Back Issues [Sci-Fi Sunday]: Total Recall


January sees the celebration of two notable dates in science-fiction history, with January 2 christened “National Science Fiction Day” to coincide with the birth date of the world renowned sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov, and HAL 9000, the sophisticated artificial intelligence of Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), being created on 12 January. Accordingly, I’m spending every Sunday of January celebrating sci-fi in all its forms.


Story Title: Total Recall
Published: May 2011 to August 2011
Writer: Vince Moore
Artist: Cezar Razek

The Background:
Total Recall (Verhoeven, 1990) was the blockbuster adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1966 short story, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. Though an extremely expensive production, Total Recall was a critical success and widely regarded as one of the greatest science-fiction/action movies of all time. Total Recall’s success led to a number of adaptations, including a videogame and even a somewhat-tangentially-related television series, Total Recall 2070 (1999). While Minority Report (Spielberg, 2002) began life as a sequel to Total Recall, we wouldn’t see an actual follow-up to the sci-fi classic until over twenty years after the film’s release when Dynamite Entertainment acquired the license and produced this four-issue miniseries that picked up immediately where the film ended.

The Review:
As mentioned, “Total Recall” begins right where the movie left off with no question about whether the film’s events were real or a delusion of hero Douglas Quaid; Mars is now home to a breathable atmosphere, effectively turning it into a smaller version of Earth. Quaid still struggles a bit with his sense of identity and self, since everything that has transpired is exactly as specified by Rekall, Inc., and, while he is grateful to be alive, he questions what is next for him now that his “Ego Trip” has reached its conclusion. While Mars administrator Vilos Cohaagen dead, his forces are still as loyal as ever and not only open fire on Quaid and his love interest (and member of the rebels), Melina, but also launch an all-out assault on the rebels of Venusville. There, they reunite with fellow rebels Thumbelina and Tony, that latter of which remains frosty and distrustful of Quaid (whom he continuously calls “Hauser”) and tries to attack him for his part in the death of the rebel leader, Kuato.

Quaid overcomes his identity crisis by becoming a mediator for peace.

Tired of all the fighting and discord, Quaid opts to go against Tony’s advice and dive into gunfire to appeal to Captain Everett in the hopes of brokering a truce between the warring forces. While Everett reluctantly agrees to stand his troops down on the proviso that Quaid can convince the rebels to do the same, he also reveals that, with Cohaagen and Kuato both dead, anarchy is breaking out all over Mars and that Cohaagen’s two children, Milos and Vila, are set to arrive and act as the new administrators of the planet. Milos and Vila vow to continue the mining of “Turbinium” (or “Terbinium”; both spellings are used at various points) and to improve the quality of life on Mars while still supporting the war effort back on Earth but it doesn’t take long before the killing and terrorist acts flare up again and the two are reinstating martial law across the planet. Additionally, the mutants of Venusville are suffering from an inexplicable, fatal disease of sorts that claims the life of Eva, the young mutant girl who told Quaid’s fortune in the film and who mutters, with her dying breath, a warning that “the Martians are coming”.

Mars gets new administrators, but conflict is rife as Quaid uncovers more Martian tech.

Tensions flare between Tony and Quaid once more over Eva’s death and the unexplained deaths of other mutants all across the Martian colony, which Tony is quick to pin on the Cohaagens. Quaid, however, speculates that Mars’ new atmosphere may be responsible and resists Tony’s rallying call for the rebels to take up arms against the administrators. Quaid’s pleas fall on stubborn, deaf, and frightened ears, however, and Mars is once again thrown into bloody and violent conflict, which only escalates when the Cohaagens respond by cutting off the water supply to know-rebel areas of the planet. The result is many people protest at being tarnished with the same brush, many other die, and the Mars military relentlessly hunt down and kill or arrest any rebels and mutants they come across. Quaid is, however, able to buy the rebels of Venusville time to get them to some kind of safety by pleading with one of the army’s sergeants (who know that Quaid, the muscle-bound action hero who never reloaded his gun once, was such a diplomat?) Still, Quaid is preoccupied with the continued warning about the “Martians” and heads back to the Pyramid Mines in hopes of finding some kind of answers.

The arrival of the Martians throws Mars into further chaos!

There, he discovers another gigantic, ancient Martian machine and a mutant named Q’d, who bares a striking similarity of Quaid and keeps repeating: “The Martians are coming. I must prepare the way”. Fearing what the machine could unleash if activated (much like Cohaagen in the film, it has to be said), Quaid attacks but is soundly overwhelmed by the man, who activates “the second machine” to “[preserve] the Mar on Mars” by covering it in vegetation and, in response, the Martians return to their planet. The Martians’ arrival causes a great deal of fear and concern amongst everyone on both Mars and Earth; still, M’s’s, the enigmatic spokesperson of the Martians’ assures them that they come in peace and that their intentions are to help humans and mutants alike find their place on Mars. Milos, however, is concerned that the moss is a threat to their position of power on the planet and his desire to seek revenge against Quaid for killing their father, with all the fighting and bloodshed merely being a minor concern against that goal and the mining of Turbinum. Vila, however, doesn’t share this same sentiment and actually conspires against her brother’s machinations in order to make the most of her inheritance.

Richter makes a surprise appearance…only to be defeated almost immediately.

Quaid is largely nonplussed about the appearance of Martians (which is a bit odd and contradictory considering he was so dead-set on finding out what Eva’s warning meant just a few pages earlier…) as there are lives at stake from the mysterious fatal affliction striking down the mutants. Tony, however, remains unconvinced about his intentions and desire to track down the root cause of it all, and mass rioting breaks out, forcing the Cohaagens to turn to Quaid for help regarding their common interests. Although Quaid is able to track down Q’d, believing him to be the key to solving all of the recent problems on Mars, he is once again bested in combat and then ambushed by Richter! Having somehow survived his plummet, and his sporting mechanical arms, Richter chokes Q’d and then attacks Melina in revenge for her part in Lori’s death. However, Richter allows his emotions to get the better of him and is easily dispatched when Quaid rams into him with a digger and sends him plummeting down a canyon, wasting all of our time in the process.

The mutants recover from their illness just in time for the military to prepare to destroy the colony!

However, Quaid is unable to stop Q’d from activating the final Martian machine, bringing water to the Red Planet and causing both Martians sudden appear all over the planet and, in the process, mass panic. The illness that had crippled and killed the mutants suddenly has the opposite effect, imbuing them incredible physical strength and vitality, although M’s’s states that this as an unintended side effect as the Martian machines weren’t built to consider their effect on mutants. In response to the Martian “invasion”, Admiral Nimitz of the Northern Block assumes command of the Martian colony and orders the army to open fire on the Martians. Using psionic powers, the Martians are able to shield themselves from harm but many innocent people are killed in the fracas; this time, Captain Everett refuses to listen to Quaid’s pleas and the two brawl before Everett is ordered to cease his attack anyway. Much to the outrage of the Cohaagens, Nimitz plans to attack the colony with the Reagan space weaponry platform in order to cleanse the aliens in one move.

