Talking Movies [Christmas Countdown]: Jingle All the Way

Talking Movies

Released: 22 November 1996
Director: Brian Levant
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $75 million
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Jake Lloyd, Robert Conrad, Rita Wilson, and Phil Hartman

The Plot:
Howard Langston (Schwarzenegger) is a workaholic husband and father who, after missing his son Jamie’s (Lloyd) karate class graduation, promises to make it up to him by buying him the hottest action figure of the year, Turbo-Man, for Christmas. But, having forgotten to by the toy ahead of time, he must race both across town and against a similarly motivated mailman, Myron Larabee (Sinbad), on Christmas Eve or risk once again breaking a promise to his son.

The Background:
It’s easy to forget that, amidst all the action and science-fiction movies of the mid-eighties and nineties, Arnold Schwarzenegger also dabble din a bit of comedy. Not all of these ventures were successful, mind you, but it was a decent attempt by the Austrian Oak to showcase some range to his acting ability. Arnold joined the film for a reported $20 million salary, attracted to the idea of portraying an “ordinary man” for a change, and having experienced the difficulty of last-minute Christmas shopping itself. The script, which originated from a screenplay by Randy Kornfield, drew upon the mad rush shoppers faced to purchase some of the most sought-after Christmas toys over the years, from Cabbage Patch Kids to Power Rangers and the much-coveted Buzz Lightyear. Ironically, the film was shot so quickly that there wasn’t enough time to produce much in the way or merchandising for the film, which went on to gross nearly $130 million and received mixed to average reviews at the time. Perhaps because of its bonkers nature, it has become something of a cult classic over the years and a standalone, straight-to-DVD sequel was even produced in 2014 with an entirely new cast.

The Review:
Jingle All the Way is the story of Howard Langston, a workaholic father and husband who is such a big-wig at his company (which, I believe, is a company that sells bedding and furniture) that he’s working up to the wire on Christmas Eve-Eve during he office party. Though Howard is very much consumed by his work and ensuring that his many “number one customers” are satisfied, he’s not a maliciously neglectful father; I never got the sense that he was a bad Dad or husband, he’s just a cliché mid-nineties businessman whose primarily about the business.

Howard grossly underestimates the popularity of Turbo-Man.

When Howard misses his son Jamie’s karate graduation, he desperately tries to make it up to his son but the only thing that really works is him being honest; by admitting that he screwed up, Howard is able to turn Jamie around and learn about his Christmas wish for a Turbo-Man action figure. Sadly, Howard doesn’t twig to this revelation so, when his wife Liz (Wilson) asks him if he bought the doll when she told him to “weeks ago”, he opts to lie to her to cover his ass and avoid further reprisals. Unfortunately, while Howard is a great liar and a convincing act, he greatly underestimates just how popular the Turbo-Man action figure is. Seriously, this guy is like the Power Rangers on steroids, having a super cheesy television show, comic books, and all manner of merchandise and, despite Jamie clearly being besotted to the point obsession with the character, Howard is too thoughtless to notice that Jamie has greater respect and admiration for a fictional character rather than him before it’s too late.

In place of his neglectful father, Jamie idolises Turbo-Man to the point of obsession.

If there’s a weak link in the film, I’m sorry to say that it’s Jake Lloyd; it’s painful to say it about a child actor who was once so prominent in the industry, and considering everything he went through later in life, but Lloyd is pretty insufferable in the two films I’ve seen him in (three guesses what the other one is…) and even more so here. To be fair, much of this seems to be due to the script as Jamie is quite the spoilt, condescending little brat at times. I get that he’s desperate for his Dad’s attention but, as I said, he’s taking his love of Turbo-Man to an unhealthy obsession at times; however, this just goes to show how powerful and influential television, merchandise, and advertising can be on a young boy since he has based his entire life philosophy and morals on the teachings of a Saturday morning show in place of his inattentive father.

Sinbab’s bombastic comedy is a particular highlight of the film.

Being a comedy film, much of Jingle All the Way’s success lives and dies on the content of the actual jokes and gags; for the most part, these come from the comedic chops of Sinbad, whose character, Myron, is a troubled mailman who is equally desperate to get his son a Turbo-Man after experiencing a similar let down as a kid. Myron represents a different social class compared to the fairly well-off Howard; Myron is the working class everyman, a man driven to desperate and near insanity by the thankless nature of his job and the pressure of living up to the expectations placed upon him (and all fathers) by television advertising.  Because of this, Myron tends to go off on increasingly ridiculous tangents, ranting and raving about the season and his lot in life to the point of hilarity; Sinbad pretty much steals every scene he’s in, chewing the scenery and delivering a performance that is the perfect blend of bombastic and belligerent.

Ted is Howard’s annoyingly helpful neighbour who has his sights set on Liz.

Speaking of scene-stealers, Jingle All the Way also includes a fantastic turn by Phil Hartman as Howard’s overbearing next-door neighbour Ted Maltin; if Ted has a counterpart in the world, it’s Ned Flanders (Harry Shearer) as he’s overly polite, super helpful, and can seemingly never put a foot wrong. When Howard is late or misses Jamie’s big events, Ted is there with his video camera; when Howard is too buys to put up Christmas or be at home with Liz and Jamie, Ted is right there. So beloved is Ted that all the neighbourhood mothers swoon over him, openly flirting with him and attracted to how handy and capable he is, but Ted has his sights set on Liz. Interestingly, though, as accommodating and as a nice a guy as Ted seems to be, there are some interesting cracks in his persona: he snaps at his son Johnny (E.J. De La Pena) and Jamie after burning his fingers when watching over them and delivers a very icy quip to Howard after he wrecks his house. Ultimately, though, Liz is somewhat repulsed by Ted’s advances and he receives his comeuppance when Howard upstages him in the film’s finale.

Howard repeatedly runs afoul of Officer Hummell, who constantly ends up worse for wear.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Howard constantly runs afoul of Police Officer Alexander Hummell (Conrad) in a recurring gag in the film; Hummell pulls Howard over and causes him to miss Jamie’s graduation, then gives Howard another ticket when he accidentally reverses into his police bike, and responds to the radio station’s call for help when Howard and Myron burst in in a desperate attempt to win a Turbo-Man. This results in one of the best, and most cartoonish, scenes in the film when Myron threatens the cops with a mail bomb that turns out to actually be real. Conrad delivers a very dry and sarcastic performance, which makes for some fun exchanges between him and Arnold.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Jingle All the Way is quite the madcap film, with a near relentless pace as we follow Howard on his desperate search for a Turbo-Man. At every turn, he finds nothing but empty shelves or units of Turbo-Man’s weird bear/tiger sidekick, Booster, crazed fellow shoppers, and overworked, underpaid, jaded retail staff. I’ve worked in retail at Christmas time and I can say that I fully understand the attitude of the staff Howard encounters as shoppers go absolutely ape-shit at Christmas time, literally clambering over each other to get at products, and it’s only gotten worse over the years as Black Friday sales have been extended to an entire week! Still, you can make the argument that Liz should have known that Howard couldn’t be trusted to buy the doll and should have picked it up herself, since she’s much more attuned to her child’s needs, but then we wouldn’t have the movie now, would we?

Howard ends up in some weird and uncomfortable situations in his quest.

Amidst Howard’s dire quest, he ends up in some really weird situations: there’s the uncomfortable moment where he chases a little girl through the mall to get a lottery ball and is attacked by rightfully concerned mothers, for one thing, and his encounter with the mall Santa (Jim Belushi). Santa turns out to be one of a number of Christmassy crooks who sell knock-off toys from a warehouse at a criminally inflated price and, when Howard tries to get his money back, a massive fight ensues between him and the Santa’s (including Paul Wight, better known now as the WWE’s Big Show, and Verne Troyer). This sequence is another highlight of the film thanks, largely to Belushi’s memorable performance; he’s not in the film for longer than a cameo but he makes an immediate impression once he shows up and you almost wish he could have had a large role in the film’s events.

For the finale, the film descends into full-blown cartoon buffonery.

Of course, the biggest and most ridiculous scenario Howard finds himself in is when, after being chased by Hummell, he ends up being forced into the Turbo-Man suit for the “Wintertainment Parade” when the organises mistake him for the replacement stunt man. In the process, Howard not only finally gets his hand son the Turbo-Man doll but ends up in an elaborate and overly cartoony fight with Myron, who disguises himself as Turbo-Man’s arch-nemesis Dementor to steal the toy. This leads to a Myron chasing Jamie up a fire escape and across rooftops and Howard inexplicably activating the actual, fully functional jetpack built into the suit to rescue his son and defeat Myron. It’s a massively over the top sequence that is, in many ways, at odds with the generally more grounded, if wacky, antics that have followed but it certainly makes for a memorable finale in which Howard learns to appreciate his family, Jamie gifts Myron the Turbo-Man doll, and everyone ends up in a better place than they originally started (…except for Myron, who ends up in prison…).

The Summary:
Jingle All the Way is far from the best Christmas movie and is definitely one of the weaker films in Arnold’s impressive resumé; it’s a schmaltzy, over the top cringe fest of a festive comedy with some really weird cartoonish moments, some dodgy performances, special effects (especially noticeable in the finale) and line delivery from Arnold and Lloyd, and all the clichés you’d expect from a film of its kind. And yet…there’s something about it that I find unironically entertaining. Nostalgia helps, of course, since I grew up watching this film, as does the festive nature of the movie and the feelings of yuletide joy it inspires within me but, even disregarding those obvious aspects, Jingle All the Way is a wild, but entertaining, ride with some amusing moments and exchanges that really bring it up a notch. Not only that, but the film’s excess actually contributes and plays into the overall plot concerning consumerism and Christmas mania, which remains as relevant as ever, meaning there’s plenty of different elements at work in the film to appeal to kids and adults. Plus, you know…it’s a Christmas movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger so a certain amount of cheese is to be expected but you can certainly find worst Christmas movies out there.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What do you think to Jingle All the Way? Is it a Christmas tradition of yours or do you prefer another Christmas movie; if so, what is it? What did you think to the performances of the actors? Do you enjoy seeing Arnold playing against type or do you think he should stick to what he’s best known for? Have you ever had to face last-minute Christmas shoppers? What was the hot Christmas toy when you were a kid? Whatever your thoughts, leave a comment below and be sure to check in next Saturday for another Christmas movie review!

Talking Movies [Judgment Day]: The Terminator


“Three billion human lives ended on August 29th, 1997. The survivors of the nuclear fire called the war Judgment Day. They lived only to face a new nightmare: the war against the machines”.

Yes, friends, today’s the day that Skynet, the malevolent artificial intelligence of the Terminator franchise (Various, 1984 to 2019) was said to have launched an all-out nuclear attack against humanity and reduced us to the point of extinction. Subsequent Terminator films and media may have changed this date, and the specifics of Judgement Day, but one thing’s for sure: there is no fate but what we make for ourselves.


Talking Movies

Released: 26 October 1984
Director:
James Cameron
Distributor:
Orion Pictures
Budget:
$6.4 million
Stars:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, and Paul Winfield

The Plot:
The Terminator (Schwarzenegger), a ramosely, relentless cybernetic killer, is sent back in time from the year 2029 to kill Sarah Connor (Hamilton), who is destined to give birth to the saviour of humankind. Her only hope is Kyle Reese (Biehn), a human Resistance fighter sent back in time to protect her and safeguard the future for humanity.

The Background:
In 1982, filmmaker James Cameron awoke from a nightmare that was destined to give birth to one of the most influential science-fiction films of all time; inspired by an episode of The Outer Limits (1963 to 1965) and surely influenced by the likes of Westworld (Crichton, 1973), Cameron crafted a script that few, even the eventual stars, had any real faith in at the time. Initially uncertain about casting Schwarzenegger in the titular role, Cameron was won over by the Austrian Oak and, despite only having seventeen lines in the film, The Terminator made Arnold a mainstream icon and featured the debut of his famous catchphrase. Despite the studio having little faith in the film, The Terminator went on to gross nearly $80 million at the box office and was a resounding critical success. The film catapulted Schwarzenegger to superstardom, was preserved in the United States National Film Registry, and inspired first a blockbuster sequel then a slew of merchandise (including videogames, toys, and comic books) and mediocre to lacklustre continuations in a seemingly-never-ending bid to milk the franchise for all it’s worth.

The Review:
The Terminator opens with one of the most startling and iconic visions of the future ever put the film; in a dark, post-apocalyptic landscape literally littered with human skulls, remains, and the remnants of a once bustling society, machines reign supreme. Gigantic tank-like constructs and airborne fighters are only a part of Skynet’s vast mechanical army, however, which has over-run the world after directly causing a nuclear apocalypse. With the last vestiges of humanity reduced to a rag-tag group of guerrilla soldiers and desolate, frightened civilians, this is a world where humankind is on the very brink of extinction thanks to Skynet’s superior forces and weaponry.

The fate of the world is decided not in a future battle but in a desperate bid to protect the past.

However, the fate of the world is not destined to be decided in 2029; instead, that grim future lives on in the nightmares and memories of Kyle Reese and hangs in the air like an ominous cloud as he desperately attempts to keep Sarah Connor alive. After the human resistance, led by Sarah’s future son, John, scored a decisive and crippling victory over their mechanical oppressors in the future, Skynet activated its most daring plan yet by sending a Terminator, a T-800 model, back to 1984 to kill the mother of its enemy to pre-emptively win the war before it can even begin. In the world of The Terminator, time is like the branches of a tree, splitting off down multiple paths, with no one future being set in time; however, victory in one timeline is deemed victory enough for Skynet and so begins one of the more convoluted science-fiction franchises.

Reese is determined to see his mission through even at the cost of his humanity and empathy.

Disorientated and overwhelmed by the time travel experience (and the sights, sounds, and hustle and bustle of then-present-day Los Angeles), Reese is an agitated, highly-strung, and unpredictable individual. He quickly acclimatises himself to his environment, acquiring a degree of clothing and weaponry, and begins to track down (more like stalk) his assignment. Reese is extremely focused and absolutely dedicated to his mission, determined to protect Sarah even at the cost of his own life and over all other concerns; he never gets unduly distracted and is almost as obsessed and determined as the titular Terminator. Haunted by his traumatic experiences in the future war, Reese has no time for frivolities and very little patience for wasting his time; when psychoanalysed by Doctor Silberman (Earl Boen), he flies into a furious rage at having to answer his questions and being held captive when the Terminator is out there, relentlessly hunting its prey.

Sarah slowly evolves from a meek, frightened victim to a capable and proactive young woman.

Far from the capable and competent character she would later become, Sarah is a meek and relatively uninspiring waitress in The Terminator; the literal definition of a nobody, she’s overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated at work and, despite having friends and a social life, is relatively lonely and unassuming at the start of the film. Disturbed to find that women baring her name have been brutally shot to death across town, Sarah does the smart and logical thing by trying to contact the police but her distress is only increased when she notices Reese following her. When Reese saves her from the Terminator and begins to bark orders at her and rant about a dystopian future and cyborg assassins, she is overwhelmed, clearly scared out of her mind, and, naturally, doesn’t believe a word of what he says. In their earliest moments together, Sarah actually shows some fire when she tries to fight Reese off but, gradually, she comes to see that his ravings are all too true and shows a shadow of the potential she has as an assertive individual by first tending to Reese’s gunshot wound and, in the finale, inspiring him to continue fighting even while mortally wounded and, ultimately, overcoming her pursuer through her own initiative.

