ass ending the trumps even what came ten minutes before, and solidifies the hard hitting, take-no-prisoners action intensity of this picture.
Pack all of this in tightly to a 90 minute runtime, and you’ve got an action film that strikes out with killer excitement. This is undoubtedly one of Seagal’s absolute best films, if not the best. He pulls no punches, takes no prisoners, and delivers a performance that adds some sly wit in between the emotional fire underneath and the up front bone-cracking bad assery. Adding further to that bad ass quota, the opening sequence features a small role by Machete himself Danny Trejo. Backed by a director who I’ve always thought deserved a more high profile career because he is that damn good, Marked For Death delivers it all. Today, you got a lot of ridiculously over-the-top action films that devolve into cheesy and even campy indulgences. In this film, you get a lean, hard hitting movie that never softens the blow with those silly distractions. They can have their place in the genre, but we do not get action films like this anymore. Not this well made, and not going straight on for the throat leaving no blood un-spilled. Just go watch it, now!
I so wanted to start this review with the emphatic words, “THEY GOT IT RIGHT!” Now, this is not to say this movie doesn’t move G.I. Joe into the right direction, but it left me lacking for many reasons. One of them being that this movie had too many trailers that spoil too much. If you’ve seen all three trailers for G.I. Joe: Retaliation, there are not many surprises left for you here. But frankly, the big problem with this film is that the villains and far more entertaining and memorable than the heroes. Simply said, I wanted Cobra to win because I didn’t care about the Joes.
Mercenary and master of disguise Zartan, who is still impersonating the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce), frames the G.I. Joes as traitors, and has them terminated. However, three survive in Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), and Flint (D.J. Cotrona) who must go it alone in order to fight back against those who conspired to kill them and their fellow Joes. Meanwhile, Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) and Firefly (Ray Stevenson) initiate a prison break to free Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey, voiced by Robert Baker) to set the next stage of their plans forward. Cobra Commander’s plan is to eliminate the world’s nuclear weapons so that Cobra can take over the world by threatening to use its massively destructive Zeus space-based weapon. Roadblock, Lady Jaye, Flint, Snake Eyes, and Jinx team up with General Joseph Colton (Bruce Willis), the “original” G.I. Joe, to stop Cobra Commander from implementing his plan and expose their treachery to the world.
What this sequel gets right that the first didn’t was the tone and style. There are high tech gadgets and such peppered throughout the movie, but on the whole, this sequel features more visceral weaponry and warfare. No more energy weapons, no more holograms. This has a more grounded feel while still giving use a technological boost to make the story and scenarios work. Also, the CGI is vastly superior in every way. There wasn’t a single moment where my eyes caught a badly rendered shot, or witnessed anything that looked discernibly CGI. Another thing that is gotten right are the iconic characters themselves. Cobra Commander looks like Cobra Commander, and feels like a serious take on the character being a ruthless leader of a terrorist organization hell bent on dominating the world. Although, with the now slightly garbled and digitally processed voice for him, at times, it can be difficult to understand what he is saying. However, all in all, I was far more pleased with this representation of the character which never does anything to blatantly contradict who he was in the previous film. At most, it’s barely acknowledged in order to simply move forward without dragging undo baggage along.
The action sequences are greatly done giving us that tougher, more hard edged style. It feels like more straight forward military combat using recognizable tactics and weaponry. It’s all generally well shot, but the camera can get a tad too unstable with some editing that is slightly quicker than necessary. It’s a very tame shaky cam / quick cut mentality that really shouldn’t detract from your experience. This is mostly seen in the close quarters combat, or when Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow fight. That is another great confrontation that is again treated like a special attraction, but like before, we don’t get nearly enough of it. Probably the best action scene is with Snake Eyes and Jinx fighting the ninjas on the mountain side swing back and forth taking shots and slashes at each other. It’s dynamic, fun, and dangerous with plenty of smart turns. I like the touches the filmmakers threw in where some of the ninjas either miss the zip line or hit a rock formation, causing them to plummet to their deaths. It’s a very nice, smart touch that simply sells the precarious peril of the situation. I also loved the clever setup and execution of the jailbreak sequence. It had a lot of great touches that made it intriguing to watch unfold. However, the problem of this film is that there is so much action but so little plot to justify it.
And even then, the plot itself doesn’t always flow smoothly or coherently. At times, some plot elements feel disjointed and rushed. This happens in one section of the movie early on in two segments. First, we are introduced to Jinx as she trains with Snake Eyes while Blind Master, portrayed poorly by RZA, imparts some abrupt exposition in voice over that is just dropped on us without context. There’s no setup to anything he’s saying about Snake Eyes having to locate Storm Shadow and bring back to face justice for what he did to their clan. It’s just, “Where did this subplot come from? What does this have to do with the main plot of this film?” It just drops into the movie as if you missed a string of scenes somewhere. Jinx has essentially no real introduction here. She just happens to be there, and we’re just supposed to happen to know who she is. Also, once Storm Shadow is there facing judgment, a whole bunch of new exposition gets breezed through in a flash about who really killed their master and why. It’s very jarring and poorly handled as if they thought up this subplot on the fly and just crammed it into a tight corner of the movie just to have it there. Even then, how Storm Shadow and everyone else jumps around from one conclusion to the next follows no stream of consciousness. It’s implausible how they make these rapid fire connections and revelations. It’s awful screenwriting and direction. And again, RZA can’t act worth a damn. Every line he delivers just sounds terrible. So, I have no idea why they cast him in this role of a wise martial arts sensei. He puts in the worst performance of the entire movie. Yes, he is an exponentially worse actor in this movie than Channing Tatum, who actually does a better job in this film than the last.
There is also a scene where Roadblock, Lady Jaye, and Flint setup a plan to get close to the imposter President in order to confirm their suspicions and expose him. However, the scene is laid out without really understanding what their plan is. Roadblock is setup outside ready to take a shot at President Zartan after he’s lured out of the banquet hall, but it’s never understood what they plan to accomplish by doing this. This sequence came off as confusing and disjointed because there’s no setup to understand what their ultimate goal is or what everyone’s purpose is in the scene. It seems it served two purposes. One, just to clue the Joes in on who was impersonating the President, and two, to setup another action scene where Roadblock and Firefly throw down. It’s a damn good action sequence, but it was a lot of clunky screentime used up with little purpose.
The film has so much action and little plot that once we were actually in the third act, I couldn’t be sure it was the third act. The movie doesn’t ramp up to another level of tension or urgency to signal that these action scenes are any different than the half dozen we’ve already gotten in the movie. And the other problem is that I was more engaged by the villains than the heroes. I didn’t want to see Cobra get defeated. I liked those characters because they made the movie fun and entertaining. I kept waiting to get back to seeing Cobra Commander, Firefly, and Zartan conspiring about evil schemes, and having loads of fun doing it.
