Talking Movies [Mayan Doomsday]: Armageddon


Over the years, there have been many theories about when the world will end but one of the more prevalent was the mistaken belief that doomsday would befall us on December 21st 2012 based on the Mayan calendar ending on this day. Of course, not only did this not happen but it wasn’t even based on any actual fact to begin with but, nevertheless, doomsday scenarios and depictions of the end of the world have been an enduring genre in fiction so I figured today was a good day to dedicate some time to this popular concept.


Talking Movies

Released: 1 July 1998
Director: Michael Bay
Distributor:
Buena Vista Pictures
Budget:
$140 million
Stars:
Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Will Patton, Steve Buscemi, William Fichtner, Liv Tyler, and Billy Bob Thornton

The Plot:
When an asteroid the size of Texas hurtles towards Earth on a collision course set to wipe out all life on the planet in a mere eighteen days, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Project Director Dan Truman (Thornton) has no choice but to draft the world’s best deep-core drilling team, led by Harry Stamper (Willis), and send them into space to split the rock in half before it ends life as we know it.

The Background:
By 1998, director Michael Bay had started to make a bit of a name for himself in Hollywood following a successful collaborative relationship with producer Jerry Bruckheimer; Bad Boys (ibid, 1995) had been a massive box office success and he was just coming off The Rock (ibid, 1996), the success of which landed him a two-picture deal with Disney’s Buena Vista arm. The first of these films was Armageddon, which was coincidentally one of two asteroid-based disaster movies released in 1998; Armageddon proved to be the more successful of the two, however, earning over $550 million compared to Deep Impact’s (Leder, 1998) $349.5 million box office. However, Armageddon as met with largely negative reviews; it’s famously one of legendary movie critic Roger Ebert’s most hated films of all time and audiences and critics alike found the film’s frenetic editing and more ridiculous moments as egregious as Bay’s bombastic action scenes. Even stars Ben Affleck and Billy Bob Thornton thought very little of the film and numerous scientific minds have attacked the film’s lack of scientific accuracy.

The Review:
Armageddon’s concept is, admittedly, massively over the top; not only is the Earth threatened with total destruction and mankind with complete extinction by the biggest and most improbable piece of rock ever conceived but NASA deems it easier and faster to train a bunch of oil drillers to fly into space rather than training astronauts to drill. Interestingly, much of the movie could have been the same had the script been tweaked slightly to have, maybe, one or two of the oil drillers join the space expedition as consultants and experts but, regardless, complaints of this nature miss the entire point of the film: It’s supposed to be that a group of all-American, ordinary, everyday blue collar men are called upon to do the impossible and save the world and that’s precisely what makes it such an appealing concept. The primary representative from NASA is Dan Truman, a man who always dreamed of going into space and being an astronaut but was grounded by what looks to be a debilitating knee injury. Still, he’s the unquestioning authority at NASA; when the space shuttle Atlantis explodes at the start of the film and meteorites start raining down across New York City, he immediately organises response teams to figure out the source of the problem.

Harry might be an immature father but he’s a consummate professional at drilling holes.

Horrified by the looming presence of “Dottie”, the incoming asteroid, like all NASA characters in movies he quickly focuses on solutions rather than problems; this means entertaining and demanding any and all possible solutions to the issue in a very short window of time. With no other contingencies in place, he calls upon the expertise of Harry Stamper, initially to train his astronauts but find sit perfectly acceptable to send Harry and his team up in their place in order to get the job done properly. The star of the film is, unquestionably, Bruce Willis; while long before he simply phoned in his performances and offered only the bare minimum of effort, Armageddon doesn’t really call for him to be much more than a semi-snarky, overprotective father who is the best at what he does and, despite being childish and immature at times, is a consummate professional when on the job. No one knows more about drilling (which he regards as a science and an art) than him, and no one is better at it than him; he tolerates no insubordination on his oil rigs. Harry takes Truman’s request and the impending danger very seriously and, unimpressed and insulted by NASA stealing his oil rig design and having “only” trained their team for eight months, he immediately demands that he has to take up his team, men he can trust to do the job properly, and maintains order even when the team overshoots their landing mark and is forced to drill through “iron ferrite”.

Somewhat reckless and impulsive, A.J. just wants Harry’s respect and trust.