The T-800 is a remorseless cyborg assassin who won’t let anything stand between it and its target.

Of course, when you’re talking about The Terminator, you have to talk about Arnold Schwarzenegger; since he’s a walking mountain of a man, it may be difficult to believe that the T-800 was ever an effective infiltration machine but Arnold plays the part of a cold, emotionless cyborg to absolute perfection. The T-800’s monotone voice, unblinking stare, and relentless tenacity make it a chilling villain alone but its menace is only increased by its human appearance; unlike slasher villains and other movie monsters, the Terminator looks and acts human, even sweating and bleeding, and its inhumanity is only revealed in its fittingly machine-like efficiency and the degradation of its outer skin over the course of the film. Cold, remorseless, lacking both empathy and pity, the Terminator doesn’t hesitate to gun down or eviscerate those on its path and is, for all intents and purposes, absolutely unstoppable with the weaponry available to Reese.

Relentlessly hounded by the T-800, Sarah and Reese take advantage of every precious moment.

Because of this, The Terminator is, largely, an escort mission for Reese and a constant race against a unrelenting antagonistic force. Constantly on the defensive, hounded by the Terminator and the police at every turn, Reese and Sarah have few chances to stop and catch their breath but make use of every moment they have together. At first, this means acquiring new vehicles to evade pursuit, finding lodgings, and cobbling together more effective weaponry but, in time, Reese, admits that his motivation to travel through time wasn’t just out of blind devotion to his much-respected commander-in-chief, it was also out of love for Sarah. Though he struggles with these feelings and to stay completely focused on his mission, Sarah, grateful for his affections, protection, and all that he has sacrificed for her (and deeply sympathetic towards the unspeakable horrors he’s lived through in the future), reciprocates his feelings and, amidst the terror of their predicament, they come together (both literally and figuratively).

The Nitty-Gritty:
One of the first and most striking things about The Terminator, thanks to its simple but effective title sequence, is Brad Fiedel’s iconic Terminator theme; a rhythmic, synthetic symphony that resembles a heartbeat, the theme is both memorable and versatile, emphasising the Terminator’s ominous presence whenever it is onscreen and being sped up, slowed down, or played on different instruments to punctuate more emotional or energetic moments of the film. The Terminator also has a grimy, bleak aesthetic and tone that is in stark contrast to its more outlandish science-fiction elements in a style that Cameron described as “Tech-Noir”; sadly, too few films try to emulate this style of filmmaking, to say nothing of The Terminator’s many sequels, which emphasised blockbuster action over tense, atmospheric dread and the unsettling horror of the T-800.

The Terminator’s true nature is revealed the more it takes damage, stripping it of its human façade.

The Terminator is almost genius in its premise; the idea of a cybernetic assassin that is purposely made to appear human means that the film can build towards its more striking sci-fi elements and allows it to use its budget wisely in service of a steadily increasing pace. It isn’t until nearly forty minutes into the film that we first see through the T-800’s eyes or see (and hear) how ineffective conventional firearms are against it and, as the T-800 is further damaged by gunfire, car crashes, and explosions, more and more of its mechanical innards are revealed. This leads to some ambitious practical effects and animatronic shots, such as the T-800 fixing damaged servos in its wrist, amputating a wounded eye, and sporting a bloodied chrome skull beneath its torn skin.

Ambitious and impressive stop-motion and puppetry bring the T-800 endoskeleton to life.

While many of these shots now look rather dated, especially compared to the vastly superior special effects of the second film, they’re still impressive for the time and considering the budget of the film. The Terminator also features some complex and remarkable model shots and miniatures, specifically whenever it jumps to Reese’s nightmares of the future war, and concludes with an ambitious, if clunky, stop-motion effect to bring the exposed T-800 endoskeleton to life. Thankfully, this is only for a brief scene and animatronics and puppets are used for the remainder of the conclusion and to astonishing effect; with a practical, tangible effect to work against, Reese’s final and tragic last stand against the T-800 and its ultimate destruction are all the more compelling and cathartic since it actually feels as though these characters have overcome a very real and very dangerous threat.

Though necessary to the escalation of the film’s villain, it’s a shame to lose Arnold’s presence.

If there’s a downside to The Terminator, though, it’s that Arnold’s alluring screen presence is lost in this finale; although it hardly speaks a word throughout the film, the T-800 has a commanding and captivating screen presence thanks to its unflinching, stoic expression and ability to emulate voices to pass as human. Its human façade erodes over time just as Reese’s rational, machine-like efficiency gives way to human emotion and affection, and it becomes noticeably more aggressive and bolder in its pursuit of Sarah. Initially, there’s a sense that you could survive an encounter with the T-800 if you simply acquiesced to its demands for clothes and weapons but, by the end, it’s storming a police station and gunning down countless police officers without any hint of subterfuge or subtlety. Similarly, while it initially tries to mask its decaying exterior, it abandons all pretence and pursues them, gammy leg and all, as little more than a remorseless, inhuman, mechanical monster.

The film isn’t about changing the future, but preserving it to ensure mankind’s ultimate victory.

Of course, a central theme to The Terminator, and the entire Terminator franchise, is of fate. Reese carries with him a message from John, to Sarah, that there “is no fate but what we make”, which is designed to inspire her to allow Reese to protect her and to fight to change the future. Reese describes 2029 as a “possible future”, again indicating that humanity is not necessarily doomed to extinction and extermination, but the very fact that Sarah and Reese’s unity results in her pregnancy ends the film on an ominous cliff-hanger that suggests that, while the future may not necessarily be set in stone, it is destined to happen one way or another. Later films and Terminator media would greatly expand upon this and use it as an excuse to continue the franchise, even when it doesn’t make sense to do so, but, thanks to an excised sub-plot, there’s little in the film to suggest that the goal is to change the future. Instead, the idea is to preserve the future; by ensuring Sarah’s survival, Reese ensures (at the cost of his own life) that John is born, and humanity is victorious in the future. Fate, however, dictates that this future timeline remains on course since not only does Reese inadvertently become the father of the future (so to speak) but they practically bring about the creation of Skynet through their final confrontation with the Terminator; while this is, obviously a major part of the sequel, the fact that the film purposely ends on a cliff-hanger and with a few unresolved loose ends suggests, however implicitly, that fate is as inexorable as the Terminator itself.

The Summary:
The Terminator is another of the formative films of my childhood; it was, to my earliest recollection, one of the first films I watched to revolve around time travel and present a dystopian, nightmarish future where humanity has been reduced to pockets of underequipped soldiers. It had a lasting effect on my imagination thanks to its bleak visuals, horrific special effects, and thought-provoking approach to time and fate, and was directly responsible for my appreciation and affection for the works of Arnold Schwarzenegger over the years.

As great as the sequel is, The Terminator has a gritty, bleak quality that makes it a timeless classic.

Though the future is a dismal, desolate landscape filled with ruins and suffering, The Terminator is a film as much about hope as it is about inescapable destiny; even with everything lost, humanity continues to fight back against the machines and, even though he’s far from the ravages of that war-torn future, Reese continues to adhere to his mission, whatever the cost, in order to ensure that humanity will, ultimately, triumph. It’s tricky to decide which is better between this and the sequel but, while Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron, 1991) may be bigger, better, and more impressive in almost every way, sometimes it’s just as entertaining to return to the grim, gritty original, which is much more like a traditional slasher or horror film than a sci-fi/action piece and, as a result, just as entertaining in its own right thanks to its simple, but ambitious, story and effects.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What are your thoughts on The Terminator? How do you think it holds up today, especially compared to its other sequels? What did you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance in the film and do you think it made sense for him to play the titular cyborg? What did you think to the film’s portrayal of fate, especially considering how the later films skewed the concept somewhat? Would you like to see another Terminator film more in the style of this one rather than the bombastic sequel or do you think it’s better to leave the franchise as it is after everything its been through? How are you celebrating Judgement Day today? No matter what you think about The Terminator, and the Terminator franchise, feel free to leave a comment down below.

Talking Movies: Total Recall

Talking Movies

Released: 1 June 1990
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Distributor: TriStar Pictures
Budget: $50 to 60 million
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, and Ronny Cox

The Plot:
Construction worker Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger) lives a mundane life dominated by dreams of Mars. Determined to fulfil his fantasy of having visited the Red Planet, he pays to have memories of a trip to Mars implanted in his mind, but awakens to suddenly find himself hounded by the ruthless Richter (Ironside) and, apparently, caught up in an interplanetary conspiracy that believes him to be the saviour of Mars.

The Background:
Total Recall began life as We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, a short story written by renowned science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick and first published in 1966. The story told of a man, obsessed with Mars, who finds that he actually has hidden memories of being a secret agent on the Red Planet and an adaptation of the story, first drafted by Alien (Scott, 1979) writers Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, languished in development hell for many years. The adaptation passed through many drafts and the hands of the likes of Dino De Laurentis and David Cronenberg before Schwarzenegger, who had been aware of the project and lobbied for a starring role, convinced Carolco to buy the film rights and personally recruited Paul Verhoeven to direct.

Total Recall was adapted from a short story by noted sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick.

Total Recall was one of the most expensive films ever produced at the time of release, with much of its enormous budget needed for the copious special effects; practical filmmaking techniques such as animatronics, miniatures, and lavish, futuristic sets brought the world to life and created numerous challenges for the filmmakers. After being frustrated with the initial lacklustre trailers, Schwarzenegger made efforts to improve the film’s marketing, which resulted in Total Recall debuting at number one at the box office upon release and grossing over $260 million. Although the film’s excessive violence drew some criticism, Total Recall was, largely, a critical success and has since been regarded favourably as one of the greatest science-fiction/action movies ever made for its frantic action, enjoyable excess, and thought-provoking themes regarding reality and identity. Considering Total Recall was one of the formative movies of my childhood, and that today is Schwarzenegger’s 74th birthday, this seems like an appropriate time to revisit the film and talk about why it’s such a classic of its genre.

The Review:
I mentioned just now that Total Recall was a massively influential film on my childhood and it’s true; it was unlike anything I’d seen at the time, with its fantastic visuals and bombastic, haunting score by Jerry Goldsmith. Many years later, I jumped at the chance to revisit the film as part of my Master’s degree to talk about its status as an adaptation; in truth, very little is actually inspired by the original short story (with the film’s first thirty minutes or so being the closest to the text) but the story’s themes of reality, identity, and paranoia are clearly evoked throughout the film, which is littered with allusions and references and minor elements that both explicitly, and subtly, tie in to Quaid’s chaotic story.

Unsatisfied with his mundane life, Quaid (literally) dreams of visiting Mars.

When we first meet Quaid, he’s a relatively mundane character and, despite being happily married to Lori (the delectable Sharon Stone at her best), Quaid feels his life has reached something of a rut; he’s stuck in a dead-end job and distracted by dreams of Mars and a mysterious brunette, Melina (Ticotin), and a desire to be more than he is. Unable to convince Lori to move or take a trip to Mars, he is inspired by advertisements for Rekall Incorporated, a futuristic travel agency that implants personalised memories of one’s dream vacation. Despite the warnings of his friend, Harry (Robert Costanzo), that Rekall’s procedures carry a high risk of lobotomy, Quaid opts to pay the company a visit and signs up to their “ego trip”, which allows him to live out the fantasy of being a secret agent on Mars.

After visiting Rekall, Quaid is relentlessly hounded by friend and foe alike!

However, during the procedure, Quaid suddenly freaks out and starts attacking the Rekall staff; ranting and raving about Mars, Rekall spokesman Bob McClane (Ray Baker) makes the decision to subdue Quaid, partially wipe his memory, and send him on his way. However, almost immediately Quaid is attacked by Harry, who accuses him of “[blabbing] about Mars”, and is shocked to find he has a penchant for killing and action. Returning home, he is even more shocked and massively confused when Lori suddenly attacks him with a ruthless aggression and he is forced to go on the run as mysterious killers, led by Richter, hound him at every turn.

As expected, Ronny Cox makes for a fantastically unlikeable and cruel villain.

In the process, he receives mysterious messages from people who claim to have known him on Mars and even from himself under the name Carl Hauser; Hauser’s video message informs Quaid that he’s actual a double agent who used to work for the malicious Vilos Cohaagen (Cox) but switched sides to join the resistance movement after falling in love with Melina. Cohaagen is a cruel and vindictive corporate figurehead who basically controls the Martian colony since he owns the monopoly on air, charging the colonists extortionate prices for the luxury of breathing, and the flow of “turbinium”, a mysterious Martian mineral that allows him to be an extremely powerful and influential figure. Ronny Cox is a fantastic actor and always made for a chilling, supremely confident villain; his motivations, while based on greed and power, are surprisingly complex as well since he truly valued his friendship with Hauser and is visibly enraged when he is forced to order Quaid’s death. Cox commands every scene he’s in with a subtle authority and explodes into an unmatched fury at a moment’s notice but he’s also fully capable of chewing the scenery and portraying Cohaagen as a bit of a smarmy, self-righteous dictator who doesn’t hesitate to order the deaths of countless innocent people simply to send a message to those that dare defy him.

Richter is a vindictive and ruthless mercenary with a personal vendetta against Quaid.

Cohaagen’s agent in retrieving Quiad is Richter, a ruthless mercenary with a personal vendetta against Quaid who relentlessly hunts down and tries to kill him at every turn. Richter, for all his aggression and sadistic intelligence, is merely Cohaagen’s pawn, however, and angers his boss with his attempts to kill Quaid (since Cohaagen wants him alive) and escalates events at every turn with his reckless and aggressive ways. Richter treats his assignment as a merciless crusade since he’s clearly harbouring a deep-rooted hatred of Quaid not just because Lori is actually his (as in Richter’s) wife but also stemming from unresolved and vaguely hinted events prior to the film’s beginning. A persistent and increasingly enraged individual, Richter doesn’t hesitate to gun down innocents or employ every resource at his disposal to hunt Quaid down; he also proves to be a considerable physical threat for Quaid and their final confrontation is one of the most brutal and memorable fight scenes in the movie.

Fights are bloody, dirty affairs with a near-constant risk of explosive decontamination.

Not that Total Recall is short on action or fight scenes, mind you; Quaid gets hit in the bollocks a cringe-worthy amount of times throughout the film in his numerous fist fights with Lori, who fills the role of a secondary antagonist. Though far sultrier and more manipulative than Richter, she’s still perfectly happy to engage Quaid in hand-to-hand combat and, largely, manages to hold her own. When not fighting Richter or Lori, Quaid is engaged in several massive shootouts in a variety of locations; these are made especially visceral thanks to the abundance of blood squibs and escalate once Quaid reaches Mars and the threat of explosive decontamination looms in the background of every subsequent firefight.

Aggressive and independent, Melina is more than a match, and an equal, for Quaid.