Now, the most I will confirm to you about Channing Tatum is that he doesn’t have a lot of screentime. I know I’m going to deserve a kick in the head for saying so, but I think the movie would have been better if he was in it more. Tatum and Dwayne Johnson do have excellent comedic chemistry that really entertained me, and made their characters really fun and exciting. This made Duke and Roadblock lively, relatable characters that I wanted to spend time with. If we had this chemistry flowing through the whole film with them teamed up and trading sharp quips, taking on Cobra with a smile on their faces, I think I would have been more engaged by the heroes. Instead, they fall kind of flat.
While Dwayne Johnson puts in a good performance, it just doesn’t seem like he was portraying a character. It just seems like Johnson being himself, more or less. There’s nothing distinct about Roadblock apart from Dwayne Johnson. I didn’t really see a character in there that had his own distinguishing characteristics or attitude. Maybe this is also a script problem, but you can watch an interview of Dwayne Johnson and he doesn’t seem any different from how he is in this role in this film or any other film he’s been in. As the heroic lead of the movie, I felt letdown. He doesn’t inject enough weight or action hero mentalities to really support this film the way it needed to be. Once he no longer had Tatum to bounce that charismatic, funny personality off of, I found myself no longer invested in Roadblock at all.
Even Bruce Willis seems like he’s just being lazy Bruce Willis here. There’s almost nothing more he does in this film than what you saw in the trailers. General Joe Colton is a bland character with no depth, no interesting qualities, and no real back story given that links him with the G.I. Joes. He’s mostly there just so they could have Bruce Willis in the movie for name recognition. I’ve never seen him do so little in a role before as he does here. What this movie needed was strong leads as strong characters with a real vibrant, passionate, gung-ho attitude, but no one here has that at all.
The rest of the Joes, aside from the always cool Snake Eyes, are throwaways. By the time the film bothers to give us any insight into who they are, I had already stopped caring about who they were. Jinx isn’t even given that much. These are characters put into the film to fill out the plot and nothing more. The script barely does anything with most of them, and the actors in many of these roles aren’t engaging, charming, particularly charismatic, or especially memorable. They were just there, and I didn’t connect with any of them.
Conversely, same as with the first movie, we get great villains that make the movie as enjoyable as it is. As I said, Cobra Commander gets the perfect makeover finally giving us the iconic chrome mask and militaristic garb. He’s given a great presence, and an intimidating driving purpose in the story. Destro is mentioned and technically seen, but Cobra Commander chooses to abandon him during the jailbreak sequence (which features a wonderfully funny and sharp performance by Walton Goggins as the warden). Cobra Commander is a great villain being very single-minded but also intelligent and cunning. He’s not the excitable, egotistical fool from the 1980’s cartoon. He is very much like a cobra – sharp, deadly, and fierce. I want to see more of him!
Although, I have to say my favorite villain here is Firefly, portrayed by Ray Stevenson. Frankly, Stevenson is a born bad ass. I have yet to see this man do wrong in anything he’s done, and he is an absolute pleasure to experience as this rugged, smart mouthed villain. Being a major fan of what he did as the Punisher, I bought into every second of his action scene abilities here. He clearly had a lot of fun digging into this character which is full of evil charisma and wit. He probably has the most action scenes to his credit in this movie amongst all the villains, and I couldn’t have been happier to see him kick some ass.
And color me impressed by Jonathan Pryce sinking his acting talents into President Zartan. Arnold Vosloo has not even a minute’s worth of screentime in this movie, and so, the portrayal of Zartan as the President falls entirely on Pryce. Like Stevenson, he was having loads of fun being this charismatic, playful villain. He is so much fun to watch, and not for an instant did I doubt he was fully into being Zartan in disguise. Pryce usually portrays rather sophisticated, cultured characters, but this gave him the chance to just chew a little scenery and be a total bad guy that was loving every minute of it. Cobra Commander, Firefly, and Zartan just make an excellently entertaining trio of bad ass bad guys.
And Byung-hun Lee does put in another excellent performance as Storm Shadow, but the story takes him in another direction than we saw before. However, it is entirely in line with the character’s history as he has switched loyalties before, but I just wish his motivations had a better build up and pay-off. This is in relation to the rushed and disjointed exposition scenes I mentioned previously. It didn’t sell his turn in the story at all to me, and I kept waiting for him to pull a double-cross to make at least one satisfying plot turn for Storm Shadow.
In terms of creative direction, tone, and style, this is absolutely the better G.I. Joe movie. It never outright contradicts the first movie, but instead, strips away what wasn’t palatable and make it a leaner, tougher action franchise. However, the plot is kind of clunky never really finding its footing, and never adequately conveying the stakes or objectives to the audience. It’s clear the characters know what they’re doing, but not often enough does the audience understand where things are going, what characters are planning, or what the scope of the threat truly is. Frankly, I think the filmmakers weren’t that concerned with that. The movie is generally fun, exciting, and technically well made, but the plot seems to exist for no more than to string a series of action scenes together. There is a main plot here that is very good, does work, and could work amazingly well if handled with more care. Unfortunately, the filmmakers just seemingly didn’t know how to utilize solid, fleshed out, and well flowing storytelling skills to make this plot fill up the movie. You could take out maybe two extraneous, if not well done, action scenes, and use that screentime to smooth out the jagged edges in the story. Use it to bridge the gaps and convey characters’ intentions as they move forward in the plot. I just never got that feeling that the plot was developing towards an apex, or that even the heroes themselves knew what the stakes were going forward. It seems the most the filmmakers felt we needed to know is that these are the good guys and they need to stop the bad guys. If Paramount Pictures really did postpone the release of this movie at nearly the last minute to do a good chunk of re-shoots, I’m not sure what they were for except for maybe a single scene with Johnson and Tatum trading witty banter over some target practice. It was a fun scene, but could’ve easily been cut. I don’t think they shot anything to flesh out or smooth out the story more because, obviously, it could still use some work. While this movie might have gotten squashed if released last summer, I’m not sure how much better it will fair in this early Spring release.
While I would recommend seeing G.I. Joe: Retaliation to an extent, I still wouldn’t recommend it above Olympus Has Fallen. That was a much better put together action movie on every level than this with an action lead that an audience could really get behind. I’ll be interested to see if this G.I. Joe sequel gets an extended cut on Blu Ray because it could benefit from some added scenes of plot and character. Ultimately, the entertainment factor for me entirely came from Cobra. When the film was focusing on the heroes, I couldn’t wait until we cut back to the villains. They were just all kinds of enjoyable because the actors were charismatic and vibrant where the heroes where one dimensional and rather bland. I mean, in a film where all of their friends and fellow soldiers are violently blown to hell, you’d think these heroes would have a fiery passion lit underneath them. You’d think they’d be ready to throwdown an all-out assault, and wage a take-no-prisoners type of war against Cobra. Unfortunately, there is no such fierce emotional drive to these heroes, and that’s what made them fall flat for me. If you just want a slew of really good action scenes, this film will deliver that for you, but director Jon M. Chu is not the most competent storyteller. Maybe there was studio interference that resulted in making changes here and there due to supposed poor test screening response. But if there’s one thing you don’t sacrifice is good storytelling. There was a really good story here, but not the right storytellers to make it good enough.