Harry’s conviction and focus are total when on a job but are somewhat distracted; he is estranged from his daughter, Grace (Tyler), and disapproving of her relationship with A.J. Frost (Affleck), the youngest member of his team and to whom Harry is basically a surrogate father. Harry is so incensed to discover their relationship that he hilariously chases A.J. across his oil rig with a shotgun but, discounting his personal feelings, doesn’t hesitate to fire A.J. when his arrogance almost causes a drilling operation to be botched and endanger his crew. Still, when called upon to pick members for the drilling teams, he reluctantly  drafts in A.J. A.J. just wants Harry’s trust and approval in his ability and instincts, which Harry is reluctant to bestow out of his overprotectiveness and belief that A.J. isn’t quite as experienced as he believe she is. Despite being surrounded by “roughnecks”, many of whom are his close friends and trusted colleagues, Harry is insulted and enraged to find that Grace has “settled” for A.J., believing that she deserves more than to be tied to a roughneck her whole life. Grace, however, vehemently stands by her choice, accepting A.J.’s proposal and stating that she is a grown woman who can make her own choices. Her issues with her father and almost immediately resolved when she learns of Dottie, however, and she is forced to watch the two men she loves the most head off on the most vital and dangerous mission ever conceived. When General Kimsey (Keith David) stubbornly follows the President of the United States’ (Stanley Anderson) orders to remote detonate the nuclear weapon on the asteroid when it’s not ready, Grace aggressively protests and demands that Truman do something since he was the one responsible for involving them in the mission.

In a sea of colourful characters, these three stand out as the most developed, interesting, and entertaining.

The rest of Harry’s team are a bunch of misfits, ex-cons, perverts, and muscleheads…and I absolutely love it! It’s an ensemble cast, with some given more screen time and development than others, who are just there to die. Charles “Chick” Chappel (Patton), a compulsive gambler and estranged from his wife and son, is Harry’s closest friend and conscience; he trusts Harry with his life and follows him to the ends of the Earth, and beyond. “Rockhound” (Buscemi) is a genius on the level of NASA’s very best but chooses to indulge in his love of explosives by lowering himself to oil drilling; he frequently points out that they are way out of their depth on the mission and ends up succumbing to “space dementia” and becoming something of a liability to the team. Another member of the team who stands out is, of course, “Bear” (the late, great Michael Clarke Duncan); Armageddon was one of Duncan’s first, big time roles in Hollywood and he shine snot just through his imposing physical stature but the gamut of emotions he displays, from playfulness to fear and panic, to sombre reflection by the film’s end. Certainly, he’s much more well-rounded than guys like Max Lennert (Ken Campbell), who is mainly the comic relief of the film, and Oscar Choi (Owen Wilson) and Freddie Noonan (Clark Brolly), who basically get a handful of lines between them and are killed when their shuttle crashes on Dottie to emphasise how dangerous the mission is.

Dottie takes on a life of its own and seems to have malevolent intentions for the Earth.