Quaid is also assisted by the literal woman of his dreams, Melina, a principal figurehead of the resistance who is initially antagonistic towards Quaid since he disappeared without a word some time ago and then reveals that he’s married. Despite this, she believes that he is crucial to their success against Cohaagen and comes to his rescue when Lori manages to subdue him; this leads to a more even fight between her and Lori that is literally over Quaid’s fate (and affections). Still, while Total Recall is an extremely macho film, Melina is able to hold her own and break out of her cliché labels (she is literally described, and “made”, to be “Brunette, athletic, sleazy and demure”) to be an extremely capable and aggressive character. Once she rescues Quaid, they basically team up for the remainder of the movie, fighting side-by-side and facing the same odds as equals.

Benny, despite appearing to be an ally, turns out to be an unscrupulous traitor.

Total Recall is full of memorable and rather shifty supporting characters; each of them, even the most helpful ones, seem a little off in ways that are clearly meant to rattle both Quaid and the audience. One of the most prominent is, of course, Benny (Mel Johnson Jr), a chatty and lewd taxi driver who Quaid meets on Mars. Though he seems to be a helpful ally and proves his credentials by revealing that he’s a mutant (Cohaagen’s cheap domes caused horrific disfigurements to certain colonists), he turns out to be a traitor to the resistance, resulting in a dramatic and imposing showdown between him, Quaid, and Melina in which Benny tries to run them down in a massive Martian excavator.

The resistance is largely comprised of mutant colonists who despite Cohaagan’s dictatorship.

Other supporting characters include notable members of the resistance Tony (Dean Norris) and George (Marshall Bell); George turns out to be the conjoined brother of Kuato, the semi-psychic mutant leader of the resistance who lives on George’s stomach. Revered by the colonists and seen as a hero of the rebellion, Kuato uses his abilities to reveal to Quaid that the Martian technology he briefly glimpsed at Rekall is the key to liberating Mars. A frightening aberration, Kuato is just one of many fantastic practical animatronic effects in the film, which also includes a life-like head of Schwarzenegger for the scene where Quaid painfully removes a tracking device from his head, numerous bloodied and desecrated corpses caught between the film’s many firefights, and, of course, the film’s depiction of explosive decompression. Despite the cartoonish nature of the visual, which sees Quaid, Melina, and Cohaagen’s eyes bulge comically from their sockets, this depiction of the characters violently convulsing and suffocating to death has some basis in reality but, regardless, remains an impressive and gruesome effect thanks to the grisly animatronics.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Given that it’s set in the still-far-future of 2084, technology plays a big part in Total Recall; the world is heavily reliant upon gadgets, gizmos, and automatons of all kinds, employing robotic taxis, holograms, and space-faring technology at every turn. Security is high in this world, ensuring that weapons cannot be smuggled into the subway or across planets, and Mars has been largely colonised thanks to a series of self-sustaining domed cities. As slick and impressive as a lot of Total Recall’s futuristic tech is, though, characters still rely on traditional firearms and melee weapons for many of the action scenes (there are no laser rifles here). This allows the use of technology to stand out even more, however, leading to a fantastic scene where Quaid and Melina utilise holograms to run rings around Richter’s men and ultimately bring a breathable atmosphere to Mars using ancient alien technology.

Identity is a major theme of the movie since Quaid struggles to separate fact from fiction.

One of the biggest themes in the film is that of identity; Quaid is unhappy with his everyday life and the person he is and wants more out of life but is shocked to discover that his dream of action and adventure appears to be a reality and that he really has no idea of who he really is since he is missing memories of a previous life as Hauser. No one is who they say they are, with friends turning into foes on a whim and strangers turning out to be trusted allies, and these themes are first (and expertly) sold to us by McClane, who literally sells customers entirely new identities and the prospect of improving their perception of themselves.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that most of the film is a delusional, psychotic episode.

Another major theme is, of course, of reality; the film opens itself up to interpretation, featuring an ambiguous ending and inviting multiple re-watches to try and ascertain if the film’s events are real or simply a “schizoid embolism” experienced by Quaid during his trip to Rekall. There is plenty of evidence to support both theories, meaning no two viewings of the film are ever the same: McClane basically lays out the first half to the movie to Quaid at Rekall as part of his ego trip but the narrative often jumps away from Quaid’s perspective to follow Richter and/or Cohaagen, which would imply that the events we’re witnessing are actually real. However, later in the film, Quaid is visited by Doctor Edgemar (Roy Brocksmith), who relates that Quaid has suffered a paranoid episode and is stuck in a dream world of his own creation. He offers Quaid a pill that will allow him to “wake up” from his fantasy and return to reality but, at the last minute, Quaid rejects the offer as another of Cohaagen’s tricks and commits himself to opposing Cohaagen’s domination of Mars.

The film’s content, and ending, is intentionally left ambiguous and open to interpretation.

Ultimately, everything prophesised to Quaid comes to pass and the film ends with the happiest, and most unbelievable, of endings; Quaid gets the girl, kills the bad guys, and saves the entire planet, bringing a breathable atmosphere to Mars and ending the story on a white out, a popular filmmaking device used to imply a degree of ambiguity to a film’s ending. In the end, whether Total Recall is real or a dream is entirely up to your interpretation; I like to believe that it’s real, since the majority of the film is framed that way but, sometimes, it’s fun to see it all as a chaotic delusion of Quaid’s that paints him as an invincible secret agent who never needs to reload his gun (seriously, watch the film again: Quaid never reloads, he simply tosses guns away).

The Summary:
Even now, over thirty years after its release, Total Recall remains an almost timeless and undeniably classic piece of science-fiction cinema. Endlessly quotable and full of brutal fight scenes, gory shoot-outs, and some truly impressive animatronics, miniatures, and practical effects, Total Recall stands the test of time not just thanks to the meticulous attention to detail and tangibility of its special effects but its thought-provoking themes of reality and identity. Allowing for multiple interpretations and constantly throwing curveballs at the viewer, Total Recall demands several rewatches not just for the performances, action, and quotes but also to see all the subtle nuance and little details spread throughout the film that lend credibility to either perspective.

Stunning practical effects and some endlessly quotable lines make Total Recall a timeless classic.

Although nostalgia plays a large part in my affection for Total Recall, I’m hard pressed to deny its appeal and legacy even now, having seen the film countless times over the years. Everything about Total Recall has a slick, tangible quality to it thanks to the elaborate sets, amazingly detailed miniatures, and the abundance of gruesome practical effects that serve to punctuate every scene, making it absolutely gorgeous to look at even when Schwarzenegger is ramming a pole through some guy’s head! Even better, the film invites discussion and allows audiences to debate on whether they think it is real or a dream and, if you think the movie is a bit of a mind-bender, I would absolutely recommend reading the original short story some time since it’s one of Dick’s most interesting works.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What are your thoughts on Total Recall? How do you interpret the film; do you believe it was real or was it all the chaotic fantasy of a lowly construction worker? What did you think to Schwarzenegger’s performance and Quaid’s rivalry with Richter? Were you impressed with the film’s special effects or do you feel they are a little outdated in today’s CGI-dominated productions? Have you ever read We Can Remember It for You Wholesale and, if so, how do you feel the film works as an adaptation and what is your favourite Philip K. Dick book or movie? Were you more a fan of the 2010 remake and would you like to see Total Recall done again, perhaps in a way that is closer to the original story? How are you celebrating Schwarzenegger’s birthday today and what is your favourite Schwarzenegger film? Whatever your thoughts, go ahead and leave a comment down below.

10FTW: Bad-Ass Movie Dads

10FTW

Being a dad in a movie is tough; often, dads are portrayed as slovenly, uncaring, even abusive individuals who care more about drinking beer, watching football, cheating on their spouses, or work than their kids. It’s a bit of a cliché at this point and also quite a bum rap, to be honest, and often seems like a case of lazy writing to have the dad be the cause of all the problems and negativity in a child’s life in a film.

I suppose it makes sense, in a way; many movies involve a story about a child, son, or daughter standing up to adversity or challenging, even confronting, their neglectful parents to say nothing of the myriad of stories out there of fathers more concerned with work than the well-being of their child. Still, good movie dads do exist, even while being flawed characters in their own right, and so, seeing as today is Father’s Day, I’m going to run through ten that I consider to be amongst the most bad-ass of all movie dads…

10FTW: Badass Movie Dads
10 Steven Freeling – Poltergeist (Hooper, 1982)

If I’m being completely honest, Poltergeist is more the story of a bad-ass mother as, throughout the film, it is Diane (JoBeth Williams) who eventually steps up after the demonic force inhabiting their house kidnaps her daughter, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke). Diane is the one who first feels and alerts her family to the presence in their house, she’s also far more emotionally stable despite her exhaustion and grief, and of course there’s the fact that she leaps into the “other side” to rescue Carol Anne and then has to suffer through a veritable horror show as their house is torn inside and out.

Though often second fiddle to his wife, Steven is a reliable and useful supporting character.

Yet Steven (Craig T. Nelson) is the ever-reliable rock of the household; a bit of a goofball and perhaps (even by his own admission) too soft on his kids, he is the one who contacts a group of parapsychologists to assist them (despite his scepticism) and let’s not forget that Diane and Carol Anne never would have made it to back to the real world had Steven not been holding their literal lifeline. Despite his will weakening, Steven steps up even more in the sequel, Poltergeist II: The Other Side (Gibson, 1989), even landing what appears to be a killing blow to the malevolent Reverend Henry Kane (Julian Beck) who has been terrorising them, but, while reliability is an admirable quality, he takes the lowest spot for largely just being a supporting player (and for him and Diane sending Carol Anne away out of fear by the third film).

9 Frank – 28 Days Later (Boyle, 2002)

Here’s a shocking revelation for you: I’m not actually that big a fan of 28 Days Later. It starts off with such promise and with all those eerie shots of London but it’s a slow, plodding, miserable little film and the only thing I really like about it is that it made zombies faster, more aggressive, and ferocious as, for me, it otherwise wastes its potential. Still, amidst all of this we have Frank (Brendan Gleeson), a former cab driver and one of the few survivors of the infection.

Even as Frank succumbs to the Rage virus, his priority is to keep his daughter safe.

Initially hostile and a largely grouchy character, to say the least, Frank’s sole concern (beyond survival) is the safety of his daughter, Hannah (Megan Burns) but he soon bonds with Jim (Cillian Murphy) and Selena (Naomie Harris). Sadly, though, Frank can’t place much higher as, despite his capability as a father and a combatant, he grows complacent; in a world where the highly contagious Rage plague has turned the majority of the population into ravenous, zombie-like creatures, characters must constantly be on their guard and, for a split second, Frank lowers his. However, even while the Rage quickly overwhelms his body, his first thought is to warn Hannah back for her own safety before he is summarily put down.

8 Rick O’Connell – The Mummy Returns (Sommers, 2001)

I miss Brendan Fraser; whatever happened to him? Arguably best known for his appearances in the Mummy trilogy (ibid/Cohen, 1999 to 2008), in which he portrayed a quick-witted and capable Indiana Jones-style adventurer, Fraser’s Rick O’Connell undergoes an interesting character arc throughout the trilogy, beginning as a disillusioned soldier and transforming from a reluctant hero motivated only by his libido to a doting father and content family man who was happy to put his adventuring days behind him.

Though happy to be a simple family man, Rick braves any foe to safeguard his family.

In The Mummy Returns, Rick is mortified when Imhotep’s (Arnold Vosloo) minions kidnap his smart-alecky little git of a son, Alex (Freddie Boath), and relentlessly uses every resource at his command to track Imhotep across the globe to rescue his son. Encouraging of the boy’s mischievous nature, one could argue that Alex only gets himself into a position to be kidnapped thanks to his father’s influence and their relationship has soured somewhat by the start of the third movie but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Rick travels across the world braving sea, air, and all manner of mummified atrocities to rescue his boy. When his beloved Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) is temporarily killed, we see a heartbreaking vulnerability to Rick’s usual bravado and his first action is to shield Alex from watching his mother suffer and die. Fuelled by rage and vengeance, he then takes on a now-mortal Imhotep in a fist-fight and rapidly accepts his destiny as a Medjai to deliver a killing blow to the monstrous Scorpion King (The Rock) to not only avenge his fallen wife but also as payback for putting his son in danger.

7 John McClane – Die Hard 4.0 (Wiseman, 2007)

In my experience, Die Hard 4.0 (also known by the far better title, Live Free or Die Hard) is generally not as highly regarded as its predecessors and I will always take issue with this; sure, it’s massively over the top and essentially turns the wise-cracking John McClane (Bruce Willis) into a superhero but that doesn’t make it bad. For me, it’s easily in the top three of the Die Hard films (Various, 1988 to 2013) thanks to Willis’ portrayal of McClane as weary, out of touch, and hiding a lot of his emotions behind a snarky attitude and grouchy demeanour.

McClane really puts himself through the wringer to rescue his gorgeous daughter.

Now, to be fair, McClane doesn’t start the film as the greatest father; his daughter, Lucy (the always appealing Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is initially hostile towards him, refusing to call him “Dad” and preferring to take her mother’s last name. However, when she is kidnapped by Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) as payback for McClane interfering in his “fire sale”, McClane doesn’t hesitate to throw himself into danger to rescue her, accumulating numerous injuries, enduring shots from a F-35B Lightning II, and even shooting himself in the shoulder at point-blank range to kill Gabriel. When taken by Gabriel, Lucy not only fights back at every opportunity but knows full well that her father will stop at nothing to rescue her, defiantly taking his last name and ultimately reconciling with him after seeing the lengths he would go to for her safety.

6 Darren McCord – Sudden Death (Hyams, 1995)

I feel like people don’t talk about Sudden Death enough; sure, it’s just “Die Hard on a boat” but it’s pretty decent for the most part, even with Jean-Claude Van Damme’s characteristically awkward acting and line delivery. McCord is very much like McClane, being a normal, average fire-fighter-turned-fire-inspector who has the odds against him. Though he’s much less cynical and grouchy compared to McClane, he is tormented by his failure to save a young girl from a house fire and has an extremely strained relationship with his ex wife.

McCord has only his wits and impressive kicks to take down an group of armed terrorists.

Similar to McClane, McCord’s relationship with his kids is a little shaky at the start of the film; Emily (Whittni Wright) views him with a heroic awe, believing him to still be a fire-fighter, while Tyler (Ross Malinger) is slightly more antagonistic and resentful. Still, he does obediently stay in his seat even as the hockey arena falls into chaos around him and Emily bravely stands up to terrorist Joshua Foss (Powers Boothe) after she is kidnapped, never faltering in her belief that her father will come to rescue her. For his part, McCord is slightly irresponsible as he leaves his young kids alone at the hockey game but more than makes up for it by taking it upon himself to disarm as many of Foss’s bombs as he can and take out the terrorists with little more than his wits, ingenuity, and some impressive kicks.

5 Damon Macready / Big Daddy – Kick-Ass (Vaughn, 2010)

Although his look and the specifics of his motivations were wildly different from his comic book counterpart, Nicolas Cage really stole the show for this awesome adaptation of the comic book of the same name (Mark Millar, John Romita Jr, et al, 2008 to 2014). Channelling the spirit of Adam West while wearing a particularly Tim Burton-esque “Bat-Suit”, Cage channelled his usual manic energy into a far more nuanced, complex performance that showed Macready to be both slightly unhinged and eerily logical.