Growing up in the 80’s I was a fan of G.I. Joe, and owned many of the toys that the cartoon generated. However, I was never that hardcore of a fan. As I grew up, the franchise didn’t stick with me as I gravitated towards Transformers overall. When this live action movie, directed by Stephen Sommers, was being made and released, it didn’t grab my attention. I didn’t give it a chance until a strongly opinionated friend of mine, who was a big G.I. Joe fan, stated that he did enjoy this movie. One iTunes rental later, and I was approving of this movie. Yes, it has problems, and has some serious unfaithfulness to the source material, but it’s a big, enjoyable science fiction stylized action movie, regardless.
Two soldiers stationed in Kazakhstan, Captain “Duke” Hauser (Channing Tatum) and his partner Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), are ordered to transport special warheads created by MARS, an arms manufacturer controlled by James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston). When they are attacked by a highly advanced terrorist group, led by Baroness Anastasia DeCobray (Sienna Miller), they are saved by a top secret, international special forces unit known as G.I. Joe. The leader of G.I. Joe, General “Hawk” Abernathy (Dennis Quaid) is on the trail of these thieves: an evil organization called Cobra. While Duke and Ripcord train to join the Joes, McCullen is secretly working for Cobra and plotting to recapture his metal-eating “Nanomite” warheads. Duke and Ripcord, with help from Heavy Duty, Snake Eyes, Scarlett, and the rest of the Joes, must prove that they are Real American Heroes by stopping the launch of these warheads before Cobra uses them to take over the world.
There are several alterations to characters and their relationships from the familiar comic book and cartoon source material. Why filmmakers have this compulsion to make changes of these kinds escape me. I don’t mind adapting a concept or idea to suit the live action filmed media as opposed to the more fantastical mediums of comic books and cartoons. However, the changes here didn’t need to be made to make the idea of G.I. Joe work as a live action movie. They were simply creative decisions made for whatever reason to tell the story these filmmakers wanted to tell, despite whether or not it fit into who these characters had been for over a quarter century. I’ll touch on these as I comment on some of the cast, as I have done some light research to understand the divergences at hand.
This movie has some acting talents that seem questionable to me at both the time it was released and in retrospect. Obviously knowing Marlon Wayans from increasingly badly received comedic vehicles, he was the most peculiar casting choice. While Wayans’ character of Ripcord does have a playful, somewhat silly personality at times, he’s decently enjoyable once you begin to take the film as a light, popcorn movie adventure. He even has a moment or two of charm as he begins to develop some friendly relations with Rachel Nichols’ Scarlett. As the film goes on, and the threats become more serious and imminent, Wayans rises to the occasion to make for a nicely respectable cog in this action centric cast.
Channing Tatum is someone that I’ve come to know as a rather uncharismatic actor with not much to offer. While he surely doesn’t give us anything close to the Duke fans knew from the original cartoon series, who was a very strong, authoritative commanding officer, he is fine in this younger iteration of Conrad “Duke” Hauser. It’s not a particularly dimensional performance, which could have helped in some instances, but Tatum decently fits the role as written. It’s fortunate that the film has so many characters you can fixate on so not to be distracted by Tatum’s limited abilities. It’s not an outright groan inducing performance, just a flat one that is aided by some decent comedic chemistry with Wayans. Still, a far better actor was surely available to cast in this role to make him a more standout lead instead of blending into the ensemble.
Thankfully, we have some strong, vibrant villains to enjoy. Christopher Eccleston is sophisticated, intelligent, but also despicably vile. He injects charisma and slick savvy into McCullen, aka Destro, that is distinctly different from his Sunbow cartoon incarnation, but ultimately, follows the character as he has been developed through other media over the years. Eccleston has a very good presence conveying a contemptuous weight towards the world without it feeling one dimensional. He has a very elaborate, smartly devised plan to place himself in control of the world. He works greatly as a global level villain whose motives nor agendas are shallow in the least. Plus, the English actor works a very solid Scottish accent.
The filmmakers made serious changes to the Baroness, who is supposed to be an Eastern European straight-up villain, but is now simply Duke’s American ex-girlfriend Anna Lewis who has been specially manipulated into being a villain. Regardless of this, Sienna Miller is endlessly and immensely hot in this very femme fatale role. She plays it with a lot of bite and sexy assertiveness. She is a bad ass villain that would’ve been perfect if the filmmakers played it faithful, but as it is, she does a damn good job making the Baroness alluring, dangerous, and intriguing. Essentially, this character change was made in order to create a romantic relationship for Duke to grapple with, and while it’s nicely executed, it still would’ve been more pleasing to see the real Baroness here.
Lee Byung-hun and Ray Park are probably the best parts of this movie portraying Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes, respectively. Both characters are straight awesome here. Storm Shadow is beautifully lethal and stealthy with a real cutthroat, edgy presence. I think he truly lived up to many fans’ expectations through an excellent, sharp performance. Obviously, Snake Eyes has no dialogue, but Ray Park’s expert athletic and martial arts talents shine through.
Cobra Commander is here in this movie, but doesn’t declare himself to be as such until the end. We are essentially given an origin story for him that is very much inline with that of the Baroness. For those that haven’t seen the movie, I don’t wish spoil the film’s intended surprises, but let’s say that it’s not the Cobra Commander you’re used to or expect. He was my favorite character from the 80’s cartoon series due to being a rather excitable, egotistical fool, and even there, his back story was never entirely consistent. What we even got in the animated movie was not very palatable to me. So, when I saw this movie, none of this new back story really hit a bad nerve, but it would have been nice if the filmmakers attempted to make him look like Cobra Commander in his final moments on-screen. Reportedly, they were fixated on the hooded look for the character, and avoided using it for understandable iconography reasons. Still, as the sequel demonstrates, the chrome masked version was easily adaptable, and its absence comes off as even stranger since the filmmakers put an odd translucent mask on him at the end, anyway.
The question is if all of these objectionable changes make this a poor movie. I suppose that depends on your perspective. I would imagine many very serious G.I. Joe fans with a knowledgeable and loyal history for the franchise would be upset by these arbitrary alterations. For a more casual fan, like myself, they don’t break the movie, but certainly make it less than it potentially could have been. It’s a tad surprising that this movie was co-written by Stuart Beattie, who I recently gave vast amounts of credit for his screenplay for Michael Mann’s Collateral. That was a brilliant, introspective movie of great, unique depth. This is far from that. Beattie’s co-writers have shallow filmographies with nothing much to really say they are exceptionally good or bad screenwriters. I’m not saying that this script is bad, though it has some shortcomings and flaws, but in terms of attempting to be a faithful adaptation, it has a lot of wrong turns that I’m not sure who is to directly blame for them.
Now, the quality of the CGI here is about standard for a Stephen Sommers movie, unfortunately. The effects in The Mummy were really good for 1999, and still hold up fairly well today. However, Sommers’ films have since become larger scale productions requiring more elaborate visual effects, and this is evidence of that. The CGI is used extensively, and is not really that good to be given so much screentime. Among six visual effects companies that worked on this, there’s no real distinguishing level of quality. I would be hard pressed to say any of the visual effects shots are anywhere in the neighborhood of great.