Harry and his team are joined by a handful of actual astronauts, the most prominent of which is Colonel Willie Sharp (Fichtner); Sharp is unimpressed with the drillers and personally makes it his mission to subject them to the harshest crash course in astronautics in order to properly prepare them for the rigours and dangers of space travel. Calm and composed, Sharp loses his cool somewhat when the shuttle overshoots its landing mark and grows increasingly concerned that the mission is headed to failure. When the order comes through to detonate the bomb before the hole is ready, he unlocks a gun and becomes almost a secondary antagonist; driven by the fear of the asteroid’s threat, he is prepared to kill to follow his orders to the letter but is convinced by Harry’s strength of conviction to allow the mission to proceed as planned. I say “secondary antagonist” because, if there’s one thing Michael bay was sure to do throughout Armageddon, it’s paint Dottie as almost a sentiment, malevolent force of nature; the asteroid is revealed in stages, bit by bit, almost like a slasher villain. At first, we see only wisps of dust and an ethereal cosmic aura, with the rock’s potential devastation shown to us through a comparatively harmless meteor shower. However, once the two shuttles slingshot around the Moon and approach the asteroid, it looms onscreen like an ominous, malicious entity purposely looking to destroy the Earth. When the teams land, they are beset by geysers of air, quakes, showers of rock, and constant explosions; Chick even suggests that the asteroid is purposely trying to shake them loose and keep them form “[killing] it”, as though it’s a living thing, and it even seems to roar and scream at times thanks to its tumultuous environment.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One of the most impactful aspects of Armageddon is the score; Trevor Rabin’s score is both bombastic and heroic but also haunting, ominous, and emotional. It’s perfectly used to highlight the amusing nature of the drillers’ training montage at NASA and adds just the extra exclamation point during the film’s more poignant and emotional moments. It’s a ridiculous film that plays its concept almost completely straight, which only emphasises the blue collar nature of the idea and adds to its appeal, in my opinion, and the score is a large part of that. It’s interesting to think about the fact that, technically, the plan to blow up the asteroid from the inside out was expected to go off without any real problems; after the shuttle Independence is taken out during the approach to Dottie, Freedom is thrown off by the unexpected gravitational forces from the asteroid and the Moon and lands way past the optimal landing spot. Had they landed in the intended area, it’s possible that much of the deaths and drama wouldn’t have unfolded as they did; similarly, a freak electrical accident causes the Mir space station to explode, almost as though the mission was doomed to failure from the start.

Meteors rain down across the world as Dottie draws inexorably closer by the hour.

The botched approach sees the teams split into two; while Harry continue son with the mission and believes A.J. and the others are dead, A.J. and Bear work alongside the Russian cosmonaut Lev Andropov (Peter Stormare) on a bit of a side quest to reunite with their friends, which leads to some intense sequences involving the armoured Armadillo vehicle and its efforts to plough through and float over the asteroid’s dangerous surface. With drilling slowed and the mission threatened by the rock-hard iron ferrite, which chews up the drill heads and causes the rig’s transmissions to overload, time becomes a significant factor; the asteroid was projected to hit in eighteen days but the team is given only eleven hours to complete the mission and remote detonate before Dottie passes “zero barrier” since an explosion after this threshold would still result in the Earth’s destruction. The action isn’t simply confined to the asteroid either as the film continues to show that the planet (especially poor old Paris and Shanghai) continues to be bombarded by meteor strikes. This makes the general public aware of the impending “global killer” but, despite Truman’s belief that this knowledge would causes “mass religious hysteria [and] the worst parts of the Bible”, people are generally seen to be united in hope and belief in America’s desperate mission to save the world (at least until the mission appears to have failed, anyway, though the film never really dwells on the worldwide impact of the asteroid’s impending approach). Of course, people will harp on for days about how inaccurate and ridiculous the film is but, honestly, I really couldn’t care less. Armageddon goes to some lengths to cover its inaccuracies as well; the asteroid is described as having a minor atmosphere, somewhat explaining how the guys can just toss poles and equipment around, and the focus is clearly on spectacle and excess rather than scientific accuracy (it’s more exciting to see two space shuttles launch right next to each other, for example, no matter who dangerous and ludicrous that idea might be).

Harry bids a tearful farewell and sacrifices himself to save the entire planet.

Additionally, the film’s attention to detail and attempts to recreate the inner workings of NASA are impressive; the shuttles aren’t some futuristic ships kitted out with touch screens or absurd technology, for example. They’re cramped and full of the same switches, lights, and efficient use of space that real-life shuttles are known for and, while the team wear quasi-futuristic space suits, they’re still grounded in realism and nowhere near as extravagant as in other films. For me, the real appeal of Armageddon is the central concept of a group of normal, everyday men answering the call to lend their unique expertise to a desperate mission to save all of humanity as well as the appeal of there actually being some kind of solution to a potential, fatal meteor strike on the Earth. The film’s message is one of hope and unity, that all nations and people can set aside their differences and work together for our mutual survival; this is emphasised more explicitly at the film’s emotional conclusion when, following a devastating rock storm on Dottie, the one remaining nuclear weapon is damaged and one of our blue collar heroes must stay behind to complete the mission. After reluctantly drawing straws, A.J. finds himself faced with this ultimate responsibility and, putting aside his reservations and deciding to ensure the future for his daughter, Harry dramatically takes A.J.’s place. Even now, it’s one of the most emotional and devastating scenes I’ve ever seen as A.J. collapses in hysteria and, after tearfully saying goodbye to Grace, Harry overcomes the last of Dottie’s resistance to press the button and save the Earth form destruction. You can harpoon all you want about how stupid and inaccurate the Armageddon is but very few films reduce me to tears more than this one, and this scene, thanks to the surprisingly moving performance from Willis (to say nothing of Affleck and the one-two gut punch of Sharp’s respectful “Thank you, Harry” and Bear’s gravelly, reverential farewell: “Yo Harry…you dah man”).