He might have trained his daughter to be a relentless killer but Macready was still a doting father.

To be fair, you could argue that Macready is a pretty awful father since he pulled his daughter, Mindy (Chloë Grace Moretz) out of school and trained her to be his crimefighting partner, Hit-Girl, causing her to be more interested in elaborate knives and skewering criminals than…whatever it is pre-teen girls are into these days. However, you’d be forgetting the fact that Macready is tough but fair on Mindy, always encouraging her and pushing her to test her limits. Thanks to his training, she’s fully capable of taking out entire rooms full of armed men with ease; not only that, he also does cool stuff like purchase a whole bunch of weapons, toys, and even a jetpack. When’s the last time your dad bought you a jet pack!? Plus, there’s the fact that he continues to encourage and help his daughter even while burning to death before her eyes.

4 Harry Tasker – True Lies (Cameron, 1994)

Arnold Schwarzenegger has a bit of an iffy record when it comes to portraying dads, as we’ll see; sometimes he’s the career-obsessed type, other times he’s the overly protective type. In True Lies, he lies to his wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter, Dana (Eliza Dushku), on a daily basis to keep his true identity as a secret agent just that: a secret. As a result, and because she’s in that moody teenage phase of her life, his relationship with Dana is somewhat strained at the start of the film in that she sees him as dull and unreliable, unappreciative of the token gifts he brings her, casually stealing from his partner, Albert Gibson (Tom Arnold), and running off with her boyfriend or to her room to escape from him.

Moody teen Dana is overwhelmed when her unassuming father turns out to be a super spy!

However, like her mother, Dana’s entire perception of Harry is changed after she is kidnapped by terrorist Salim Abu Aziz (Art Malik) and it is her unassuming father who comes to her rescue…in a Harrier Jump Jet, no less! What makes Harry a bad-ass dad is that, when the chips are down, he drops all pretenses and shows his family exactly what he is capable of, gunning down countless terrorists and flying through city airspace just to rescue his daughter and shouldering the burden of keeping his true life from them in order to protect them. Once the secret is out, though, his relationships with both alter dramatically and they become a much more stable, contented, and united family.

3 Cameron Poe – Con Air (West, 1997)

Aaah, yes, Con Air; a ridiculously over-the-top action film, to be sure, featuring Nicolas Cage not only with an absolutely gorgeous head of hair and henched up to the nines but also sporting possibly the worst Southern draw I’ve ever heard outside of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (Morgan, 2006). Still, as ridiculous as Cage sounds (and as ludicrous as it is that his character, a decorated Army Ranger, would be sent to prison for ten years for what amounted to a clear case of self defense, at best, and manslaughter, at worst), the film is full of equally bombastic action and performances, with John Malkovich, especially, stealing the show (and, presumably, all that scenery he chewed) as the malicious Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom.

Though imprisoned for his daughter’s entire life, there’s nothing Poe won’t do to get back to her.

Poe stands out from the other dads on this list as he doesn’t actually meet his daughter, Casey (Landry Allbright), until the film’s conclusion; however, through his numerous correspondences with Casey, he encourages her to stay in school and listen to her mother and builds the best, loving relationship he can given his position. His entire motivation throughout the film is to get back to his daughter and, while he’s tempted to simply let things play out in order to meet that goal, his morals won’t let him stand idly by and he fights through overwhelming odds and explosions galore to not only finally meet Casey but also to teach her valuable lessons about paying for your sins and standing up against injustice.

2 John Matrix – Commando (Lester, 1985)

So, I said early that Schwarzenegger has a bit of an iffy reputation as a movie dad. Well, Commando, in addition to being, perhaps, the quintessential action movie of the eighties, also showcases Arnie as one of the most devoted and bad-ass dads ever put to film. A retired Colonel, Matrix (a gloriously ridiculous name if there ever was one) is perfectly content to have put down his guns and to live peacefully amidst nature with his young daughter, Jenny (Alyssa Milano). However, when Matrix’s past (or, more specifically, the fantastically sadistic Bennett (Vernon Wells)) catches up with him and Jenny is taken as a hostage, Matrix has only around twelve hours to track Bennett down to recover his daughter.

Matrix is a nigh-unstoppable one-man army who goes to any lengths to rescue his daughter.

Like Poe, Matrix’s entire motivation is geared towards rescuing Jenny but, while Poe (and many of the dads on this list), must use subterfuge to meet this end, Matrix instead literally moves Heaven and Earth to find Jenny, violently dispatching of all of Bennett’s henchmen and literally walking right into a camp full of seemingly-endless, fully armed soldiers, mowing them down with such reckless abandon that he barely needs to aim or reload. Witty, determined, and possessing a razor-sharp focus, Matrix is a veritable one-man army, capable of besting anyone who stands in his way, and yet still vulnerable and human enough to be injured when dramatically appropriate and fully prepared to go to any lengths to rescue her since, as he puts it: “All that matters to [him] now is Jenny”.

1 Bryan Mills – Taken (Morel, 2008)

I mean, honestly, could it really be any other dad? Who else but Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) could make the top of a list like this? Like a lot of the other dads I’ve talked about, Mills is a devoted father who has left behind a violent life to focus on building a relationship with his daughter (Kim (Maggie Grace), in this instance) despite having a frosty relationship with his ex-wife, Lenore Mills-St John (Famke Janssen). Having lost his marriage, and many years of bonding with Kim, due to his work as a “preventer” for the government, Mills is a loyal, if somewhat overprotective, father who just wants to be there for Kim and to encourage her dreams of being a singer.

If there’s a dad more efficient and committed than Bryan Mills then I’ve yet to see him.

However, when she is taken by Albanian sex traffickers, Mills puts his unique set of skills to good use; like Matrix, his entire motivation revolves around finding his daughter but Mills has even less to go on and yet, within twenty-four hours, manages to track down enough of a lead to bring him within arm’s reach of Kim’s location. Along the way, Mills dispatches anyone who opposes him with a cold, calculating efficiency; age, clearly, hasn’t dwindled his skills or resources and, for the most part, he’s still able to function at peak efficiency with very little sleep or food. Of all the dad’s on this list, Mills is the most determined and competent; every movement is premeditated, meticulously thought through, and executed with alarming proficiency and yet Mills is still humble and vulnerable enough to show real pain, fatigue, and to deliver Kim back into the arms of her mother and stepfather.

Do you agree with my list? Perhaps you have another favourite movie dad who you think should have made the cut; if so, who is it and who are some of your favourite (or least favourite) movie dads? What are you doing this year for Father’s Day? Do you have any particularly fond memories of your dad? If so, feel free to share them, and any other comments, below.

Talking Movies: Predator

Talking Movies

Released: 12 June 1984
Director: John McTiernan
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $15 to 18 million
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Shane Black, Richard Chaves, and Kevin Peter Hall

The Plot:
Major Alan “Dutch” Schafer (Schwarzenegger) and his crack rescue team are recruited by Dillon (Weathers), an old friend turned government operative, to rescue an important group of hostages from guerrilla forces in a Central American jungle. However, they soon find themselves being picked off one at a time by a mysterious extraterrestrial hunter (Hall) who kills for sport.

The Background:
After the release of Rocky IV (Stallone, 1985) there was a joke circulating around Hollywood that Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) had run out of earthly opponents and would have to fight an alien next time around. Writers Jim and John Thomas took this concept and expanded it into a screenplay initially titled Hunter that, after being bought by 20th Century Fox and placed into the hands of producer Joel Silver, was transformed from a pulp sci-fi tale into a big-budget action vehicle. Initially, the then-relatively-unknown Jean-Claude Van Damme was cast as the titular alien creature, which was originally conceived of as a more agile and bug-like monster; however, after Van Damme bowed out after issues with the original suit, the creature was redesigned by special effects legend Stan Winston (with some input from director James Cameron) to accommodate a new actor, the monolithic Kevin Peter Hall.

The original suit looked much different but Predator soon became a successful franchise.

Filming was rough for the cast and crew, many of whom became ill from food poisoning and the intense heat, and the lead actors (all big, beefy boys in their own right) became obsessed with working out and appearing in peak physical condition. Upon release, Predator was met with largely negative reviews; despite this, the film made nearly $100 million at the box office and quickly became a cult classic that is now regarded far more favourably. Of course, it also spawned an under-rated sequel and marked the beginning of a multimedia franchise that includes further sequels, videogames, and comic books. There were even crossovers with 20th Century Fox’s other sci-fi/horror franchise, the Alien saga (Various, 1979 to 2017), and a fan movement to declare June 12th as “Predator Day”; although this clashes with “Superman Day”, any excuse to revisit this franchise is a win for me.

The Review:
I know how it sounds but let’s not beat around the bush here: Predator is as much a man’s film as you can get! I say that having known plenty of girls who enjoy the film, and the franchise, but come on now, this is a film made for a very specific type of audience at a very specific time when films such as this were popular and the fact that it is so unapologetically hyper-masculine really plays into its strengths as an enjoyable sci-fi/action/horror romp that can be appreciated by anyone and everyone, regardless of gender identification. Right off the bat, Predator isn’t pulling any punches: first, we get the blatant shot of an alien craft shooting a capsule to Earth, then the manliest team of men who ever menned disembark a helicopter while Alan Silvestri’s fantastic, iconic score plays, and, finally, we get perhaps the single greatest interaction between two characters ever put to film as Dutch and Dillon reunite with the world’s most powerful handshake! The excess and testosterone is practically oozing out of the film at every moment but, perhaps, none more so than in these first ten minutes or so where we learn all we need to know about Dutch and his team: They’re the best at what they do but have certain principals, seeing themselves as “a rescue team, not assassins” and being suspicious of outsiders joining their party.

Predator showcased many different sides of Arnold’s range and charisma.

Though one of Arnold’s early roles, Dutch is a fantastic part for the Austrian Oak; rather than being a stoic and silent character, Dutch is confident and instantly likeable, with a playful sense of humour and camaraderie with this teammates. However, when on mission, Dutch is all business, exhibiting a keen sense of his surroundings, comprehensive knowledge of guerrilla tactics and survivalist skills, and a natural ability to adapt to any and all situations. We first see this when he provides a distraction by sending a truck careening into the guerrilla camp and, later, when he sets traps for the Predator and learns how to use mud to camouflage himself and put together a proactive plan to bring the fight to the alien hunter. Of course, while Dutch is a physically capable mountain of a man, he’s no one man army (well…he is but he’s part of a team so I have to talk about his team…); while you can make the argument that Predator’s characters are all largely interchangeable, with the majority of them being heavily-muscled, snarky brutes who attack with a cold, clinical efficiency, each of them has many opportunities to stand out and be a little more than a one-dimensional caricature despite the fact that we really know and learn next to nothing about them.

Billy’s stoic demeanour is spooked by the alien force stalking him and his team mates.

Hawkins (Black), for example, is the awkward bookworm type, one of only two members of the team to sport a more slender physique, whose “thing” (beyond his ridiculous glasses) is trying to get Billy (Landham) to laugh with so-bad-they’re-good Dad jokes. Billy, in comparison, is the strong, silent type; introspective, with an aptitude for tracking, he is the first of the group to really sense that something otherworldly is afoot in the jungle. Superstitious and an appropriation of the Native American spiritualist, Billy believes that a spirit or some cursed demon is stalking the group yet, while he doesn’t rate their chances of survival, he never gives in to despair and is the first of team to confront the Predator head-on in single combat…with results so disastrous that they’re not seen onscreen.

Mac is distraught and driven to mindless vengeance when his friend is killed.

Easily the most amusing and memorable character, beyond Dutch and Dillon, is Blaine (Ventura), a gigantic, musclebound soldier who exudes a macho charm that is both endearing and entertaining. Oh, and, he’s also got a fuckin’ galting gun that he uses to mow down guerrillas with reckless abandon and shrugs off bullet wounds like they’re nothing! Blaine also stands out through his love of chewy tobacco, some fantastically memorable one-liners (his “sexual Tyrannosaurs” line is a personal favourite but who can forget “I ain’t got time to bleed!”, perhaps the most unforgettable line of the film) and his brotherly relationship with Mac (Duke). Mac’s “thing” is the little razor he uses to constantly shave sweat from his face and his friendship with Blaine; he’s the only one to refer to one of his team mates as a friend and he’s deeply affected by Blaine’s violent death. Mac is also the only one of the team to really crack under the pressure of the Predator’s assault; grief-stricken and hungry for revenge, he blindly rushes into the jungle to pursue the creature and tries to make good on his promise to avenge his fallen comrade. Of course, he is unsuccessful, mainly because he is so emotionally distraught that, despite being the first to really “see” the camouflaged Predator, he’s unable to think rationally enough to get the upper hand on the alien.

Poncho and Anna help flesh out the team and the world but are largely insignificant.

Perhaps the most underwhelming and easily forgotten member of the team is Poncho (Chaves); in fact, Poncho is so inconsequential that I’m also surprised that he manages to outlive Hawkins, who appears the least physically capable of the group. Poncho, instead, does very little beyond asking rhetorical questions, taking a log to the gut, and ultimately being killed by an unceremonious plasma blast to the head when the last few survivors are trying to escape. The team is also joined by Anna (Elpidia Carrillo), the last remaining hostage from the guerrilla camp; like Billy, she’s a quiet, superstitious, and perceptive character who believes that a devil is stalking them, having heard stories of similar events happening in the past. She adds very little to the team beyond being a hinderance and to add an extra layer of dread to the proceedings, especially when the Predator is still being hidden from view and is a mysterious presence, but she’s largely inoffensive. Best of all, there’s no awkward romantic subplot between her and Dutch; he orders her to “Get to dah choppah!!” the first chance he gets and is left to fend for himself, with no sexual distractions or damsels to rescue.

Dillon’s presence causes tension and his downfall comes from his wounded pride.

The wild card to the team is, of course, Dillon; numerous vague hints and references are made towards Dillon’s past and friendship with Dutch but, even with that in mind, Dutch is immediately suspicious of the mission when he is ordered to take Dillion, now a CIA operative, along with him. The rest of the team, particularly Mac, don’t care much for Dillon’s presence, seeing him as a liability to their operation, and these suspicions turn out to be well founded when it’s revealed that the team was drafted in to take out a group of terrorists rather than rescue hostages. This causes tensions within the group, who are already on edge thanks to the mysterious killer picking them off, but they are nevertheless forced to work together to try and corner the Predator. Dillon is the only one of the team that is unwilling to believe in a supernatural or extraterrestrial threat stalking them from the trees but, when the Predator is exposed, he willingly joins Mac in attempting to extract a measure of revenge against the alien for all the death and trouble it has caused him. For Dillon, it’s pride that causes his downfall; had he stayed with Dutch, he may have been in with a chance of surviving but, in the end, he’s dismembered and skewered with an effortless efficiency.

The Predator is initially kept well hidden and vague for maximum tension.