Still, despite the lacking digital effects, Sommers delivers some solid action sequences. They are big, explosives scenes with some inventive ideas and nicely choreographed fights. All of this action is very well shot showing that Sommers knows how to present and construct action sequences very competently. Plus, he knows how to inject a real sense of entertainment value into everything, even if some of the funny bits are somewhat extraneous. Still, the sprinkles of comedy entirely suit Sommers’ style that we saw in The Mummy and so on. A definite action highlight is seeing Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow battle, and Sommers treats it as a special attraction. There’s an early on battle between them, but the climax gives us the real juicy stuff. It’s just bad ass all the way through, if delivered sparingly, and I only wish there was more of it. Hopefully, I will get my wish in the sequel.
While G.I. Joe always had a bit of advanced technology giving it all a slight science fiction edge to it, this movie really pushes that full boar by even stating it takes places in the “not too distant future.” This is a movie of very advanced technology with people communicating through holograms, using nanomite weaponry, energy based weapons, entire underwater Antarctic lairs, and various other fantastical items. It does fit alongside much of the established franchise mentality, but it probably pushed the envelope further than it needed to. I like a little high tech gadgetry in G.I. Joe to make it feel special and unique, but I think a live action movie should probably ground the ideas more. Take it more away from the cartoony aspects, and make it a little tougher, more hard edged with contemporary weapons. While I found the film fun, this film franchise really does need to go that direction so it can plant its feet in the ground and push forward with a strong foundation. Take away the almost cyborg-like accelerator suits and the energy guns, and give us more down and dirty stuff. Ultimately, I think that sells easier and stronger to a wide audience. We can take a little fantastical science fiction every now and then, but if you’re setting the film in a recognizably contemporary time and not the especially distant future, sell it that way. Give us a bad ass military guy unloading live rounds from a machine gun. Laser weapons were used in the cartoons because they were cartoons. You couldn’t show people getting shot with bullets and dying in that medium. This is a live action PG-13 movie. Mature the content a little, and give action fans and the adults who were kids in the 80s something that appeals to them more. Don’t make it too violent, but do enough to be bad ass, which is what the soon-to-be-released sequel, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, seems to have done. Still, we’ll see about that in a few days.
The climax itself is full of plenty of action with both Ripcord piloting a Night Raven jet to intercept McCullen’s nanomite warhead missiles, and the assault on McCullen’s Antarctic lair. Like with the whole film, it’s tightly edited with constant energy propelling the story forward. The dramatic tension is kept high, and these intercut storylines flow very well. We get some very good, heroic pay-offs, but we ultimately understand that this is just the setup. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the story that puts all the heroes and villains into their proper places to give the franchise a launching point. Plots have still been set in motion by Destro and Cobra Commander that will be followed up on in the next film.
Again, this is a film that I do find enjoyment from, but surely not frequently as I’ve watched it maybe four times in three years. It’s a nice, enjoyable ride with some very well executed action sequences that do aim to please, and a fine dash of humor and levity to keep it fun. It has a decent cast that generally does enough to be closer to Stephen Sommers better work, but it’s still a movie that could’ve benefitted from some better creative direction. I’m hesitant to give it a big endorsement because, again, there’s plenty of bad CGI all over the place and it fails to faithfully adapt the source material. For what it is, I think it’s mostly well done. It’s not the G.I. Joe movie that fans wanted or expected. The animated movie really diverted into very strange territory that I still find not to my taste. I don’t own that movie, but I do own this one. It’s closer to what a G.I. Joe movie should be focusing on terrorism and advanced technological warfare, but it did need someone at the helm that could shape it into what the fans desired. I do think it’s a better movie than reputation has seemed to label it with. There is plenty of entertainment value that surely never gets to the annoying levels of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. I would recommend giving it a chance, but knowing that it still falls short of its potential in several areas. If for nothing else, it’s worth seeing Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes clash.
Time travel is the biggest pain in the backside to comprehend. It can become circular logical trying to make sense of the contradictions, continuity resolutions, and potential paradoxes. Timecop certainly has these problems due to half thought-out ideas, but where these issues would normally sour the entire film to me, Timecop has just enough entertainment value to dwarf those concerns. Peter Hyams, who shot and directed this film, clearly deserves much credit for bringing the right talents and elements together to achieve a result that is satisfying on all other levels.
In 1994, time travel is made possible, and upon learning of this, the U.S. government forms a confidential agency called the Time Enforcement Commission (TEC) to police time itself, and prevent changes in the past. Washington, D.C. police officer Max Walker (Jean-Claude Van Damme) accepts an assignment to this new agency, but on this very day, he and his wife Melissa (Mia Sara) are attacked. This results in Melissa’s death and the destruction of their home. Ten years later, Max Walker grieves still, but has become a respected TEC Agent. Max ends up having to take in Atwood, his own ex-partner, for tampering with the past with the stock market. When coxed about who hired him to do this, the name Senator Aaron McComb (Ron Silver) is named, but Atwood refuses to testify to this fearing for the lives of his family. McComb is a presidential candidate who has been stealing from the past to fund his campaign so that he can essentially buy the presidency. McComb quickly learns of Walker’s knowledge, and continually seeks to eliminate him and shut down the TEC entirely. Max becomes determined to expose the Senator’s criminal actions, which come to include multiple murders, but his TEC superior, Matuzak (Bruce McGill) keeps Max from going too far without evidence to support his claims. However, all things become interwoven as McCombs’ manipulative plans take Walker back to 1994 where his past and future come into peril. Can Max change history before it repeats itself?
There is just something about the old action heroes that is missing today. While Jean-Claude Van Damme has amazing physical ability with remarkable martial arts talent, he also has plenty of charisma and heart to really make his roles empathetic. He gives them enough dimension and charm to be someone an audience can thoroughly enjoy watching. The young Max Walker is a warm, light-hearted man with a lot of passion and love. The older Max Walker is more rough around the edges. He’s a lonelier man that is very dedicated to his job, and takes his commitment to it very seriously. He has a strong ethical and moral center that doesn’t allow him to back down from McComb. Still, he retains the charm and wit of his younger self, but with a tinge of conviction. Van Damme plays both versions nicely, and keeps an emotional connective tissue between them. He carries the film with plenty of heart, humor, and dramatic weight. He also has excellent chemistry with his co-stars.
Primarily among them is the late Ron Silver who made for an excellent cold blooded villain as McComb. His charisma is very sharp as he commands the screen with intelligence and conviction. He is very imposing and intimidating. McComb is a man driven by the need for power, and everyone in his path towards it is expendable. With the advantage of time travel, he can essentially prevent anyone from ever existing, but in some cases, he hardly sees a need to be so severe. He also doesn’t mind doing his own dirty work. He just can’t do it all himself. The younger Senator McComb has ambition and vision, but is not hardened, yet. His elder presidential candidate self is very cutthroat. Silver brings immense weight to the picture that fuels the dogged motivation in Van Damme’s performance. The two have very good chemistry playing off one another many times in the film. They have a very effective counterbalance that keeps the movie compelling and entertaining. They exchange several sharp, humorous remarks that entirely fit their characters, and maintain a tension between Walker and McComb that injects urgency into the plot.