The Summary:
Now, I’m not really much of a fan of Michael Bay (or Ben Affleck, for that matter…) but I make an exception for Armageddon; this was another of those films that was a formative part of my teenage years and I distinctly remember renting the VHS tape and watching, transfixed, with my friends and being completely invested and using every ounce of my self-control to not burst into tears at the film’s dramatic conclusion. Yes, it’s ridiculous and over the top. Yes, it’s absolutely mental and takes numerous liberties. And, yes, it’s not the most scientifically accurate and realistic move ever made but let’s say, for sake of argument, that it had been. How fucking boring would that have been? I paid to see Bruce Willis drill a hole into an asteroid and save the world and that’s exactly what I got! Armageddon delivers top notch action, explosions, drama, and entertainment from start to finish thanks to its impressive practical effects, sets, and some great use of special effects to give life to an inanimate object. It’s an intense rollercoaster of a disaster film, one geared around hope and unity and normal people overcoming insurmountable odds to destroy the greatest threat the world has ever faced. Yet, it’s also an extremely emotional film and remains, to this day, one of my favourite disaster movies and is always guaranteed to get the man tears flowing.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Are you a fan of Armageddon? How do you feel it compares to Deep Impact and other disaster films? Were you a fan of the concept or did you find the idea of oil drillers being shot into space too over the top? Which of the characters was your favourite and what did you think to Bruce Willis’ performance? Did you like that Michael Bay imbued Dottie with a form of malevolence or did you think that was one of the film’s more ridiculous concepts? How important is scientific accuracy and realism to you in disaster films like this? How are you celebrating the end of the world today? Whatever you think about Armageddon, disaster films, and overblown predictions of the end of the world, go ahead and drop 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.

Game Corner: Die Hard Trilogy (PlayStation)

GameCorner
DieHardTrilogyLogo

Released: August 1996
Developer: Probe Entertainment
Also Available For: PC and SEGA Saturn

The Background:
In 1996, we would be some eleven years or so away from a fourth entry in the action-packed Die Hard (Various, 1988 to 2013) film series. The third movie, Die Hard with a Vengeance (McTiernan, 1995) had just dropped the previous year so the only way fans of John McClane (Bruce Willis) were going to get more Die Hard action was to turn to videogames. Developed by Probe Entertainment, Die Hard Trilogy utilised three distinct, different gameplay styles to recreate a slightly altered version of the first three (and, at the time, only) movies in the increasingly over-the-top franchise.

The Plot:
Terrorists take over the Nakatomi Plaza and McClane must work his way up the tower, freeing hostages along the way; another group of terrorists then take control of Dulles Airport and McClane must once again save the day; finally, McClane must race through New York City defusing bombs placed at key points by, you guessed it, a terrorist.

Gameplay:
Die Hard Trilogy plays differently depending on which of the game’s scenarios you tackle; each of the three movies has a different gameplay style and, thus, a different perspective and different gameplay mechanics, camera perspectives, and controls. When playing through the events of Die Hard (ibid, 1988), players guide McClane through the Nakatomi Plaza from a third-person perspective in an arcade-style action shooter. Being a third-person shooter, the player can run, jump, dodge, and shoot at terrorists all while using the directional pad (D-pad) and a version of the “tank controls” made (in)famous by the PlayStation and such titles as Resident Evil (Capcom, 1996).

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Try not to shoot the hostages as you play…

This means that you can’t use the analogue sticks to control McClane, making for a clunky, awkward gameplay style where McClane will walk straight backwards when reversing and, due to the game’s more restrictive gameplay style, doesn’t really have to do much in the way of aiming: you simply point McClane in the general direction of your target, shoot, and will probably blow them away. McClane starts Die Hard with no shoes (as in the movie, though this doesn’t factor into the game) and his trusty Beretta, though he can acquire other weapons (such as a shotgun and machine gun) from weapons crates or downed terrorists. His health is measured by a police badge; when taking damage, the badge will deplete and, if completely depleted, McClane will die and the game will be over.