Quaid once again saves Mars from destruction and commits to his perception of reality.

Enraged at having his birthright taken from him, Milos ventures out with a gun to kill M’s’s and, when he saves the Martian’s life, Quaid. Luckily for Quaid, Milos is a terribly shot and Quaid is easily able to disarm him, though Milos refuses to co-operate with him. Vila, however, is much more co-operative and allows Quaid to take their private shuttle to the weapons platform to shut it down before it can fire. During all that drama, M’s’s drones on and on to Melina about how the Martians foresaw everything that transpired in the film (and this comic…though apparently not the mutants…?) and set in motion everything Quaid would need to bring life to Mars as recompense for the Martians’ previous destructive ways. Joined by Q’d, Quaid and Melina fight their way through the space station’s marines all while cracking jokes and quips. Still, Quaid manages to hit the abort button and save Mars once again. In the aftermath, the Cohaagens remain in control of the colony (and Milos begrudgingly abandons his vendetta against Quaid), the beginnings of co-operation and communication are forged between the military and the Martians, and the story ends with Quaid not really caring if it had all been a dream and just making out with Mileena.

The Summary:
As I mentioned in my review of the film,Total Recall is one of my all-time favourite movies; it’s action-packed, thought-provoking, and features some of the most impressive practical effects ever put to film. The film’s complex themes of identity and reality are matched only by how elaborate he sets and animatronics are and the film is almost the perfect balance of action, humour, and intrigue. I could honestly watch it every day and talk about it for hours and never get tired of it; the nostalgia and influence of it is that strong for me.

The comic’s pacing is all over the place and bogged down by exposition!

It’s a shame then that this comic book continuation is so mind-numbingly dull and boring! For a comic that is a follow-up to Total Recall, there is so much exposition crammed into every page, every speech bubble and text box, and even during fights! Exposition and world-building was delivered at an easy-to-digest pace in the film but, here, characters go on and on and on about basically nothing and it’s much more a tale of diplomacy than an action-packed thrill-ride. Quaid, especially, suffers from this; given that he (somewhat…) resembles Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s really weird trying to imagine the Austrian Oak spouting as much dialogue as his comic-book counterpart does. His speech patterns are so not-Arnold that it’s almost to the point of parody and I never pegged Quaid, a man who was bored by his mundane existence and relished the idea of being a secret agent, to be the voice of reason!

Melina gets very few moments to shine and may as well not even be in this mess of a story…

Other returning characters equally suffer; Melina may as well not even be in the story since she does so little and Tony’s animosity towards Quaid, while somewhat understandable, is comically exaggerated to the point where he dismisses any suggestion that isn’t all-out war. It was a nice surprise to see Richter make a reappearance but it was an absolute waste of time and effort as he basically has no impact on the story at all (his role could easily have been fulfilled by an extended fight sequence with Q’d). As for the introduction of Martians…I mean, what? Obviously the film hinted that Martians existed but actually seeing them was a bit jarring, as was Q’d’s inexplicable resemblance to Quaid (that I don’t think was explained…?) and the fact that they, too, basically did nothing. Again, it would have been a lot easier to have them be a long dead society whose technology is appropriated by humans, or the Cohaagens, or whatever rather than having them wander about making speeches and disappearing for huge chunks of the story.

Quaid often gets his ass handed to him in the comic’s few fight scenes.

It’s a shame as there are some glimmers of enjoyment to be had here; when the action actually picks up, it’s pretty fun and exciting but a lot of it eventually falls flat because the art really isn’t very good at all and Quaid is constantly being bested in combat. I suppose this has some resemblance to the film as Quaid did struggle when fighting Lori (Sharon Stone) and Richter (Michael Ironside) but I would argue that was mainly due to him being attacked when he was unprepared. Here, he often has the upperhand against much smaller foes, like Milos, and still struggles to hold his own; many of his fights end anti-climatically as a result and the whole thing just feels like a massive waste of everyone’s time as it does a pretty terrible job of continuing Total Recall’s story or paying homage to one of the greatest sci-films of all time.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

Have you ever read Dynamite Entertainment’s Total Recall comics? If so, what did you think to them? Did you feel like the story was a good way to continue the movie or, like me, were you disappointed at how boring, clunky, and unappealing it was? What did you think to the introduction of Martians to the plot and Richter’s sudden reappearance? Do you think the events of the film, and the comic, were all real or were they just Quaid’s delusion? Leave your thoughts about Total Recall, whatever form it takes, in the comments below and check back in next week as Sci-Fi Sunday continues.

Talking Movies [Judgment Day]: Terminator 2: Judgment Day: Special Edition


“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.


Special Edition

Released: 29 October 2001
Originally Released: 3 July 1991
Director: James Cameron
Distributor:
Tri-Star Pictures
Budget:
$94 to 102 million
Stars:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong, and Joe Morton

The Plot:
After narrowly escaping a killer cyborg sent from a war-torn future, Sarah Connor (Hamilton) has been confined to a mental institution and remains both haunted by visions of a nuclear war incited by the malevolent artificial intelligence Skynet and estranged from her young son, John (Furlong). However, when Skynet sends back an advanced prototype T-1000 (Patrick) composed of liquid metal (or “mimetic polyalloy”) to kill John, Sarah must join forces with a reprogrammed T-800 (Schwarzenegger) to protect her son and try and prevent the near-extinction of the human race!

The Background:
Considering the financial success of The Terminator (Cameron, 1984), a sequel was all-but-inevitable but initially hampered by a number of technical issues, primarily the question of digital effects and a legal dispute regarding the franchise rights. Once these were resolved, Cameron, Schwarzenegger, and Hamilton reunited to collaborate on the natural next step in the narrative, which recast the T-800 as a protector figure. The sequel was afforded a budget fifteen times that of the original and was the most expensive film made at the time; it was also a ground-breaking film in the field of digital effects and continued to employ the services of the legendary Stan Winston for its complex practical, make-up, and model effects. Terminator 2: Judgment Day was a massive success; it received rave reviews at the time, made over $520 million at the box office, and has come to be widely regarded as one of the greatest science-fiction movies ever made, and one of the greatest movie sequels of all time. Fifteen minutes of additional footage were added to the film’s home release, a digitally remastered 3D version was released on 17 February 2017, and the film was accompanied by a slew of merchandise (such as action figures and videogames) as well as directly informing many of its sequels.