I am continually impressed by Bruce McGill’s talent. I was first introduced to him on MacGyver as the humorous con man Jack Dalton, but since then, I have seen the vast range and depth he is capable of. From roles in The Insider, Collateral, The Last Boy Scout, Quantum Leap, and a very memorable episode of Miami Vice, I can seriously say that he is one of the best character actors around. As Matuzak, he holds his ground very easily as Walker’s boss with the weight of authority and a quick witted levity. He cares a good deal about Max, but he always keeps his priorities and responsibilities in check. He never lets his friendship compromise his position, at least, not until circumstances become desperate and Matuzak has to stretch his trust in Walker. McGill and Van Damme also have thoroughly entertaining chemistry that livens up the film, smartly. Walker and Matuzak are good, tusted friends with a lot of history behind them which adds to the depth of the story. Van Damme and McGill reflect that nicely giving the film some funny interactions that only a couple of good, long time friends could offer up.
Mia Sara is beautiful beyond just the physical. As Melissa, you have zero trouble believing in Max’s deep love for her. She’s compassionate, seductive, and lovely. The love for Max is always in her eyes, and definitely connects through to an audience. Mia Sara projects every emotion with heart-gripping depth. Her interactions with Jean-Claude are wonderful, as are all the relationships in the film. The whole cast really does a superb job playing off one another, hitting the right dramatic and tonal marks. The performances are very consistent and complementary. It’s almost surprising, but pleasantly so.
The visual effects are kind of mixed. The optical composites putting two Van Dammes or two Ron Silvers into the same frame at the same time are generally pretty good, and the time travel “ripple” effect is well done. There is also a wicked cool moment where Walker kicks the young McComb in the face, and then, the scar from it morphs onto the face of the older McComb. These little flourishes are exceptionally nice, and add some originality to the film. However, the more complex digital effects are rather primitive. I can only imagine this was due to budgetary constraints. CGI was likely still highly expensive in 1994 as only Steven Spielberg and James Cameron blockbusters got to make elaborate use of them. This wasn’t Industrial Light & Magic at work here. While there are only two such moments in the movie, one of which is a very critical moment that I cannot say how it will affect your enjoyment if you’re just watching Timecop now for the first time. I’ve known what to expect since Timecop originally hit VHS in the mid-1990s, and so, it doesn’t bother me at all. For a modern audience, it might be a sour note.
Finally discovering and getting my hands on the first ever widescreen release of this film on DVD, I can properly enjoy the wonderful cinematography by Peter Hyams (who also directed the feature). I can definitely tell it was shot by him due to the use of contrast through heavy light and shadow. The movie has plenty of visual atmosphere, but it never goes too far. There’s a certain noir aspect to much of Hyams’ lighting and cinematography in addition to my beloved 2.35:1 aspect ratio that give Timecop some solid production values. It also gives the film some distinctive identity and edgy dramatic weight. Hyams captures and directs the action very, very well. He has his pacing and composition crafted beautifully creating a very coherent string of action sequences that are thoroughly satisfying. Hyams puts Van Damme’s talent nicely on display. Jean-Claude has many awesome moments flexing his agility and ability. The shot of JCVD jumping and doing the splits on the countertop to avoid the stun gun was a memorable moment from the trailer, and remains as such within the film. His martial arts skills make for a unique and hard hitting style that really gives the film a lot of kick. The choreography is plotted out greatly to make the scenes develop logically and organically. The knife fight alone is a nice change of pace, adding to the creativity of the action.
Now, if it wasn’t for all this good talent elevating the quality of this film, it would not be a winner. Again, there are so many confusing issues that arise from the underdeveloped time travel concepts and plot turns in this, that you cannot hold the screenplay as a gold standard of the genre. The general story works very well supported by the acting talents involved, but analyzed at all and its mechanics fall apart. It’s too complicated to dissect here, but simply said, the space-time continuum should’ve imploded by the end of this movie. Paradoxes are abound with people being killed, partially erased from the timeline, resetting timelines, and people retaining knowledge of multiple timelines despite the continuity changing constantly with new incursions into the past. There’s never any constant in what makes for a good time travel story as there’s always some inherent technical complications. Even those that have a well stated theory of time travel can often fall apart, often with their sequels taking too many liberties with the plot. There’s no Doc Brown or Sam Beckett type characters present to really speak to the screenwriter’s theories of time travel. So, the film generally avoids getting too deep into it, and thus, it’s best to avoid rationalizing the logic of it all. In any case, for a little more insight into this matter you can visit an old favorite website of mine which takes a few moments to breakdown the basic flaws: Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies.
The production design is very good with some large sets that offer up some additional scope. The entire TEC facility has a slight futuristic quality, but retains a utilitarian mentality which grounds it. The control room, offices, and launch bay retain a purely functional design idea that would be akin to a secret government facility. It also allows Peter Hyams to create the aforementioned shadowy, noir inspired lighting schemes. The only area where the “futuristic” time of 2004 crashes and burns is the design of these butt ugly automobiles. I’ve never seen a concept car that took the armored, blocky design approach, and indeed, I’m glad that these filmmakers did not accurately foretell the future in this aspect. Aside from that, the art direction is very good, and maybe a little reflective of 1990s visual aesthetics (something that I have no problems with).
The good fortune of this film is that the filmmakers and cast worked hard to make it entertaining and enjoyable. The screenwriter abandoned any serious logic in the temporal mechanics so that the plot could work how he wanted it to. That’s never a good thing, but there’s enough quality put on screen to mostly cloud that shortcoming. Van Damme is great handling all the demands of the role smoothly from dramatic to humorous to emotional to the physical. The supporting cast is just as strong keeping the film consistently entertaining. The characters are well written, and even better realized with solid casting choices. Peter Hyams deserves a lot of credit for creating a film that features high production values with appealing performances and action sequences built on a script that didn’t make much sense, but was satisfying nonetheless.
Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman. Far too strange of a pairing to ignore. You throw Mickey Rourke into the mix as the villain, and how can you really say no? Okay, so this wasn’t a blockbuster, and even plans for a sequel never materialized. I was not allowed to see the film in theatres at the time, punishment for getting poor progress reports in high school that week. So, I discovered it on VHS, and now, re-discovered it on a decent widescreen DVD. I can understand why this got negative reviews, but the fact is, Double Team wasn’t trying to be anything more than what it was – a fun, exciting, and highly entertaining action film.