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Race to the exit before the bomb goes off!

McClane journeys through nineteen maze-like levels of the Nakatomi Plaza (though it feels never-ending), shooting terrorists and rescuing hostages on each floor. Once a set number of terrorists have been shot, some more will spawn in from the elevators but, once they’re all cleared out, McClane is given about thirty seconds to reach an exit before the Plaza is destroyed.

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Speed the hostages away to safety.

You’ll also travel up to the rooftop for a bonus level where a whole slew of hostages will try to escape via helicopter; you’ll have to take out the terrorists scattered around here and, again, race for the exit before the bomb goes off to score some bonus points. This last minute time limit is probably the most frustrating part of the Die Hard section of the game; well, that and trying to navigate through the labyrinthine floors of the Plaza using the game’s rubbish mini map. Sure, you can zoom in and out but, when you’re trying to race to the exit, it’s almost useless at pinpointing exactly where you’re supposed to go.

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Terrorists have overtaken Dulles Airport and only McClane can stop them!

The game shifts to a first-person, on-rails shooter to retell the events of Die Hard 2: Die Harder (Harlin, 1990), similar to the likes of Time Crisis (Namco, 1995). Using the D-pad, you’ll manoeuvre a crosshair around a variety of maps, ranging from the car park and foyer of Dulles Airport, to the maze-like underground passage beneath the airport, to the runway and even into the skies above the airport to blast away at terrorists with reckless abandon. McClane must, again, blast the seemingly endless supply of terrorists away while avoiding and rescuing numerous hostages. You can also blast crates and other parts of the environment to pick up health and other temporary weapons and toss grenades at the bad guys again but will only find reprieve from injury when the camera decides to place him slightly behind some scenery.

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You’ll blast through all the film’s locations.

You also get to storm the church and race through the snowy landscapes on a jet-ski, as in the movie, and the on-rails gameplay mechanic is actually a lot better in its execution that the third-person style of Die Hard. Sure, it’s never easy moving a crosshair with a D-pad but the polygonal graphics are a lot less obtrusive and, even better, there’s no sudden or enforced time limit rushing you to an exit. You simply blast away at terrorists before they hit you, reload, and continue until they’re all dead.

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There’s not much variety in Die Hard with a Vengeance.

For Die Hard with a Vengeance, the game switches to a race against the clock throughout the streets and subways of New York City as McClane and Zeus Carver (sadly not voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) race to reach a series of bombs placed in various locations by Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons). There’s no shooting to do here; you simply accelerate as fast as possible, making hard turns with the L or R triggers, and using limited boosts and jumps to increase your speed. The mini map returns but, this time, it’s more like a compass and is actually useful here; even if, for some reason, you can’t follow the compass points, Zeus will yell instructions to tell you when to make turns or that time is running out. Yes, the time limit returns but, this time, it’s a constantly ticking down clock on the lower left of the screen; you can pick up time bonuses as you race through the streets but the time you have to reach each bomb is tight, to say the least.

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The controls could use some polish.

As you plough your way through the streets, you’ll have to dodge other cars and traffic and civilians; as you’re racing across Central Park (in an amusing interpretation of a similar scene in the movie), you’ll also have to worry about the massive body of water in the middle of the map, which will sink your car. After every stage, you’ll race against a truck in the subway tunnels to reach a bomb; if you fail to reach the bomb in any of the stages, it will explode and obliterate the entire city (so…I guess they’re all nuclear bombs, then?) It took me a little while to get to grips with the controls of Die Hard with a Vengeance; the PlayStation seems pushed to its limits here as it’s easy to bash against the sides of buildings or get caught in between the environment, where you’ll jitter away in a glitchy mess until you finally break free. Yet, once you get the timing of your hard turns right, this was fun, frenetic action even without any gunplay.