The Review:
Some ten years have passed since the events of the first film and much has changed in that time; first and foremost, Sarah successfully gave birth to John, the son of her protector from the future and the fated saviour of humanity in the war against the machines. However, having been imparted with knowledge of the future by Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) in the first film and following her terrifying experience with the Terminator, Sarah has transformed from a helpless and confused waitress to a strong-willed woman of action and blinkered focus. We’re told by John that his childhood was one of rigorous training and preparation for his future role, which saw Sarah taking him out to Mexico and “shacking up” with as many men as she could in order to learn and impart skills and knowledge necessary to prepare John to be the future leader of humanity, which has driven a wedge between the two as John simply wants his mother’s love.

Burdened by knowledge, Sarah is driven half insane and is desperate to reunite with John.

The burden of knowledge has fractured Sarah’s mind, however; like Reese, she is tormented by dreams of the Future War and also nightmares showcasing (in graphic detail) the fiery destruction of the vast majority of the human race. In an effort to try and circumvent this future, she tried to destroy Skynet before it could be created and, as a result, was arrested and committed to a mental hospital, where Doctor Silberman (Earl Boen) worked somewhat unsuccessfully to help her through her trauma. A calculating and intelligent woman, Sarah attempts to feign compliance after her aggressive and distraught honesty led only to her being denied access to visitors and with no hope of ever escaping the institute. When Silberman sees through this deception, Sarah snaps and showcases her intense aggression, attacking Silberman and his staff without mercy since, to her, they’re already dead anyway. After learning that she’ll never be allowed to see John again, Sarah puts into a motion a plan to escape that goes surprisingly well until she comes face-to-face with the new Terminator and all of her fight and hostility is instantly replaced with a panicked terror; even after John assures her of the Terminator’s new mission, she remains cold and distrustful of her new ally throughout the film.

John starts the film as a delinquent who’s left guilt-ridden at confirmation of his mother’s tales.

At the start of the film, John is little more than a juvenile delinquent; frustrated by his mother’s harsh upbringing and subjecting him to a childhood that was anything but normal, he frequently defies his foster parents and is concerned more with ripping off cash machines using his hacking skills and spending stolen money in the arcades. Having grown up hearing all about his mother’s knowledge of the future and his destiny as the leader of the human resistance, John is well aware of the Terminator, Skynet, and the Future War but never actually believed in any of it. Consequently, he is both stunned, excited, and guilt-ridden when the Terminator arrives and confirms that everything Sarah told him was absolutely true. Determined to make amends for his lack of belief, John orders his protector to help him rescue her despite the obvious risks involved, and is heartbroken when Sarah rebukes his concerns and chastises him for putting himself at risk. Having grown up without a father, John has had to feel the anguish of his mother’s boyfriends and partners leaving over and over, leaving a void in his heart for a father figure that the Terminator fills with startling efficiency and, in the Terminator, John finds a friend, confidant, and partner with whom he can open up to, teach how to be hip and cool, and also the perfect weapon to assist in ensuring that the apocalyptic future never comes to pass.

The Terminator makes a dramatic return, now a protector charged with securing humanity’s future.

Considering that the Terminator instantly became one of cinema’s most relentless and fearsome screen villains in the first film, the decision to turn that characterisation on its head and recast Schwarzenegger as a protector was an inspired move. Thematically, it works wonders for Sarah’s character arc; indeed, her cold-blooded focus on destroying Skynet makes her just as much of an uncompromising machine as her hated nemesis and one of the principal messages of Terminator 2 is that the titular machine ends up learning the value of human life and being more human than those who created Skynet in the first place. For the first twenty minutes or so, however, the film is shot in a way to suggest that the Terminator is the same emotionless killer from the first film, albeit now seen as this bad-ass villain who we can’t help but root for. It isn’t until the Terminator comes face-to-face with the T-1000 that we truly learn that this new T-800 is here to help John, rather than kill him. From that point on, the Terminator becomes a far chattier and more layered character than in the first film; it exposits information, unquestionably follows John’s orders even when it disagrees with the risk involved, and tirelessly works around the clock to keep him and his mother safe. Crucially, the Terminator is noted to be at an extreme disadvantage this time around; not only does the T-1000 have the same files and knowledge as the Terminator, it’s also faster and more advanced and a “far more effective killing machine”. This means that, for all the Terminator’s strength and capabilities, it’s rarely ever portrayed as being anything other than an inferior model. Like Reese, the Terminator is thus forced to flee more often than fighting and to adapt its tactics to utilise more than simple firearms to keep the T-1000 at bay, which goes a long way to furthering the Terminator’s new role as a vulnerable protagonist.

The T-1000 makes for an unnervingly human, relentless, and formidable villain.

In contrast, the T-1000 is so much more efficient that you would be forgiven for initially thinking that it was another slender human protector sent back to keep John from harm; effortlessly charming and deceptive, it can easily earn the trust of unassuming humans with its candid tones but, when that fails, it can shapeshift into a number of other forms to gain access to restricted areas, equipment, and weapons that the protagonists can’t. Once you set aside the pretty large plot hole of how a machine comprised entirely of liquid metal was able to make the trip back in time when the first film established that “nothing dead will go” through the Time Displacement Equipment, and the question of how it even operates if it’s entirely comprised of ever-changing atoms, the T-1000’s rules and limitations are surprisingly well thought out. It’s established that it can’t transform into guns or bombs because of the additional chemicals and parts that make those up, and than it can’t shapeshift into anything bigger or smaller than its default dimensions. This still makes it an extremely lethal killing machine, however, as it’s easily able to form knives and other bladed appendages out of its limbs, grow an additional arm to help fly a helicopter while reloading, and disguise itself as parts of the environment in order to assimilate additional organic data. As merciless and relentless as the original Terminator was, the T-1000 is made even more callous and terrifying through its nimble speed, its sheer tenacity, and the unsettling way it closes up wounds and returns to the fight within seconds of being downed.

Disgusted by the future his research threatens to bring, Dyson gives his life to prevent Skynet’s creation.

Although the T-1000 remains a constant threat in the film and is so significant as a danger that the Terminator transports its charges all the way to a desolate Mexican desert just to avoid the killer, Sarah’s obsession with preventing Judgement Day leads her to tracking down the man most directly responsible, Miles Dyson (Morton). A simple family man, Dyson has been led to a breakthrough in artificial intelligence and technology thanks to his research on the damaged CPU and severed arm of the original Terminator; these have allowed him to effectively begin the process of Skynet’s creation and unknowingly doom the world to near extinction, something that Sarah is so adamant about preventing that she very nearly kills him in cold blood. Thanks to seeing the monster she has become reflected in the eyes of Dyson and his family, she collapses into a mournful heap before she can go through with it, and Dyson is disgusted to learn where his research will lead. Immediately repentant, he agrees to get the group into the Cyberdyne building so that they can destroy all of his research; this is a poignant decision on his behalf as we clearly see how enthusiastic he was about his work and how he often prioritised it over his family life, however he becomes so willing to eradicate his research that he willingly sacrifices his life to ensure that Skynet can never be created.