It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the titular Predator who brings the most appeal and distinctiveness to the film; although we know that an alien presence is clearly stalking the team, we don’t get out first real look at it for a good hour or so and, even then, it’s a fleeting shot. Instead, we see through the Predator’s unique and costly thermal vision, watching as it pursues and observes its prey from the treetops and attempts to mimic their speech (a haunting feature, to be sure). When the Predator does appear, it’s little more than a pair of luminous glowing eyes and a vague, distorted shape and, despite almost the entire film taking place during the day, the creature is kept well hidden. We see glimpses of its blade, spend a lot of time watching its arms, legs, and torso as it ritualistically cleans up its gruesome trophies, and only get a good, lingering look at the creature when it follows Dutch into the water and its cloaking device is disrupted. The result is one of the most iconic alien designs of all time; rather than the bug-like creature that was the Predator’s original design or the animalistic nature of the Xenomorph, the Predator is a humanoid being made up of two arms, two legs, and sporting an impressive frame and physique. Garbed in light armour and sporting a vast array of weaponry (that ranges from low-tech but incredibly lethal wrist-mounted blades to the creature’s iconic plasma cannon), the Predator is instantly recognisable thanks, in large part, to its helmet and dreadlocks but also because of its monstrous crab-like visage and mandibles.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Take away the alien and Predator would be a largely forgettable, by-the-numbers action film about a troupe of crack soldiers fighting terrorists. The Predator, though, takes that concept and the film’s various clichés and completely flips them on their head; as soon as we first see the Predator’s thermal vision, and definitely after Hawkins’ brutally swift death, the film becomes something entirely different from a hyper-masculine action film. It transforms before your eyes into a survival/horror film against an alien presence that is far beyond that of man, changing from a routine mission to defend America’s freedoms to one about man’s battle for survival.

The film evolves from bombastic action to one man’s primal battle for survival.

Before we get to the point, it’s important to make mention of the wide variety of action scenes on offer in Predator: the film starts off relatively simple, with Dutch and his team gunning down the entire guerrilla camp with a clinical efficiency and a bevvy of one-liners, before escalating into a paranoid firefight into the dense jungle in a desperate attempt to kill whatever is responsible for the deaths of their team mates. When it becomes apparent that they’re facing something beyond their understanding, Dutch leads the survivors in setting up a series of low-tech traps, using survival tactics to create a perimeter to ensnare the creature so that they can get a clear shot at it. Though Dillon is sceptical, he helps with this task regardless and it works…until the full extent of the Predator’s capabilities quickly render all their planning mute. Dutch, however, continues to employ these same tactics out of desperation and necessity more than anything else when he’s left the sole survivor; he loses his gun and is left with only a handful of shells and melee weapons with which to make his final stand. He does this through simple guerrilla strategies, using mud to mask his heat signature after a close call with the Predator and then fashioning a bow, a series of explosive arrows, and a number of deadly traps with which to enact his last, desperate stand against the creature. In this sequence, the film’s title takes on a double meaning as Dutch becomes both predator and prey, turning the Predator’s weapons and technology against it to draw it out into the open for a more even fight.

Despite the Predator’s superior strength, Dutch triumphs through his wiles.

While the sequels and extended media would, of course, greatly expand upon the Predator’s society and culture, there’s enough evidence towards the race’s ethos in this first movie: the Predator only attacks those who are armed and that it deems worthy prey (with the exception of Hawkins and Poncho, who were largely defenceless…), methodically stalks its victims from afar to ascertain their strengths and weaknesses, and makes trophies out of the skulls of those it kills. With its cloaking device compromised and faced with an enduring, persistent, and adaptable foe, the Predator chooses to ditch its signature plasma cannon to engage Dutch in a one-on-one fight, even hampering its vision by removing its helmet. Of course, the fight is anything but fair since the Predator is inhumanly strong; I watched a lot (basically all) of Arnold’s films as a kid and it was massively impressive to see a foe not only tower over him but also lift him up by one hand and beat him to near death. In the end, of course, Dutch is able to outsmart the Predator and lure it into a fatal trap; mortally wounded and defeated, the Predator chooses to activate a devesting self-destruct device in an attempt to take Dutch with it but, just as Dutch casually shrugged off a plasma blast early, no small-scale nuclear blast is enough to put down Arnold and he manages to outrun and avoid the blast but is left clearly affected, traumatised even, by his encounter with the creature and the Predator’s systematic slaughter of his friends and comrades.

The Summary:
To me, Predator will always be a near-peerless classic; everything about the film, from start to finish, is so gloriously over the top and entertaining that it never fails to be an enjoyable sci-fi/horror romp. Endlessly quotable and immensely fun, Predator is a fantastic film to throw on with a group of friends with some pizza and a few drinks and just have an unapologetic good time. I regard Predator as one of Arnold’s best films since it was a role with some real meat to it that really showcased his charisma and what he was capable of as a subtly complex action hero: Dutch isn’t just some muscle-bound meathead; he’s intelligent, experienced, and highly adaptable while also being charismatic, well-respected, and tough as nails at the same time. The film is full of testosterone and ridiculously macho characters yet, despite this, they’re all really endearing and likeable; there’s a real sense of camaraderie amongst the team, who all work together as a unit, and even the tension and suspicion regarding Dillon is largely a non-factor in the face of their struggle against a greater, common enemy. The titular Predator is a fantastically unique creature; here, it and its culture are, largely, a mystery and a lot of what we learn about it comes from inference and speculation, all of which adds to the otherworldly nature and appeal of the alien, to say nothing of its horrific appearance and impressive weaponry and physical skill, and I will always have time for Predator and the Predator concept because of this.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

So, tell me, what did you think to Predator? Did you see the film in the cinema back when it first came out and, if so, what did you think of it at the time and how do you think it holds up today? Which of the film’s characters did you like the most, or the least, and why and did you enjoy the film’s excessive machismo? What did you think to the Predator and its design and weaponry and how differently do you think the film would have turned out if Van Damme had remained in the role? Which of the Predator sequels and merchandise was your favourite and did you celebrate Predator Day this year? If you’re a girl and you enjoy Predator and over-the-top action films, chime in with your thoughts about how any one can enjoy these films but, either way, do please leave a comment below sharing your thoughts and opinions on Predator.

Talking Movies: Escape Plan 3

Talking Movies

Released: 2 July 2019
Director: John Herzfeld
Distributor: Lionsgate/Universal Pictures
Budget: $70.6 million
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Dave Bautista, Max Zhang, Harry Shum Jr, Devon Sawa, and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson

The Plot:
Ray Breslin’s (Stallone) past comes back to haunt him when Lester Clark Jr (Sawa), the son of his former business associate, abducts a number of people, including his girlfriend, and holds them hostage within the “Devil’s Station”, a sadistic supermax prison, leading Ray and his friend, Trent DeRosa (Bautista), to concoct a desperate rescue attempt.

The Background:
Escape Plan 2 (Miller, 2018) may have been a critical and commercial failure but, during filming, Stallone announced a third entry in the franchise that had started as as a decent excuse to bring him together with his action rival, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and had descended into a mediocre and disappointing straight-to-DVD franchise. Also titled Escape Plan: The Extractors, the third film dropped many of the new cast members from its predecessor and received a very limited theatrical release outside of the United States. Because of this limited release, Escape Plan 3 outperformed its predecessor, making just over $30 million at the box office but falling quite far from the almost $140 million of the first film. It did, at least, receive noticeably more positive reviews than the second film.

The Review:
The first thing to note about Escape Plan 3 is that, despite the sequel spending most of its runtime focusing on Breslin’s protégé’s Shu Ren (Huang Xiaoming) and Lucas Graves (Jesse Metcalfe), neither of these characters make an appearance in the third film, which instead introduces even more new characters. This time around, Daya Zhang (Malese Jow), daughter of Wu Zhang (Russell Wong), is kidnapped by Lester Clark Jr as part of an elaborate revenge plot against Ray. Wu Zhang is the head of Zhang Innovations, the company responsible for the construction of the Tomb; you’d think that this would be the catalyst for bring Ray into the fold considering he swore to track down those responsible for such prisons at the end of the last film but, instead, he is only drawn into the plot when Daya’s bodyguard, Bao Yung (Shum, Jr), delivers him Lester’s video threat.

Lester seeks to avenge his father and nab a hefty ransom in the process.

Lester Clark Jr is, of course, the son of Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio), Ray’s former partner who betrayed him and had him locked up in the Tomb; his plan for revenge involves taking a bunch of hostages, including Daya and Ray’s girlfriend, Abigail Ross (Jaime King), hostage inside another supermax prison, the “Devil’s Station”, and demanding a $700 million random. A ruthless, callous mercenary, Lester surrounds himself with imposing goons (including one of my favourite actors and stunt men, the great Daniel Bernhardt) but is perfectly happy to execute his hostages, including Abigail, to make his point and to make his revenge all the sweeter.

Ray assembles a team for his rescue mission and to settle the score with Lester.

All this amounts to a far more personal story this time around for Ray and for his new associates, who get a lead on Lester’s location from DeRosa; in the last film, this took DeRosa about a day and he had to go bust a few heads to get the information Ray needed but, this time, DeRosa simply guesses that Lester’s at the Devil’s Station and that’s it, they’re off without any fuss or muss. Lester alone would be enough to make things personal for Ray but, when Abigail is kidnapped and, later, killed, Ray launches into a vendetta alongside DeRosa, Shen Lo (Zhang), Daya’s former bodyguard and lover, and Yung. It’s personal for these latter two as well; Shen because of his feelings from Daya and Yung because he feels (and is constantly told) that he failed Daya by not being able to keep her safe. Unlike the Tomb and especially unlike Hades, the Devil’s Station is much more of a traditional prison; located in Latvia, the facility is a rundown, desolate hellhole designed to be an intimidating and demoralising maze. There’s no fancy high-tech hazards this time around, they’re not adrift in the sea, and there’s no complex system to hack into; instead, it’s just good, old fashioned iron bars, ruthless inmates, and the foreboding presence of Lester and his callous minions.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Thankfully, Escape Plan 3 is much more coherent than its predecessor; with my senses no longer bombarded by erratic shaky cam and frantic editing, the film (and, more importantly, the action scenes) is much easier on the eyes and the pace is much improved as a result. It also helps considerably that the film isn’t bathed in constant near darkness, with many scenes within the Devil’s Station taking on a disconcerting yellow hue.

Despite having a team, this doesn’t really factor into the infiltration plan.

Unlike the last two films, which understandably involved breaking out of prisons, Escape Plan 3 is much more of a rescue movie; Ray and his team have to break into the Devil’s Station to rescue the hostages and confront Lester, meaning the film automatically stands out from its predecessors by putting Ray and his abilities in a much different situation. This necessitates the need for a team, meaning a much bigger role for Bautista this time around; if you’re a fan of 50 Cent and got excited when you saw his character, Hush, on the poster and the actor’s name share top billing then you’re in for a disappointment, though, as, while Hush does contribute more to the film and the team this time around, he’s still relegated to tech support. To be fair, though, the actual “team” aspect of the film isn’t as emphasised as you might expect either as they quickly split up to infiltrate the facility and Breslin largely disappears for a noticeable chunk of the movie.

The fight between Ray and Lester is a brutal, gritty affair, at least.

Unfortunately, given the low-tech approach of the Devil’s Station, the actual infiltration involves a lot of wandering around in poorly-lit sewer tunnels; thankfully, what the film lacks in visual presentation, it more than makes up for with some brutal action and kills. Driven to unbridled rage by Abigail’s death, Breslin’s normally composed demeanour cracks, leading to a vicious showdown with Lester. Devon Sawa, who I only really know for his role in Final Destination (Wong, 2000) and for appearing in the music video for Eminem’s “Stan”, actually makes for a fairly decent antagonist; a damaged and violent individual, Lester’s blind devotion to revenge against Breslin and those whom he feel used and betrayed his father makes for a volatile and unhinged villain. This isn’t some slick, corporate asshole in a suit; this is a ruthless mercenary who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty or to twist the knife in any way he can and his inevitable contribution with Breslin is easily the highlight of the film. Rather than some slick, overly choreographed affair, this fight is a brutal, hard-hitting brawl that brings Breslin back into the fray with a bang and allows him to extract a measure of revenge.

The Summary:
Escape Plan 3 is a definite improvement over the second film and it’s telling that the film goes out of its way to connect more with the first movie than reference the second. Still, as gritty and visceral as the film can be, and as interesting as it is to see a more personal story being told with Breslin and to place him in a different situation (breaking in instead of out), Escape Plan 3 still can’t compare with the first movie. It’s not even about Arnold Schwarzenegger at this point (though his continued absence from the franchise is a bitter pill to swallow), it’s just that the sequels can barely pull together a coherent and engaging film. While Stallone’s role is noticeably bigger this time around, he’s still more of a supporting character; Bautista is similarly criminally underutilised, meaning Escape Plan 3 ends up being about a bunch of new characters who aren’t anywhere near as interesting to look at or follow. If more of the actors from the second film had returned then, maybe, it would have allowed for a bit more investment in their fates but, still, Escape Plan 3 fails to really be anything more than a mediocre action/thriller that is noticeably better than the second…but that’s not exactly a high bar to clear.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Escape Plan 3? Did you find it more enjoyable than the second film or did you, perhaps, think it was just as bad, if not worse? What do you think to the trilogy overall? Do you think the films would have been better if Schwarzenegger had returned or would they still have failed to impress upon you? What do you think to Bautista as an actor and do you think he is deserving of bigger, more varied roles? No matter what you think, feel free to leave a comment below and be sure to check back in for more Stallone content later in the year!

Talking Movies: Escape Plan 2

Talking Movies

Released: 29 June 2018
Director: Steven C. Miller
Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Budget: $20 million
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Huang Xiaoming, Dave Bautista, Jesse Metcalfe, Wes Chatham, and Titus Welliver

The Plot:
Ray Breslin (Stallone) has expanded his operation, taking on Shu Ren (Xiaoming) and Lucas “Luke” Graves (Metcalfe) as protégés. However, when Shu is kidnapped and imprisoned in a high-tech prison named “Hades”, Luke, Ray, and Ray’s associate, Trent DeRosa (Bautista), must find a way to infiltrate the most dangerous prison in the world to rescue him.

The Background:
After the financial success of Escape Plan (Håfström, 2013), which finally brought action legends Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger together in a meaningful way, a sequel was announced in 2016. Perhaps due to the fact that the first film recouped most of its box office success from the Chinese market, Escape Plan 2 (also known as Escape Plan 2: Hades) featured a more international cast and even received a limited theatrical release in China. Rather than bring these two stars back together for a bigger, better sequel, Escape Plan was released straight to DVD outside of China, Schwarzenegger was entirely absent, and even Stallone was reduced to more of a supporting role. Unsurprisingly, Escape Plan 2 was therefore a box office bomb, making a little over $17 million at the box office and receiving scathing reviews and Stallone regarded it as the “most horribly produced film [he had] ever had the misfortune to be in”.

The Review:
Escape Plan 2 begins in Chechnya where Lucas, Shu Ren, and another of Breslin’s protégés, Jaspar Kimbral (Chatham), are attempting to free hostages; as an opening action sequence to show off our new protagonists, this is a bit of a frantic mess thanks to some shaky editing and low lighting. Regardless, it’s immediately obvious that Lucas is the blunt instrument of the group, Shu is the slick martial artist, and Kimbral is the weak link in the team since, thanks to his blind trust in his “algorithm”, his attempt to go off mission results in the death of a hostage. Unimpressed, Breslin fires Kimbral since he can’t trust him and believes that his algorithm is flawed and that Kimbral is letting his personal rivalry with Shu cloud his judgement in the field.