Graphics and Sound:
Die Hard is rendered in full janky-ass 3D polygons, the trademark style of 3D games around this time. As you explore the Nakatomi Plaza, objects will “pop up” out of thin air or turn see-through if you get to close to them and, rather than use a thick, obscuring fog to mask this effect, the game opts for pitch blackness, especially on the rooftop stages.

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McClane is, at least, recognisable in Die Hard.

As a polygonal recreation of Willis’ character, however, McClane doesn’t look half bad; he looks exactly like Willis does in the film (though, obviously, a bit blocky), which is more than can be said for the game’s non-playable characters, who are just generic blocky figures to be shot or rescued.

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The more open levels work a lot better.

Taking McClane out of the narrow hallways of the Nakatomi Plaza actually seems to improve the game’s presentation and stability; in both Die Hard 2 and Die Hard with a Vengeance, the more open environments reduce the annoying pop-up of obstacles and walls. I find this odd, as it seems like bigger environments would only exacerbate this issue but, apparently, it’s the opposite.

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The environments and graphics can still be a bit janky.

It’s not all good news, though; when Die Hard 2 switches to night-time levels or the underground passageways, the distorted, jerky effects come back in full force. Similarly, while you can switch between different camera perspectives so you can drive from the inside of McClane’s car, and the game’s version of New York City is rendered in surprising stability in Die Hard with a Vengeance, the buildings jerk and move as you race through the streets and it’s easier than it should be to get clipped into the environment. Unfortunately, my copy of the game kept skipping or bugging out when playing music but, from what I heard, there’s a pretty decent, techno/rocking beat to every level. There’s also some fairly decent and amusing voice acting, particularly from the Willis sound-alike who provides McClane’s constant quips. Sure, these (like all the game’s dialogue) are limited and repetitive (and there’s “Yippee ki-yay” but no expletives) but the game does a decent job of recreating McClane’s snarky wisecracks.

Enemies and Bosses:
In Die Hard, McClane guns down countless numbers of terrorists; if these are the same guys from the movie then Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) really got to recruiting for the videogame because there are a lot of henchmen to wade through here. One thing I did like was how, sometimes, hostages will turn out to be enemies in disguise and pull a gun out on McClane, similar to Gruber.

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This as close as Hans gets to appearing in Die Hard

Speaking of Hans…well, he doesn’t really appear. Occasionally, in some levels, you’ll encounter a “Boss” who is slightly different coloured enemy, maybe with more health and a better weapon, who’ll grant an extra life upon being killed. There is one in the game’s last level, but it doesn’t look like Gruber and there’s nothing to say it actually is so that’s a bit of a downer.

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Bosses aren’t really a thing in Die Hard 2.

This trend continues in Die Hard 2, where you’ll get to blast “Head Honchos” but won’t actually tackle Colonel Stuart (William Sadler) head-on. Instead, you’ll have to settle for McClane inexplicably circling Stuart’s aircraft in the game’s finale, which you’ll blast away at until it’s nothing more than a flaming mass of wreckage. Die Hard with a Vengeance, however, bucks this trend; in most levels, you’ll end up chasing after a “Bomb Car”, which will explode and destroy everything if you don’t destroy it first. These are the equivalent of the game’s boss battles until you reach the final stage of the game but, unlike the other two games, Simon Gruber will taunt McClane as he completes (or fails) each of his missions, making him a near-constant presence.

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Finally, a familiar face!

Gruber also makes an appearance in the game’s final stage, in which McClane must chase after Gruber’s helicopter and use launch points to literally use his car as a weapon to take Gruber down. There’s something incredibly amusing about McClane solving every problem, from city-destroying bombs to helicopters, by simply ploughing into it head-first with a car!

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
In Die Hard, you’ll rack up a score as you shoot terrorists and rescue hostage; this, along with killing a Boss, will grant McClane an extra life. You can also replenish McClane’s health with medical packs and acquire new weapons as you play, but these all have limited ammo so you’ll eventually revert back to McClane’s basic Beretta.

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Grab a grenade and blow those buggers away!

Also, I dunno if it’s just me, but I couldn’t figure out how to switch between McClane’s different weapons; grabbing a new one automatically switches to it and you switch back to the Beretta once it’s spent. You can, however, also acquire secondary weapons (like grenades and smoke bombs), which you can switch between and which are vital to dispatching large groups of enemies.