The Nitty-Gritty:
It’s tough for me to decide which film I prefer out of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. As fantastic and influential and ambitious as the first film was, the sequel is bigger and better in every way; the score is more foreboding and haunting than ever as the T-1000’s droning theme raises the tension alongside the traditional Terminator theme to help punctuate the film’s many action scenes. Additionally, the special and practical effects are better than ever and the entire film just looks more expensive and of a higher quality; there’s something to be said for the gritty nature of the first film but it’s equally hard to deny the appeal of the sequel’s slick presentation.

The film’s practical effects are absolutely top-notch and deliver a disturbing vision of the future.

We see this immediately as the film opens on an incredible rendition of the Future War; we saw snippets of this conflict in the first film but, here, everything is so much bigger and more impressive. Even now, I find it difficult to believe that this is a complex combination of miniatures, models, and forced perspective to show Hunter-Killers and Terminators flawing, crawling, and marching along a field of skulls and wreckage and exchanging plasma fire with the Resistance fighters. This is the scene that made me want to see a whole movie set during the Future War and I still feel like this would have made for a more effective and fitting follow-up to the first two films; just imagine an army of CGI Arnolds marching through an apocalyptic wasteland while Brad Fiedel’s iconic, imposing score blares out? Similar effects are used to bring to life Sarah’s disturbing nightmares of nuclear holocaust; again realised using complex miniatures and puppets, these make for some of the most unsettling scenes of destruction in any film and remain as impactful as ever thanks to the sheer amount of time and effort than went into creation a realistic depiction of the end of the world.

A blend of CGI and practical effects help keep the T-1000 a timeless and terrifying screen villain.

Of course, the true star of the show in terms of special effects is the T-1000; largely realised entirely through cutting edge CGI, the T-1000 is an unnerving screen villain that switches in a heartbeat from charming and affable to stoic and ruthless and we see in full detail how it is able to assume the form of those it touches and then dispose of the original with gruesome efficiency. I think what makes the T-1000 work so well is how often its more monstrous forms and sharp implements are represented using practical effects such as puppetry and animatronics that work wonderfully with the CGI effects (which still hold up to this day) so we can see the actor reacting to being shot and close range, cut to a squealing, twisted animatronic, and then marvel at the T-1000 zipping itself back together using CGI. Its abilities and aggression escalate as the film progresses, allowing it to start off largely employing subterfuge and then forming sword and claw-like appendages on its arms, being frozen into a fragile statue of pure disbelief at being bested, and finally being left as this wailing, grotesque mess of limbs and silvery innards before being sent crashing to the molten steel below. Considering that the T-1000 had been a great imitator of emotions and deception throughout the film, there’s something incredibly disturbing at seeing and hearing it thrash about in its death throws, screaming in agony and rage before finally melting away to nothingness with a look of undeniable anguish.

The special edition adds in a number of scenes that expand an already fantastic movie.

The Special Edition version of the film adds some additional footage that was cut from the theatrical version. This includes an earlier, short scene of Sarah’s nightmare of the inevitably nuclear war that consumes humanity and, as part of that, a sequence in which she is visited by Kyle Reese in a dream where he encourages her to get back into the fight and to protect John. As a big fan of Michael Biehn and Reese’s character, I enjoyed seeing this scene added back into the film; it also goes a long way to show just how deep Sarah’s fear and psychosis have progressed and lends some credibility to the argument that she’s been driven more than a little mad by her knowledge of the future and terror of the impending destruction of humanity. One of the longest and most impressive scenes reintegrated into the film is an alternative take on the Terminator’s reprogramming; in the theatrical version, the Terminator simply states that all of the T-800s are capable of growing beyond their programming but, here, Sarah and John have to open up the Terminator’s skull and extract its CPU so that it can learn to be more human. This is fantastically realised in a complex sequence involving a model of Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton’s twin sister, Leslie Hamilton Gearren, and features a tense confrontation between Sarah and John where he basically orders her to trust his instincts regarding the Terminator rather than destroying the CPU. Other scenes include a somewhat unnecessary shot of the T-1000 discovering that the Terminator tricked him and killing John’s dog, and an extended sequence near the end where, after being blown to pieces by the Terminator, it’s made more explicit that the T-1000 is malfunctioning. I’m a fan of this addition as well as it show just how traumatic being frozen and blasted into pieces was for the T-1000 and allows it to be a step slower and a bit more unreliable than usual; it may also go some way to explaining why it decided to try and intimidate Sarah into calling out to John rather than simply assuming her form as its shapeshifting abilities were clearly screwed up after reassembling itself.

The Terminator learns the value of human life and acts as a friend and father figure to John.

The extended scenes also add a lot more to the Terminator’s characterisation; a pivotal story arc of the film is the Terminator learning what it means to be human and taking on more normal mannerisms, such as smiling, quipping, and just considering the impact of mindlessly killing those in its path. When John first orders it not to kill, the Terminator is confused (disdainful, even) at the idea and is forced by its programming to simply follow John’s orders to the letter. It’s not until much later in the film, after it forms a bond with John, that the once terrifying killing machine understands why human lives are so valued and to be cherished. Until then, though, it takes its orders literally, resulting in scenes both amusing and bad-ass as it goes out of its way to wound or chase off the police with its weapons; seeing the Terminator as a straight “man” awkwardly trying to pass as normal makes for some of the film’s best and most amusing moments: its attempt at smiling is painful, the way it regards children is just fantastic, and it absolutely nails the nineties one-liners John teaches it to deliver some of Arnold’s most memorable quips. Even Sarah has to admit to being impressed with the machine’s absolutely devotion towards John; she even comes to trust it enough to leave John in its care as she goes off on her solo mission to kill Dyson and one of the most moving scenes in the entire franchise comes right at the end where she shakes the Terminator’s hand and gives it her respect.

The film culminates in a showdown wherein the Terminator sacrificing itself to prevent Judgement Day.

Indeed, the entire finale of the film makes for one of the most action-packed and emotionally charged I’ve ever seen, especially in a sci-fi action film; following the massive explosion at Cyberdyne and an absolutely incredible car chase that sees the protagonists desperately trying to out-run a helicopter and a truck full of liquid nitrogen, they’re forced into a final showdown at a steel mill. With Sarah wounded from a bullet to the leg and the Terminator’s human façade cracking from all the shots it has absorbed, they’re forced deeper into the red-hot facility when the T-1000 manages to recover from being frozen and blasted into pieces. We then get an absolutely brutal throwdown between the Terminator and the T-1000 in which no words are said and no sounds are heard except for the clang of metal on metal; here, we truly see how outclassed the Terminator is as the T-1000 effortlessly tosses it around and overwhelms it, smashing its face apart with a huge girder and then seemingly destroying it by impaling it on a spike. Thankfully, the Terminator comes with a back-up power source and it struggles back to “life”; despite missing an arm and being beaten all to hell, it manages to recover long enough to deliver the final blow to the T-1000, ending its threat forever, and their mission to destroy Skynet and prevent the future seems to have been accomplished after John tosses the first Terminator’s arm and CPU into the molten steel. However, the new Terminator still remains and John is absolutely distraught at the idea of his friend and father figure sacrificing itself to ensure the future; yet, despite his desperate pleas and orders, the Terminator’s destruction is the only way to end Skynet’s threat and so, after a heartfelt goodbye to them both, the Terminator is lowered to its demise in an absolutely heart-breaking sequence that sees this once relentless and remorseless killer cemented forever as one of cinema’s most beloved heroes.

The Summary:
It’s difficult to express in words how much I adore this film; I love the original, especially for how dark and gritty it is and how it’s much more like a horror film than a traditional sci-fi action flick but there’s no denying that Terminator 2: Judgment Day does everything bigger and better. The Terminator put Arnold Schwarzenegger on the map but its blockbuster sequel made him a mainstream star. After this, he would forever be cemented as the wise-cracking hero in action films for pretty much the remainder of his career as a film star. Not only that, Terminator 2 became the standard template for every subsequent movie in the franchise bar one; with the except of the under-rated Terminator Salvation (McG, 2009), all of the Terminator sequels and even the short-lived television series tried to emulate this film in some way, which has led only to a string of lacklustre productions as a result. Still, that doesn’t take away from how awesome Terminator 2 is; from Sarah’s physical and mental instability and transformation to the ruthless tenacity of the T-1000, to the incredible depiction of the Future War and the ground-breaking special and practical effects, Terminator 2 pretty much has it all. This extended version of the film remains the definitive version for me thanks to a much-appreciated cameo by Michael Biehn and expanding on scenes of our impending destruction and the two Terminators. Although it’s a longer movie at almost two-and-a-half hours, it’s an endlessly exhilarating experience from start to finish and I could honestly put Terminator 2 on every single day and never get bored; everything from the performances, the ominous score, and the explosive action is absolutely top-notch and it’s quite possibly the greatest film in the entire franchise and possibly Arnold’s career.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What are your thoughts on Terminator 2: Judgment Day? How do you think it holds up today, especially compared to the first film and the other sequels? What did you think to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance in the film and did you enjoy seeing him cast as a protector this time around? What did you think to T-1000 and its abilities? Were you surprised to find the T-800 was the good guy this time and what did you think to the CGI and other special effects used to bring the T-1000 to life? How are you celebrating Judgement Day today? No matter what you think about Terminator 2, and the Terminator franchise, feel free to sign up and leave a reply down below or drop a comment on my social media.

Game Corner: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Arcade)

Released: 31 October 1991
Developer: Midway
Also Available For: Commodore Amiga, Game Boy, Game Gear, Master System, Mega Drive, PC, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)

The Background:
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron, 1991) was a blockbuster critical and commercial success; the film made over $520 million at the box office against a $94 to 102 million budget and is widely regarded as one of the greatest science-fiction movies ever made, and one of the greatest movie sequels of all time. As is the case with most of the Terminator movies (Various, 1984 to 2019), the film was accompanied by a number of videogame adaptations. The most prominent of these, for me, was T2: The Arcade Game (Probe Software, 1991), which was one of the first games I ever owned for the SEGA Mega Drive back in the day. The game was the home console port of a light gun arcade cabinet developed by Midway, which I did play as a kid but more recently got the chance to play all the way through at an arcade near where I live. While I have fond memories of the Mega Drive game, the home console ports received mostly average reviews and it’s gratifying to see how successful the arcade cabinet was at the time.

The Plot:
In the nuclear wasteland of 2029, the human race has been driven to near extinction by Skynet, a malevolent artificial intelligence that relentlessly hunts humankind using cybernetic killers, the most prominent of which is their T-880 Terminator infiltrator. In an effort to preserve their victory, Skynet sends an advanced prototype T-1000 composed of liquid metal (or “mimetic polyalloy”) to kill young John Connor before he can grow up to lead the human resistance to victory and only a reprogrammed T-800 (or two, if you have a friend to play with) can protect him…and the future.

Gameplay:
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a first-person light gun game in which you take on the role of a reprogrammed T-800, just like in the film it is based on, and work to safeguard the future of humanity by blasting everything you see onscreen before it can hit you. In the arcades, you do this by manipulating a big light gun that has two very simple functions: a trigger to shoot and a red button to launch either missiles or blast enemies with shotgun shells depending on the stage (or “Mission”) you’re playing. With your onscreen presence limited to a blue or red crosshair, you’ll have to keep a keen eye on the game’s heads-up display (HUD). Your character’s health is measured in the form of an energy bar running down the left (or right) side of the screen, your supply of missiles or shells is at the top alongside your current score and remaining credits, but the main bar to watch out for is the “Gunpower” meter.

Keep an eye on your Gunpower meter as it’ll drain pretty quick if you’re too trigger happy.

Unlike other light gun games, which have you shooting outside of the screen or pressing a pedal to reload your gun, there is no reload function in Terminator 2 and, instead, you can blast enemies for as long as your Gunpower meter stays full. Thus, if you’re too trigger happy and drain the meter, you’ll fire less and less shots at a far slower and less powerful rate until you give the meter a chance to refill or grab a power-up. Enemies are in high abundance in Terminator 2, way more than I remember from the Mega Drive version; the screen automatically scrolls to the right to pan across the stage but will lock into place quite often and force you to fend off waves of Terminators, Hunter-Killers (HKs), and other enemies, all of whom constantly fire missiles, plasma shots, and bullets at you. Sometimes, they’ll pop up in the foreground and try to fill you full of holes; others, they’ll toss pipe bombs or other such items at you which must be shot out of the air. In a lot of areas, you’ll find members of the human Resistance exchanging fire with Skynet’s forces, usually behind a destructible barricade. Take care when spraying the area with you fire, though, as this can cost you points and destroying barricades will only mean more shots come your way.

Gameplay gets very repetitive, and frustrating, very quickly.

Gameplay is extremely simple and full of intense, arcade shooting action but quickly becomes very monotonous as wave upon wave of enemies fills the screen. Things are shaken up a bit in certain missions, though; two missions see you having to protect John Connor while he’s in a vehicle. These vehicles take up a large portion of the screen and can be damaged by your fire, meaning it’s extremely easy to destroy the vehicle completely by accident and, if this happens, you’ll lose a massive chunk of health and have to restart from the very beginning, which is extremely annoying. When in the Cyberdyne Systems office building, you’ll be tasked with destroying everything you see to erase all evidence of their research into Skynet; thankfully, you can complete the mission without literally destroying very single piece of the environment but it pays to shoot at anything and everything you see to snag a hefty bonus score and beat out your partner.

Graphics and Sound:
Terminator 2: Judgment Day recreates the look and feel of the movie’s biggest action scenes through the use of digitised environments, graphics, and sprites. While they do appear quite pixelated and blurry at times, when playing the actual arcade cabinet you never need to worry about the graphical fidelity as there’s way too much happening onscreen at any one time to really nitpick. While the game’s use of still images and text for cutscenes isn’t really all that much to write home about, the game makes great use of the iconic Terminator theme and sound effects and is full of voice clips from the film (mainly from Arnold Schwarzenegger) and features digitised versions of the film’s key characters, all of whom lend their likenesses to the game with the exception of Linda Hamilton (though you’d never be able to tell).

The game faithfully recreates enemies and locations from the film and creates fitting new ones, too.

Despite being quite a short and repetitive title, Terminator 2 artificially extends its length by having you battle seemingly endless waves of enemies at any one time. Nowhere is this more apparent and monotonous than in the very first stage, which is set during the Future War seen in the opening of the film. The game faithfully recreates the desolate, bleak, post-apocalyptic future and even pulls from the flashbacks seen in the first film for its rendition of the Resistance base and the third mission, which sees your protecting John Connor from an aerial HK. The dark, desolate future soon gives way to the sleek, mechanical construct of Skynet’s main base and the glass-and-steel office building of Cyberdyne Systems as the game veers towards recreating notable action sequences from the film. This all culminates in a lovingly recreated version of the steel mill for the finale and every stage in the game is punctuated by destructible objects (which generally yield various power-ups) and big digitised renditions of enemies as they pop up in the foreground to attack you.

Enemies and Bosses:
Each mission of the game features a variety of enemies; in the first few missions, you’ll exclusively battle against Skynet’s forces, most commonly represented by the T-800 endoskeletons that wander around the war-torn future and blast at you with plasma rifles. T-800 infiltrator units (who are, oddly, dressed exactly like Arnold’s character in the film) can be found in the Resistance base and will take a few more hits to put down as you blast away their living tissue exteriors, and tougher gold variants of the endoskeletons will also appear near the end of this mission.

Enemies will be relentlessly filling the screen and bombarding you with shots to take your money.

You’ll also have to blow aerial HKs out of the sky and contend with snake-like Terminators and little floating orbs that crack open from egg-like shells and buzz around the screen. When you time travel to the past, though, you’ll mainly be met with armed SWAT teams and human scientists in haz-mat suits. These guys are all weaker than the Terminators you’ve fought but no less dangerous; they’ll hang on the outside of buildings firing at you, toss caustic acid in your face, and pop up in the foreground to try and end your mission as good as any machine and there’s a constant, inexhaustible supply of them at all times.

Skynet busts out their biggest and most powerful defences to sap your pocket money.

Each Mission of Terminator 2 culminates in some kind of big finale, generally against a boss but often having you protect John while he’s in a vehicle. At the end of the first Mission, you’ll have to battle a HK Tank which rolls along firing heavy weapons at you from its turret-like arms, “eyes”, and a little opening in its treadmill. Take note of these areas as this is where you should concentrate your fire to keep incoming attacks to a minimum and then put it down quickly; even after you blast off each appendage, though, the battle rages on as a slew of gold endoskeletons pours out so don’t let your guard down for a second. If you manage to defend John Connor from aerial HKs, you’ll battle another HK Tank before storming Skynet’s defence grid, which is a massive wall-like super computer that spits missiles and snake-Terminators from numerous different openings that you’ll need to destroy one by one to access the time displacement chamber.

The T-1000 is a gruelling battle that’ll physically wear you out with its longevity.

Surprisingly, there is no boss battle at the end of the Cyberdyne mission; instead, you simply dispatch wave upon wave of scientists and SWAT police while John steals the CPU and severed arm of the first Terminator. However, the game makes up for it with its most gruelling stages yet; first, you have to fend off the T-1000’s helicopter as it tries to ram into the van John and Sarah are escaping in. This is very tricky without another player as it’s far easier to have one person cover the left-side of the screen and another to cover the top but you only have a few seconds to blast the helicopter and the van is extremely fragile. Once you’re in the steel mill, the difficulty and frustration really ramp up as simply shooting the T-1000 isn’t enough; instead, you have to blast the liquid nitrogen tuck behind it in order to lower its temperature. This is much harder than I remember it being on the Mega Drive as the T-100 is super quick, rolling and “teleporting” around the screen with its liquid metal ability, and its temperate bar refills so fast that I can see kids wasting loads of their pocket money on this boss alone. When you finally get through this bit, you must fend the T-1000 off before it gets close enough to kill John; land enough shots and it’ll back up towards the molten steel, where you must grab a grenade launcher and bombard it with shots to eventually finish it off for good. Fail, and you have to restart all the way from the liquid nitrogen truck, which is more frustrating than you can possibly imagine.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you strafe fire across the game’s various locations, you’ll notice a few little boxes appearing at the bottom of the screen. Be sure to shoot these as they contain all sorts of power-ups that will grant you a temporary shield, full power-up your Gunpower meter or your health (or both), a screen-clearing smart bomb, or even you additional missiles and shots to deal greater damage. When enemies pop up in front of you, try to aim for their heads as Terminators will sometimes spit out their CPU upon defeat, which will grant one of these random power-ups, and try to avoid hitting John and Sarah as they’ll often drop mini guns that will let you blast away at your enemies without fear of losing power.

Additional Features:
As an arcade title, there really isn’t much more on offer here than beating your high score and playing alongside a friend. I highly recommend having another player with you as this game is a long old slog and, if you’re playing with money or on home consoles, you can except to burn through a lot of credits very quickly as just beating the first Mission takes quite a bit of time and energy.

The Summary:
I remember having a blast with Terminator 2’s Mega Drive port. It was clunky to play with the Mega Drive’s controller (I had a Menacer, once, but it was pretty uncomfortable and unwieldy) but I remember being able to play through it without any real issues. When I saw it in my local arcade, it was a must-play title as I had fond memories of playing it as a kid but, while the original arcade cabinet does deliver (especially since the one I played was set to free play), it is a very monotonous and draining game to play. Even with a friend, this is no walk in the park as stages drag on and on and enemies are absolutely relentless; bosses are fine, they’re nice and big and should be a bullet-hell experience, but even regular stages can drag on for a long time thanks to the waves of enemies. The sections where you have to protect John’s vehicles are easily the worst and forcing you to repeat the entire final boss if you die is needlessly frustrating but, at the same time, Terminator 2 is an incredibly enjoyable experience and a faithful recreation of the film’s more action-packed moments. Just be sure to bring some water and settle in for a long-old haul with this one!