Shu must use all of Breslin’s teachings and tactics to figure out an escape plan of his own.

About a year later, while protecting his cousin, Yusheng Ma (Chen Tang), Shu is suddenly attacked and wakes up imprisoned in a super high-tech supermax prison known as “Hades”, which has (somehow) been built out of the remnants of the Tomb from the first film. Inside Hades, prisoners are regularly pitted against each other in brutal fights that result in rewards for the winners and punishment for the losers, or those who refuse to fight. Gregor Faust (Welliver), the “Zookeeper” of Hades, reveals that Shu and Yusheng are free to go the moment Yusheng hands over his communications patents. He also bumps into Kimbral and the three form a reluctant team as Shu falls back on Breslin’s training to formulate an escape plan; similar to Breslin in the last film, this involves learning the intricacies of Hades’ layout, staying mentally and physically fit, and manipulating any resource he can to his advantage which, naturally, leads to many a fight with fellow inmates and to him befriending others, such as Akala (Tyron Woodley), from whom he learns about Hades’ routines.

Hades is a largely automated and ridiculously futuristic facility.

Unlike the Tomb, Hades is a fully automated, high-tech prison; prisoners are kept in futuristic cells and restrained by forcefields and paralysing jolts of electricity. In place of guards, Hades favours robots (even the prisoner doctor is a robot!) but, thanks to Breslin’s training, Shu is able to ascertain a rough idea of the layout of the facility from the few areas he can see and even those he can’t. This allows him to figure out that the prison is constantly rotating, shifting, and moving without the inmates noticing and, thanks to manipulating the fight/reward system, learn the exact layout of the prison from a cult-like group of stoic hackers.

Ray turns to DeRosa for help but, sadly, Bautista’s role is very minimal.

Meanwhile, outside of Hades, Breslin and his team work to track down Shu and the location of Hades; this ends up with Lucas also being captured and sent to Hades and Ray meeting up with an old acquaintance, Trent DeRosa, who, despite his size and intimidating nature, is an eloquent and surprisingly intelligent individual. A man of taste and deliberation, DeRosa brings intellect and aptitude as much as his physical capabilities but, sadly, his role is largely minimal; Bautista can be a magnetic presence when he appears in films and I respect the guy’s range but I can’t imagine that being in this dreg of a film really did much to elevate his profile.

The Nitty-Gritty:
If there’s one thing Escape Plan 2 has going for it, it’s some pretty decent, hard-hitting action; thanks to an influx of Chinese actors, fights are generally fast-paced, impactful, and full of impressive flips, kicks, and wire work. There’s a slickness to the action this time around that makes fights more heavily choreographed and elaborate than before but still brutal and gritty, just in a noticeably different, more frenetic way. Since the story jumps in and out of Hades to tell its two concurrent plots, we also get a bit more gunplay and a few more car chases this time around but the problem is that everything is shot so cheaply and so shakily and Hades is so poorly lit that it’s incredibly difficult to really follow what’s happening as the camera keeps dashing and darting all over the place, zooming in and out of focus and never stopping to really let the action breathe.

Kimbral is motivated purely by revenge and money, which isn’t very interesting for a villain.

Of course, the big twist of the film is that Kimbral is actually the prison warden and that the entire point of Hades was to one-up Shu and stick it to Ray by building a prison completely immune to his teachings and philosophy. Once this twist is revealed, Kimbral immediately throws on his suit and becomes a slick, arrogant, corporate antagonist who revels in lording his superiority of his former teammates and is motivated by nothing more than good, old-fashioned revenge (and money, of course). Sadly, what brings Escape Plan 2 down (and I mean way down) is the focus not on Breslin or even DeRosa but on his two protégés, who are far less dynamic and charismatic than either actor and no other addition to the cast could ever even hope to match Schwarzenegger’s star power or the appeal of seeing him onscreen with Stallone.

Sadly, neither of Breslin’s protégés are that interesting or dynamic protagonists.

Stallone is relegated to a mere supporting role; his teachings live on through Shu but, as capable and smart as Shu is, Xiaoming is no Stallone and it’s very strange to me that the script chooses not to capitalises on Stallone’s presence. The film could easily have been restructured to have Ray be the one locked up in Hades at the mercy of Shu (rather than Kimbral) and teaming up with DeRosa on the inside to battle against a host of young Chinese newcomers. Instead, Ray enters Hades far too late for me to really care about what’s going on; even when he’s inside the prison, he’s largely absent from the film. You’d think the action and intensity would ramp up almost immediately as the disgruntled student (Kimbral) jumped at the chance to make the master (Breslin) pay but, instead, Ray is able to freely communicate with Hush (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) to shut down Hade’s automated systems and to unite the inmates in a desperate escape attempt with very little in the way of opposition. Kimbral’s whole thing is being an arrogant upstart, a slighted child, rather than an imposing or formidable threat to our heroes; the Zoopkeeper makes a valiant effort to try and make up for this and even though Breslin and Kimbral do inexplicably end up settling their difference in a fist fight, both antagonists are easily dispatched with little effort on Ray or Shu’s part.

The Summary:
I haven’t really looked into it to check for sure but I’m pretty sure that Escape Plan 2 is the first time a Stallone movie has ever gone straight to DVD; considering the first movie had the weight and star power of two of Hollywood’s biggest action stars, it blew my mind to see the sequel have a smaller budget, significantly less star power, and be relegated to a home media release. However, it’s easy to see why the film went straight to DVD as it’s pretty much a mess from start to finish; poor cinematography, messy editing, and an overly elaborate and unrealistic setting means that all the choreography in the world cannot keep Escape Plan 2 from being anything more than a disappointing waste of time and talent. This could have been a nice little sub franchise of fun action films involving Stallone and Schwarzenegger getting into some entertaining hijinks but, instead, we got a mediocre action film that even Jean-Claude Van Damme would have thought twice about signing up to.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

So…what did you think to Escape Plan 2? How did to compare to the original for you? Were you a fan of the new blood featured in the film or do you agree that Stallone and Bautista should have had bigger roles? Were you surprised that the film went straight to DVD and can you think of any other big budget films that dropped off a cliff in the same way? What’s your favourite prison break movie? Whatever your thoughts, leave a comment below and check back in next Friday for my review of the third film in the franchise.

Talking Movies: Escape Plan

Talking Movies

Released: 18 October 2013
Director: Mikael Håfström
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Budget: $54 to 70 million
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Vinnie Jones, and Vincent D’Onofrio

The Plot:
Ray Breslin (Stallone) is the world’s foremost authority on escaping supermax prisons; however, when he’s double-crossed and thrown into the most impenetrable prison ever, the Tomb, he must team up with fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) in order to escape the supposedly inescapable facility.

The Background:
Throughout the eighties and the nineties, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger had something of an intense professional rivalry going on; with both best known for their action movie roles, the two musclebound actors frequently clashed over body counts, box office receipts, and caused each other to make some significant career blunders before finally coming together to launch Planet Hollywood and collaborate on the Expendables trilogy (Various, 2010 to 2014). Originally a spec script that was rumoured to be a vehicle for fellow actor star Bruce Willis, Escape Plan brought these two heavy-hitters together in a significant collaboration for the first time which, most likely, contributed to the film’s impressive box office gross of just shy of $140 million. Critical reception may have been mixed but that didn’t stop the production of two direct-to-DVD sequels that I’ll also be covering over the next two Fridays.

The Review:
To help sell the concept of the film, and Ray’s abilities as a master escape artist, Escape Plan begins, appropriately enough, with Ray in a prison and concocting an elaborate and multifaceted escape plan; immediately his nigh-impossible adaptability, psychological, and physical aptitude is emphasised for all to see as Ray goes to great lengths to ingratiate himself into prison society and learn the strengths, weaknesses, and routines of the system, its guards, and its inmates. Ray is able to exploit even the smallest flaws thanks to his keen eye, attention to detail, and commitment to his craft; he’s a master psychologist and an extremely intelligent and attentive individual, which is a nice change of pace for Stallone, who is often unfairly typecast as a bit of a meathead.

Thanks to Ray’s skills, his team has developed a reputation for being the best at what they do.

Of course, Ray is physically capable of holding his own as well, and he needs to be considering most of his plans to learn a prison’s systems or affect his escape involve getting into fights with other inmates and guards or a great deal of physical exertion on his part. When the chance arises to test the Tomb’s facilities, Ray’s team is immediately sceptical given the shady nature of the entire operation; Ray, however, cannot pass up the chance at a new challenge for his abilities and agrees to go against all of his usual safeguards to take on the job. Ray’s team is comprised of his partner and friend Lester Clark (D’Onofrio), his point-man Hush (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson), and Abigail Ross (Amy Ryan), each of whom exhibit a sense of pride and confidence in their reputation and abilities to escape from even the most secure prison facilities thanks to Ray’s unparalleled reputation. Although they, in different ways, assist with Ray’s escape attempts, Ray’s breakouts are largely a result of his own unique set of skills and abilities rather than solely relying on outside help.

Rottmayer has an unusual fascination with Ray, leading to a reluctant team up between the two.

Once he realises that he’s been setup, Ray immediately puts his expertise to use in plotting out an intricate escape plan; at first, he is determined to follow through with this in his usual style, relying on little more than his skills and wits to find a way out but, very quickly, he’s forced to adapt to the Tomb’s complex structure and into forging a shaky alliance with the overly friendly Rottmayer. Seeing Schwarzenegger and Stallone finally sharing some significant screen time together is a blast and, unlike their awkward exchanges in The Expendables 2 (West, 2012), the two have some amusing and engaging rapport going on. Schwarzenegger, in particular, seems to be having a blast as Rottmayer, exuding a variety of different, uncharacteristic emotions and humour while still engaging in some brutal and gritty fight scenes.

Drake acts as the muscle for the malicious and sadistic Warden Hobbes.

The Tomb is overseen by Warden Hobbes (Caviezel), a malicious and sadistic individual who is unimpressed and personally insulted by Ray’s reputation; alongside his equally sadistic and aggressive head guard, Drake (Jones), Hobbes enforces a strict and brutal code throughout the Tomb that severely punishes and tortures any inmate who fails to fall in line or dares to defy his authority. Hobbes is a slick and conceited villain, mixing up the standard “guy-in-a-suit” cliché with a cruel mean streak and a stoic implacability towards his actions, Drake, in comparison, thoroughly enjoys trouncing the inmates and treating them like animals.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Of course, the big twist of Escape Plan is that the entire thing is a setup by Lester to eliminate Ray and that the Tomb is actually a complex floating prison; once Hobbes becomes aware of Ray’s true identity, he begins a systematic plan of torture and cruelty towards Ray in an effort to break his spirit and uncover the information he requires about the elusive Victor X. Mannheim. While it appears as though Hobbes is successful in physically and mentally breaking Ray, his determination remains steadfast thanks to his stubbirn nature and unlikely support from Rottmayer.

Of course these two action icons come to blows during the film.

Naturally, one of the highlights and main appealing factors of Escape Plan is the rare opportunity to see two of the biggest action stars in the world interact with each other. Ray and Rottmayer have an amusing and entertaining love/hate relationship where they join forces out of necessity and trade humorous barbs (“You hit like a vegetarian!” is a notable standout for me) as well as punches on numerous occasions not out of any malicious intent but as part of Ray’s elaborate plan to learn the layout and specifics of the Tomb. Rottmayer’s initial amiable attitude towards Ray and eventual, reluctant agreement to numerous stints in the tortuous solitary cubes is all motivated by the fact that he is secretly Mannheim and behind Ray’s hiring. Still, this is an uncharacteristically subdued role for Arnold, who emits a quiet confidence and warmth while also being pragmatic, witty, and physically imposing when required.

Ray’s elaborate escape plan requires the assistance of some unlikely allies.

The reluctant friendship between the two extends even further to other inmates of the Tomb, including the initially antagonist Javed (Faran Tahir); Javed, who is a long-time rival of Rottmayer and his gang, clashes with both on numerous occasions but, ultimately is turned into another ally when Ray is able to cobble together enough of a practical escape plan but requires considerable assistance to bring this into effect. This also includes appealing to the better nature of the jaded Doctor Kyrie (Sam Neill) in order to acquire all the knowledge and tools he needs to escape.

While neither are at their peak, the film is a decent collaboration for these two action stars.

Of course, being an action/thriller starring two of the biggest action stars in the world and Vinnie Jones, Escape Plan has its fair share of action and fight scenes; it’s not as loud and bombastic as many of the two’s previous efforts, instead emphasising a more gritty and brutal kind of violence, but it nevertheless gives its musclebound stars a chance to show off what made them so famous in the first place. The staged fight between Ray and Rottmayer is a particular highlight of mine as is the inevitable showdown between Ray and Drake, which is a particularly violent and hard-hitting confrontation that ends with Drake taking one hell of a fall down some stairs and to his well-deserved death. Hobbes, of course, doesn’t offer much in the way of a physical threat but he has some pretty tight and formidable security and makes an impression with his cold, conceited attitude; he also isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, which directly leads to his explosive end as the two make their dramatic escape.

The Summary:
Escape Plan may not be the greatest film of Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s career, and arguably came about twenty years too late to really capitalise on the two’s star power, but it’s far from the worst, too, and still has a great deal of appeal thanks to the unique and rare opportunity to see the two stars collaborating. It’s a relatively run of the mill concept that I’m sure has been done a few times before but elevated through their star power, the intensity of Caviezel, and the rapport between Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Fans of either man, and action/thrillers in general, should find a lot to like in Escape Plan and I’d say it’s well worth your time as it’s a great way to spend a lazy afternoon.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on Escape Plan? Which were you a fan of back in the day, Stallone or Schwarzenegger, or were you a fan of both? Would you have liked to see the two team up during their prime or were you satisfied with the product we got? Would you like to see the two join forces again in the future? Are you a fan of prison escape films; if so, feel free to recommend them down in the comments, along with any other opinions you have. Also, be sure to check back in next week for my review of the sequel.

10 FTW: Under-Rated Sequels

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Sequels are funny things; you have to get the balance just right between providing everything people enjoyed about the first moving but expanding upon the plot and characters in a natural way. If it’s difficult for a lot of sequels to get this right, it’s even harder for third, fourth, or other sequential entries to hit the mark.

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It’s not easy to make a sequel that surpasses the original.

There’s a few prime examples of sequels done right (Back to the Future Part II (Zemeckis, 1989), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron, 1991), and The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008) spring to mind as some near-undisputed examples of sequels that were everything their predecessor was and more) and even fewer examples of completely perfect movie trilogies as most stumble by the third entry due to one reason or another. I can’t tell you, though, how often I’ve seen people talk shit about some sequels that are actually not that bad at all and, arguably, criminally under-rated. When movies, comics, and videogames produce remakes or other ancillary media based on these franchises, they either always complete ignore these films or openly criticise them for absolutely no reason. Today, I’m going to shed some light on ten under-rated sequels and, hopefully, try to show why they’re actually not as bad as you might think…

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10 Saw II (Bousman, 2005)

While the Saw (Various, 2004 to present) noticeably dipped in quality as Lionsgate milked the series for all its worth with sequel after sequel after sequel (most of which were actually interquels as they foolishly killed off John Kramer/Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) way too early in the series), I feel like a lot of people don’t give Saw II enough credit.

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Saw‘s terror mostly came from two guys being trapped in a room.

Saw (Wan, 2004) was an intense, terrifying experience that saw two people trapped in a room with the only option of escape being death or sawing a foot off with a rusty hacksaw. It kick-started a whole “torture porn” sub-genre of horror, despite most of its terror coming from the horrific situations rather than copious amounts of gore. Saw II, however, put the focus on Jigsaw, who was an almost mythic figure in the first movie and wasn’t fully revealed until the film’s dramatic conclusion. Here, we delve deep into his motivations for putting people through his gruesome “tests” and this film is a worthwhile watch simply for the subtle menace exuded by Tobin Bell.

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Saw II has some gruesome traps.

Not only that, Saw II ramps up the gore and the desperation by having seven shady individuals all infected with a deadly, slow-acting nerve agent and trapped in a horror house, of sorts. The film’s tension comes from the desperation of Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg), who is frantic to save his son from Jigsaw’s trap and to bring Jigsaw in by any means necessary. Yes, there’s more gore and more onscreen violence and, arguably, Saw II set the standard for the myriad of sequels to come by ramping up Jigsaw’s traps and plots to an absurd degree, but this was before the series fell off a cliff. Here, minor characters from the first film are expanded upon, the lore of this world is fleshed out beautifully, and we have some of the franchise’s best traps ever.

9 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (Pressman, 1991)

For many of us back in the nineties, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Barron, 1990) was the first time the “Hero” Turtles were depicted as being as violent and nuanced as in their original Mirage Comics run. Up until the release of this movie, the Turtles were cute, cuddly superheroes who we watched foil the Shredder (James Avery) week after week and whose toys we bought with reckless abandon.

Turtles II upped the sillyness to be more kid-friendly.

However, given how dark and violent the first film was, this sequel does a massive course correction, increasing the silliness and reducing the onscreen violence and decreasing the Turtles’ use of their weapons in an attempt to align the live-action movies more with their more kid-friendly, animated counterparts. Yet, that doesn’t mean this sequel isn’t good in its own right. The Turtle suits (once again brought to live by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop) look amazing and are probably better and more expressive than in the previous movie; the film also stays relatively close to its source material by focusing on the mutagenic ooze that created the Turtles, and it also introduced two mutant antagonists for the Turtles to fight.

Tokka and Rahzar are surprisingly formidable.

While they’re not Bebop (Barry Gordon and Greg Berg) and Rocksteady (Cam Clarke), Tokka (Rock Lyon and Kurt Bryant) and Rahzar (Gord Robertson and Mark Ginther) are a fun, welcome addition. It’s great seeing the Turtles kick the snot out of faceless members of the Foot Clan but Ninja Turtles has always been about the crazy mutated characters and these are two of the most impressive looking and formidable, especially considering their childlike demeanours. The Shredder (François Chau) also returned in this movie and is a lot closer to his animated incarnation, being decidedly more theatrical than in the first movie but no less intimidating. Probably the only thing that lets this movie down for me (no, it’s not the Vanilla Ice rap scene) is the final battle between the Turtles and the ooze-empowered Super Shredder (Kevin Nash) in which Shredder is unceremoniously defeated by being crushed under a pier due to his own foolishness. Apart from that, though, I feel this movie is the perfect balance between the dark, violent Mirage Comics and the light-hearted animated series and this balance is where the Ninja Turtles (a ridiculous concept to begin with) shine the brightest.

8 Batman Forever (Schumacher, 1995)

Now, admittedly, Batman Forever has its fan-base; there’s plenty of very vocal people out there who rate this quite highly among the many Batman (Various, 1966 to present) movies, especially after viewing the special edition and a lot of the deleted scenes which, had they been implemented, would probably have elevated this movie even higher. There’s a couple of reasons why this film is often unfairly attacked: one is because of how God-awful its sequel, Batman & Robin (ibid, 1997) was. That film’s over-the-top camp, painful performances, and nipple-suits are often considered so bad that both of Schumacher’s Bat-movies are unfairly lumped together and judged as a failure, when this just wasn’t the case.

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McDonald’s had Burton’s weirdness replaced with over-the-top camp.

The second reason is because of how dramatically different it is from the previous Bat-movies; after Tim Burton brought us a dark, brooding, serious interpretation of Batman (Michael Keaton) in 1989, he was given free reign on the sequel, Batman Returns (Burton, 1992). While this made for one of my personal favourite Bat-movies thanks to Burton’s Gothic sensibilities, it upset a lot of parents (…and McDonald’s) and, similar to Turtles II, Schumacher was brought in to make Batman more “kid friendly”.

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It’d be some time before Robin would truly fly again.

And yet despite the gratuitous neon lighting, the slapstick elements, and an incredibly over-the-top (and massively unsuitable) performance by Tommy Lee Jones, Batman Forever not only brought us a physically imposing Bruce Wayne/Batman (Val Kilmer) for the first time but it actually had the balls to include Dick Grayson/Robin (Chris O’Donnell). Schumacher smartly uses Robin’s origin as a parallel to Batman’s so that the film can tread familiar ground but in a new, fresh way while also bringing us one hell of a bad-ass Robin suit. Thanks to the blinkered, narrow-minded opinion that Robin (a character who has been around basically as long as Batman) is somehow “not suitable” for a Bat-movie, it wouldn’t be until the recent Titans (2018 to present) series that we would finally see Dick Grayson realised in live-action once again (though we came so close to seeing another interpretation of the character in the DC Extended Universe). Also, sue me, I grew up in the nineties and have always been a big fan of Jim Carrey’s. His performance as Edward Nygma/The Riddler might be over-the-top but his manic energy steals every scene he’s in and he genuinely looks like he’s having the time of his life channelling his inner Frank Gorshin and chewing on Schumacher’s elaborate and impractical scenery.

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7 Terminator Salvation (McG, 2009)

Okay, I’m just going to come out at say it: Terminator Salvation was, hands down, the best Terminator (Various, 1984 to 2019) sequel after Terminator 2 and always will be, no matter how many times they force Arnold Schwarzenegger to throw on the shades and the jacket.

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Salvation focused on the future war, as all Terminator 2 sequels should have.

After how perfectly Terminator 2 ended the series, the only smart way to produce further sequels was to have Terminators travel to other times and target other key members of the resistance (a plot point touched upon in the Dark Horse Comics, the dismally disappointing Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Mostow, 2003), and threaded throughout the semi-decent Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008 to 2009) television series) or to make prequels that focused on the war against the machines in a post-apocalyptic future. This latter idea would be my preference and, as such, I absolutely love Terminator Salvation. Is it perfect? Well, no, but it’s a different type of Terminator movie…and that is a good thing, people! Rather than making yet another lacklustre retread of Terminator 2, Salvation is, ostensibly, a war movie depicting the last vestiges of humanity driven to the brink of extinction by increasingly-dangerous killer machines.

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Bale always makes for fantastic casting.

Not only that, we got Christian Bale as John Connor! After the pathetic casting and portrayal of Nick Stahl (remember him?) in the third movie, we got freakin’ Batman as the last, best hope of humankind! And he gives a great performance; stoic, gritty, hardened, this is a Connor who is on the edge of accepting his true destiny and is desperate to do anything he can to stay one step ahead of Skynet. Add to that we got a pretty decent battle between Connor and the T-800 (Roland Kickinger). People like to shit on this sequence because Kickinger has Schwarzenegger’s likeness digitally laid over his face but, honestly, it isn’t that bad an effect and, if you can’t get Arnold back, this was a great way to utilise him. The only faults I have with this movie are that Connor shouldn’t have received such a clearly-mortal wound from the T-800 (I know he was originally supposed to die but, after they changed the ending, they really should have re-edited this scene to make his wound less deadly) and that the franchise has largely ignored it with subsequent sequels rather than continuing on from its open-ended finale, meaning we’ll forever be denied the bad-ass visual of an army of Arnold’s marching over a field of human skulls!

6 Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones (Lucas, 2002)

Okay, just hear me out…Attack of the Clones is not that bad, especially after Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (ibid, 1999) focused way too much on boring shit like “trade disputes” and politics, insulted our intelligence with the dreadful Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best), and sucked all of the menace and intrigue out of Darth Vader (David Prowse and James Earl Jones) by portraying Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) a whiny, annoying little brat.

The banter between Anakin and Obi-Wan was a highlight.

Arguably, the Prequel Trilogy would have been better if Lucas had opted to have Anakin discovered as a young adult and cast Hayden Christensen in the role from the start as this would be a far better parallel to his son’s own journey to becoming a Jedi. Christensen is a decent enough actor and he was simply handicapped by Lucas’s dreadful script; if Lucas had opted to let someone else take another pass at his dialogue, we could have seen a bit more of the snarky banter Anakin shares with his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). Despite the copious amount of green screen and computer-generated characters thrown at us here, Attack of the Clones has a lot of visual appeal; from the city planet of Coruscant to the rain-swept Kamino and the dry lands of Geonosis, the only location that lets Attack of the Clones down is its return to the sand planet Tatooine but even that is used as a pivotal moment in Anakin’s turn towards the Dark Side.

I would’ve preferred to see what Boba Fett was capable of.

And let’s not forget the fantastic Lightsaber battles on display here; every battle is as good as the final battle from The Phantom Menace, featuring some impressive choreography and setting the stage for one hell of an epic showdown between Anakin and Obi-Wan in the next movie. While I don’t really care for Yodi (Frank Oz) being a CG character, or wielding a Lightsaber, there is a perverse pleasure to be gained from seeing Yoda flip about like a maniacal spider monkey. Oh, and this movie has freakin’ Christopher Lee in it! Unfortunately, Lee’s Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus is criminally underused in this movie and killed off all-too-soon in the sequel. Another misfire for me was Lucas wasting time introducing Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison); I’ve never really understood why people love Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) so much as he’s a bit of a klutz and doesn’t really do anything, but he does have a rabid fan base and, since we never see his face in the Original Trilogy, I would have instead cast Temuera as Boba so that we could see him actually do something.

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5 Hellraiser: Bloodline (Yagher (credited as Alan Smithee), 1996)

Hellraiser (1987 to present) is a horror film series that seems to have struggled to be as successful as some of its other peers. I’ve already talked about how the original Hellraiser (Barker, 1987) really hasn’t aged very well and this applies to every sequel in the series as well as they seem to immediately age to moment they are released thanks to the decision to release every sequel after the third movie direct to video.

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Hellraiser…in space (…for about half an hour…)

Admittedly, a lot of my fondness for Hellraiser: Bloodline is based on two things: it was the first Hellraiser movie I was able to sit through from start to finish and was responsible for me becoming a fan of the series, and Event Horizon (Anderson, 1997) is one of my favourite science-fiction/horror movies. Arguably, Event Horizon is a far better version of Bloodline’s core concept (that being “Hellraiser…in Space!”) but there’s an important thing to remember about that: Bloodline isn’t set solely in space! Instead, Bloodline takes place in three different timelines and follows the descendants of Philippe Lemarchand (Bruce Ramsay), an 18th century toymaker who was unwittingly responsible for creating the magical Lament Configuration, a puzzle box that, when solved, summons Cenobites from a dimension where the lines between pleasure and pain are blurred. Cursed for this act, Lemarchand’s descendants are driven by an inherent desire to create the Elysium Configuration, a means to forever seal the Cenobites from our world forever Dr. Paul Merchant (also Ramsay) is merely the latest in a long line of these toymakers to encounter the demonic Cenobite dubbed Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his acolytes; unlike his predecessors, Merchant actually succeeds in his mission and destroys both Pinhead, and the portal to Hell, forever using a massive space station.

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Pinhead has lofty aspirations in Bloodline.

There’s a few reasons I think people misjudge this movie: one is that it was absolutely butchered by Miramax, who demanded all kinds of reshoots and changes, meaning that the film’s original director’s cut has never been seen. Another is a holdover from Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (Hickox, 1992), which saw Pinhead ape Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) and become just another slasher villain with a twisted sense of humour. Similarly, in Bloodline, Pinhead goes from being a representative of the Order of the Gash (…lol), to wanting to unleash Hell on Earth permanently like some kind of invading force, to the point where he takes hostages and transforms people into Cenobites whether they have opened the box or not. Yet none of this changes the fact that Bloodline is a pretty decent film; we finally get to see some background into the mysterious puzzle box, there’s multiple times when the structure and history of Hell is hinted at, and there’s some really disgusting kills and gore. Personally, I rate this film higher than the second (because that film is boring) and the third simply because it doesn’t have a Cenobite with CDs jammed in its head!

4 X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hood, 2009)

This one is gonna cost me a lot of credibility but I honestly do not get why X-Men Origins: Wolverine gets so much shit, especially considering how incoherent and screwed up the timeline and continuity of the X-Men (Various, 2000 to present) movie series became after this film. Sure, Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is poorly represented, some of the CG is a bit wonky, and there are a lot of flaws in the plot, but there’s also a lot to like about this film.

At least Origins featured some new faces….

First, and most obvious, is the film’s opening credit sequence, which many have cited as being their favourite moment of the film. Seeing James Howlett/Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber) racing through various wars is stunning and I do agree that the film really should have based around this premise and their slow degeneration into bloodlust, with Logan overcoming it and Victor giving in to it to become Sabretooth. Yet, often, I see a lot of criticism about how the X-Men movies tend to always focus on Wolverine at the expense of other Mutants…yet people still hate on this movie, which puts the spotlight entirely on Wolverine and still manages to feature some new Mutants and fill in a few plot points along the way. We get to see Logan’s time in Team X, the full extent of the procedure that gave him his Adamantium skeleton (although we miss out on the feral Wolverine showcased so brilliantly in the otherwise-disappointing X-Men: Apocalypse (Singer, 2016)), and even how unknowingly pivotal he was in bringing the original X-Men together.

The cast for Origins was pretty much perfect.

The casting really makes this movie shine: Jackman is at his most jacked as Wolverine and, while he’s a little too tame compared to what you’d expect from this point in his life, he always brings a great intensity and charisma to his breakout role. Schreiber was an inspired choice to portray Logan’s brother, who (it is strongly hinted) eventually succumbs to his animalistic ways to become Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), bringing a nuanced menace and sophistication to what is normally seen as a feral character. Danny Huston is always great as a smug, scenery-chewing villain (though he doesn’t exactly resemble Brian Cox) and Reynolds gave a great tease at what he was capable of as everyone’s favourite “Merc with a Mouth” (…until it was sown shut). We also get some new Mutants, which I appreciate even more after subsequent sequels could never seem to let go of having teleporting demons involved in their plots; Fred Dukes/The Blob (Kevin Durand) is fantastically realised in the movie and has a great (and hilarious) boxing match with Logan and everyone’s favourite card-throwing Cajun, Remy LeBeau/Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) also makes his one (and, so far, only) film appearance here. I only expected a brief, unsatisfying cameo from Gambit but he actually has a surprisingly substantial role. Could it have been bigger? Sure, but I’d say he was treated a lot better than Deadpool (who, it should be remembered, was still planned to get a spin-off from this film).

3 RoboCop 2 (Kershner, 1990)

Now, don’t get me wrong: I love RoboCop (Verhoeven, 1987). It told an easily self-contained story of Detroit City police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) being rebuilt from death as a bad-ass cybernetic enforcer of the law and rediscovering his humanity. It’s a classic film, with some amazing effects, hilarious commentary on consumerism, media, and corporate greed, and would be a tough act for anyone to follow.

RoboCop has never looked better than in this all-action sequel.

Yet, call me crazy, but RoboCop 2 succeeds far more than it fails. RoboCop has a fresh coat of paint and has (literally) never looked better onscreen; he’s just as efficient and pragmatic as before and, though he seems to have regressed back to a more mechanical mindset, he still exhibits a great deal of humanity but in new and interesting ways. First, he is routinely referred to as “Murphy” by other officers (particularly Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen), his partner) and struggles so badly with reconnecting with his wife and son (who believe that Murphy is dead and buried) that he routinely stalks them, which contributes to his superiors deciding to reprogram him. This results in a deliciously over-the-top sequence where RoboCop, his head full of insane, politically correct directives, tries to calm situations with talk rather than bullets. It eventually becomes so maddening that he is forced to electrocute himself just to clear his head enough for him to focus on the big bad of the film, Cain (Tom Noonan). Now, Cain and his psychopathic gang of untouchable drug dealers are great, but they’re not Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith); instead of Clarence’s manic energy, Cain brings a quiet, intellectual approach to his menace. He also manages to dismantle RoboCop’s metallic body, just as Clarence destroyed his human one, and is eventually able to go toe-to-toe with RoboCop as the frankly fantastic RoboCop 2 (or “RoboCain”).

RoboCain is an impressively ambitious inclusion.

If you liked ED-209 from the last movie, RoboCain is bigger, badder, and better. A combination of animatronics and stop-motion, RoboCain was an ambitious choice for the film and actually works really well considering the technological limitations of the time. The fight between Cain and RoboCop also holds up surprisingly well and is far more interesting than Robo’s encounters with ED-209 thanks to the villain being far more versatile than his clunky counterpart. I think what brings this movie down, for many, is that Cain’s gang aren’t as charismatic or memorable as Boddicker’s (I can only name two of Cain’s guys off the top of my head, whereas I can name at least five of Boddiker’s), some of the plot is a bit redundant (Robo’s story arc is, essentially, a truncated version of the same one from the first), and the awfulness of subsequent RoboCop movies leaving such a sour taste that people assume all RoboCop sequels are terrible…and that’s just not the case.

2 Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1990)

Okay, full disclosure: as a kid, I was not a fan of this movie. I loved Predator (McTiernan, 1987); it was over-the-top, filled with massive action heroes, and featured a tense build-up to one of cinema’s most memorable alien creatures. The sequel just seemed to be lacking something; maybe it was because we’d already seen the Predator (Kevin Peter Hall) in its full, gruesome glory and didn’t really need to go through the suspense of its eventual reveal all over again. Replacing Schwarzenegger is Danny Glover’s Lieutenant Mike Harrigan, a hardened, smart-mouthed loose cannon who plays by his own rules (as was the tradition for any cop worth a damn in cinema back then). I was in awe at Schwarzenegger as a kid so it was disappointing to go from him to Glover but, honestly, Glover is probably better in many ways: his anti-authoritative, roguish nature makes him more relatable as a character and the fact that he actually gets hurt and struggles to physically prevail makes him far more human. He’s a much more believable protagonist in a lot of ways and, thanks to his more developed acting chops, is more than a suitable replacement for Arnold.

The urban setting is a natural evolution from the jungle.

Predator 2 also takes the titular hunter out of the jungle and places him in the next most logical place: the concrete jungle. Now, a lot of people hate this change; even Arnold hated that the Predator would be in Los Angles for the sequel but…surely doing the sequel in the jungle again would have just resulted in exactly the same movie as before? It’s so weird that people rag on the city setting as it makes perfect sense, is realised really well, and even set the ground for a lot of the Dark Horse comics. No other sequel around this time repeated the first in this way; Aliens (Cameron, 1986), Terminator 2, Batman Returns, Lethal Weapon 3 (Donner, 1992), just to name a few, all fundamentally alter the concept of the first movie rather than rehashing it so why does Predator 2 get such a hard time for doing it (and doing it well, I might add)?

Predator 2 established almost all of the Predator’s lore and society.

To make matters worse, Predator 2 has been criminally overlooked in subsequent sequels; there was no mention of the film’s events at all in the otherwise-excellent Predators (Antal, 2010), a film that went out of its way to reference (both through homage and direct mention) the first movie, and it only gets a passing mention in the disappointing The Predator (Black, 2018). Jake Busey, son of Gary Busey, even featured as an expert on the Predator species but there was no mention in the film of his relationship to Busey’s character, Peter Keyes, despite the two being father and son! I’ll never understand this; it’s a real insult, to be honest. Predator 2 brought so much to the table; it defined the honour system of the Predator species, introduced a whole bunch of the alien’s iconic weaponry, and laid the foundation for comic books, videogames, and sequels and spin-offs to follow for years to come. Subsequent movies have no problem reusing the weaponry or the culture of the Predator introduced in this movie but when it comes to actually directly referencing the film’s events they shy away and why? It’s a great film! Great kills, great action, great tension, some fantastic effects, and a super enjoyable chase sequence between the Predator and Harrigan across the streets and rooftops of Los Angeles! I just don’t get the hate, I really don’t.

1 Ghostbusters II (Reitman, 1989)

Man, if you thought I was mad about Predator 2, just wait until you hear this one. Ghostbusters II suffers from a lot of the plagues of Predator 2, and other films on this list: it’s unfairly criticised for not being exactly the same as the iconic first film, it’s overlooked time and time again, and direct references to it are few and far between. Just look at the majority of Ghostbusters-related media; be it toys, videogames, or otherwise, the characters almost always look exactly like the first movie rather than this one. And why? Because it doesn’t have the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in it. Give me a fuckin’ break! As much as I love him, and that entire sequence, it wouldn’t make any sense of Mr. Stay Puft to appear in this movie! The Ghostbusters destroyed it when they defeated Gozer the Gozerian (Slavitza Jovan and Paddi Edwards) and this movie revolves around an entirely different villain and plot so why bring it back? I guess audiences were just used to antagonists returning ins equels at that time but to judge this movie just for not having Mr. Stay Puft is not only unfair, it’s down-right stupid.

The river of slime always freaked me out as a kid.

After all, it has the Statue of Liberty coming to life instead! Sure, it doesn’t match up to Stay Puft’s rampage, but it’s still pretty decent. Also, the film’s antagonist, Vigo the Carpathian (Wilhelm von Homburg), is voiced by Max von Sydow, who is an absolute legend. Vigo’s threat is arguably much higher than Gozer’s in a way as his mood slime has been brewing under New York City for decades and is the direct result of all the animosity in the world (…or, just New York, which is bad enough). It’s powerful enough to cause ghosts to go on a rampage again and turn the Ghostbusters against each other, and is a far more grounded threat than Gozer’s plot to destroy the world. The stakes are raised in Ghostbusters II through the fact that the titular ‘Busters have been forced to disband and go their separate ways. Through this, we see something that is also often overlooked about this movie: character growth. Would you criticise Ellen Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) character growth in Aliens? Well, yes, probably; you are the internet after all but this plot point allows Ghostbusters II, like RoboCop 2, to retread the familiar ground of the disgraced Ghostbusters being called upon to save the city in a new way. The characters are all a bit more haggard after how badly the city burned them so seeing them rise up regardless, to the point where they’re even able to resist the mood slime, is a great arc.

There are some really horrific scenes in this film…

Add to that the film’s consistent and enjoyable special effects, the truly gruesome sequence in the abandoned Beach Pneumatic Transit system, and a creepy performance (as always) by Peter MacNicol and you’ve got a film that, like Turtles II, is more than a worthy follow-up to the original. And, yet, like I said, this film is often overlooked, almost with a vendetta. It doesn’t help that co-star Bill Murray despised the movie, which is always bad press for any film; his cantankerous ways also constantly held up the long-awaited third movie to the point where we had to suffer through that God-awful reboot before a follow-up would be approved. Despite Murray’s opinions, Ghostbusters II has managed to endure in some respects, though; characters and events were directly referenced in Slimer! and the Real Ghostbusters (1988 to 1991) and Vigo’s portrait was prominently featured in the true third entry, Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Terminal Reality/Red Fly Studio, 2009). Yet I wouldn’t at be surprised if Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Reitman, 2021) completely ignores this movie, or at least brushes it off or lampoons it, especially considering the trailers seem more focused on calling back to the first film.

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Do you agree with my list? I’m guessing not and you think most of these movies are terrible but why do you think that? Are there any other under-rated sequels you can think of? Write a comment and give me your thoughts below.

Game Corner: Alien vs. Predator (Arcade)

GameCorner
AVPLogo

As always, I am opening this review by asking you to cast your minds back to the 1990s. This time, we’re specifically winding the clock back to 1994, a time when Xenomorphs had been off cinema screens since Alien3 (Fincher, 1992) and we hadn’t seen a Predator onscreen since Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1990). Both franchises were in a state of flux not entirely unlike where they are now; these latter sequels had resulted in divisive audience reactions, to say the least, and 20th Century Fox had made the genius decision to allow Dark Horse Comics to mash their two science-fiction/action/horror franchise together into a series of comic books, action figures, novels, and other media. Basically every type of media that wasn’t onscreen. This was also a time when the arcade was still going strong; sidescrolling 2D beat-‘em-ups were staples in arcades everywhere thanks to titles like Final Fight (Capcom, 1989), The Punisher (Capcom, 1993), The Simpsons (Konami, 1991), and X-Men (ibid, 1992) and violent videogames were suddenly massively popular thanks to the controversy surrounding Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992). This was also around the time when adult films like Aliens (Cameron, 1986) and RoboCop (Verhoeven, 1987) were being turned into comic books, action figures, cartoons, and videogames. Mash all of these factors together and you get the topic of today’s discussion: Alien vs. Predator (Capcom, 1994).

The story is simple but effective.

Far from the disappointingly neutered down mess we got in AVP: Alien vs. Predator (Anderson, 2004), the arcade game of the same (well…similar) name is a straight-up combination of the balls-to-the-wall action embodied by the Colonial Marines and the Xenomorphs in Aliens and the brutal efficiency of the Predators. Rather than lumbering the story in the present day, Alien vs. Predator takes place in a far more futuristic setting more befitting the Alien (Various, 1979 to present) franchise, immediately making it look and feel like an actual entry in the franchise rather than a toned down cash grab. It is in this setting that the game shows a whole horde of Xenomorphs descending onto Earth and ravage the city of San Drad; although the cybernetic soldiers Major Dutch Schaefer (fittingly with the likeness of Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Lieutenant Linn Kurosawa try to fight them off, they are quickly overwhelmed but, surprisingly, saved by a group of Predators. The Predators, seeking to curb the infestation of their prey, ally themselves with the humans and the four set out to eradicate the Xenomorph swarm. If you think the idea of the Predators conversing (in English) with the humans is madness, it might also blow your mind to know that this plot was, apparently, based on an early draft for a potential Alien vs. Predator movie…let that settle in for a second.

AVPGameplay
Just keep killing aliens until the stage ends!

If you’ve played any sidescrolling 2D beat-‘em-up, you’ve played Alien vs. Predator; you select a character and battle from the left of the screen to the right, bashing enemies with simple combos, grapples, and a variety of weapons until you defeat a massive boss and clear the game’s seven stages. Up to four players can play simultaneously and each character has certain strengths and weaknesses over the others; the Predator Warrior is quite well-balanced, for example, while Dutch is a slow powerhouse. As you traverse each stage, you can pick up a variety of items and power ups; some, like gems and jewels, exist only to add to your high score while others, like pizza, soda, and chicken, replenish your health. You can grab pipes to bash in Xenomorph heads, grenades to blast them apart, and even the iconic Smart and Pulse Guns from Aliens to mow their numbers down.

AVPWeapons
This image will never get old

Each character also has their own weaponry and special attacks; the two Predators start with unique alien bladed weapons to increase their range while the two humans boast better range through their firepower. You can even use the Predator’s plasma cannon; while it is prone to overheating through repeated use, the “Super” power-up allows repeated use to decimate entire screens of enemies. At the cost of some health, you can also perform powerful special attacks, as is the norm for sidescrolling 2D beat-‘em-ups. Each stage is swarming with enemies, to the point where it’s genuinely tough to find your character much less plough through your opponents. Luckily, if you’re playing this on Mame or other arcade emulators, you can continue with as many lives and chances as you like until you clear each stage. To break up the monotony of the button-mashing and fighting, you’ll mount an M577 vehicle and blast away endless hordes of Xenomorphs and be tasked with destroying various objects under a time limit.

AVPEnemies
You’ll encounter some new Xenomorph forms as you progress.

Taking its cue from Aliens, most of the enemies you’ll encounter are various Xenomorph types, most of which were made famous as action figures and never seen in the movies. You’ll be blasting away at recognisable Xenomorphs such as Warriors (who resemble the Xenomorphs from Aliens), Stalkers (who are more like the Xenomorph seen in Alien), and Chestbursters but also encounter Alien Arachnoids, Smashers, and the Queen’s Royal Guard. Oddly, you’ll also come across zombie-like humans and cut your way through the Weyland-Yutani Corporation’s personal army as they seek to use the Xenomorphs as biological weapons.

AVPBosses
The game’s fidelity to the source material is impressive.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a 2D sidescroller without some big boss battles; you’ll battle the hulking Alien Chrysalis, the deadly Raor Claws, a couple of infected Predators, some Power Loaders, and, of course, the gigantic Xenomorph Queen…twice. Most of these bosses will also spawn a bunch of lesser enemies to distract you can whittle you down, meaning that it’s best to partner up with at least one other player to take on these big guys. While the gameplay and premise of Alien vs. Predator is nothing new or exciting, what sets it apart is its aesthetic fidelity to the look and feel of both franchise but, in particular, Aliens; the sprites and backgrounds are big, colourful, and full of energy, making you feel as though the iconic Predator has been dropped right into the middle of Cameron’s action/horror sci-fi classic, which is exactly what Alien vs. Predator should be.

AVPMulti
Team up with a friend to cut through the alien hordes.

It is extremely satisfying to punch and skewer your way through the seemingly-endless swarms of Xenomorphs and seeing a Predator wield the classic Aliens weaponry, as well as their own iconic weapons, never gets old. It’s repetitive at times, of course (it is a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up, after all) but it’s a fantastic way to waste an hour or so with a friend (or alone). While a similar title was also released for the SNES a year before, this classic arcade title has been lost to the mists of time and complicated rights and legal issues. Thankfully, thanks to the release of the Capcom Home Arcade, you can relive this timeless classic in the (relative) comfort of your own home (as long as you have the cash). Of you can just emulate the game on a Raspberry Pi or similar console and get to slaughtering those Xenomorph scum right away, and I highly recommend that you do.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you ever play Alien vs. Predator in an arcade? If so, what did you think? If not, why not go give a play? Either way, leave your memories and impressions below and let me know what you think.