Van Damme portrays CIA counter-terrorist operative Jack Quinn who runs one final mission before retirement to start a family with his lovely wife Kathryn. Years later, with his pregnant wife in the South of France, Quinn is paid a visit by an old colleague to rope him back into action to help bring down his old nemesis Stavros (Mickey Rourke). A man who once worked for the good guys when they needed someone with the stomach for dirtier work to be done, but has long since worked for the other side supplying arms and other contraband. In prepping this operation in Antwerp, Jack taps eccentric arms dealer Yaz (Dennis Rodman) who himself “doesn’t play with the bad boys anymore, just the good guys.” They strike a fun chord with one another, making a memorable impression. However, Quinn misses the target, and the mission is a failure. Stavros loses both his son and girlfriend in this violent encounter. In the aftermath, Quinn is sent to an island called “The Colony” where former intelligence agents and assassins work together to counteract terrorist plots around the world. Jack is ushered through this new environment by former operative Goldsmyth (Paul Freeman). However, Jack seeks escape from the seemingly inescapable island after he receives a message from Stavros stating the he has abducted his pregnant wife who is about to give birth to their son. A daring and dangerous escape brings Jack back to Antwerp seeking Yaz’s arsenal and savvy. What ensues beyond this is an unlikely partnership that evolves, through adrenalin fueled danger, into a trusted friendship as Quinn attempts to save his wife and child while trying to burn down Stavros once and for all.
What would make or break this film was clearly going to be how Van Damme and Rodman meshed. The eccentric NBA star was hot news at the time easily coined a bad boy for his antics on and off the court. Here, he is surprisingly funny and likeable without being crass. I found him nicely charming generating a lot of the film’s clean sense of fun and humor. Van Damme holds down the more serious end of things nicely. It’s not anything exceptional, but he inhabits Jack Quinn very well. You can feel his determination and love for his wife and child throughout the film. JCVD has a lot of heart to offer in these roles which I think gets overlooked by the sensational aspects of his movies. As Quinn, it really shows through. And while Rodman handles the bulk of the humor, Jean-Claude dishes out a few quips here and there as banter with Yaz. As a team, they may not be 100% pitch perfect, but their performances balance out the film well. Van Damme and Rodman seem to be enjoying themselves, and their chemistry works out to surprising success to make them a fine, if unlikely team. Of course, there are numerous basketball jokes throughout the movie, but they are handled with a bit of charm. And frankly, would you expect otherwise? A film of this sort with many plot, humor, and character throwbacks to the cliché 1980s action film couldn’t possibly deny those ripe opportunities. Don’t take that as a knock at all. Double Team takes that style and formula, and gives it a nice splash of fresh paint with a late 90s style. A sharper, sleeker design that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Mickey Rourke could play a heavy without even trying, but as we’ve seen in recent years, he has a wide range of acting talents. Here, he doesn’t need to stretch far, but Stavros is a solid villain with a fine array of henchmen and assassins. He has a clear plan of revenge that he handles calmly and confidently. He keeps his cool throughout because he’s got the game nicely strategized for Quinn to follow his lead. Mickey has a smooth coolness wrapped up with a tough bad ass edge which suits Stavros perfectly, and gives Quinn a hell of an enemy to combat.
Rounding out the meat of the cast is Paul Freeman as Goldsmyth. The role has some nice British charm mixed with a touch of humor and shadiness. He’s both ally and adversary to Quinn, and he shifts from one to the other with a bit of grace without losing his likeability. Goldsmyth would rather not have to be an adversary, but circumstances deem it necessary for him to be as such. In the end, Goldsmyth is given an upbeat final note to go out on. Freeman handles the role smoothly.
The action, of course, is very well handled. Competently shot with a dash of style, and nicely edited to maintain energy and pace without sacrificing the clarity of the visual storytelling. I have not seen even most of Van Damme’s movies, but this has a nice mix of action sequences that should satisfy his fans. He does plenty of hard hitting martial arts fights mixed with shootouts and explosions to keep the film exciting and varied. The climactic action sequence is flat out AMAZING with a tiger set loose on Quinn in the Roman Coliseum with a field of hidden landmines, and some daring motorcycle antics by Yaz. It’s an explosive, rather original double edged ending that also gives Rourke the chance to show off his impressive physique. Mickey Rourke trained rigorously to be up to Van Damme’s level for their fight scenes, and certainly holds up his end providing a formidable adversary. This being a film from the late 1990s, there’s some splashes of John Woo style action, but in general, it’s solid work. The European setting is a very nice touch giving a different style to the film in many ways. It helps the movie to stand out a bit more with a fresh flavor.
Other elements of fun definitely come from Rodman’s character. He handles some brief, but enjoyable and entertaining action sequences. Being an athlete already, I’m sure it was an easy fit for him, and the role is written in such a way to maintain a sense of sly humor. It all fits for his character’s style, and supplements the more hard hitting action that Van Damme offers. Another fun bit are Yaz’s “cyber monks.” A group of monks in Rome that Yaz has befriended with the gift of modern technology. They are an endearing bunch which provide some additional smiles and chuckles for a brief period late in the film. The humor present in the film really does help balance out the heavier dramatic and action aspects, and gives Double Team its endearing charm. There’s some cheesy dialogue, but it’s all handled in good fun.
Again, the cinematography offers up some style that is very telling of the time it was made. Dutched angles here and there are used more to add a stylistic composition to a few shots than create an artistic off-kilter perception. Unlike in Thor when it was used to no purposeful effect, here, it just feels like a sign of the times. Dutch angles in action films were used as a stamp of “cool.” You would shoot a subject with an awkward angle, and they take on a more skewed “cool” look in combination with the sleek, shadowy lighting. It’s nothing I take issue with, but it is indeed a trademark of late 90s action films that a modern audience wouldn’t be so used to.
The plot is pretty standard fare that was practically a decade old by this time. That was brightly highlighted in the Nostalgia Critic’s review of the movie, which is what sparked me to check it out, again. However, as I’ve said, I think the storyline is handled well with doses of humor, Van Damme’s unique action stylings, and the European setting. While the film does have its humor, it’s never used at the expense of the drama. It’s very nicely balanced for both to co-exist without clashing. The movie is well cast with actors who bring distinctive personality to their characters, and make the ride one worth taking. There are certainly gaps in logic with the screenplay, and some things on-screen are a bit ridiculous. Still, like I said, this was meant to be a fun thrill ride. It never takes these elements are serious, and are usually brief gaps.
I watch Double Team again now, and I just wish they made a sequel. It’s so much fun with enjoyable, colorful characters, and nicely energetic and slightly over the top action sequences. Plans were considered for a sequel, and while its box office take did exceed its production budget, it wasn’t a huge success. Every film, generally, should be judged on its own merits, and based on the genre and style of film this is, I think it’s definitely worthwhile. Plenty of big action to be had along with some solid laughs.
Blade II is a distinctively different animal than the original Blade. This is practically all due to the change in directors from Stephen Norrington to Guillermo del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone, Hellboy). He brings a much more colorful canvas to the film, and a bit bigger sense of fun. Cinematographer Gabriel Beristain helps del Toro achieve this to the fullest extent. Also, as is another trademark of Guillermo’s films, he brings in the wonderful Ron Perlman to the main cast as a token bad ass. The film definitely takes a lot of new turns and fleshes out established ideas. Though, it lacks the dramatic weight and emotion that Stephen Norrington’s film was quite rich with.