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you every played the arcade version of Terminator 2: Judgment Day? How did you find it and where would you rate it against other, similar light gun games? How does it compare to other Terminator videogames? Did you ever own one of the many home consoles ports? If so, which was your favourite? How are you panning on celebrating Judgment Day this year? Whatever your thoughts, drop a comment below and check back in next Monday for more Terminator content!

Talking Movies: Commando: Director’s Cut

Talking Movies

Released: 4 October 1985 (Hey! That’s my actual birthday!)
Director: Mark L. Lester
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $50 to 60 million
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Alyssa Milano, Vernon Wells, David Patrick Kelly, Bill Duke, and Dan Hedaya

The Plot:
Retired United States Special Forces Colonel John Matrix’s (Schwarzenegger) attempt to live a normal, quiet life with his young daughter, Jenny (Milano), are shattered when she is kidnapped by a former member of his unit, the psychotic Captain Bennett (Wells), on behalf of would-be-dictator President Arius (Hedaya). Defying Arius’ demands, Matrix is left with just eleven hours to track Jenny down and works his way through Arius’ henchmen using his untouchable military skills and abilities.

The Background:
Thanks to the success of The Terminator (Cameron, 1984), Arnold Schwarzenegger was on the cusp of superstar greatness and about to enter the peak of his career as an action movie star. Writer Steven de Souza once explained that Commando came about when Barry Diller, then-head of 20th Century Fox, stated that he would greenlight any Schwarzenegger project that was under $12 million. The original draft, as penned by Joseph Loeb III, was actually very different and about an Israeli soldier who had turned his back on violence but de Souza revamped the story to suit Arnold’s larger-than-life persona and even performed the story for the Austrian Oak at his house! To oppose Schwarzenegger, the filmmakers had only one choice in mind: Vernon Wells, who brought an intense, psychopathic quality to the character, who was both enamoured by, and driven to kill, his former commander. With a worldwide gross of just over $57 million, Commando was a big success for Fox and was met with relatively positive reviews that veered towards highlighting the film’s more ridiculous aspects. Commando has always been a personal favourite of mine; when the Director’s Cut was released, I went out of my way to pick it up and, considering today is Arnold’s birthday, this seems like the perfect time to revisit this bombastic action classic.

The Review:
I once made the bold claim that Predator (McTiernan, 1987) is probably the manliest film an action movie fan could ever ask for but, if we’re being brutally honest, Commando has it beat in that regard. This is the kind of over the top excess that I absolutely adore about action films and yet, amidst all the mindless action and over the top set pieces, it manages to tell a decently heartfelt story of betrayal and a father’s devotion to his child while also being incredibly amusing and entertaining throughout.

When Matrix’s men are targeted, his quiet, normal life is disrupted by his violent past.

The stakes of the film are relayed to us before the opening credits even roll as three men are killed seemingly at random, with two of the murders perpetrated by Cooke (Duke). These assassinations are enough to convince Major General Franklin Kirby (James Olson) to seek out Matrix since the men killed were once part of John’s elite special unit back when he was a soldier under Kirby’s command. Matrix, however, has no interest in returning to war and is perfectly content living out in the woods with his daughter, Jenny. The Director’s Cut reveals that Jenny’s mother died during child birth and that Matrix has missed a great deal of his daughter’s life due to his years of travelling and black ops missions; as a result, he’s trying to make up for that lost time and the two have a very close and loving relationship and spend their days together swimming, adventuring, and playing in the wilds around their home and the nearby town. However, both Kirby and Matrix quickly surmise that the murders are most likely part of a co-ordinated effort to track him down and flush him out of hiding and Kirby posts guards at Matrix’s house to try and keep him safe.

Bennett relishes the opportunity to enact revenge on his former commanding officer.

However, the two are immediately killed in the ensuing firefight and, while Matrix busies himself picking off the intruders, Jenny is kidnapped and held as a bargaining chip by Arius, the vindictive former president of the fictional nation of Val Verde whom Matrix ousted from power back in his glory days. Eager for revenge, and to reclaim his vaulted position, Arius has hired former soldiers like Cooke, Sully (Kelly), and even Bennett to force Matrix into killing Val Verde’s current president or lose his daughter. Matrix is shocked to see Bennett alive (despite having only just learnt of his apparent demise…) and an intense rivalry is immediately stoked between the two since Bennett harbours a deep resentment after being kicked out of John’s unit and takes a perverse pleasure in having the opportunity to enact revenge on his former commander. Much more than just a sadistic thug, Bennett is a dangerous, unpredictable, and formidable foe since he was trained by Matrix and thus knows exactly how capable he is, what his play will be, and how to push his buttons. Furthermore, while Matrix dispatches his enemies with a cold, stoic efficiency in a single-minded quest to rescue his daughter, Bennett actually enjoys killing and is obsessed with proving himself Matrix’s physical and mental superior.

To track down Jenny, Matrix has to work his way through some colourful goons.

Thanks to Bennett and Arius spiriting Jenny away to Arius’ secret island base, Matrix has to work his way up the food chain before he can complete his mission. The first victim of his reprisals is Henriques (Charles Meshack), who is dispatching in one smooth, sudden movement by Matrix before he escapes from his plane during take-off. With just eleven hours before the plane lands and his ruse is discovered, Matrix tracks down Sully, a creepy little weasel whose arrogant taunting of Matrix soon turns to abject terror when he sees the titular commando tracking him down in the local shopping mall. Although Sully makes a valiant escape attempt, he’s left begging and bargaining for his life after Matrix runs him off the road and is ultimately dropped to his death after underestimating Matrix’s detective skills. Thanks to a key in Sully’s car, Matrix tracks down Cooke at a seedy motel and a brutal fist fight breaks out between the two big men that sees Cooke beaten senseless and impaled on a piece of wood. From there, Matrix is finally able to track Jenny to the island and gear up for his spectacular final assault on Arius’ main base.

Although in overwhelmed, Cindy proves a valuable ally while Kirby is always one step behind Matrix.

Of course, Matrix isn’t alone in his mission; while tailing Sully, he crosses paths with Cindy (Chong), an off-duty flight attendant who attracts Sully’s unwanted attention and who he coerces into helping him. Though feisty, Cindy is also initially terrified and driven to near hysteria by the chaotic events surrounding her and smartly takes the first opportunity to try and rid herself of the crazy hulk who has effectively kidnapped her but, after seeing Matrix fight off the mall’s security single-handedly and saving him from being shot, she becomes invested in his mission after learning about his plight. A lively and adaptable young woman, Cindy ends up being invaluable to Matrix’s cause when she rescues him from the back of a police van using a rocket launcher (once she turns it the right way around…) and then successfully pilots him to Arius’ island. Though she lacks confidence and is clearly in over her head, Matrix’s stoic assurances and pragmatic demeanour push her into going out of her comfort zone and to break the law in order to assist him. Once Matrix is on the island and laying waste to Arius’ private army, Cindy again helps by sending a distress call to Kirby, who is basically the Colonel Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna) of the film. Like Trautman, Kirby is Matrix’s former commander officer and mentor; he goes out of his way to bend the rules and clear Matrix’s actions with the local authorities but is laughably ineffectual. In the end, Kirby is pretty much useless as Matrix simply takes the most direct and blunt approach to his goal and Kirby is left trailing behind and cleaning up the mess (and bodies) in his wake (something he does willingly considering the righteousness of Matrix’s mission and how highly Kirby regards him).

The Nitty-Gritty:
In addition to the hard-hitting action and massive explosions that permeate the film, Commando is bolstered by a rousing score composed by James Horner that adds an extra punch to the film but also knows when to cut out to let the sound of punches and explosions tell the story. Another aspect that really helps Commando stand out from the competition is its tongue-in-cheek humour; Matrix is a surprisingly complex character in that, while he’s clearly affected by his military days, he’s not haunted by them and is a doting and loving father who reacts so well to pressure that he’s able to drop dry witticisms all over the place. Instantly adaptable, Matrix goes right to his gun shed to arm up against the intruders and is smart enough to play along with his captors until he’s on the plane. Once he gets off, he immediately switches to “mission mode” and sets out tracking down his one lead, Sully, to begin tracking Jenny down. However, as he works his way through Arius’ goons, he always has time for a quip, catchphrase, and other “macho bullshit” to showcase his supreme confidence. Indeed, I feel Commando often gets overlooked in Arnold’s filmography as it was basically the first chance he got to showcase that he was much more than just a stoic muscleman; he’s got great comedic timing and his delivery of Matrix’s dry quips makes for a film full of amusing quotes and one-liners (“This is my weak arm!”, “I eat Green Beret’s for breakfast!”, “I let him go”, and “Let off some steam, Bennett!” are all classic Arnold-isms).

Matrix’s skill with weapons and physical strength make him a veritable one-man army!

Indeed, Matrix is the ultimate super soldier; he’s “silent and smooth”, able to sneak up on even a veteran like Kirby without being detected, and his senses and spatial awareness are especially keen (he hears Kirby’s helicopter long before it actually comes into range, can detect approaching enemies using the “downwind”, and is constantly aware of what’s happening around him at all times). Of course, in addition to his unmatched proficiency with all kinds of weapons (from pistols to machine guns to rocket launchers and remote explosives), his greatest strength is the fact that he’s a walking mountain of a man! Easily handling tree trunks, manually pushing and flipping cars and trucks, and fully capable of beating a man to death, Matrix rips a telephone booth from its mooring, tears the passenger side seat from Cindy’s car, and easily hefts around heavy ordinance like it was nothing. Yet, at the same time, Matrix isn’t invulnerable; he takes a great deal of punishment throughout the film, especially in the many car crashes he survives and in his fist fight with Cooke and Bennett, leaving him a sweaty, bloodied mess by the end of the film.

Matrix single-handedly lays waste to an entire army and overcomes the psychotic Bennett.

And let’s talk about the finale, where Matrix loads himself up from head to toe with guns, ammo, and weaponry and storms Arius’ private army single-handedly; once again, Arnold rarely if ever, reloads and Matrix instead simply casts aside his weapons once his ammo is spent and switches to another on his person (he even slices up a few unfortunate souls with saw blades, an axe, and a machete after briefly being cornered in a tool shed). If you’re looking for bombastic excess, this is where you’ll find it as Arius’ soldiers literally run into Matrix’s bullets while he’s standing still, cannot seem to hit him despite having the numbers advantage, high ground, and several hundred guns firing at him, and Matrix blows barracks and buildings (and dummies…) apart from the inside using explosives placed on the outside! After laying waste to an untold number of nameless, faceless soldiers and coming out of it with just a few cuts, Matrix makes short work of Arius as he searches the would-be-dictator’s mansion for his daughter. This leads him into a final confrontation with Bennett; while Bennett is much shorter and smaller than Matrix, he is more than able to hold his own thanks to taking Matrix by surprise, Matrix’s obvious fatigue, and the fact that Matrix is distracted by his daughter’s plight. However, Bennett is psychotic and his mental state only becomes more unhinged as the fight progresses; Matrix easily take advantage of this, goading and taunting Bennett into giving up his advantages (Jenny and his gun) and coming for him with a knife. Ultimately, despite taking a severe beating and a bullet in the arm, Matrix’s will proves too strong for his former protégé and he’s able to skewer Bennett with a pipe he wrenches off the wall! Having left a trail of bodies and wreckage in his wake, Matrix has more than proved that he remains the best of the best but, despite Kirby’s insistence that he has to return to the fight, Matrix is concerned only with returning to his peaceful life with his daughter (and, presumably, Cindy).

The Summary:
Commando may very well be the quintessential action film of the 1980s; a perfect balance of action and humour, the film is just mindless, unapologetic fun from start to finish. It’s paced beautifully, with very few lulls in the action and, even when the film is going a little slower, it’s all used to great effect to build tension regarding Matrix’s ticking clock, the relationship between him and Cindy, and even showing how Bennett is mentally preparing for Matrix’s inevitable counterattack. This film is Arnold at his action best, showcasing all of his strengths and giving him the rare opportunity to show his range as an actor and to turn even the most mundane lines into memorable one-liners. And the action! Jesus! Like I said, this film is excess to the nines and features a car chase, a massive brawl in a shopping mall, a brutal bare-knuckle fight between two beefy guys, and a one-man ground assault against an entire army filled with disposable goons getting wrecked by blood squibs! Rambo III (MacDonald, 1988) wishes it could be this film, which is probably the last great action film of the eighties before things started skewing towards science-fiction and superheroes. Obviously, I’m biased but I just find this film tremendous fun and one of Arnold’s very best; it’s dumb and stupid at times but that’s not a negative and just adds to the entertainment value, and it’s a definite must-watch for fans of the genre.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What are your thoughts on Commando? How do you think the film holds up to others in the same genre and what would you rank it against Arnold’s other films? What did you think to Schwarzenegger’s dry wit and portrayal of an untouchable super soldier? Which of the underlings, one-liners, and action scenes was your favourite? What did you think to his rivalry with Bennett and who do you think made for the better mentor, Trautman or Kirby? Would you have liked to see a sequel to this film back in the day? 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 or on my social media.

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 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.

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

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. 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.

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

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. 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. 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.

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. 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!