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The third game is lacking in power-ups compared to the first two.

In Die Hard 2, enemies and destroyed crates will yield additional weapons; as in Die Hard, these have limited ammunition but you can still pick up a machine gun, shotgun, explosive shotgun, and even a rocket launcher to blow terrorists away. In Die Hard with a Vengeance, however, the only power-up you can pick up are the boosts. These will blow your car into the air and give you a short burst of speed but aren’t as effective as I would expect from a boost. You can also pick up additional points and time and hit launch points to fly dramatically through the air at certain key points.

Additional Features:
Well, I hate to say it, but there’s nothing. When you play Die Hard Trilogy, you play for a high score; it’s a very arcade experience in that way, right down to how you enter your name on the high score screen.

DieHardTrilogyCheats
There’s some weird-ass cheats available in this game…

There are, however, a whole slew of cheats you can enter to each of the three games that will affect or spice up your gaming experience; these range from the usual stuff like infinite ammo and invincibility to odd stuff, like plants that scream when they’re shot and a fat mode.

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The Summary:
Your enjoyment of Die Hard Trilogy is somewhat dependent upon how well you get on with each of the games, and gameplay mechanics, available within it; Die Hard is a pretty uninspiring third-person action shooter but Die Hard 2 is a surprisingly well-realised on-rails shooter and Die Hard with a Vengeance is an enjoyable racer. However, while each game as positives and negatives, there have definitely been better games of each type, even on the PlayStation, but I appreciate that, back then, developers were very restricted by the limitations of the technology of the time. In the end, there’s quite a bit on offer in Die Hard Trilogy as an arcade-like experience; going into it, I expected each of the movies to be a short, maybe five to ten level game, but they just kept going on and on. This would be good but there’s not much to come back to beyond getting to gun down hundreds of terrorists whilst spewing the snarky witticisms of John McClane but there are far better options if you want to do things like that…like just watching Die Hard.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you play Die Hard Trilogy back in the day, or still play it now? What do you think of it? Has it held up over time or is it just a bad example of the limitations of early-PlayStation titles? What’s your favourite Die Hard movie? Drop a comment below and share your thoughts on Die Hard.

Talking Movies: Glass

Talking Movies

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Released: January 2019
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Budget: $20 million
Stars: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sarah Paulson

Plot:
Nineteen years after finding out he is a real-life superhero, David Dunn (Willis) finds himself locked up in a mental institute after apprehending Kevin Wendell Crumb/the Horde (McAvoy). While Dr. Ellie Staple tries to reason with them that they are nothing more than average men with delusions of grandeur, the titular Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Jackson) plots to prove to the world that extraordinary individuals are an everyday reality.

Background:
It seems like a life-time (mainly because, for many people, it actually is) since Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (ibid, 2000). After a turbulent career as a director, he finally snuck a continuation right under our noses with Split (ibid, 2016) and, before you know it, we finally get to see where David Dunn’s life has taken him since realising he has extraordinary gifts. A sombre, brooding character piece, Unbreakable presented a very real world almost identical to ours with the sole exception being the superheroes exist, albeit in a dramatically realistic form; since the, the superhero genre has expanded and exploded into a cultural phenomenon so the question is whether Shyamalan’s more introspective approach still works in the age of the superhero blockbuster.

The Review:
Strangely, considering how long we’ve waited for an Unbreakable sequel, Glass is more of a sequel to Split that happens to co-star Bruce Willis than a true second chapter. Right off the bat, Dunn (now dubbed “the Overseer”) is working alongside his son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), to actively pursue Crumb, whose emergence as “the Beast” has driven him to take further hostages. Captured and taken to a specialised hospital, Dunn, Crumb, and the largely comatose Mr. Glass where Dr. Staple spends the majority of the movie trying to prove that their extraordinary gifts are simply delusions of grandeur.

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Glass delves a bit more into the superhero psyche.

This, while the heart of the movie, is a less-than-stellar premise; after all this time wanting to see Glass and Dunn truly butt heads and being promised a battle of wits versus brawn, we instead get a lot of introspective analysis into the psychoses of these individuals which would be fine except we know from Unbreakable and Split that these three are all capable of incredible things so it seems like a bit of a waste of time to dwell on these aspects rather than seeing them do what they do.