The film picks up five years after the events of the first film. In that time, Blade (Wesley Snipes) learned that his old friend and mentor Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) eventually did turn into a ‘suckhead,’ but the vampire nation has kept him hidden. Though, Blade soon rescues him, and returns to his new lair in Prague. A cure of some sort to administered to Whistler, and only time will tell if it takes fully.
Meanwhile, it isn’t long before the vampire nation comes looking for Blade with a unique offer of a truce. A new mutated species of vampires, called reapers, have become a serious threat to them and potentially all of humanity. They are overall a more advanced species with abilities and strengths beyond any other vampire, and a hunger that is like a drug addiction – they have to feed constantly. Anyone bitten is immediately infected. Also, Nomack (Luke Goss) is the original reaper who holds secrets that could bring down the vampire nation. Thus, vampire princess Nyssa (Leonor Varela) has come to enlist the aid of the Daywalker to lead this hunt for them. Blade teams up with a death squad named the Blood Pack that have been trained to kill Blade himself, but are focused on eliminating the reapers for the time being. At the head of this group is Reinhardt (Ron Perlman) who shows immediate distaste and opposition to Blade, but he’s soon put in his place the way only Blade can do. There is also pure blood elder Damaskinos (Thomas Kretschmann) who is Nyssa’s father, but also holds secrets of his own that he refuses to take responsibility for. These sorts of things come into play later in the film.
The hunt for the reapers and Nomack is only half the story here, and thus, only lasts through about half the film. Members of the Blood Pack are lost in the hunt, but the main characters survive it. Along the way, a bond is formed between Blade and Princess Nyssa while the relationship between Blade and Whistler seems to fade deep into the background. It almost seems like Whistler needs protecting, like he can no longer hold his own. Though, the hunt to destroy the reapers is really only half of the film, and barely scratches the surface of the overall plot which Blade hardly sees coming when he and Whistler are taken captive and a traitor is revealed along with buried truths with threaten everyone.
I would like to say that I actually feel this is NOT a sequel that surpasses the original, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. I enjoyed the more dramatic, serious tone of the original Blade with its balance of action, vampire lore, and interesting, entertaining characters. Blade II offers up a more fun, multi-colored visual style with jacked up action sequences, but lighter on character depth and lacking a coherent plot progression. The first half of the film sets up a really strong threat in the Reapers, but all the setup and very detailed exposition is dashed when all but Nomack are wiped out halfway through the film. After that, it’s all personal agendas and vendettas to sustain the film from there. A far less sympathetic Frankenstein’s Monster tale of a creation turning against its creator ensues, and Blade is just there to clean up the mess. The final fight between Blade and Nomack, while intense and entertaining, is mostly a CGI affair like something out of The Matrix Trilogy forcing it, by default, to lack a needed visceral element. The fight mainly happens because the film needs a climax. The only real justification for it is a last minute act of violence that fires up Blade to throw down – an act that has no real purpose to have happened. There’s no build up of personal disdain between the two as there was between Blade and Deacon Frost in the 1997 film. Ultimately, Nomack is not the real villain of the film, but is left as the only remaining threat by the film’s end.
I also think Guillermo del Toro imbued this film with a bit too much cheesiness and levity. While Snipes, Perlman, and the other actors pull it off well, I feel we lose the weight of the story overall. First and foremost, Blade just doesn’t come off as imposing or as threatening as before. While Blade was quite the antisocial, brooding, edgy, blunt, and internal personality before, here (amongst enemies no less) opens up his thoughts and sense of humor significantly more. Snipes still plays the role exceptionally well, it just seems to go against Blade’s established personality – especially since he retains that cold, stone-faced facade when he’s amongst his established allies.
Speaking of which, Norman Reedus appears as Scud, a new ally of the Daywalker. He essentially took over Whistler’s role in his absence, but now that he’s back, there is friction. Though, where Whistler was allowed to be his own strong, solid character in the previous film, he becomes little more than an object of abuse by the Blood Pack here. This is deeply unfortunate considering that Kristofferson is a spectacular actor, and Whistler had such a wealth of potential for serious exploration before. Instead, he’s made into a weaker character overall that Blade has to protect whereas he could hold his own before. I really liked his gruff cowboy style mentality from the first film, and to see it be depleted here throughout the film for no major reason is just sad. You don’t get to see Whistler kick anyone’s ass, at all, ever in this whole film. That’s a greatly negative mark against this film, in my eyes.
The special and visual effects are superior than those in the original film, but with a span of four years between films, it’s not surprising. Guillermo does use a great deal more CGI than Norrington did, but it still works well for the film (even if it might be a slight bit obvious, at times). While I believe del Toro makes very good films, and excels with the more fantastical material, I simply believe he veered certain aspects of this film into incorrect directions. I like a good dash of humor in my films as much as anyone, but I don’t like it when the essence of an established character is lost within it. That’s what I see happened here with Blade. His character is too light, and loses some of his dark, mysterious edge. Whistler is handled in a pretty pathetic fashion which doesn’t roll for me. Anyone who casts Kris Kristofferson does so for his strength of character and natural presence of authority – that is totally wasted in this sequel.
Also, overall, I feel the vampire nation is presented in a very inconsequential light in this film. Whereas in the first film, they seemed like a powerful underground global organization, here the vampire nation seems terribly smaller and less influential with the weak and cowardly Damaskinos heading everything. He carries himself with no weight, and hardly seems like a threat to anyone. The only thing that makes him powerful is his personal influence and armed guards. When danger comes his way, he retreats like a little old lady – literally. Nomack really is a greater threat (and proves it), but is terribly downplayed by the second half of the film. This is all why del Toro’s film is marginally inferior to Norrington’s original film – mishandling of characters and plot. This might be attributed to David Goyer’s writing (lord, I know what it’s like when there’s no around to fix it up), but it is the director’s job to balance these things out. I simply feel like there was more consistent storytelling and character continuity with the original Blade. I’ve seen Hellboy, and I feel it suffers from the exact same problems as Blade II. It is a fine film, but could use some definite improvements as could this sequel.
And I just have to say the biggest mishandling of a talent in this film is in Donnie Yen. I’ve only seen him in Highlander: Endgame, but DAMN, was I impressed by his talent and abilities. The man is a premiere martial artist that rivals the likes of Jet Li and such. He is simply an amazing athlete and martial artist. The fact that he’s barely utilized in this film should be a crime. Maybe the filmmakers were afraid he’d out-shine Wesley Snipes? I don’t know, but it’s just wrong to have under-utilized him in this picture. Honestly, if you cast a talent the caliber of Donnie Yen, it’s for a very specific reason, and that reason is blatantly obvious. To not make use of his most prominent talents is simply stupid. Of what I’ve seen of him, I’d definitely look forward to seeing more of his talents.
This film has new music composers in Marco Beltrami and Danny Saber, but the difference isn’t strikingly different. In the least, the music fits well with del Toro’s tone and style. The soundtrack still features some techno-style music, but also rap / hip-hop music is present with the likes of Cypress Hill. Not at all my taste in music, but it’s good within the context of the film. Simply put, I have no qualms about the musical score or soundtrack for the film.
The film does indeed look fantastic with a rich color scheme, and the stellar cinematography. The camera moves and angles definitely lend a sense of scope and power to the images. The production design is top-notch creating various distinct sets and locales with bring a European flavor to the film. With all the more diverse settings in this film, it easily makes it look more elaborate than the American urban setting of the first film. But whatever the case, it all looks amazing!
Overall, taking in all the good and not-so-good of the film, I would have to give Blade II a score slightly below that of the first film. Guillermo del Toro is an awesome filmmaker, but with this film, I just don’t feel his style lent itself best to this film. I would’ve preferred more dramatic and emotional weight overall, and a stronger consistency in the characters of Blade and Whistler. They are the only franchise mainstays, and they’re the ones we follow from film-to-film. I feel their characters were weakened, and their potential strength was drained by excessive levity in the film overall. Also, the CGI is good, but during the action scenes, you know when it’s CGI, making it not all that great. It certainly helped the filmmakers achieve things that they couldn’t do otherwise, but also took away from the effectiveness of the times it was used. It becomes a toss up, but never the less, I count it as a mark against the film, to a small degree. Simply put, I give Blade II an 8.5/10. It’s a good film, but it could’ve been stronger and more coherent in its storytelling progression and character development.
An organized vampire underworld operating in league with key human figures in a covert plan to control the world. All that opposes them is the Daywalker, Blade (Wesley Snipes). He was born shortly after his own mother was bitten by a vampire, and thus, inherited all their powers with none of their weaknesses, except the thirst for blood. The serum concocted by ally and fellow “suckhead” slayer Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) suppresses this thirst, but Blade is building up an immunity to it. As Blade tears through the vampire underworld, he moves in closer and closer to Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) who has major plans to cease control of the vampire nation from the “pure bloods.” Caught in the middle of this bloody, unseen war is Dr. Karen Jenson (N’Bushe Wright). As the film unfolds, Frost’s own plot is slowly uncovered as well as the origins of our heroes, and the potential for a cure to vampirism.
Wesley Snipes owns this entire film. His expert martial arts skills are executed with machine-like precision making Blade into the ultimate vampire slaying bad ass. Beyond that is the pain within. Blade has a lot of obvious internal pain that keeps him distant from even Whistler, who is the closest thing to a friend and parent he ever had. While Blade plays their relationship very coldly, in the end, there’s a lot of emotion there. Blade owes Whistler everything. In contrast, Kris Kristofferson plays Whistler like an cowboy. He’s a real tough old bastard that doesn’t show any real sentimentality, but he’s exceptionally likable. He’s a hard ass for sure, but with his past and allegiance with Blade, it’s difficult to be any other way. He gives Blade the needed kick in the ass when he’s getting a bit too enveloped in his own agendas.
Stephen Dorff plays a wonderfully despicable villain in Frost. He’s defiant, sadistic, and completely vile. He has a lot of fun with the role, playing it up with a sick enthusiasm. Frost is also very frustrated with the arrogant and aristocratic attitudes of the pure bloods, thinking they have the right to run everything, and tell him what to do. His ultimate scheme intends to wipe them off the face of the planet, and bestow god-like powers upon himself. Dorff has so much charisma that makes him deliciously evil, if even a bit annoying to some. His henchman Quinn, played by comedian Donal Logue, is a energetic and hilarious delight. In a film handled with so much weight, levity is so valued. Snipes and Kristofferson also have tinges of humor in their performances, but it is easily the villains here that offer up the most. This allows the film to not be cheesy, but instead delightfully villainous at times.
The other notable villain here is Dragonetti portrayed by the eccentric and distinctly European actor Udo Kier. He’s an amazing genre actor with a perfect German accent and look to fit into the classic vampire motif. He has over 170 acting credits on his filmography, and has worked with Peter Hyams, Dario Argento, and even John Carpenter on an episode for Masters of Horror. Udo plays Dragonetti as greatly as he does in any other role, and adding a real air of sophistication to the vampire elders.
Stephen Norrington directs this film with much style, but also a lot of weight. The source material is updated, cleaned up, and given a lot of seriousness. Still, as stated, there’s humor and an excellent sense of fun. Never does anything get to feeling so serious that you lose interest. The dramatic and emotional moments are handled well, and the action sequences are shot with a lot of fun and top-notch composition. This was easily before every action director was shooting their films with the infamous shaky-cam style. The end duel between Blade & Frost has such speed and ferocity that you’ll be hard pressed to find a more intense one-on-one fight with this great of choreography.
Director of photography Theo Van De Sande gave the film an amazing look. The coldness of the blues and grays goes a long way to establishing the feel of this underground world of vampires, but it doesn’t dominate the film. There’s plenty of daytime and certain indoor scenes with a warmer color palette. This is a needed counterbalance to avoid making the film too dreary. Films like Underworld failed to offer such a visual counterbalance as well as a sense of levity that hurt its entertainment and enjoyment value. Norrington and Theo Van De Sande got it right the first time out the gate.
Eight years later, I do have to say that the visual effects here don’t hold up well at all. They look very low budget by today’s higher end standards. Even the visual effects in Blade: The Series looked better than they do in this feature film, but for the time of its theatrical release, they were pretty good, but no great. I can’t help but hold 1993’s Jurassic Park as a CGI standard bearer since so many films these days still fail to live up to that level of quality and realism. Though, the makeup effects here are great with much gory texture and detail.
Mark Isham’s score coupled with a pulsating soundtrack gives this film great power and vibrancy. It hits all the right marks, and flows with the moments to keep the film coherent in style and mood.
Now, I’ve seen mixed results with David S. Goyer’s screenwriting. Blade: Trinity was an awful mess with bad dialogue and poor plotting. What I’ve come to believe is that the influence and vision of the directors he has worked with have geared his scripts into far higher quality territory. In any case, this adaptation of a lower tier Marvel Comics character turned out greatly! The final shooting script was obviously very strong, and created an excellent film.
Overall, I would call Blade a definite classic that combines elements of horror, action, and martial arts in a very fresh and intelligent way. Remember, this predated The Matrix by several months, and honestly, any martial arts sequence in this film kicks the crap out of all of The Matrix trilogy. Who needs ten tons of wire work and a thousand Kung Fu blocks when you’ve got some full-on vampire martial arts and swordplay ass-kicking? Wesley Snipes definitely solidified himself as a certified bad ass with this film. Stephen Norrington also displayed a great artistic eye and killer talent for making genre-blending films. It’s all too bad that after his exceptionally difficult experience making The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, he vowed never to direct another film. But in regards to Blade, I give it a 9.5/10. The CGI is certainly dated, and the final duel could’ve been extended for greater dramatic effect. Still, it’s a stellar film with fantastic action and a definite dramatic weight overall.