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A team up that promises so much and delivers so little.

This is especially true considering that I’m pretty sure that everyone saw Split so I can’t imagine there were too many people in the audience who don’t know about the three central characters. This all works to the film’s detriment; for a movie titled after him, Mr. Glass isn’t really in the movie that much (Jackson even receives a “and…” in the opening credits, as though he is a bit-player rather than a main character). Sure, he is the master plotter and manipulating events, but he spends most of the film drugged up and out of it, leaving the majority of the movie to showcase more of McAvoy’s incredible talent bouncing back and forth between the Horde’s different personalities. Again, though, we know this and saw it to great effect in Split; equally, we saw a regret-filled, morose Willis in Unbreakable and, despite doing good work and being a more seasoned guardian, he’s still largely the same character here, to the point where even he starts to doubt his abilities despite being fully aware of what he can do. While it’s good to show Bruce’s range, it hardly makes for groundbreaking cinema and is far from what I expected to see in the cumulative chapter to Shyamalan’s trilogy.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Shyamalan pulls three major twist on us in Glass; the first is that Elijah has been faking his condition the entire time and has secretly been manipulating events to team up with the Horde. However, the trailers already spoiled this so it’s not much of a twist; I think it was also quite predictable that it was Glass’s actions in Unbreakable that set in motion the events that created the Horde so, again, this was all par for the course for me.
The second twist is that Dr. Staple is actually part of a secret society that seeks to suppress all superpowered individuals. Her primary approach is to convince them, through the meticulous charade of posing as a psychiatrist, that they are suffering from delusions of grandeur; the second is a laser-based lobotomy of sorts that removes their abilities; and the third is simply to kill the individuals. It seems that Shyamalan is potentially setting up for another movie where this Cult of Shamrock (they’re not named but they all have little cloverleaf’s tattooed on their wrists…) strikes back against numerous awakened powered individuals but I highly doubt that we’ll get that movie after the ending of this movie…

Which sees Dunn, Glass, and Kevin all dead.

Yep.

When he finds out Glass caused the death of Kevin’s father, the Beast kills him with a simple strike. This is fair enough, I could cope with Glass dying after setting the Beast loose and revealing superhumans to the world. But then Split’s Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), now seemingly somewhat attracted or at least empathetic towards the Horde, manages to suppress the Beast long enough for the Shamrock’s to plug him with a sniper bullet and kill him. That was something I definitely did not see coming; Glass spent most of his timing convincing the Beast to fight Dunn at the opening of some skyscraper so I expected him to plummet to his death in that battle; instead, he never make sit across the bloody car park before bleeding to death from a single sniper bullet!

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At least McAvoy puts in a good performance.

But the absolute worst twist is that David, who was attacked by the Beast and weakened due to being partially drowned, is randomly drowned to death in a sodding puddle by some unknown grunt. He spends the majority of the movie doubting himself when he has no reason to, finally takes up the mantle of the Overseer once more, fights the Beast very briefly, and then is just choked to death by some randomer. Hardly the outcome I expected from this long-awaited sequel and, considering that the film ends with Joseph, Casey, and Elijah’s mother (Charlayne Woodard) posting all the footage online so the world is made aware of superhumans, it really makes you wonder what harm it would have Dunn to have had Dunn be the sole survivor and be faced with the prospect of a lot more superpowered people coming to light. Instead, it sees like Shyamalan wasted the last of his goodwill getting Willis and Jackson (but especially Willis) back for this movie and decided to scrub them all off and bring in some more reliable (or unknown) names for the next movie.

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In Summary:
Glass is a mixed bag; it’s literally like three or four different movies all smashed together and it jumps across itself more often than Kevin cycles through his personalities! It starts off decent, wastes a lot of time in the middle, and then totally falls apart in the finale. Truly, this was a massive disappointment after such a long wait, and I don’t think anyone who was a fan of Unbreakable or Split will be satisfied with the way this film ends. It seems like Shyamalan was too concerned with subverting the superhero genre but we’ve seen that done numerous times, and he already did that in Unbreakable, and it causes Glass to get too bogged down with its own self-indulgence rather than expanding and exploring this universe in a natural, organic, and exciting (or, at least, interesting) way.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible