Talking Movies [MK Day]: Mortal Kombat (1995)


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To celebrate the simultaneous worldwide release of Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) on home consoles, 13 September 1993 was dubbed “Mortal Monday”. Mortal Kombat’s move to home consoles impacted not only the ongoing “Console War” between SEGA and Nintendo but also videogames forever thanks to its controversial violence and I think that it’s only fitting that we continue celebrating this influential fighting series every September 13th.


Released: 18 August 1995
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Distributor:
New Line Cinema
Budget:
$18 million
Stars:
Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Trevor Goddard, Talisa Soto, and Christopher Lambert

The Plot:
To decide the fate of Earthrealm, warriors are pitted against each other every generation in a life-or-death tournament called “Mortal Kombat”, which is hosted by Outworld sorcerer Shang Tsung (Tagawa). Lord Rayden (Lambert), God of Thunder and protector of Earthrealm, gathers his forces for the decisive tournament that will decide the fate of the Earthrealm but his chosen champions, disillusioned former monk Liu Kang (Shou), egotistical movie star Johnny Cage (Ashby), and stubborn soldier Lieutenant Sonya Blade (Wilson) must first overcome their own demons before they can hope to save their world.

The Background:
I’ve already detailed how, during the nineties, competitive fighting games were all the rage thanks to the many iterations of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991). To compete with this title, developers Ed Boon and John Tobias took inspiration from movies like Enter the Dragon (Clouse, 1973), Bloodsport (Arnold, 1988) and Big Trouble in Little China (Carpenter, 1986) to create an ultra-violent tournament fighter that changed the genre with its simple fighting mechanics and controversial violence. Development of a live-action adaptation began with producer Lawrence Kasanoff, who saw the potential of the videogame not just as a live-action movie but as an entire multimedia franchise. Spearheaded by Kasanoff, the project took shape with the hiring of director Paul W. S. Anderson, who substituted the videogame’s brutal violence for a focus on the game’s more fantastical elements and martial arts. Although the filmmakers failed to secure Jean-Claude Van Damme for the film, they incorporated both ambitious animatronics and early CGI effects alongside Shou’s martial arts background to make the fights as engaging as possible to help bolster the special effects. Mortal Kombat was a smash hit, making over $122 million at the box office. While videogame adaptations are often criticised for being universally bad, Mortal Kombat was notably praised at the time and has gone on to break free of its cult following to be largely regarded as one of the best videogame adaptations. The film and its depictions of these characters came to be incredibly influential on the videogames and, while the sequel was a monumental flop, the original film has always been one of my favourites, so much so that I dedicated an entire year of my life to researching and studying it as part of my PhD thesis.

The Review:
I mentioned up top that Ed Boon and John Tobias were influenced by martial arts films like Enter the Dragon and action films like Big Trouble in Little China when developing Mortal Kombat, but this is honestly just scratching the surface of the influence of kung fu and martial arts movies on not just Mortal Kombat but the entire fighting game genre as we know it today. Martial arts (or wu xia pian) films been produced overseas since 1905, with kung fu movies being around since 1949, but became incredibly popular between the early-sixties through to the 1970s once Bruce Lee was introduced to the world in Five Fingers of Death/King Boxer (Chung, 1972). Bruce Lee’s skill, charisma, and heavily kinetic energy was the perfect platform for this new style of cinematic combat that emphasised realistic action and application of martial arts. Lee famously multiple martial arts styles into his trans-cultural Jeet Kune Do style that showcased the best of Chinese martial arts, and Enter the Dragon not only reinvented him as an introspective Shaolin monk who could instantly become a lethal whirlwind but it was also engineered as a showcase of Lee’s unparalleled charisma and unique choreography. Lee became a national (and international) sensation after the film’s success, but tragically died six days before Enter the Dragon’s U.S. premiere, and has “haunted” martial arts films for decades as producers and filmmakers both perverted his legacy by awkwardly using limited footage of him and presenting it as new and attempting to substitute him with lookalikes and replacements.

Enter the Dragon had a profound influence on the Mortal Kombat games and movie.

The most obvious link between the fighting videogames and martial arts films is their inclination towards tournament structures, which allows fights to be staged onscreen not merely for our viewing pleasure but as necessary narrative components. These battles become a literal “game of death” based around increasingly-difficult fights between diverse characters, and related the two mediums in their ability to instill an intense excitement in the viewer (and/or player) through the gratification (or humiliation) of the fight. The film’s influence on the fighting game genre couldn’t be more explicit in the first two Street Fighter games; the plots are essentially the same (evil mastermind hosts a fighting tournament) and characters (such as Ryu, Ken, Geki, and Balrog/Vega) owe their design and personalities to those seen in the film. However, it’s in the Mortal Kombat movie that we see the most direct influences of the film, and fittingly so; there’s something poetic about Enter the Dragon influencing the Mortal Kombat videogame and the Mortal Kombat adaptation turning to Lee’s popular martial arts classic for inspiration. Indeed, I’ve long argued that Mortal Kombat is essentially a remake of Enter the Dragon: a host of martial artists (including three distinct main characters) are drawn to a mysterious island to fight in a tournament and battle an aging madman; despite their different levels of knowledge and skill, and their conflicting personalities, they bond and are faced with tougher and tougher opponents until the righteous monk ends the antagonist’s threat in one-on-one combat skewed in the bad guy’s favour. The structure of the narrative and fight scenes are all very reminiscent of Enter the Dragon, but made all the more unique through the steady introduction of Mortal Kombat’s more fantastical elements; these are introduced to us slowly throughout the film, and explained in a way that both we and our sceptical main characters can understand them. While this means that we don’t get to see many of the superhuman and mystical special moves of the videogames, it does help to keep the focus on the characters and the film’s impressive fight scenes.

Tormented by guilt and self-doubt, Liu Kang’s greatest enemy is himself.

Although Mortal Kombat has three main protagonists, it’s fundamentally Liu Kang’s story; the pure-hearted hero of the franchise since game one, Liu Kang is presented as a disenchanted and doubt-ridden former Shaolin monk who rejected his upbringing at the Temple of Light in favour of the bright lights and excitement of the United States. Having been raised with full knowledge of the Mortal Kombat tournament, Liu Kang believes that the legends of Outworld are little more than nonsense fairytales designed to indoctrinate and brainwash the Order’s pupils. Indeed, while his grandfather (Lloyd Kino) fully believes in the tournament and pays reverence to Lord Rayden, Liu Kang angrily rejects the stories and questions Rayden’s legitimacy out of anger since he believes that the Order’s teachings were directly responsible for the death of his younger brother, Chan (Steven Ho). Crucially, Liu Kang enters the tournament not to defend Earthrealm but to avenge his brother’s death and is stunned to learn that not only is Rayden truly the God of Thunder but all of the legends he grew up with about Outworld are true; he quickly turns from a sceptic to a source of exposition for his new allies, but remains haunted by his doubts regarding his destiny. Rayden claims that Liu Kang fled the temple because he couldn’t handle the responsibility that comes from being the “Chosen One” and Liu Kang struggles with his heritage as he’s the descendant of the Great Kung Lao, a martial artist who secured Earthrealm’s fate generations ago. As a result, Liu Kang’s greatest enemy is not the array of fantastical and monstrous fighters placed in his path by Shang Tsung, it is himself and his character arc involves learning to overcome his doubts and embrace his destiny as the saviour of Earthrealm.

The egotistical Johnny Cage sees to prove himself and provides much of the comic relief.

As charismatic and likeable as Liu Kang is, however, it’s the egotistical showboat Johnny Cage who steals the show at every opportunity. Played to perfection by Linden Ashby, Cage is an arrogant braggart and something of a diva when on set, but his failings as a character come from a deep-seated frustration at being labelled a fake by the press and media. In actual fact, Cage is one of the greatest martial artists in the world and the tournament gives him the opportunity to prove that on the grandest and greatest stage possible; desperate to be taken seriously as a fighter, he willingly makes the journey and remains oblivious to the tournament’s true purpose. Cage acts as the film’s comic relief and every line and character beat of his lands perfectly (his assumption that Liu Kang is a porter is hilarious, as is his struggles with his luggage upon arriving on the island, and he’s never a moment away from a witty retort); while Ashby is far from the accomplished martial artist like Shou, he holds his own in fight scenes and is presented in a way that plays into his strengths, which helps make Cage a very grounded and realistic character. Instantly taking a shine to Sonya, Cage tries and fails to win her over with his boastful character but soon forms a real bond with her, and Liu Kang, based on their shared sense of awe at the scale of the tournament. While Cage goes out of his way to protect Sonya out of a mixture of chivalry and confidence, his character arc is specifically geared towards accepting his limitations and his abilities; rather than rushing head-first into battle to prove himself a legitimate fighter, Cage must learn to use his head and plan ahead, something that he accomplishes when he’s able to outwit and outmatch the lumbering man-mountain that is Goro (Tom Woodruff Jr./Kevin Michael Richardson/Frank Welker).

Sonya is obsessed with her vendetta against Kano and is forced to learn to rely on others for help.

Finally, there’s Sonya Blade; a strict and focused soldier, Sonya is a grim and stoic young woman whose military drive has been superseded by a bloodthirsty vendetta against Kano (Goddard), the unscrupulous criminal who murdered her partner. Sonya has become so razor-focused on pursing Kano, that she ignores the warnings of her partner, “Jaxx” (Gregory McKinney), and boards Shang Tsung’s boat to apprehend her target. Accordingly, Sonya has no clue about what’s really going on and is incredulous to the advances of Shang Tsung and the supernatural events happening around her; of the three, she’s the most cynical and dismissive of the tournament’s true purpose and she remains obsessed with bringing Kano to justice even after learning of Mortal Kombat’s true nature and the legitimacy of its mystical elements. Initially, Sonya pursues Shang Tsung to get closer to Kano and is reluctant to join forces with Liu Kang and Johnny Cage; her character arc revolves around her being afraid to trust others, which goes a long way to explain her prickly demeanour as she makes a conscious effort to push others way to avoid losing someone she cares about, like her partner. This pays off in the finale, where she’s reduced to a mere hostage and is forced to rely on her newfound friends to come for her since she’s no match for Shang Tsung.

The enigmatic Shang Tsung has some formidable and sadistic minions at his disposal.

Speaking of whom, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa makes for a truly fearsome and enigmatic villain; Shang Tsung commands the screen whenever he appears with his presentation, charisma, line delivery, and tangible magnetism. Shang Tsung is presented as a cold, sadistic threat; despite appearing to be a middle-aged man, he’s described as being “far more dangerous” than even the fearsome Goro since he can literally steal souls at will. An alluring and cruel villain, Shang Tsung delights in witnessing his forces triumph over Rayden’s chosen warriors and exudes authority and menace simply by being present in a scene or with a few ominous words. His unsettlingly sexual perversion towards Sonya and vehement hatred of Liu Kang only add to his disturbing aura and, while he bends and manipulates events to avoid fighting Liu Kang, he proves himself to be every bit the formidable opponent in the finale thanks to his centuries of experience and the power and knowledge of the souls he has absorbed. Similarly, Trevor Goddard clearly threw everything he had into making Kano an absolutely reprehensible villain who makes a distinctive impression thanks to his guttural grunts, faux Australian accent, and sadistic mean streak that forever changed Kano’s portrayal in the videogames. Both villains convey so much personality and menace whenever they’re onscreen and through their sheer demeanour and a few lines of dialogue; we get a glimpse into Kano’s background but his callous mean streak and attitude help make him a surprisingly well-rounded character and elevate Kano beyond a mere one-dimensional henchman. Both Shang Tsung and his chief champion, Goro, are seeped in mystery and menace; each one are pawns of the ominous Emperor (voiced by Frank Welker) but are significant physical threats in their own right and there’s a real sense of desperation behind them as they’ve never been so close to absolute victory before and are determined to please their Emperor by besting Rayden’s warriors.

Our heroes meet a number of cryptic, ill-fated, and beautiful allies in their quest to save their world.

Like Tagawa, Lambert perfectly embodies Rayden and his portrayal of Rayden forever changed the Thunder God from a destructive deity who is blasé about destroying life into a wise and benevolent mentor figure; Lambert’s distinctive, rasping voice makes for a strangely ominous character who exudes an absolute confidence thanks to his status as a God. Rayden offers both cryptic council to the protagonists and exposits information about the tournament and the plot that is necessary for them (and us, the audience) to hear but it’s never laborious to sit through thanks to Rayden having a cackling, mocking sense of humour that makes for some truly amusing moments. Johnny Cage meets a fan and makes a fast friend in bit-player Art Lean (Kenneth Edwards), an original character who mainly exists simply to fuel Cage’s animosity towards Goro, and Liu Kang becomes enamoured by the alluring and mysterious Princess Kitana (Soto). Though not really asked to do more than be beautiful and captivating, Kitana plays a pivotal role in delivering another layer of exposition to the protagonists about Outworld and helping facilitate Liu Kang’s larger character arc, and the character is an interesting shade of grey in a film of extreme black and white since she’s technically allied with Outworld but is secretly plotting to aid Earthrealm since the Emperor destroyed her realm.

Despite some dodgy CGI and being reduced to minions, the three ninjas remain a highlight of the film.

The deck is definitely stacked against our heroes, though, as they are also faced with a couple of menacing ninjas, Sub-Zero (François Petit) and Scorpion (Chris Casamassa/Ed Boon), two largely mute henchmen whom Shang Tsung has made into mindless slaves with his power. As a big fan of both characters, I am understandably disappointed that their famous rivalry is entirely absent from the film and Mortal Kombat definitely set an annoying precedent for Scorpion being portrayed as a purely evil character (when, in actuality, he’s either neutral or the more virtuous of the two), but as a kid I had absolutely no complaints at all about how the two were portrayed because they stole every scene they were in. Both characters represent how dire the stakes are for our more recognisably human characters; Sub-Zero is able to summon ice and freeze opponents in an instant and Scorpion can send out a deadly, serpent-like tentacle at will and, while these effects haven’t aged too well (and it’s still really weird that Scorpion’s roped kunai was interpreted as a living extension of himself), they clearly define these characters as being otherworldly and a danger that is far beyond a simple martial arts contest. Compounding matters further is the presence of Reptile (Keith Cooke/Frank Welker), an absolutely ugly CGI monster that stalks Kitana (and our heroes) at every turn from the shadows; Reptile is constantly seen following the protagonists while cloaked but proves to be every bit as daunting an opponent as his videogame counterpart when he’s tossed into a corpse and takes physical form. Again, this is a very strange interpretation of the character, but my God does it make for an awesome fight scene between him and Liu Kang! Bolstered by Traci Lords’ incredible techno beat, “Control”, this fight represents Liu Kang’s final hurdle on the road to Shang Tsung and, when placed alongside the battles and scene-stealing, ominous presence of his similarly-attire cohorts, goes a long way to making the masked ninjas an undeniable highlight of the film even if it’s true that they were the most changed by the adaptation process.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One of the many ways Mortal Kombat has earned its reputation as one of the best videogame adaptations is in the fantastic and pulse-pounding techno-inspired soundtrack; the Immortals’ iconic title theme remains one of the best and most memorable theme songs of all time and I’m honestly disappointed that it hasn’t been evoked in the videogames more often. Many of the film’s characterisations and environments would eventually make their way into the videogames and other Mortal Kombat adaptations, with Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, especially, reprising his unforgettable role more than once, though again I can’t help but be disappointed that the film’s cast weren’t brought back to voice their polygonal counterparts sooner in the modern videogames, so iconic are their performances. I think what makes Mortal Kombat such a good videogame adaptation, though, is how perfectly it encapsulates the spirit of the source material; one of the difficulties of videogame adaptations is the fact that you’re taking an interactive medium and making it a purely passive piece of media, so the audience’s engagement with the media is very different. Players relish the opportunity to pummel their opponents and the thrill of making a comeback from a beating or executing one of the franchise’s patented Fatalities, so if you’re going to remove that element you need to replace it with an enjoyable film full of engaging characters and exciting action, and Mortal Kombat definitely delivers in that regard. This is why I continually argue that you can’t go into a videogame adaptation expecting it to be the same as the source material because, by its very nature as a different medium, it can’t be the same; instead, you have to see if it works as an enjoyable film first and foremost and then hope that it’s as faithful to the source material as the new medium allows.

Although the movie’s tamer than the videogames, it’s still pretty violent and captures the game’s spirit.

I can understand why fans of the videogame may have been disappointed that characters aren’t all tossing out fireballs and energy waves, however; such abilities are specifically limited to the forces of Outworld or magical beings like Rayden, which is a conscious decision that frames the foreign “other” and otherworldly aspects of the film as being strange, different, and (most importantly) a force to be feared. Sub-Zero and Scorpion are given basically no backstory in the film, and it’s heavily implied that they’re aligned with (or even part of) the mysterious Outworld, so when we see that they wield these incredible and deadly powers, we know that the odds are heavily stacked against our more traditionally-armed protagonists far beyond more explicit threats like the monstrous Goro. Of course, one of the disappointments about Mortal Kombat is the lack of gore and the tame nature of its Fatalities compared to the source material. This can be directly attributed to producer Lawrence Kasanoff, who specifically sold and marketing the Mortal Kombat property not on the violence, but on the story: Kasanoff saw the story as “the centre of the wheel and the videogame [as] the extension of one of the spokes” (Russell, quoting Kasanoff, 2012: 148), and as being “rich in mythology, character, adventure, excitement and positive messages” regarding the sanctity of life (Derek, 1996). Kasanoff believed in Mortal Kombat so much that he sold it as a multimedia franchise rather than simply one violent movie that would appeal to a small segment of the audience, and his focus on the story permeated every aspect of Mortal Kombat’s production: both writer Kevin Droney and director Paul W. S. Anderson emphasised the diversity and realism of the characters and worked to present intense and impactful martial arts fights that would live up to Lee’s high standards.

Focusing on the characters keeps the film entertaining and grounded, even when things get crazy.

Accordingly, much of the film’s appeal and popularity can be traced to the personalities of the three main characters and their supporting cast; each actor underwent unique and intense fight training so that they’d be able to pull off a lot of the moves seen onscreen and the rapport between Johnny Cage, Liu Kang, and Sonya Blade is one of the film’s many highlights. Ashby shines as the arrogant and snarky Cage, offering glib quips and conceited remarks about seemingly everything around him but still being brave-hearted and loyal. Robin Shou is so much more than a Bruce Lee standee, exhibiting a likeability and vulnerability as Liu Kang that makes him a compelling and enjoyable character to watch; he’s filled with doubts about his “destiny” and has been trying to hide from his true calling. He is unique among the three because he has been raised on the Mortal Kombat legend but is just as awestruck to find that it’s real and not just a myth; additionally, he has a further emotional stake in the tournament thanks to his personal animosity towards Shang Tsung, all of which tells a fantastic tale of a man learning to fulfil his true potential and safeguard the world in the process. If there’s a weak link of the three, it’s definitely Bridgette Wilson but, even then, it actually works in the context of the film: Sonya is a stoic, no-nonsense military brat who is obsessed with the mission and her vendetta against Kano. She has no time for Cage’s posturing, is highly sceptical of the supernatural and mystical events happening around her, and is focused solely on getting her hands on Kano. However, like the others, she has a lesson to learn (to trust) that comes to fruition as she bonds with her newfound allies and is forced to rely on them when she’s taken hostage in the finale.

The three ninjas deliver the film’s most intense and exciting fight scenes.

One element I’ve always enjoyed about Mortal Kombat is how well it juggles its pacing and cast; rather than cramming every single character from the first two games into the film, Mortal Kombat primarily focuses on the nine characters featured in the first game, with Kitana included as a further source of exposition and a potential love interest for Liu Kang. Sadly, for many fans (including myself), Sub-Zero, Scorpion, and Reptile suffer a bit from the film’s construction; while it makes sense for Reptile to be depicted as a minion of Shang Tsung, the brutal and complex rivalry between Sub-Zero and Scorpion is completely swept under the carpet to make them largely mute henchmen for the enigmatic sorcerer. Still, all three more than make up for this with their impressively faithful outfits and absolutely incredible fight scenes; the battles between Cage and Scorpion, Liu Kang and Sub-Zero, and Liu Kang and Reptile are three of the best (if not arguably the best) fights in the entire film, with each one doing a wonderful job of being both an intense and exciting martial arts showcase while capturing the spirit of the source material brilliantly. Cage/Scorpion is bolstered by being visually distinct from other fights in the film, beginning in a forest of dense, thin tree trucks and ending in what appears to be the Hell-like Netherrealm; not only that, but it features Scorpion’s iconic “Toasty!” Fatality and even a fun little nod to Cage’s Friendship. Liu Kang’s fights against the masked ninjas are far more intense, however, thanks largely to Shou’s involvement in the fight choreography and the undeniable skill of his onscreen opponents; Shou flips and kicks and strikes at his foes with an incredible intensity, and both Sub-Zero and Reptile prove themselves to be formidable and incredibly aggressive opponents. Reptile especially, pushes Liu Kang to the limit (it’s fitting that this is Liu Kang’s most difficult fight considering how cheap and challenging Reptile was in the original Mortal Kombat) and sparks a killer instinct in the former monk that serves him will in his climatic battle with Shang Tsung, while Sub-Zero’s ice powers force Liu Kang to act on Kitana’s cryptic advice to turn his opponent’s deadly magical abilities against him.

Goro, like Kano, is intimidating and menacing but ultimately defeated by his own hubris.

We see similar tactics in other fights in the film, too; while the battle between Kano and Sonya may be one of the weaker bouts (succeeded only by the half-hearted, semi-flirtatious “fight” between Liu Kang and Kitana), it’s quite brutal in its own way as Kano has no compunction about striking a woman or kicking her when she’s down. Kano’s arrogance in his greater strength and knowledge of Sonya’s abilities proves to be his downfall, however, as he’s easily caught off-guard by Sonya’s impressive (and incredibly sexy) head scissors and finally put out of his misery with a quick (if somewhat anti-climatic) neck snap. Fittingly, there’s a great deal of effort put into building up the reveal and threat of the monstrous Goro; this titanic creature may look a little too tall and janky nowadays but that doesn’t stop Goro from being a triumph of practical effects and complex animatronics that cost Amalgamated Dynamics $1 million to bring to life. The massive suit and puppet creature makes a lasting impression thanks to being an actual, tangible, in-camera effect and easily sits alongside Jim Henson’s best work; although his fight scenes are often, understandably, a little clunky (or avoided entirely in favour of a quick montage), Goro is presented as the ultimate, unconquerable force who can easily beat an opponent to death and shrug off attacks. Enraged at having witnessed the death of his friend, Art Lean, at the creature’s hands, Cage finally puts aside his ego (…mostly) to challenge Goro in order to take him off the board. What follows is an amusing and innovative glorified chase sequence rather than a traditional fight as Cage delivers his patented split/nut punch and then lures Goro to the top of a nearby mountain, where he’s able to catch the prideful champion by surprise and send him plummeting to his death.

Liu defeats Shang Tsung and frees Chan’s soul, but his victory is short lived when the Emperor shows up!

Of course, it all culminates with a showdown between Liu Kang and Shang Tsung; Shang Tsung does everything he can to avoid battling the descendant of his hated enemy but, when backed into a corner, accepts the challenge and relishes the opportunity to taunt and overwhelm the Shaolin monk with his impressive fighting skill. However, Liu Kang doesn’t just face one foe when fighting Shang Tsung, he faces three, both literally and figuratively; by calling upon the thousands of souls he has absorbed over his centuries of life, Shang Tsung is able to conjure a number of minions that Liu Kang must fight through and Liu Kang also has to face “himself” (as in, accept the destiny he has long avoided) and his worst fear. For Liu Kang, this is personified by his younger brother, Chan, whose form Shang Tsung assumes to lure Liu Kang into lowering his guard. However, thanks to Rayden’s teachings and the lessons he has learned throughout the film, Liu Kang finally accepts that he was powerless to help Chan, and all Shang Tsung’s deception does is give Liu Kang the motivation to pummel his foe into submission and deliver a blast (that somewhat resembles his trademark fireball) that sends the sorcerer careening down onto a bed of spikes below. Defeated, Shang Tsung instantly decays into a corpse and all of the souls he has taken are finally freed, allowing Liu Kang to have one final, emotional farewell with his brother and return to Earthrealm victorious. However, while he and his friends celebrate their victory, the Temple of Light suddenly bursts apart as the hulking, monstrous Emperor bursts onto the scene and ends the film on a massive cliffhanger that had me so excited for a follow-up…only to end up being massively disappointed (though that’s a story for another time).

The Summary:
It might be difficult for younger people to understand just how big of a deal Mortal Kombat was back in the day; videogame adaptations were still quite rare at the time and all me and my friends cared about was seeing our favourite videogame characters in a movie. It was exciting and mind-blowing, especially as we were big videogame fans and Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat were so big and popular at the time; I remember going out of my way to rent Mortal Kombat on video to watch with my friends on my birthday, convincing my mum to let me buy a copy from a market stall, and waiting for what felt like an eternity for the sequel to come out, all while absorbing every piece of related media available that I could. It’s crazy how good this film is; yes, the plot is pretty basic, the concept is outlandish, and some of the performances and effects don’t land quite well, but the film is full of humour, character, and spectacular fight scenes that more than make up for these failings.

Still one of the best videogame adaptations for how well it captures the spirit of the source material.

By focusing on Mortal Kombat’s rich lore and marrying the series’ more fantastical elements with some grounded, relatable, and humorous characters, the film excels at being an entertaining fantasy/action piece. Bolstered by an iconic soundtrack and some fantastic performances from the main cast, Mortal Kombat more than makes an impression with its intense martial arts scenes and wonderfully transplants the themes and spirit of the source material into the familiar trappings of classic kung fu movies like Enter the Dragon. It’s astounding that more videogame adaptations (including those by this film’s director) weren’t able to learn from the standards set by Mortal Kombat; it’s difficult to adapt videogames into movies but I maintain that it’s not impossible, and one must strive to make an entertaining film first and foremost and then find ways for the source material to work in its new medium. Mortal Kombat does this expertly at a time when no one was expecting it and remains so much more than a cult classic; it’s honestly one of the most entertaining films I’ve ever seen and a must watch for fans of the series even with its tame depiction of the franchise’s more violent aspects.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What are your thoughts on Mortal Kombat? How do you feel it holds up today and when compared to the sequels, remake, and other adaptations of the source material (and other videogames) that have come since? Which of the three protagonists your favourite? Were you a fan of the villains in the film and what did you think to the depiction of Goro and Reptile? Were you disappointed to see Scorpion and Sub-Zero neutured into mere henchmen? Do you have any fond memories of this film or the franchise from your childhood? Whatever you think about Mortal Kombat, either leave a comment on my social media or sign up and write your thoughts below.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Hong Kong cinema, the impact and legacy of Bruce Lee, and how Mortal Kombat was adapted into a feature film, check out my PhD thesis or some of these resouces:

Derek, S. C. (1996) A Writer’s Guide to Mortal Kombat.

Hunt, L. (2002) ‘‘I Know Kung Fu!’: The Martial Arts in the Age of Digital Reproduction’ in King, G. and Krzywinska, T. (eds.) ScreenPlay: videogames/interfaces. London: Wallflower Press: pages 196 to 201.
________ (2003) Kung Fu Cult Masters: From Bruce Lee to Crouching Tiger. London: Wallflower Press.

Logan, B. (1995) Hong Kong Action Cinema. London: Titan Books.

Russell, J. (2012) Generation Xbox: How Video Games Invaded Hollywood. East Sussex: Yellow Ant.

West, D. (2006) Chasing Dragons: An Introduction to the Martial Arts Film. London: I.B. Tauris & Co Limited.

Talking Movies [A-Day]: Avengers: Age of Ultron


Having introduced comic readers to a whole host of colourful characters, in September of 1963 the legendary duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought together six of Earth’s mightiest heroes to form the Avengers. A super team like no other, with a constantly rotating roster, the Avengers has become the premier team of Marvel Comics and, thanks to the team and its individual members forming the backbone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), have become an unbelievably popular and successful franchise in their own right.


Talking Movies

Released: 1 May 2015
Director: Joss Whedon
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $365 million
Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Paul Bettany

The Plot:
After finally defeating the last remnants of Hydra, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans), Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Ruffalo), Thor Odinson (Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson), and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Renner) face an even greater threat when Stark and Banner’s prototype for an artificial intelligence, Ultron (Spader), becomes self-aware and concocts a diabolical scheme to unleash an extinction-level event upon the world.

The Background:
After the unprecedented success of Avengers Assemble/The Avengers (Whedon, 2012), the MCU was well and truly on its way to becoming an unstoppable multimedia juggernaut. Following the conclusion of that film, the MCU firmly entered its second phase and director Joss Whedon stated early on that his intention for an Avengers sequel was to tell a more personal and intimate story rather than necessarily being bigger and better. Taking inspiration more from the likes of Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980) than the Marvel Comics story of the same name, the script initially included the first appearance of Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, and many were surprised to see Whedon focus on Ultron after teasing Thanos (Damion Poitier) the end of the first film. The script also saw the introduction of Wanda (Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Johnson), who both Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox were allowed to include in separate film franchises thanks to a legal loophole. Tensions were frayed between Whedon and Marvel’s executives, however, as they disagreed with some of his scenes and choices, which eventually led to Whedon parting ways with the studio. Although Avengers: Age of Ultron made about $100,000 less than its predecessor, it still grossed $1,404 billion at the box office. Critical reception wasn’t quite as universally positive as with the first film, however; while the effects and action were praised, many were disappointed with how overstuffed and mundane the film was.

The Review:
Much has changed in the MCU since the conclusion of Avengers Assemble; not only has the entire world seen that extraterrestrial threats lie beyond our planet, but all manner of strange and powerful cosmic artefacts and concepts are now loosed upon the Earth. One positive that came out of the whole debacle, though, was the formation of the Avengers themselves and, since the last film and the fall of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), the team have dedicated themselves to tracking down Loki Laufeyson’s (Tom Hiddleston) sceptre and erasing the last remnants of the clandestine organisation Hydra, which has secretly been manipulating events behind the scenes ever since World War Two.

Inspired my Loki’s sceptre, Stark convinces Banner to help him create Ultron.

The retrieval of the sceptre is a cause for much celebration within the team as it marks the end of a lengthy campaign against Hydra, but it leads into not only all of the film’s subsequent problems but also opens the MCU up to an ever greater threat lurking deep amongst the stars. Within the sceptre, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner (who had bonded over their keen love for science in the first film) discover a powerful gem, just one of the many Infinity Stones, that holds the key to completing Stark’s plans for a global defence program known as “Ultron” that he is desperate to deploy to protect the world form extraterrestrial threats. Shaken by his experiences in the last film, where he saw just how outgunned and outmatched the Earth was compared to the vastness of the galaxy, Stark is keen to build a metaphorical suit of armour around the world and encourages Banner to assist him in completing Ultron despite the doctor’s reservations. Banner, still a timid and cautious fellow, argues the moral and potentially dangerous consequences of giving birth to an artificial intelligence without the approval of the entire team and without proper testing, but is persuaded to co-operate by the force of Stark’s conviction.

Banner and Romanoff struggle with their pasts, natures, and feelings for each other.

Although in a far more comfortable position within the team and with himself, Banner is still subject to the whim of his green-skinned alter ego. Thanks to his ability to summon the Hulk at will, Banner is a valuable asset to the Avengers out in the field and, in an unexpected turn of events, the Hulk is easily subdued and calmed down by the influence of Romanoff. When in his more stable and timid human form, Banner has a close relationship with Romanoff that sees him clearly besotted by her but missing or ignoring her obvious flirtatious advances. He explains this as him being aware that Romanoff flirts with everyone, and the obvious interpretation is that he is afraid to act on his feelings because of his monstrous passenger, but he later reveals that he is holding himself back because he cannot offer her anything resembling a “normal” life. After the accident that first triggered his transformation, Banner has been rendered sterile and potentially dangerous by the sheer amount of Gamma radiation coursing through his veins, to say nothing of the fact that he can’t allow himself to get too excited for fear of triggering a transformation, burdening the doctor with a tragic loneliness no matter how close he is to his team mates. While it may seem strange that Romanoff is suddenly so infatuated with Banner, he represents a sense of kindness and stability that is often missing from her chaotic and deceptive life; even when Banner is explaining himself to her, she opens up to him and reveals some of the horrendous experiences she suffered in the “Red Room” while being trained as an efficient and ruthless spy. Since this also involved a full hysterectomy, she also sees herself as inadequate and monstrous since she’s not only done countless despicable things in the past but is so pained by her inability to be a “real” woman that she feels she can’t be anything more than the famed Black Widow.

While Thor’s side quest derails things somewhat, it’s great to see Barton’s personality fleshed out.

For Thor, recovering the sceptre spells the end to his brother’s impact upon his beloved adopted world; since the last film, Thor has built quite the rapport with his team mates and their extended families and revels with them as he would conquering Asgardian comrades. Thor is enraged, however, when he sees Loki’s magic perverted into Ultron and very nearly comes to blows with Stark over his reckless actions in meddling with cosmic powers beyond his comprehension. Thor’s concerns over the gem are only exacerbated after his encounter with Wanda, which causes him to suspect a greater threat and seek out his friend, Doctor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), to accompany him on a short side quest to learn more about the mysterious gems that keep popping up in his life. After spending the majority of the first film under Loki’s control, Barton gets far more screen time and relevance in the sequel than I think many people expected; rather than focusing on his relationship with Romanoff, the film initially suggests that he may be a double-agent or keeping his own secrets from the team, but dramatically reveals that he has a wife and kids that he has kept quiet from everyone except for Romanoff. Protected and hidden from official records by former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Barton’s family provides refuge for the wounded and exhausted team after their encounter with the twins and goes a long way to fleshing out Barton’s character beyond just being “the guy with the arrows”.

Tensions rise between Steve and Stark as both characters have very different methods and ideologies.

Finally, there’s Captain America himself, Steve Rogers. Still very much the field leader and default commander of the superhero team, Steve has committed himself to tracking down and eradicating Hydra’s influence as part of the guilt he feels over not finishing the job back in World War Two. Steve’s old-fashioned sensibilities are a source of much amusing banter within the team, but his pure heart, dedication, and moral integrity mean that he’s devoted to saving and protected all lives above anything else. Indeed, he’s so pure-hearted that he’s even able to ever so slightly budge Mjölnir during a friendly competition, is the only one of the team not driven into a paranoid frenzy by Wanda’s cruel visions, and, of course, takes the moral high ground when he sees the consequences of Stark’s arrogance first stumble to life. Burned by the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Russo and Russo, 2014), Cap is understandably annoyed that Stark would go behind their backs and unleash a potentially world-ending threat upon the world, but is also fair and just enough to try and convince the twins of Ultron’s threat and accept them into the team despite the destruction their actions have caused.

Ultron twists Stark’s vision for peace and personality quirks into a megalomaniacal plot for extinction.

As for Ultron…Like a lot of people, I was surprised to see the second Avengers film make a sudden left turn towards Marvel’s famous cyborg maniac, but curious to see how the character would be brought to life. Since Doctor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) would not make his debut until the following year, the film alters Ultron’s origins and has it be a creation of Stark and Banner (though mainly Stark); personally, I feel like another redraft of the script could have restored Pym as Ultron’s creator and introduced the character earlier, perhaps with Pym also taking the place of Doctor Helen Cho (Claudia Kim) and helping to further set up his antagonism towards Stark and the Avengers in Ant-Man (Reed, 2015). Regardless, I can understand the change, and Ultron’s depiction as this conceited, self-righteous, boastful villain makes for one of the MCU’s most loquacious and enigmatic antagonists if nothing else. Positioned as a dark reflection and extreme perversion of Stark’s desire to protect the world, Ultron learns of humanity’s tendency towards war and self-destruction by first absorbing Stark’s resident A.I., Just A Rather Very Intelligent System (J.A.R.V.I.S.; Paul Bettany) and then trawling the internet. It concludes, as many sentient A.I.’s do, that humanity can only be truly united and learn to survive and prove their worth after suffering from near extinction and sets in motion a dual plot to spread his influence through multiple, disposable copies of itself while forced Cho to construct a near-invulnerable synthetic body and to turn the ravaged nation of Sokovia into a gigantic meteor to drop onto the planet and bring humanity to the brink of desperation…and greatness.

The twins cause havoc with the Avengers before reluctantly joining forces with them to oppose Ultron.

Ultron is assisted by the twins Wanda and Pietro, who were subjected to bizarre and horrendous experiments by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), a Hydra commander who unfortunately gets very little screen time before being killed offscreen but who leaves a lasting impact in his influence on the twins. While the brash and snarky Pietro exhibits superhuman speed, Wanda wields a dangerous and unpredictable red energy that allows her to fire off psionic bolts and manipulate the minds of others. It’s thanks to her influence that Stark sees a vision of the Avengers left decimated and the Earth vulnerable to alien invasion (which compels him to create Ultron in the first place), that Romanoff is forced to relive her traumatic experiences in the Red Room, that Thor learns of the cosmic disaster threatened by the Infinity Stones, and that the Hulk goes on a mindless rampage through Johannesburg. Wanda and Pietro have their own vendetta against Stark that causes them to willingly assist Ultron; Stark’s weapons caused the deaths of their parents and left them trapped, fearing their own death, for two days when they were children. However, when Wanda learns that Ultron’s plan extends beyond killing Stark and destroying the Avengers and into worldwide genocide, the twins turn against the maniacal machine and reluctantly join forces with the Avengers for the action-packed finale.

The Nitty-Gritty:
It’s true that Avengers: Age of Ultron had a lot to live up to; not only was Avengers Assemble a massive, massive box office event, but it changed the course of the MCU and both comic book films and cinema forever. Add to that the decision to title the film after one of the biggest and most complex crossovers in then-recent Marvel Comics and the film definitely had a bit of an uphill battle; I get that titling films “Age of…” was a common practice in Hollywood for a while, and the desire to capitalise on Brian Michael Bendis’ story arc, but I would have picked Ultron Unleashed instead, which would have both paid homage to the comics while also slightly lowering audience’s expectations somewhat. Still, the banter and wit on offer is just as entertaining and compelling as in the first film; the team give Steve a hard time for calling out Stark’s bad language, Thor’s mission report on the Hulk’s actions against Strucker’s forces is amusing (as is his banter with Stark regarding their girlfriends), and it’s nice just see the team relaxing and socialising outside of battle.

While the action is big and exciting, the film primarily sows the seeds of dissension between the Avengers.

I think the film gets a bit of a bad reputation because it opts for a more subdued and interpersonal story rather than necessarily being bigger and better; the film starts basically where the first film left off, with the Avengers operating as a co-ordinated and efficient team, sharing banter and doing their parts individually and collectively in the assault on Strucker’s fortress. It took basically the entirety of Avengers Assemble to get these big egos and characters to work through their issues and set aside their personal grievances for the greater good, so to see them in action as a fortified unit is incredibly gratifying as a comic book fan. When Ultron first reveals itself to the team, they instinctively leap into action and the question isn’t whether they can fight together, but whether they can co-exist and stay on the same page regarding the greater threats. While Stark’s actions in trying to pre-empt their defences against these dangers were irresponsible, his motivations are entirely understandable and he was right: the Earth did need to prepare itself for a greater threat, but arguably they would have been in a better position to do that if Stark had consulted with his team mates first. As angry as Thor is with Stark for meddling in cosmic powers, Steve is equally disappointed in his friend’s recklessness and the first hints of friction between the two are sowed in this film; while Steve fully believes that the team is best served working together, win or lose, Stark would rather prepare for the best-case scenario and have contingencies in place, no matter how morally questionable they are.

When Wanda screws with the Hulk, Stark is forced to bust out the awesome Hulkbuster mech!

This is further evidenced in the dramatic and exciting depiction of “Veronica”, a massive mech-suit designed by Stark and Banner specifically to combat the Hulk. A contingency neither wish to see put into action, Stark is forced to call upon this “Hulkbuster” armour when Wanda screws with Banner’s mind and sends the Hulk on a mindless rampage. Although we don’t get to see Banner’s nightmarish vision, we can assume that it must be either incredibly devastating, traumatic, or tragic based on what Stark, Cap, Thor, and Romanoff are forced to relive, and it’s most likely something that ties into the fear Banner and the Hulk have of each other. Either way, the rest is an absolutely massive and incredible impressive brawl between the Hulk and the Hulkbuster; easily Stark’s biggest and most powerful armour yet, the Hulkbuster quickly repairs and rearms itself when damaged by the Hulk and is more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the Green Goliath, however it’s still heavily implied that the suit was designed to quickly overpower and subdue the Hulk, something easier said than done considering the Hulk’s ever-growing rage. Indeed, it’s only after a prolonged beatdown and having a building dropped on his head that Wanda’s influence is finally shaken for the Hulk, who’s left visibly distraught at the damage and destruction he has wrought.

Although the Hulk doesn’t get to talk, the film is full of fun cameos to set up the new Avengers team.

Sadly, despite the Hulk clearly uttering words in Avengers Assemble, the Green Goliath returns to being a largely mute creature who communicates only in growls, grunts, and facial expressions; indeed, he kind of fades into the background by the finale before jetting off to places unknown in order to keep Romanoff safe from his violent nature. While I was quite happy with the amount of Hulk action on offer in the film, it is disappointing that he wasn’t depicted as talking here as I was expecting him to be fleshed out more in that regard. Age of Ultron does, however, have time for a few fun cameos from Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), who officially join the Avengers by the end of the film, and provides a slightly bigger role for former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), who largely replaces Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and even Fury as the Avengers’ go-to liaison, and all of these characters (except, obviously, for Coulson) play a part in the final battle against Ultron. Another criticism of the film was the shoe-horning in of unnecessary world-building, specifically Thor’s “vision quest” that seems to serve little purpose other than reminding audiences of Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) looming threat. Personally, I never had much of a problem with this as it made Thor pivotal to the creation of the Vision (Bettany); furthermore, much of the film is devoted towards further exploring Stark’s guilt and desperation regarding his friendship with the team and his desire to protect the world, all of which paid off beautifully as the MCU progressed.

Hawkeye forms a bond with Wanda and seems destined to die but it’s Pietro who takes one for the team.

Thanks to being revealed to be a loving and devoted father and husband, Hawkeye slips naturally into the role of a mentor to the twins and the heart of the team; he initially has an antagonistic rivalry with the condescending Pietro but is the only one of the team to anticipate and counteract Wanda’s mind control. When the twins join the team, he helps to integrate them into the Avengers’ code and nowhere is this more evident in the pragmatic and honest pep talk he gives to Wanda, who is overwhelmed by the chaos and insanity of the battle against Ultron’s drones. This perfectly encapsulates not just Barton’s moral centre but also the entire point of the Avengers as a team and a concept: no matter how crazy things get or how unwinnable the odds seem, they shake it off and keep fighting until the very end, regardless of the outcome. Cap reinforces this philosophy when he tells the team: “If you get hurt, hurt ‘em back. If you get killed, walk it off”, and these words have a significant impact not only in encouraging Wanda not to hold herself back in the battle against Ultron but also in Pietro’s decision to be selfless for the first time in his life. Seeing Barton using himself as a human shield to try and protect an innocent child, Pietro rushes in and saves them both at the cost of his own life, a random and absolutely unexpected (and potentially unnecessary) sacrifice that continues to be a little confusing. It appears Whedon decided to kill off Pietro because it would have been too obvious to off Barton, a character who had been set up throughout the entire film as basically doomed and living on borrowed time, but keeping him alive ended up paying off on a longer story arc for the character within the MCU.

Ultron aims to transfer itself into the perfect body, but its Vision grows to oppose and destroy it.

Ultron begins life as a confused and disembodied artificial intelligence; as it quickly absorbs information, its curiosity turns to contempt and it soon perverts Stark’s desire for “peace in our time” to the extreme. It regards Stark’s other creations as mere puppets and is quickly able to learn everything about the team, and the world, and evade true destruction by escaping through the internet and transferring its consciousness halfway across the world into a slew of disposable bodies. As a fully CGI character, Ultron is certainly impressive; the only real complain I have is that I don’t think it needed to have lips. Thankfully, Spader provides an enigmatic and surprisingly layered performance; Ultron fully believes that its actions are just and truly cares for the twins, and is unsettling in its unpredictability as it can be charismatic and almost kind-hearted one minute and then a complete psychopath the next. To help position itself as an unstoppable overlord in its new world, Ultron has Cho create a perfect synthetic body; however, the Avengers are able to intercept this form and, despite concerns about Stark’s recklessness, infuse it with J.A.R.V.I.S.’s consciousness, Thor’s lightning, and the mysterious Mind Stone that was contained within Loki’s sceptre, thus giving birth to a new artificial lifeform dubbed the Vision. Understandably cautious and wary of this new individual, the Avengers’ fears of the Vision’s intentions are immediately set aside when he proves his mettle by being capable of wielding Mjölnir; while I can understand the argument that the Vision’s introduction is a bit rushed and his powers somewhat ill-defined, having him grab Mjölnir like it’s nothing was a great shorthand to tell us everything we needed to know about the character at that point, and he plays a pivotal role in paralleling Ultron’s destructive megalomania with a more pragmatic and reasonable logic.

The Avengers stop Ultron and avert worldwide disaster, unaware of an even greater threat on the horizon.

Having used Stark’s technology, Cho’s research, the power of the Mind Stone, and the near-limitless potential of Wakanda’s Vibranium, Ultron succeeds in lifting Sokovia high up into Earth’s atmosphere. Its inexhaustible army of drones may be simply disposable minions for the Avengers to tear apart, much like the Chitauri, but the stakes are far bigger this time around as the Avengers are forced to hold off Ultron and its copies while also trying to slow or safely stop its make-shift meteor, all while trying to evacuate the entire city onto Fury’s repurposed Helicarrier. They’re successful largely thanks to Wanda who, devastated by her brother’s death, decimates Ultron’s drones and crushes its primary body, ripping its heart out for good measure before the Hulk sends it flying off the floating city. Thanks to Stark and Thor, the landmass is overloaded and blasted to smithereens before it can pose a threat, and Ultron’s final form is seemingly eradicated forever following a philosophical debate with its “son”, the Vision. In the aftermath, Thor returns to Asgard to investigate the Infinity Stones and Stark officially leaves the team to follow through with the promise he made to Virginia “Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) in Iron Man 3 (Black, 2013) and Cap and Romanoff move to a new Avengers facility far outside of the city where they prepare to train a new team of Avengers. However, while all seems well between the team, the Mad Titan, Thanos, arms himself with a glistening gauntlet and prepares to take care of matters personally.

The Summary:
I remember being somewhat underwhelmed by Avengers: Age of Ultron when I first saw it at the cinema; it wasn’t that it was bad, or necessarily worse than Avengers Assemble, but it didn’t really seem to be much better than its predecessor. Avengers Assemble was such a big event because it was the first time these characters were coming together onscreen and I had waited so long so see comic book characters in a shared universe rather than being restricted to isolated worlds, so it always gets extra credit for me due to that and the power of nostalgia. Being just as good as one of the MCU’s best films is nothing to be ashamed of, however, but I think I, like many audiences, was just expecting something a little more substantial from the team’s next big outing. Still, it’s definitely gotten better over time and remains an action-packed spectacle that ties into Phase Two’s themes of challenging the status quo of the MCU and lays the first hints of dissension within the Avengers. Seeing the Avengers in full force never gets old; as much as I enjoy the direction the MCU took, part of me would have liked to see one more film of them as a cohesive unit with the resources of S.H.I.E.L.D. behind them, possibly battling the Masters of Evil, simply because I enjoy the banter and teamwork of the Avengers so much and it’s always a spectacular moment whenever that rousing theme kicks in and the team appears onscreen.

While a bit bloated, Age of Ultron is a stronger entry in the MCU than you might remember.

While it’s not a perfect film by any means, Age of Ultron introduces a lot of new elements to the MCU and makes an impact with its entertaining action scenes; it’s still amazing seeing Iron Man don the Hulkbuster armour, Pietro’s superspeed and Wanda’s freaky magic add some unique pizazz to the film’s events and finale, but the film really makes its mark with the introduction of the Vision and Spader’s performance as Ultron. A complex and psychotic villain who is all the worst parts of Stark dialled up to eleven, Ultron is both menacing and amusing thanks to its overabundance of personality and snark, and is perfectly juxtaposed by the more life-affirming and analytical Vision. Overall, I feel it’s an under-rated entry in the MCU that is more than deserving of a little more respect and credibility; sure, it’s a little overstuffed and introduces a lot of new elements but, as Ultron states, “with the benefit of hindsight” I think there’s a lot on offer in Avengers: Age of Ultron and that it works wonders for encapsulating the spirit and integrity of the team, perfectly setting them up for their eventual disassembling and climatic reassembling against their greatest every threat, so I’d say it’s a more than worthy follow-up despite some flaws here and there.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of Avengers: Age of Ultron? How do you feel it holds up against the first film, and the other Phase Two movies? Were you disappointed with the depiction of the Hulk, Banner’s romance sub-plot with Romanoff, and Pietro’s sudden and dramatic death? What did you think to the new characters introduced to the team in this film, specifically Wanda and the Vision? Where does Ultron rank amongst the Avengers’ villains for you and what did you think to the alterations made to his origin, and Spader’s performance? Would you have liked to see one more Avengers movie before the team splintered and, if so, which characters would you have liked to see added to the team? How are you celebrating the debut of the Avengers today and what are some of your favourite Avengers storylines, characters, or adaptations? Feel free to sign up and share your thoughts and opinions on the Avengers in the comments below, or drop me a line on my social media.

Talking Movies [Star Trek Day]: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan


On this day, 8th September 1966, the first episode of Star Trek (1966 to 1969), “The Man Trap” (Daniels, 1966), first aired. Since then, Star Trek has become a massive cultural phenomenon that still endures to this day, spawning numerous continuations, spin-offs, and ancillary media to become perhaps the most influential science-fiction franchise of all time. Accordingly, the 8th of September has been deemed “Star Trek Day” and is thus the perfect excuse to dedicate some more time to, and celebrate, this massive sci-fi franchise.


Talking Movies

Released: 4 June 1982
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Budget: $12 million
Stars: William Shatner, Ricardo Montalbán, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Kirstie Alley, Bibi Besch, and Merritt Butrick

The Plot:
In the midst of dealing with a mid-life crisis, Admiral James T. Kirk (Shatner) and the crew of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise face their greatest threat yet when the genetically engineered tyrant Khan Noonien Singh (Montalbán) escapes from a fifteen-year exile to exact revenge on Kirk and acquire a powerful terraforming device named “Genesis”.

The Background:
Although Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Wise, 1979) grossed nearly $140 million, Paramount were disappointed that it didn’t perform better and Star Trek’s first big-screen outing was met with mixed to negative reviews. Paramount placed the blame for The Motion Picture’s failure on Star Trek-creator Gene Roddenberry’s many rewrites and, after rejecting his idea for a time travel plot for the sequel, removed him from the follow-up’s production and left him with the purely ceremonial position of “Executive Consultant”. Thus, it fell to Harve Bennett to put together the idea for the sequel, which would be much more focused on themes of old age and friendship. After familiarising himself with the television show, Harve settled on the character of Kahn (who first appeared in the episode “Space Seed” (Daniels, 1967)) as the natural choice for a compelling villain. The script went through numerous revisions, the most significant of which coming after the script was leaked; while many of the sets and models from The Motion Picture were repurposed and reused, the Starfleet uniforms underwent a dramatic redesign to fit the film’s more nautical atmosphere. Although Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’s $97 million worldwide gross actually meant that it made less than its predecessor, it also cost a lot less to make and was received far better as critics praised the character interactions, Montalbán’s performance, and Mister Spock’s (Nimoy) poignant send-off. The film went on to be incredibly influential and is widely considered to be one of the best Star Trek movies.

The Review:
The film famously opens with what can retroactively be seen as one of the most layered and blatant pieces of foreshadowing in all of cinema; Vulcan newcomer Lieutenant Saavik (Alley) commands the Enterprise in the infamous Kobayashi Maru, a purposely-unwinnable scenario design to teach Starfleet recruits that they will inevitably face a no-win situation when out in the field. Opting to cross the Neutral Zone and thus provoke conflict with the warmongering Klingons, Saavik’s decision sees the death of the entire bridge crew and the destruction of the Enterprise. When James T. Kirk, still an admiral like in the last film, ends the simulation to provide his feedback, he explains to Saavik that it was more a test of character to see how she (and the other trainees) cope in the face of mortal danger, but also cynically states to Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Kelley) that “galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young”.

Kirk, feeling the pressure of his advanced age, finds himself tested by an old foe.

Immediately, then, we’re introduced to a couple of themes that become increasingly important: the first is that Kirk, despite all of his close calls and adventures, has never truly faced his own death (we later learn that, while he’s the only Starfleet officer to have ever bested Kobayashi Maru, he did so by cheating since he doesn’t believe in a no-win situation) and that Kirk is struggling with his feelings of inadequacy and redundancy. Indeed, the film begins on Kirk’s birthday, an event that Bones likens more to a funeral than a celebration; Kirk is despondent to learn that his eyesight isn’t what it once was and that he now requires glasses to read and feels too old and worn out to be where he belongs (i.e. at the command of a starship). Bones candidly calls Kirk out and encourages him to get back his command before it’s too late; Kirk’s reluctance to entertain the notion is soon rendered mute, however, when he is ordered by Starfleet Command to reassume command of the Enterprise to answer a distress call from the Regula I space station (as always, the Enterprise is the closest ship in range). Unlike in the first film, where Kirk muscled his way back into a position of command when he was unsuitable for the role and floundered with the ship’s new capabilities, here he is initially willing to allow Spock to remain as the ship’s captain but it’s clear that Kirk feels a spark of his old self once he sits back in his chair.

Spock is training a new Enterprise crew that is bolstered by a few familiar faces.

Speaking of Spock, a few things have changed for the loyal Vulcan; first, he’s now the captain of the Enterprise and is directly training the ship’s new crew. Saavik, being a Vulcan, is something of a protégé of his and he seems far more comfortable and less conflicted in his loyalties to Vulcan and Starfleet. Ever the logical pragmatist, he remains on the Enterprise while Kirk and the others beam onto Regula I but is the only one smart enough to recognise a flaw in Khan’s attack patterns that helps Kirk turn the tide against his foe during their climatic space battle. McCoy gets a little more play as he accompanies Kirk to the space station, while Hikaru Sulu (Takei) and Lieutenant Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) don’t really get all that much to do beyond their standard roles as helmsman and communications officer, respectively. Similarly, Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (James Doohan) spends the majority of the film battling to re-route power and keep the Enterprise from falling apart from the engineering room, but expresses heartbreak at the toll Khan’s attack has taken on the ship.

Chekov is horrified to discover Khan, who wishes to use the destructive Genesis device to his own ends.

Surprisingly, it’s Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) who gets a fair amount of screen time in the film’s early going; now a first officer aboard the Reliant, Chekov is the one who picks up signs of life on a planet he (and the rest of the Reliant) believe to be Ceti Alpha VI and, since Doctor Carol Marcus’ (Besch) terraforming Genesis device requires a completely lifeless planet for its deployment, he accompanies Reliant captain Clark Terrell (Paul Winfield) to the surface of the barren, chaotic world that is ravaged by tumultuous sandstorms. Considering that Chekov wasn’t actually seen in “Space Seed”, it’s something of a blunder that he first recognises the wreckage of the Botany Bay and then the man himself (in hindsight, maybe swapping Chekov for Sulu would have eliminated this mistake), but it allows the under-rated Russian officer to play a pivotal role in the film’s early going by helping to exposit information on Khan both to the audience and the Kirk. As for Carol, she’s one of Kirk’s many former flames now devoted to the unlimited potential of the Genesis device, which promises to create life from death and turn barren worlds and moons into lush, hospitable environments. Her son, David (Butrick), is equally instrumental in Genesis’ construction but is wary of Starfleet; he fears that they (or someone else) may try to appropriate the device as a weapon and is initially antagonistic towards Kirk since he has no idea of his true parentage.

Khan is obsessed with avenging himself on Kirk and proving his physical and intellectual superiority.

David’s fears become all too real when Khan learns of the device from Chekov and Terrell; an enigmatic and charismatic villain, Khan is both eloquent, charming, and loquacious while being absolutely out of his mind. Sadistic and cruel, he delights in lording his physical and intellectual superiority over others and uses any means at his disposal (from disturbing, mind-controlling eels to commandeering the Reliant for his own uses) to achieve his goals. Gifted with genetically engineered strength and intellect, Khan is eager to relive his glory days from over two centuries ago and believes that he is destined for conquest and power. His men, especially Joachim (Judson Scott), have sworn to live and die at is command and obey his orders without question; however, Khan’s obsession with besting Kirk blinds him to all other concerns. Indeed, Joachim plays Devil’s advocate by suggesting that escaping their exile is proof enough of Khan’s superiority and that they should take the chance to flee unopposed into the galaxy but Khan adamantly refuses to deviate from his obsession with avenging himself upon Kirk. Believing that Kirk is testing him, and consumed by his fanatical desire to make Kirk pay for outsmarting him and unintentionally causing the death of his wife, Khan initially plots not to kill his foe, but to hurt him and leave Kirk as helpless as Khan as his crew were on Ceti Alpha V.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One of the many ways that Star Trek II excels and set the standard for subsequent Original Series movies is in the greater focus on the amusing and complex friendship between Kirk, Bones, and Spock. Each of them share a degree of banter and familiarity that makes for a very relatable and realistic relationship between the three; while they maintain a degree of professionalism in the line of duty, Bones isn’t afraid to call Kirk out in front of other officers and Spock is duty-bound to point out any logical observations even when they imply a greater threat to the crew. Additionally, the banter between the crotchety Bones and the impassive Spock makes for some entertaining exchanges between the two, and also gives Bones an opportunity to speak out against the destructive and moral implications of the Genesis device (indeed, it’s somewhat odd that Starfleet would allow such a device to be created since Carol is effectively playing God and potentially creating a weapon of mass destruction). Of course, it’s Spock who shines the most of the three; he willingly insists on handing over the Enterprise to Kirk (since, as a Vulcan, he “has no ego to bruise”) and, like Bones, submits his opinion that Kirk made a mistake in accepting his promotion since it’s his best destiny to command a starship. Finally, Spock showcases a great deal of emotion throughout the film; he is clearly protective and proud of his trainees, expresses grief at the losses suffered from Khan’s attack, bends the rules to deliver exaggerated repair times to Kirk, and surprisingly declares his affection and appreciation for the captain in a touching scene between the two.

The sets and uniforms are much more visually interesting and became the standard going forward.

Since we spend a great deal of time onboard the Enterprise, Reliant, and Regula I, it’s a good job that the sets look so good; though similar (or, in many cases, practically identical) to the first film, they’re shot and presented in a way that’s far more pleasing to the eye. In the first film, everything seemed too panoramic and brightly lit for such bland and uninspiring locations. Here, though, the bridge is seeped in an almost ominous darkness that allows the blinking lights and glowing consoles to really pop out and separates it from the more colourful Reliant and Regula I. Since I grew up watching science-fiction films of this era, I’ve always had a fondness for the impractical anachronisms of early-Star Trek; they hadn’t completely abandoned actual buttons and levers and the technology looked far less futuristic as a result, giving everything a tangible reality that helps to sell the illusion. At the same time, Star Trek II feels much more like a big-budget version of the show with its sets and environments; the first film felt like it was trying too hard to be different and change things up for the cinema screen, but Star Trek II hits the right balance between familiar and cinematic. It also helps that the Starfleet uniforms look far better in this film; no longer the bland, dull, uninspiring grey and beige attire seen in the first film, the crew are decked out in a striking maroon red ensemble that (despite the old-fashioned bell bottoms) would become the standard for the remainder of the Original Series films. The deviation more towards a naval/military look for the uniforms also helps Khan and his men stand out even more; having been marooned on a desolate planet for fifteen years, they’re decked out in shredded clothing that gives them the appearance of primitive savages that not only betrays their cunning and guile but also makes for a stark contrast once they seize control of the Reliant for themselves.

While some model shots are a little dodgy, the cat and mouse between Kirk and Khan is suitably intense.

Of course, it’s 1982 so some of the film’s special effects still look a little dodgy; while they’re far better overall compared to the last film, some shots of space and planets like Ceti Alpha VI don’t hold up as well as others but that’s to be expected and I’m hardly going to knock the film for the technology of the time. Plus, one of the biggest complaints I had about the first film was the lack of any actual, exciting space battles and Star Trek II more than makes up for that once Khan takes control of the Reliant; since Kirk has no reason to suspect that his old foe is controlling the ship, he and the Enterprise are taken completely off-guard when the Reliant opens fire on them, crippling the Enterprise and causing a number of deaths. Both ships, and space stations like Regula I, are of course represented by extremely impressive model shots; the Enterprise and Reliant circle and engage each other like humongous warships adrift at sea, which is only fitting given the film’s thematic parallels to Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (Melville, 1851), and Kirk and Khan more than make up for their lack of actual screen time together through an ever-escalating game of cat and mouse between their two ships and their respective captains. However, if you need further proof of the superiority of this film over the original, you need look no further than Kirk’s arrival on the Enterprise for inspection and the ship’s departure from the space dock; in the first film, this took about two ice ages but, here, it’s just a quick sequence for us to marvel at the depiction of the Enterprise before the plot gets underway.

Kirk is reunited with an old flame and discovers a son, and his zest for life, in the process.

Kirk is stunned when Carol sends a garbled transmission accusing him of trying to steal her work; like Spock and Bones, he’s fascinated by the implications of Genesis but is clearly torn between reuniting with Carol as their relationship fell apart when she distanced not only herself from him and his spacefaring adventures but also her son. The film implies that Kirk knew that he had a son out there in the galaxy all this time, but he’s seen to be more than startled to find David on Regula; David is initially antagonistic towards Kirk because he believes Kirk is responsible for the death and chaos wrought by Khan, which stems from a deep-rooted distrust for Starfleet and their military. Seeing how much David hates him deeply hurts Kirk, who sees in the boy a life he could have had if he hadn’t been busy chasing around the galaxy. However, when Khan leaves them marooned in the centre of the planet, the two begin to bond and David’s mere presence and existence has a rejuvenating effect on Kirk, who finally has a lasting legacy to leave behind. I always felt like David got dealt a raw deal in the Star Trek films; he really had the potential to breathe new life into Kirk’s character and to potentially lead to a new generation of Starfleet officers taking command of the Enterprise but was unfortunately robbed of any of this by being unceremoniously killed off in the very next film simply to foster additional animosity between Kirk and his foe.

Spock makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the ship, forcing Kirk to truly face death for the first time.

Although Khan appears to be victorious and takes control of Genesis, Kirk is able to outwit him and then taunt him into taking the Reliant into a dangerous nebula. With their experience in navigating and battling in three-dimensional space, the Enterprise is finally able to land a crippling blow to the Reliant that mortally wounds Khan and kills his crew; forced into his own no-win situation, Khan refuses to give up and activates the Genesis device, determined to take his hated enemy with him. As the Enterprise has no hope of escaping the blast without their warp drive, Spock takes it upon himself to enter the engine room and restore power to the ship, incapacitating Bones and subsequently ignoring the doctor and Scotty’s warnings of the lethal radiation leaking from the core. Thus, the film comes full circle as Kirk is forced to look death in the face; separated by a pane of transparent glass, Kirk is helpless to help his dying friend, who delivers a heartful goodbye in which he reaffirms his affection for his captain and asks him not to grieve before succumbing to radiation poisoning. In the aftermath, Kirk is deeply affected by Spock’s noble sacrifice, delivering an emotional eulogy in which he pays tribute to Spock’s humanity and bravery, but finds his zest for life and adventure reinvigorated from the entire experience; finally being forced to face death has made Kirk all the stronger, and he has new reason to keep going in the form of David…and to hope, since Spock’s body is jettisoned down to the surface of the lush and vibrant world that formed from the Genesis device.

The Summary:
There’s a reason Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is so beloved among Star Trek fans; its themes of life, death, and rebirth are as prominent now as they were when it first released and it delivers both as a fantastic Star Trek film and an engaging and poignant sci-fi film. This makes it a far better introduction to the film series, and the franchise in general, than the first film thanks to it dropping the slow, introspective pacing of its predecessor in favour of an emotionally charged, intense showdown between Kirk and one of his most influential and persistent foes. Although Khan and Kirk sadly never meet in person in the film, it’s hardly a negative as there’s something far more powerful in them trading threats and taunts through the viewscreen and matching their wits against each other in space combat. Arguably, Ricardo Montalbán’s performance as Khan has never been surpassed in subsequent Original Series films and he makes an immediate and lasting impression even without knowledge of his prior appearance in the show. Furthermore, Kirk’s vulnerability and relatability as a character makes him far more layered and human than in the first film (where he was a condescending egomaniac) and even the series (where he was a charming and arrogant womaniser); seeing him feeling the effects of his advanced age and losing his zest for life is incredibly significant to grounding the film in relatable themes and it’s a nice change of pace to see him both face his worst nightmare and gain a son in his quest to reignite his enthusiasm. Of course, Star Trek II earns its reputation through Spock’s emotional sacrifice alone; although this was immediately undone in the very next film, it doesn’t detract from the character’s touching end and went a long way to adding actual stakes to the Enterprise’s conflicts beyond disposable “red shirts”. Honestly, if you only watch one Original Series film, it’s got to be this one; Kirk and the crew would go on to have a few more film outings, a couple of which were pretty decent, but it’s hard to deny that this is the best of their six dedicated cinematic outings and it’s just as great now as it was when I first watched it as a kid.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Where does Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan rate for you amongst the other Star Trek films? What did you think to Khan’s dramatic return to the series; were you familiar with his previous appearance or, like me, were you introduced to him here? Were you a fan of the film’s themes of age, the inevitability of death, and the allusions to Moby-Dick? What did you think to the cat and mouse game between Kirk and Khan and would have have liked to see them face off in person? How did Spock’s death affect you at the time and do you think he should have stayed dead? Which Star Trek captain, crew, show, or movie is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating Star Trek Day today? No matter what you think, sign up to leave your thoughts down below or leave a comment on my social media.

Talking Movies: Speed

Talking Movies

Released: 10 June 1994
Director: Jan de Bont
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $30 to 37 million
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Daniels, and Joe Morton

The Plot:
Los Angeles Special Weapons and Tactics (S.W.A.T.) specialist Jack Traven (Reeves) is sent to diffuse a bomb that revenge-driven extortionist Howard Payne (Hopper) has planted on a city bus. However, there’s a catch: passenger Anne Porter (Bullock) must keep the bus above fifty miles an hour or else the bomb will detonate!

The Background:
Speed was the brainchild of screenwriter Graham Yost, who was inspired by The Runaway Train (Konchalovsky, 1985) and thought the concept would be made more exciting if the train had a bomb on it and had to maintain a certain speed. Initially, the entire film was set on the bus and would culminate in a dramatic crash through the iconic Hollywood Sign but the ending was changed and the script was altered in order to sell the concept to 20th Century Fox, with Yost even working with Joss Whedon to refine the script’s dialogue and heavily alter Traven into a more earnest character. Reeves prepared for the role by shaving his head and incorporating his prior experiences on Point Break (Bigelow, 1991), and, after Halle Berry turned down the role of Annie, worked closely with Bullock to develop chemistry between their characters. Speed was a massive financial success; it made over $350 million at the box office and was widely praised for its action and intensity. While the sequel was a dismal critical and commercial failure, Speed remains one of the best action movies of the nineties and, considering that today is Keanu Reeves’ birthday, this seems like the perfect time to revisit the film.

The Review:
Speed begins not on a bus on the Los Angeles highway but in a large office skyscraper where a bunch of well-dressed, successful businesspeople find themselves trapped in a lift and held to ransom courtesy of a bomber we will later learn is named Howard Payne. For now, though, he’s just a maniacal madman who places a bomb on the lift and demands a $3 million ransom for the safety of his hostages, so the Los Angeles Police Department send in their S.W.A.T. team to try and free the hostages before the bomb can go off. The team is led by Lieutenant Herb “Mac” McMahon (Morton), who meticulously co-ordinates his guys with one primary goal in mind: the evacuation of the building’s occupants and the maintenance of protocol to avoid upsetting the bomber and unnecessarily losing lives.

Jack comes up with a unique solution when Harry is taken hostage by a mad bomber.

Jack Traven is a point man in Mac’s team; a bit of a wise-ass, Jack’s snark doesn’t float with Mac, who orders both him and his friend and fellow officer, Harry Temple (Daniels), to investigate the explosive device but strictly forbids them from interfering with it. While Jack remains professional enough to offer words of comfort to the trapped inhabitants, who have no idea of the predicament they’re in, Harry is the expert on explosives and Jack is far more likely to go with his gut instincts regarding the whole situation. Jack deduces that the bomber has every intention of blowing the lift whether he gets paid or not, and showcases his adaptability by rigging a nearby crane to take the weight of the lift, thereby ensuring the hostages’ safety when his hunch turns out to be right (though Payne only blows the lift because of Jack’s interference). Further deducing that their perpetrator is in the building, Jack sets out to track him down, with Harry reluctantly in tow; when Payne gets the drop on them, he takes Harry as a hostage and tries to use him as leverage to ensure his escape but Jack puts into motion his unique approach to such a situation and wounds Harry with a bullet to the leg and Payne appears to kill himself with a suicide vest. Unbeknownst to Jack, Payne survived the explosion and watches with glee as Jack and Harry are commended for their bravery and fortitude; Harry even gets a promotion to detective but warns Jack that they got lucky and that “luck runs out”.

Jack leaps aboard the bus and finds an ally in the annoying Annie, who takes the wheel.

Pissed off that Jack’s interference cost him $3 million, the maniacal Payne strikes by blowing up a bus and its driver right in front of Jack; Payne then calls Jack from a nearby payphone and challenges him to stop him once more. This time, he’s placed his bomb on another bus that will explode once the vehicle goes over fifty miles an hour, and specifically declares his intention to set off the bomb if any passengers are evacuated or if he doesn’t get his ransom in about three hours’ time. Naturally, Jack races to locate the bus and this is when we’re introduced to easily the most annoying character in the film, Annie Porter, played by one of my least favourite actresses in all of cinema, Sandra Bullock. A loud and flighty character, Annie has been forced to take the bus since she lost her driving license on a speeding charge and is the first to actively speak up when Jack dramatically leaps his way aboard the bus. However, when the driver, Sam Silver (Hawthorne James), is injured by an errant gunshot, Annie finds herself in way over her head and taking a central role as the panic-stricken driver of the bus.

Jack is wracked with anger when Payne causes the deaths of a passenger and his close friend.

On the bus, Jack finds an assortment of normal, everyday Los Angeles citizens, including Doug Stephens (Alan Ruck), a tourist on his first visit to the city who offers wry commentary, and Helen (Beth Grant), a regular passenger whose utter terror results in her being another of Payne’s casualties. When he first boards the bus, Jack is first faced with Annie’s loudmouth but the situation unexpectedly escalates when Ray (Daniel Villarreal) pulls a gun on him and demands the bus be stopped. Thanks to Gigantor Ortiz (Carlos Carrasco), Ray is disarmed but Sam is shot in the process, meaning Annie has to take over and, while tensions inevitably flair between the frightened passengers, Jack is eventually able to calm them. He does an equally good job of offering encouragement and support to Annie while remaining focused and pragmatic about the entire situation. Thankfully, he has Harry on the line to offer his insight on the bomb, which is packed full of C4, flanked by a number of decoy wires, and wired into a regular gold wristwatch. Bothered by the unreliability of the timer and the unpredictability of the bomber’s methods, Harry conducts a thorough investigation not just into criminals but into former cops and uncovers the bomber’s identity as a former member of the Atlanta Police Department bomb squad. Unfortunately, Harry’s desperation to nail Payne and help his friend leads to his tragic and untimely death as Payne rigged his home with an explosive booby-trap that kills Harry and, in one of the film’s (and Keanu’s) most emotionally impactful scenes, sees Jack enraged into a frenzy and swearing to make the bomber pay for his actions.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Speed is an exercise in tension and excitement; since the bus is forced to stay in constant motion, and over fifty miles an hour, the sheer level of pressure faced by Jack is reflected in the pacing and frantic nature of the film. Even when the bus gains a police escort, they’re never far out of danger; first it’s the gunman, Ray, then Helen nearly blows the whole thing (literally) by trying to escape from the bus as Sam is safely unloaded in an act of faith on Payne’s part, and then they start to run out of road. Even when Jack directs Annie to circle the airport indefinitely, he has to worry about the bus’s severed fuel line and is constantly having to adapt to new problems on the fly.

Jack is more than physically capable of taking on Payne’s sadistic challenge

Thankfully, Jack is more than capable of meeting Payne’s challenge; a focused and driven individual with a strong moral compass, he isn’t afraid to leap head-first into action but is also switched on enough to consider all of his options, while still acting on instinct the vast majority of the time. He commandeers a civilian’s car in a desperate attempt to warn Sam about the danger on his bus and, when that fails, he dramatically leaps from the car and onto the bus despite the fact that both vehicles are travelling at well over fifty miles per hour. While on the bus, he is as honest and forthcoming with the passengers as possible while still doing everything he can to keep things under control and exudes a confidence that, for the most part, keeps the passengers calm. Disgusted at Payne’s lunacy, Jack walks a fine line between negotiating and satisfying the bomber while making it abundantly clear that he has a personal vendetta against Payne. Desperate to keep the passengers safe, Jack doesn’t hesitate to try and disarm the bomb from underneath the bus and, once he figures out how Payne is monitoring them, he comes up with a genius and often copied/parodied solution of looping Payne’s video feed, thus outsmarting his opponent and safely evacuating the passengers.

The bus makes for some of the film’s most tense and action-packed moments.

Of course, much of the film’s action revolves around the tension and drama on the bus; while Mac works to keep the roads clear and safe for Jack, Annie is forced to plough head-first through the dense Los Angeles traffic, make sudden and hard turns to avoid collisions, and, of course, to make a seemingly impossible leap to cross an unfinished freeway. While it’s perhaps a little unlikely that such a large and cumbersome vehicle would be able to make such a jump, especially with the added weight of all those passengers, it does make for a thrilling scene that’s one of the film’s most memorable moments. Once the bus hits the airport, it’s largely out of danger and Jack’s focus switches to figuring out how Payne can always know so much; after making the connection between Payne’s seemingly random “Wildcat” reference, Jack discovers that Payne has a camera rigged on the bus and has Mac commandeer Payne’s signal to loop the feed. It’s lucky, and seemingly unlikely, that Payne only had the one camera on the bus (and that he didn’t rig up a microphone or other device so he could hear what was going on as well) but, when he figures out that he’s been duped out of his money again, the mad bomber decides to take a more direct approach for the film’s finale.

The film ends with a showdown on, and on top of, a runaway subway train!

After Jack and Annie’s dramatic (and explosive) escape from the bus, Payne disguises himself as a police officer, abducts Annie, straps her into an explosive vest, and escapes into the subway with his money and his hostage. Having eliminated Jack’s “shoot the hostage” strategy, Payne hijacks a subway train, handcuffing Annie to the inside, and makes his getaway, but is driven into a psychotic rage when he discovers his ransom is rigged with paint that makes it worthless. Jack, ever the man of action, pursues and boards the train, drawing Payne into a confrontation on the train’s roof! Despite being Payne older, insane, and handicapped by his missing thumb, the mad bomber is initially able to overwhelm is younger, stronger foe thanks to the threat of the detonator in his hand. However, Jack is able to behead Payne using an overheard railway signal (delivering an odd quip about being taller in the process), ending his threat once and for all while keeping Annie safe. Thanks to Payne’s trigger finger, though, the train is left out of control; with no way to free Annie from her cuffs and few options left, Jack opts to speed the train up and send it crashing out onto Hollywood Boulevard. Unbelievably, the two are left unharmed beyond the few scrapes and cuts they picked up from escaping the bus, and the film closes with them finally acting on the middling amount of sexual tension they shared during the film’s chaotic events while a gaggle of spectators look on.

The Summary:
I hate to say it, but I’ve never really been that big a fan of Speed. The premise is certainly unique, and definitely ends up being much more than just “Die Hard (McTiernan, 1988) on a bus” thanks to the high-octane thrill of a bus that cannot slow down and the many different obstacles that get in the way of that premise. Where it excels is in the performances of Keanu Reeves and Dennis Hopper; whenever anyone tries to tell me that Keanu is “wooden”, I point them to his intense and emotional fit of rage at learning of his friend’s death and his performance is only bolstered by Hopper’s maniacal bomber. Hopper is as much of a highlight as the ever-escalating action on the bus, which ploughs through traffic, red lights, and even inexplicably leaps a gap in the freeway in a bid to stay over fifty mile an hour. Where the film slightly falls, for me, though is in the casting of Sandra Bullock and her ever-grating performance as the flustered Annie (who’s as much of a liability as she is an asset) and the ending, which attempts to out-do the intensity felt on the bus with a runaway subway train and maybe pushes its luck a little too far. It’s an oddly contradictory film as well, feeling both too long and yet well-paced at the same time, but it’s definitely an entertaining and intense spin on the action genre. Speed is worth your time for Reeves, Hopper, and the sequences on the bus alone and is a great showcase of Reeves’ range and capability as an actor and leading man.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of Speed? What did you think of the film’s premise and Keanu’s performance? Are you a fan of Sandra Bullock, or did she also bring the film down a notch for you? Did you enjoy the tense sequences on the bus and Dennis Hopper’s maniacal Howard Payne? How did you react when Harry met his untimely end? Would you have liked to see Keanu return in the sequel? How are you celebrating Keanu Reeves’ birthday today and what are some of your favourite roles of his? Whatever you think, go ahead and sign up to leave a comment down below or let me know on my social media.

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.

Talking Movies: Death Note 2: The Last Name

Talking Movies

Released: 3 November 2006
Director: Shūsuke Kaneko
Distributor:
Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $20 million (estimated)
Stars:
Tatsuya Fujiwara, Kenichi Matsuyama, Erika Toda, Takeshi Kaga, Nana Katase, Shidou Nakamura, and Shinnosuke Ikehata

The Plot:
The battle of wits and wills between Light Yagami (Fujiwara) and the eccentric “L” (Matsuyama) is taken to the next level with Light joins a task force dedicated to stopping the murderous “Kira” but his delicate plot to advance his career as judge, jury, and execution with his mysterious Death Note is threatened when another killer notebook and Shinigami enter the playing field.

The Background:
Between 1 December 2003 and 15 May 2006, author Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata’s Death Note (or “DEATH NOTE” as it is stylised) was published in the pages of Weekly Shōnen Jump. Originating as a broad concept that saw Ohba visualising the panels in his downtime and Obata incorporating pacing and action into them, Death Note was incredibly successful and widely praised for its art, complex characters, and elaborate twists and turns. This popularity soon translated into an equally well-regarded anime that originally aired between 3 October 2006 and 26 June 2007 and was accompanied by two feature-length specials retelling the story with new footage in late-2007 and 2008, respectively. Director Shūsuke Kaneko didn’t take this task of creating a live-action adaptation lightly; he gambled on filming not one, but two movies back-to-back just to do the source material justice, and insisted on using computer effects to bring the Shinigami to life, which this time included the less mischievous and more good-natured Rem (Ikehata). Like its predecessor, Death Note 2: The Last Name topped the Japanese box office and received a limited overseas release, but far exceeded the first film’s box office with its worldwide gross of over $54 million. Critically, the film also performed notably better; reviews praised it as being stronger, delving much deeper into the characters, and greatly expanding the tension and intrigue between the two main characters. A somewhat divisive L-centric spin-off followed the film’s success, which later received a more direct miniseries and follow-up film in 2016 that also garnered mixed reactions.

The Review:
So, as mentioned in my review of the first film, I haven’t actually watched the original anime or read the Death Note manga, despite being tempted on many occasions to get into both. It’s definitely on my ever-expanding to-do list but, for now, I’m more than happy to call myself a fan of the franchise based on these two live-action adaptations. Again, I’m watching the original Japanese audio version with English subtitles, which isn’t my preferred way of watching Japanese media but it’s ever stunted my enjoyment of the film, and I distinctly remember first watching this sequel back-to-back with the first film years ago when they were included in a late-night double feature. And it’s a good job, too, for as good as Death Note was, it ends of a massive, tantalising cliff-hanger that cries out for further resolution, and much of that film was focused on establishing the rules of the killer notebook, the role of the Shinigami, and the degradation of Light Yagami’s morals. Beginning the last film as an intelligent, if overconfident, law student, Light quickly becomes intoxicated with the power of the Death Note; that many in the general public claim his actions as the murderous “Kira” as being the just work of God doesn’t help, and Light’s ego has become so immense that he’s willing to sacrifice friend, lover, and lawmen alike in order to keep himself from being exposed as the “God of the New World”.

Light is fully prepared to manipulate, and sacrifice, anyone to one-up L.

Death Note 2: The Last Name opens with a quick recap of the previous film and with Light having successfully manipulated events so that his girlfriend, Shiori Akino (Yuu Kashii), was killed in order to gain sympathy from his father, Detective Superintendent Souichirou Yagami (Kaga), and the task force he’s assembled to track Kira down under the supervision of the eccentric, renowned detective, L/ Ryuzaki. Playing the part of a victim of Kira’s brutal wrath, Light joins the team with the express intention of tracking down the man responsible for the deaths of his girlfriend and countless criminals, with none suspecting that he is the true culprit behind the mysterious deaths except for L. L has correctly deduced every piece of the puzzle and has all the evidence he needs, in theory, to pin Kira’s actions onto Light except for concrete proof and an explanation as to how he’s able to kill with just a glance. Because of this, Light is able to give L the run-around and stay one step ahead of him while secretly manipulating events with his Death Note to both take suspicion away from him and to learn L’s true name. Light could learn this simply enough by trading half of his lifespan for the Shinigami eyes, which would let her see the true name and remaining years of anyone he looks at, but e’s determined to usher in his new age and to outwit L with his mind. When another Kira (quickly dubbed “Kira II”) starts issuing threats and killing not just criminals but anyone who even dares publicly speak out against Kira, Light sees an opportunity to realise his goals by manipulating the new Kira to his advantage. So complete is Light’s arrogance that he even goes as far as to manipulate the film’s new Shinigami, Rem (Ikehata), to write new rules into the Death Note to bamboozle the Kira task force, and to surrender both his Death Note (and his memories of his actions as Kira) and himself to a period of isolation all to win L’s trust in order to learn his name and cement himself as the God of the New World.

Both Misa and Kiyomi are determined to continue what they see as Kira’s righteous crusade.

Young celebrity Misa Amane (Toda) is the new Kira in town thanks to acquiring her own Death Note. When she was just a schoolgirl, Misa came home to find her family slaughtered by a sadistic killer and became obsessed with Kira after her family’s killer fell victim to his judgement and she’s only too eager to continue his work, and publicly propose an alliance, as Kira II. While Light primarily targeted criminals, he was known for killing federal agents if they threatened to expose him, but Misa continues his work with a far more brutal flair, felling lawbreakers and lawgivers alike and even killing innocent people just because they speak out against Kira. Thanks to sacrificing half of her lifespan to acquire the Shinigami eyes, Misa is easily able to target and kill anyone and everyone who dares speak out against her hero; the eyes also allow her to deduce Kira’s true identity and seek Light out to forge an alliance, not just as co-Kira’s but also as lovers. Since Misa is absolutely besotted with him, Light is easily able to use her feelings and her naïvety with the Death Note to his advantage; Light agrees to the alliance simply to use Misa’s eyes to learn L’s true name but, sadly, Misa isn’t anywhere near as thorough as Light wen it comes to covering her tracks and ends up captured by L and his task force. With both of them having lost their memories as part of Light’s grand scheme, Misa’s Death Note falls to budding reporter and Kira supporter Kiyomi Takada (Katase); she’s also so pleased to have been chosen as Kira’s “partner” that she trades half her life for the eyes and kills indiscriminately to both continue his work and further her career, but is just as sloppy about covering her tracks and easily apprehended by the unmatched team of Light and L. This allows Light to regain his memories and, in a flash, sacrifice Kiyomi and pin all of Kira’s murders on her in a perfect loop; it also completes the puzzle for L and the task force as they touch the Death Note and become aware of the Shinigami, though this also raises the question of how they’re going to explain that literal Gods of Death and killer notebooks are behind the recent murder spree.

Even with two Shingami to contend with, Light’s main concern is learning L’s true name.

Speaking of which, Ryuk returns, still following Light around and offering commentary, taking amusement in his game of cat-and-mouse with L, and enjoying apples as and when. Thanks to Light having to constantly be on guard and hide his true intentions, Ryuk grows bored and frustrated, and basically disappears for a big chunk of the middle of the film after Light gives up the Death Note and his memories of it. There’s also a new Shinigami on the block, the androgynous Rem; this skeletal, far less mischievous Shinigami is Misa’s constant companion and is watching over her in place of her friend, the diminutive Shinigami Gelus, who had taken a shine to Misa and committed the cardinal sin of protecting her from an obsessive fan with his Death Note, thus dooming himself to oblivion. Unlike the cheeky and outspoken Ryuk, Rem is soft-spoken and fiercely loyal; she vows to punish anyone who threatens Misa and is even forced to turn herself to dust to save Misa’s life after Light manipulates events to put her in danger, which again adds credence to Light’s monstrous nature. The Shinigami are exposed to L and the task force, first through mentions dropped by Kira II, then by observing Kiyomi, and finally after touching the Death Note and conversing with Rem. Interestingly, while Light was stunned by Ryuk’s presence and Misa was awestruck by Rem’s, L initially reacts with a mixture of dear and incredulity. Once he accepts that the Shinigami are real, he’s satisfied that he’s finally wrapped up this strange case, which sees him reluctantly join forces with Light after his nagging suspicions cannot be proven and then subject both Light and Misa to near-torturous isolation in a bid to force a confession rom them. As ever, L’s deductive reasoning is almost supernatural; he’s able to correctly guess everything that’s happening, even without proof, as though he’s read ahead in the script, but even he can’t predict the lengths of Light’s depravity and it costs him dearly when his mentor and father-figure, Watari (Shunji Fujimura), falls victim to the Death Note after Misa is threatened.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Thanks to Light now being officially integrated onto the task force, there are far more face-to-face interactions between him and L this time around. The two play chess, literally and figuratively, against each other, with each throwing out accusations, explanations, and questions in a bid to outwit the other. Even if he couldn’t manipulate life and death with the Death Note, Light is extremely thorough at covering his tracks; he has not only won the support of his father and colleagues thanks to sacrificing Shiori but he has cold hard facts on his side since L cannot pin anything on him, nor explain how he could kill so many so easily as Kira. When Kira II surfaces, Light sees an opportunity to shunt suspicion from him completely and throws himself into the investigation after his sister and father almost fall victim to the new Kira’s wrath. Similarly, he orchestrates events to place Kiyomi into the firing line and, free from his memories of the Death Note, proves himself just as capable a detective as L by cobbling together graphs and data to pinpoint who these new Kiras are. When Light gives up his memories, we see him briefly return to his pre-Death Note character and get a sense of how deeply the book has corrupted his morals and intelligence; for a short time, we see how positive a force he could be, especially when he and L unite against the new Kiras, which only makes his devilish turn back to a callous puppet master all the more harrowing after he regains his memories and is revealed to have manipulate man and Death God alike to his own ends.

Light freely manipulates others, Death Gods, and even himself to outwit L.

The nature of the Death Note and the Shinigami realm is delved into a little more here; as before, the book is filled with rules regarding its use, though Misa and Kiyomi don’t utilise its true potential in the same way that Light did and are content to simply jot down names and cause their victims to die from heart attacks. We get to briefly see the Shinigami world, a desolate realm where the Gods of Death watch humans and live off the years of those they write in their notebooks. The Shinigami cannot use their Death Notes to prolong lives, however, and doing so causes them to turn to sand, as it does to Gelus and, eventually, Rem. As in the first film, the world is dividing in their opinion of Kira. Well, not quite divided, as Kiyomi’s research shows; not only does a sizable percentage of the country support Kira, prominent members of the government have also taken to praising the murderous vigilante. Even Kira’s strongest supporters are shocked, however, when they witness his brand of justice first-hand and when Kira II effectively holds a news station hostage to both deliver a warning to any who would dare oppose Kira in any way and to broadcast a series of live executions. Thankfully, Misa is so besotted with Light that she not only agrees to follow his every order and to kill anyone he asks but she also gives her Death Note to him in order to win his trust. Realising that he can use her to learn L’s new, Light reluctantly agrees to enter a relationship and partnership with her, though he cares little for her or the fact that she’s sacrificed half her life for him (she’s so devoted to Light that she does this again after regaining her memories since she’s forgotten L’s true name and lost the Shinigami eyes when she gave up her Death Note). When Misa resumes her killing spree, she immediately makes herself a target once more and, when the shrewd L is able to figure out that Kira has added fake rules to the Death Note, Light is forced to take even more extreme measures in order to protect himself, remembering his true callous nature and even writing his own father’s name in the Death Note.

In the end, Light is outsmarted but it’s a hollow victory for the doomed L.

Light’s obsession and delusions come full circle by the finale. He fully believes he’s a God now, and it’s hard to deny it given how he’s able to puppet people around with the Death Note, but he ultimately falls victim to his own arrogance and having vastly underestimated L’s deductive abilities. L tricks Light with a fake Death Note, and even fakes his own death at Light’s hands in order to learn the horrifying truth behind his duel identity, all to bring Light into the…well, the light… and expose him. With Light having hidden a piece of the Death Note in his watch and jotting down names with his own blood as and when people threaten to expose him, the game of one-upmanship between him and L escalates to the point where L is forced to his own name in the Death Note in order to circumnavigate his murder at a Kira’s hands and confront Light alongside a shame-filled Souichirou. Held at gunpoint and with nowhere left to run and no excuses left, Light refuses to bow acknowledge L’s intellectual superiority and spits criticism of his father’s broken system and the failure of the law to match the impact he had as Kira. After all his machinations and desperate attempts to cover his tracks, Light’s true nature as a reprehensible, egotistical, power-mad killer rise to the surface during this dramatic finale, which sees his sneaky watch destroyed and leaves him with a bullet in his leg. Raving about his destiny to be the saviour of a new, crime-free world, Light is so convinced of his superiority and Godhood that he outright demands that Ryuk kill everyone present and bend to his will and, in doing so, seals his fate. While the Shinigami will die if they protect humans, they are able to take lives using the Death Note and, similar to how Ryuk despaired of Light’s lack of humanity and compassion at the end of the last film, the Shinigami is somewhat disgusted to see the once intelligent and adaptable Light reduced to begging for supernatural help and writes his name instead. As Light enters his death throes and spits declarations of his he’ll be remembered as a hero, Ryuk solemnly informs him that Death Note users are doomed to limbo rather than going to Heaven or Hell. Sadly, there’s no way to save L; having arranged for his peaceful death, L quietly passes away a few days later after expressing his gratitude and appreciation to Souichirou. Though Souichirou condemns his son’s actions, the official word is that he died by Kira’s hands and that Kira’s reign of terror is finally over, leaving Light’s family mourning their loss, Misa with no memory of her love or the Death Note, and the cackling Ryuk free to cause further havoc as he sees fit.

The Summary:
It’s honestly a little tough for me to pick with is the better film between Death Note and Death Note 2: The Last Name. The first is maybe a little more cerebral in its focus on showing how the Death Note twists Light into this cruel and arrogant murderer, while the sequel is full of twists and turns and an escalating cat-and-mouse between L and Light. Ultimately, I’d highly advise watching both back-to-back as they’re clearly intended to be two parts of a larger whole. While the first film includes more variety in the use of the Death Note, the second really shows just how adapt Light is with the notebook since his would-be successors are sloppy and unimaginative. Both Misa and Kiyomi use the Death Note indiscriminately, lacking even Light’s skewed moral code, and think only in the short-term, giving up half their lives simply because it’s easier to use the Shinigami eyes than to figure out other ways of targeting and killing their victims. I enjoyed the addition of Rem and the brief glimpse into the Shinigami realm and life; she and Ryuk remain a captivating and visual highlight and its fun seeing the differences between the two, with Rem being more stoic and sombre and Ryuk being this cackling maniac at times. The true draw of the film is the intense back and forth between Light and L; it’s maddening seeing that L has figured everything out except for the means and I enjoyed seeing the strange friendship between the two, which is made all the more awkward as L is so peculiar and never truly gives up his suspicions about Light. The two are constantly one-upping each other, with Light seeming to be one step ahead of everyone, but seeing L sacrifice his own life in order to expose Light and watching Light descending into raving vitriol was a truly cathartic moment. While Light may have had a point about the unjust legal system, his superiority complex and sheer lack of empathy ultimately made him no better than his successors and worse than a literal Death God. This results in him become a tragic anti-hero of sorts who fully deserves to be brought down, but there’s little celebration surrounding Light’s death and, indeed, the film ends with the suggestion that Kira’s death has cause crime to increase once more, leaving the moral ambiguity of his actions up for debate.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to Death Note 2: The Last Name? If you’re a fan of the anime or manga, how did it work as an adaptation for you? What did you think to the changes made to the source material? What did you think to the new Kiras and how they differed from Light? Were you a fan of the cat-and-mouse game between Light and L? What did you think to Rem and Ryuk and the way they were manipulated by Light? How would you use a Death Note? Whatever your thoughts on Death Note, feel free to share them in the comments or on my social media.

Talking Movies: Death Note (2006)

Talking Movies

Released: 17 June 2006
Director: Shūsuke Kaneko
Distributor:
Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $20 million (estimated)
Stars:
Tatsuya Fujiwara, Kenichi Matsuyama, Yuu Kashii, Asaka Seto, Takeshi Kaga, and Shidou Nakamura

The Plot:
A battle between the world’s two greatest minds begins when Light Yagami (Fujiwara) finds the Death Note, a notebook with the power to kill, and decides to rid the world of criminals. Advised by the Shinigami, Ryuk (Nakamura), Light’s crusade to bring his own brand of justice to the world soon brings him into a game of cat and mouse with an eccentric detective known as “L” (Matsuyama).

The Background:
Death Note (or “DEATH NOTE” as it is stylised) began life as a manga created by author Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata; starting out as a very broad and basic concept regarding Shinigami and strict rules, Ohba and Obata developed a system whereby both of them would draft and storyboards alongside their editor. Ohba would visualise the panels during his downtime and Obata would incorporate pacing and action into them, and was afforded a great deal of creative license when it came to his artwork. Originally published in Weekly Shōnen Jump between 1 December 2003 and 15 May 2006, Death Note was incredibly successful and widely praised for its art, compelling characters, and elaborate twists and turns. So popular was Death Note that was adapted into an equally well-regarded thirty-seven episode anime between 3 October 2006 and 26 June 2007, which received two feature-length specials retelling the anime’s story with new footage in late-2007 and 2008, respectively. Considering how popular both the manga and the anime are, it was perhaps inevitable that a live-action adaptation would follow; director Shūsuke Kaneko didn’t take this task lightly and even gambled on filming two movies back-to-back just to try and do the source material justice. To bring the Shinigami Ryuk to life, Kaneko chose to utilise computer effects so that audiences would be into him being a fantastical and artificial character, though insisted that the animators at Digital Frontier create him as though he were a man in a suit. After topping the Japanese box office, Death Note received a brief cinema release overseas alongside both subtitled and dubbed versions of the film, and eventually made over $31 million at the box office. The film was relatively well regarded by critics, with reviews praising it as a tense thriller and faithful adaptation and placing specific emphasis on the interplay between Light and L. The film was followed by a sequel, just as Kaneko intended, that proved to be even more successful and spawned not only a somewhat divisive L-centric spin-off but also a miniseries and follow-up film in 2016 that also garnered mixed reactions.

The Review:
So, I have to preface this review by saying that, as of this writing, I haven’t actually read the original Death Note manga or watched the anime series; I’ve been meaning to, but never seem to be able to find the time for either, which is a bit of a shame as I really dig the concept and the characters. Death Note (as in, this movie) was my introduction to the franchise; I remember it and its sequel randomly being on Film4, I believe it was, years and years ago when I was taking my undergraduate studies and I stayed up later then usual to watc  h them purely on the strength of the brief screen time Ryuk received in the promos. I was intrigued and have been a big fan of the franchise since…and I hope to one day get around to checking out the original source material. The second thing to note is that I’m watching the original Japanese audio with English subtitles; apparently, there is a dubbed version out there (and, honestly, I would prefer that) but that’s not included in my box set. The film is initially framed as a bit of a mystery, and out of sequence, showing the names of the Death Note’s victims onscreen before they collapse from a fatal heart attack before a gaggle of stunned onlookers, including the police, the press, and everyday civilians.

Disillusioned by the judicial system, Light judges those he deems guilty with the accursed Death Note.

The film follows university student Light Yagama, a young prodigy wo dreams of joining Japan’s National Police Agency and working alongside his father, Detective Superintendent Souichirou Yagami (Kaga). A highly intelligent young man, Light is something of a brash youth who believes he’s smart enough to justify skipping years of on-the-job experience and intuition. Strongly opposed to criminals and in favour of swift, uncompromising justice, Light hacks into the police database and is disheartened to see criminals slip through what he perceives as a broken system, one that he can strengthen and make more efficient. The Death Note gives him the power to do that; initially afraid of Ryuk and sceptical, he tests the books’ power and is stunned at first but soon gets into the habit of offing known criminals. Light’s crusade doesn’t simply stop at murders and rapists; he judges anyone and everyone for their crimes and targets corrupt politicians and, eventually, anyone who threatens to get in his way or expose him. Once the deaths become a regular thing, the press and public have a field day; dubbing the one responsible “Kira” (a Japanese approximation of the word “killer”), cults and online followings start to crop up praising Kira for doing God’s work and punishing the wicked, seeing him as a saviour and begging him to punish more evildoers. This goes both ways, though, as there are also those who see Kira as being just as bad, if not worse, than those he targets but his impact is widespread; bullies stop harassing students and wrongdoers are scared shitless, but even those who “praise” Kira are stunned when the vigilante force strikes down those who dare speak up against him in public. Without a doubt, the power of the Death Note and the fanatical nature of Kira’s followers inflates Light’s ego to breaking point; he sees himself as the saviour of the world, the divine hand of God, and as the only one capable of brining peace, order, and justice to an increasingly unfair world. For all his lofty talk, however, Light has a selfish, vindictive side to him that skews much of good his killings may do; he hopes to use the crisis as a means to fast track his appointment to the National Police Agency and goes to any means necessary to ensure he’s positioned as the only one capable of stopping the mysterious Kira.

The demonic Ryuk observes Light’s killing spree with mild amusement and curiosity.

Light’s constant companion on his descent into madness is Ryuk, a demonic Shinigami with a taste of apples and a mischievous nature. Having grown bored in the Shinigami realm, he drops the Death Note into the human world in hopes of some entertainment; the book itself contains instructions, purposely written in English as that’s the most common language on Earth, and a series of rules that dictate how the book works. Any name written in it will suffer a fatal heart attack within forty seconds unless the writer states otherwise; the writer must picture their victim when writing their name so as not to target those that share the same name, and the book’s power is virtually unlimited. Light spends great deal of time testing the limits and rules of the book (and wasting entire pages on just a few names), witnessing its effects first-hand and eventually detailing more complicated instructions, essentially playing God and manipulating those who would root him out or opposing him into bending to his will. Ryuk is, for the most part, nonplussed by all of this. Invisible to anyone who hasn’t touched the book (unless Light wishes another to see them), Ryuk is similarly incorporeal and is driven only to find some amusement; he makes no effort to assist in any way Light, preferring to remain neutral and throwing temper tantrums when Light ignores him and stops giving him apples to avoid suspicion. ; he offers commentary and is curious about Light’s motives and intentions, but is content to simply let events play out as they do. However, Light is able to manipulate even Ryuk into assisting him by denying him attention and apples unless he helps him locate the surveillance devices placed in his room and spot when people are following him. Ryuk exists by taking the years the Death Note’s victims would have lived were it not for their untimely deaths. Furthermore, if requested, the holder of the Death Note can also dramatically cut their lifespan in order to receive the Shinigami eyes, which allow them to perceive the world as Ryuk does and thus see the real name and lifespan of those around them, and they can also choose to cast away the book, which will cause them to lose all memory of it, though the power and allure of the Death Note prove as enticing and irresistible to Light as apples are to Ryuk.

Stumped by Kira’s mystery, the cops turn to the eccentric L, while Naomi conducts her own investigation.

Souichirou and his team work tireless to solve the mystery of Kira; Souichirou is (somehow) convinced that a singular individual is behind all the killings and his team pledge their unfaltering support to his efforts to bring Kira to justice. However, after hitting a wall in their investigation, they have no alternative but to turn to the mysterious, world-renowned detective known only as “L”. Initially, L contacts them through his assistant and father-figure, Watari (Shunji Fujimura), and appears as little more than a distorted voice on a laptop but turns out to actually a highly intelligent, if socially inept and quirky, young man named Ryûzaki, L’s powers of deduction border on the supernatural; he correctly surmises that Kira’s killings are the result of some malicious intent rather than mere coincidences, though is unable to figure out the cause of the murders since even he has no reason to believe that the Shinigami are real. An eccentric figure always seen sitting in odd positions and snacking on desserts or drinking sugary drinks, never blinking, and his mind constantly pondering the mystery of Kira, L produces complex charts and data to prove his theories that Kira is a single individual rather than a virus, and narrow down that he’s likely to be a university student judging by the time of the unexplained deaths. L also brings in agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); Light is annoyed to find agent Raye Iwamatsu (Shigeki Hosokawa) following him but this is where he really starts to get creative with the Death Note. Ralising that Raye can’t be the only FBI agent assigned to the Kira case, Light uses the Death Note to have him doom his colleagues by writing their name on pages of the book, thereby showing that his quest to usher in a new world now includes murdering even those who would uphold the law if they threaten his work. After witnessing his death, Raye’s fiancée, Naomi Misora (Seto), a former associate of L’s, is left devastated. She undertakes her own investigation and easily singles out and accuses Light using a false name as part of her quest for revenge against the man responsible for her beloved’s death. Kira’s impact on the world is staggering; far more people support his brutal methods than they do oppose them, but those that are against the wholesale murder of any and all criminals make valid points regarding due process and false accusations. One of the principal anti-Kira crowd is also Light’s girlfriend, Shiori Akino (Yuu Kashii), who dreams of being distract attorney and cannot sanction Kira’s particular brand of justice or Light’s support of him. Despite this, Light believes that she would understand that he was acting for the greater good and a higher cause and taking the action no one else could, so confident is he in his appeal and her love for him.

The Nitty-Gritty:
A principal theme in Death Note is that of obsession; once he sees the cult following building around Kira, Light becomes convinced that he’s at the forefront of a fundamental change in the history not just of Japan, but the entire world. Seeing himself as the God of Justice and fully believing that he’s the saviour the world needs, Light dreams of a world without crime, where the guilty and the evil are punished instantly and without compromise, and is so blinkered by his vision for this new world that he never even stops of consider the moral ramifications of his actions. Instead, he simply punishes those he deems guilty without hesitation but he more than meets his match in L; since L doesn’t know about the Death Note of the Shinigami, he’s somewhat on the backfoot when it comes t his adversary, but they’re actually on equal ground as Light is unable to simply strike L down because he doesn’t know the eccentric detective’s real name and doesn’t want to sacrifice his lifespan to learn it. L is able to use this to his advantage, sacrificing a death row convict, “Lind L. Taylor” (Matt Lagan), to learn more about Kira’s capabilities, a cold-blooded tactic that Souichirou cannot condone but he and his team are so baffled by Kira’s killings that they have no choice but to put their faith in the unorthodox L. Light’s reaction to L outsmarting him is outright insult; he’s clearly not used to being outsmarted or made a fool of, so he makes it his mission to figure out L’s true identity and prove his intellectual superiority, which thus becomes his new obsession throughout the film.

Light and L embark on a game of cat-and-mouse to try and expose each other.

Thus, a cat-and-mouse game between the two ensues; since Souichirou refuses to allow Light to get in one the case, seeing it as both a personal challenge and too dangerous for his smart but headstrong son, and Light is forced to alter his methods after L figures out that his killings align with his class schedule. After the FBI agents are killed, Souichirou loses the vast majority of his investigation team as many leave to protect themselves and their families and he all-but demands that L reveal himself since, up until that point, he’s remained safely hidden. Watari takes the remaining group to L’s hotel room and the unusual stealth forbids them from openly revealing their names going forward and shares his deductions about Kira’s ability to manipulate life and death, which are so on the money that he may as well have read the script. Through sheer reasoning, L figures out that Kira is someone who doesn’t like to lose, is immature, and who can dictate the time, place, and way a person dies as well as needing to know that person’s name and face; indeed, he knows everything but the who and how, which continue to elude him throughout the film. In this regard, the two are very similar; L is also quite immature and persistent, and Light would very much like to put an end t his rival but cannot without getting close enough to him to learn his real name. after narrowing down his chief suspects to Souichirou’s team and family, L has them isolate in the hotel room and places bugs and camera sin their homes to monitor their families, but Light is shrewd enough to not only discover this but also continue to murder as Kira using a miniature television hidden in a big bag of crisps. Like Naomi, L is convinced that Light is Kira and insists on monitoring him to prove that theory, even after there’s no evidence to support it; it’s intriguing to see everyone so close to nailing their man and yet lacking the crucial proof to pin him to the wall, and Light delights in outsmarting them all, even his father, at every turn.

Ultimately, Light proves a reprehensible monster who sacrifices his girlfriend to clear his name.

While Ryuk can appear overly cartoony at times, he’s an otherworldly being designed to be out of proportion and extreme in his movements and appearance. With his wide, manic eyes, devilish smile, and gothic attire, he certainly cuts an iconic figure, especially when flying about on his bat wings, and a big part of Death Note’s appeal for me is his appearance and the allure behind him and his kind. The other appealing factor is the battle of wits between Light and L; both are morally skewed individuals, willing to put others at risk to prove a point and succeed in their game, but only Light is willing to manipulate and sacrifice those nearest to him to get what he wants. At first, it seems as though the grief-stricken Naomi has taken Shiori hostage in order to force a confession from Light; L watches, fixated on figuring out how Light has been killing people as Kira, but Light pleads with Naomi and is left distraught when Shiori is short and killed while trying to escape from Naomi! With the police closing in and seeing that she’s killed an innocent girl apparently for no reason, Naomi shoots herself in the head and the anguished Light, seen as a sympathetic and wrong young man, is gratefully accepted by L onto Souichirou’s investigation team. However, Light reveals to the audience (and Ryuk) that he found out Naomi’s true name ahead of time and manipulated everything, forcing her to take a hostage and commit suicide in order to clear him from all suspicion and get his police career on track. Even Ryuk expresses disgust at Light’s lack of empathy and inhumanity after learning that he purposely wrote a companion piece for Shiori, thereby sacrificing her for his own ends, and the film ends not only with Light having degenerated into a old-blooded monster and the hint that L still has his suspicions about him, but also with young celebrity Misa Amane (Erika Toda) being saved from an obsessive fan by the appearance of a second Death Note!

The Summary:
Death Note is quite the oddity; the premise itself is both alluring and ludicrous and the leaps in logic are almost laughable at times. The very idea that L could figure out some kind of connection to a single individual screams of convenience and it almost feels like the narrative would’ve been served slightly better by not revealing that Light was behind all the murders, or quite how he was going about it (maybe paint Ryuk as the killer) until halfway through. However, a great deal of the film’s appeal is seeing Light operate undetected, jotting down names without anyone noticing and amassing this huge following and controversial discussion regarding Kira’s morals and methods, often acting in plain sight. I love how he’s easily whittled down to the top suspect and then has to change his methods and go to extremes to avoid being exposed and give L the run-around, and it’s fun seeing these two infallible and super intelligence individuals clash as they try to one up each other. Ryuk, and the very idea of a killer notebook, is an extremely appealing and interesting anti-hero; more of mischievous sprite than a malicious demon, it’s interesting seeing him follow Light around and question him and watching Light become as monstrous on the inside as Ryuk is on the outside. Death Note’s main hook is the game of cat-and-mouse between Light and L, which here primarily revolves around L desperately trying to prove that Light is Kira and Light outsmarting his rival and manipulating events to get his career and his desire to be the God of the New World underway. In this way, the film really excels; it can be a bit daft and cartoony at times, but for the most part everyone plays it completely straight and it ends up being a pretty tense, fantasy-laced thriller.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to the live-action adaptation of Death Note? If you’re a fan of the anime or manga, how did it work as an adaptation for you? What did you think to the changes made to the source material? Were you a fan of Light’s and where do you fall on the debate about his actions as Kira? What did you think to Ryuk and the concept of a killer notebook? Would you take advantage of such power? What did you think to L and his massive leaps in deductive logic? Whatever your thoughts on Death Note, feel free to share them in the comments or on my social media.

Talking Movies [Spidey Month]: Spider-Man


Easily Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first b bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’m dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!


Released: 3 May 2002
Director:
Sam Raimi
Distributor:
Sony Pictures Releasing
Budget:
$139 million
Stars:
Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, and Cliff Robertson

The Plot:
Academically-gifted but socially inept high school senior Peter Parker (Maguire) suddenly finds himself endowed with the proportional strength and agility of a spider after being bitten by a genetically-enhanced arachnid. After his beloved Uncle Ben (Robertson) is killed due to his irresponsibility, Peter puts his spider powers to good use as a masked crimefighter but soon finds himself tested when scientist and industrialist Doctor Norman Osborn (Dafoe) is driven to insanity after subjecting himself to a strength-enhancing formula and becoming the maniacal Green Goblin.

The Background:
After achieving incredible success with the Fantastic Four, Marvel editor and head writer Stan Lee collaborated with artist Steve Ditko to create Spider-Man, whose debut issue became one of Marvel’s best selling titles at the time and whose subsequent popularity has seen him become the flagship character of Marvel Comics. Although Spider-Man enjoyed some success in animated adaptations and even had a live-action series back in the seventies, the story of his big-screen debut is a long and complicated one fraught with legal issues. Development of a Spider-Man movie can be traced back to the early 1980s, when producer Roger Corman tried to get a film off the ground with Orion Pictures. After that fell through, Tobe Hooper came close to directing a more horror-themed take on the character before the Cannon Group began financing a new script and initially brought in Joseph Zito to direct. Cannon’s financial difficulties saw the project fall apart and producer Menahem Golan took the film rights with him to 20th Century Film Corporation, where he divided the distribution, home video, and theatrical rights up and hired James Cameron to write and direct a new Spider-Man adaptation. Cameron was the one who introduced the idea of Spider-Man having organic webbing, which was just about the only element retained from his script as the film rights became mired in lawsuits and Marvel’s legal troubles.

After decades of legal issues, lawsuits, and strife, Spider-Man finally made his big-screen debut.

Eventually, Marvel recovered and sold the Spider-Man film rights to Sony Pictures Entertainment for $7 million; the studio turned down David Fincher’s pitch in favour of Sam Raimi, who was a life-long fan of the character. Many young, fresh-faced stars were considered for or interested in the lead role before Raimi cast Tobey Magiure, who underwent a physical transformation for the role. Raimi, whose background was more in traditional and practical effects, was convinced by visual effects supervisor John Dykstra to bring Spider-Man’s superhuman feats to life using CGI but still used practical stunts wherever possible. Finally, after decades in aborted attempts and a hasty edit following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Spider-Man released to overwhelmingly positive reviews that praised the cast and visuals while also criticising the Green Goblin’s suit. The film’s worldwide gross of just under $830 million meant that it was a phenomenal box office success; Spider-Man was accompanied by action figures, comic book tie-ins, and a videogame adaptation and also kick-started one of the most successful and beloved comic book trilogies in all of cinema.

The Review:
The hype for Spider-Man was absolutely palpable back in the day; the film came out around about the same sort of time that my friends and I were old enough to travel to the next town over easily enough ad see films and the trailers and marketing were absolutely everywhere. I remember being so excited for the film just based on the brief snippets in the music video for the film’s excellent hit single, “Hero”, and I bought the videogame adaptation for the GameCube the same day that I saw the film based entirely on its trailer and how good the film was. I grew up reading Spider-Man comics from the seventies and eighties and watching the nineties cartoon, and up until this point the only live-action Spider-Man I’d been exposed to was the Nicholas Hammond version from the seventies which, while ambitious, was obviously limited by the budget and restrictions of the time. This was a big deal; a big-budget, special effects laden superhero film during the days when the industry wasn’t awash with blockbuster comic book releases and I remember being absolutely ready for it at the time.

Nerdy outcast Peter Parker finds his life changed forever by an errant spider bite.

Spider-Man is the story of Peter Parker, a nerdy high school senior who is unpopular with pretty much everyone in his school. A regular target of bully and brutish jock Eugene “Flash” Thompson (Joe Manganiello), Peter is subjected to cruel pranks and harassment on a daily basis despite being something of a scientific prodigy. Since his parents died when he was young, Peter has been raised by his doting, loving, and supportive Aunt May (Harris) and Uncle Ben, who provide for him as best they can on their shoe-string budget. He also enjoys the friendship of Harry Osborn (Franco), a spoiled rich kid who is struggling to succeed academically and to live up to the expectations and standards set by his influential father, Norman Osborn. Crucially, though, Peter pines for his neighbour, the gorgeous and popular Mary Jane Watson/M. J. (Dunst), one of the few people to actually show some kind of decency towards him despite hanging off Flash’s arm. Peter’s life changes forever during a routine science trip to a genetics laboratory; fascinated by the institute’s work in gene-splicing the various abilities of different spiders into a “super-spider”, Peter is concerned only with snapping a few photos for the school paper and awkwardly trying to find the courage to speak to M. J. Consequently, he doesn’t notice an errant super-spider biting him until it’s too late and, upon returning home, he crashes out and is subjected to vivid dreams as his body undergoes a startling physical transformation.

Peter initially uses his newfound powers for personal gain, with dire consequences.

When he awakens, Peter is better than ever: his eyesight has improved, his body is muscular and defined and his reflexes are so attuned that time seems to slow when he perceives danger. Most obviously, he can now eject sticky webbing from his wrists and adhere to surfaces just like a spider and Peter is overjoyed at the revelation that he has gained the proportionate arachnid’s abilities. So caught up in his newfound superhuman powers is Peter that he forgets all about his chores at home and easily bests Flash in a fight; concerned about Peter’s welfare, Uncle Ben tries to reach out to his young nephew, understanding that he is going through “changes” that will come to define his adult life, but Peter spitefully rejects Ben’s advice and heads off to try and earn some money at a wrestling event. Wishing to buy a car to impress Mary Jane, Peter crafts a bright, colourful outfit for himself and takes on Bonesaw McGraw (“Macho Man” Randy Savage) inside a steal cage, easily toppling the muscle-bound braggart. However, when the wrestling promoter (Larry Joshua) stiffs him on the pay cheque, Peter willingly allows a thief (Michael Papajohn) to escape with the promoter’s money. This decision comes back to haunt him, though, when he leaves the arena and finds his beloved uncle dying in the street from a gunshot wound. Driven to a mindless rage at seeing his father-figure die, Peter puts aside his apprehension and uses his webs to swing across the city in pursuit of the culprit, only to find it’s the same thief he let escape earlier!

Spider-Man makes an impact upon his debut, riling up Jameson and captivating Mary Jane.

Heartbroken at having indirectly caused his uncle’s death by not using his great powers responsibly, Peter crafts a new costume for himself and vows to honour his uncle’s memory by fighting crime as Spider-Man. Although he quickly gains a reputation as a mysterious masked saviour, Spider-Man’s presence and motives are questioned by the pugnacious J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons), the editor of the Daily Bugle, who does everything in his power to tarnish Spider-Man’s name by branding him as a vigilante menace. This works in Peter’s favour, however, as he is able to sell Jameson exclusive and improbable pictures of Spider-Man in order to pay his way through college. However, his obsessive dedication to helping others as Spider-Man begins to put a strain on his personal life; Peter is fired from his job for being late and completely misses that Harry is now dating Mary Jane. On the plus side, this means Peter gets to interact with M. J. a bit more; since Harry is constantly trying to impress his father, he isn’t as attuned to her feelings and his solution to any problem is to spend money. As M. J. comes from an abusive home life, she wants more than frivolities; she needs to be seen as more than just a piece of eye candy for a change to have her voice and dreams heard. Although she is amazing by Spider-Man and fascinated by his mystery and abilities, Peter makes an equal impression by actually being there for her, listening to her, and offering advice, which soon comes to cause a bit of friction between him and Harry.

Osborn, obsessed with maintaining his funding, transforms himself into a supervillain.

Amidst all of this personal drama there’s Harry’s father, Norman. An affluent and well-respected scientist and businessman, Norman is absolutely dedicated to both his research and his company, to the point where he often neglects his son and appears to be somewhat ashamed of him for not aspiring to be more. Norman takes an immediate liking to Peter and the two bond over their shared love of science; Norman even offers Peter the respect he’s never shown to Harry when Peter graciously turns down a potential job offer and soon comes to be a surrogate father-figure in the troubled teen’s life. However, Norman is under an immense amount of pressure from his Board of Trustees; his experiments and research into producing a performance-enhancing drug and a weapons-capable glider have failed to impress and, desperate to ensure OsCorp continues to receive military funding, Norman test his drug on himself. The result is a violent and painful physical transformation that also causes his mind to snap, birthing the maniacal and uninhibited personality of the Green Goblin. Succumbing to his darker impulses, Norman avenges himself against the Board as the Green Goblin and comes into conflict with Spider-Man; unlike the petty thugs and criminals he’s fought before, Spider-Man finds the Green Goblin to be just as tough and durable as he but with the added benefit of all kinds of dangerous toys and weapons in his suit and glider. The Green Goblin admires the strength of Spider-Man’s heart and conviction and initially tries to tempt him into an alliance rather than causing death and destruction in needless conflict. Since this goes against his strict moral code, Spider-Man of course rejects this offer but their antagonism only escalates when Norman (who becomes increasingly unstable the more he gives in to the Goblin’s influence) pieces together that Peter and Spider-Man are one and the same. Armed with this knowledge, the Green Goblin targets Peter’s nearest in dearest, putting Aunt May in the hospital and luring him to the Queensboro Bridge (and a final confrontation) by taking Mary Jane as a hostage.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Right away, I need to take some time to talk about Danny Elfman’s score. Initially, I wasn’t that big a fan of it; in typical Elfman fashion, it’s very dark and moody, which didn’t seem to immediately fit for a Spider-Man theme but it quickly grew on me and has since become synonymous with the character. It’s a little scary, a little ominous, but then it builds to this rousing crescendo that perfectly encapsulates the freedom, power, and fortitude of Spider-Man. It builds a sense of mystery and intrigue over the opening title sequence and is peppered throughout the film at key emotional moments but really comes to the forefront for the iconic final swing of the film, which was what sold the composition as a legitimate Spider-Man theme for me even if I hear a little too much Batman (Burton, 1989) and Darkman (Raimi, 1990) in it at times. Before I get into some of the film’s standout moments, I want to take some time to address some negatives. First of all, Maguire’s Spider-Man isn’t too great with the quips. One of the best things about Spider-Man is that he’s constantly babbling witticisms, insults, and nonsense while web-slinging and beating up bad guys. Even when being assaulted by the Sinister Six, he still has a daft comment to make and it’s one of his most enduring characteristics. Here, Peter does quip when under the mask but Maguire’s deliver is very stilted and uncomfortable (“It’s you who’s out, Gobby! Out of your mind!” stands out as a particularly low point) and, as much as I enjoy Tobey’s performance, he seems a little bit lost at times. Though he’s a great Peter and perfectly captures that nerdy, seventies characterisation of the character, it definitely took him a while to grow into the Spider-Man role and I think he just needed a little bit more direction and tutoring on how to work under the mask.

A coming-of-age story about teenagers on the cusp of adulthood and at a crossroads in their lives.

Similarly, I’m not a massive fan of Kirsten Dunst; she’s not so bad here but there just doesn’t seem to be that much chemistry between her and Maguire. She’s pretty enough and conveys a lot of layers to M. J.’s personality but she definitely improved in the sequels, though I can’t help but notice that she’s a bit of a slut (like, she’s dating Harry but flirts with Peter and then snogs Spider-Man?) Finally, some of the special effects obviously haven’t aged too well but I don’t begrudge the film for that as it basically set the standard and laid the foundation for all Spider-Man films to follow. There are also a lot of interesting and relatable themes at work in Spider-Man; crucially, the film is obviously about power and responsibility. Peter was so powerless for much of his life that he easily gets carried away by his superhuman abilities; at first, when he hits Flash, this isn’t a conscious decision on his part but he chooses to spend his day exploring his newfound abilities and to selfishly use them to try and earn money and impress a girl. While many bemoaned the addition of organic webbing to Peter’s repertoire, I always thought it was an inspired change; it made (and still makes) total sense to me that Peter would inherit that ability from the spider bite and it’s not like we don’t get that he’s a science nerd so I always thought (and still do) that this alteration was for the better and should’ve become the status quo. Plus, it plays into another theme of the movie: puberty. Spider-Man is a coming-of-age story for all three of its young characters but especially for Peter; they’re each at a crossroads, on the cusp of becoming adults, and trying to find their place in the world outside of high school but only Peter has the added pressure of actually, explicitly, becoming something else. Considering all of the pressure and confusion raging within him, it’s no wonder that he blows up in front of his uncle or that he selflessly and completely devotes himself to saving lives as Spider-Man after his tragic death.

Willem Dafoe steals the show as the Green Goblin by effortlessly switching personas on the fly.

Conversely, there are a number of amazing performances in the film; Cliff Robertson is superb as the kindly and benevolent Uncle Ben, conveying a stern, but fair, fatherly warmth and it’s utterly heart-breaking to see Peter go off at him in an adolescent rage and to then have to watch him die. Rosemary Harris is similarly loveable as Aunt May; far from the fragile, ignorant, annoying burden she is in the comics, Aunt May is a supportive, wise, and loving while still being a concern for Peter since she’s the only family he has left. Additionally, James Franco more than makes up for Maguire’s stumbles; there’s not a huge amount for him to do in this film and yet he manages to convey all of these complex and conflicting emotions and facets of Harry’s character. Harry craves Norman’s attention and affection but feels inadequate against his father, and Peter; even “stealing” M. J. from him doesn’t bring him the satisfaction he desires since, by then, Norman’s sanity is fraying and his obsession has shifted towards Spider-Man. The absolute highlight of the film’s supporting characters is, of course, J. K. Simmons as Jameson; I remember having such a smile on my  face when I first saw him and, even now, he so perfectly embodies the loud, obnoxious, demanding editor. Though essentially a tyrant who uses his paper to spread his own agenda, even Jameson is shown to have a moral code when he lies to the Green Goblin to protect Peter in a surprisingly impactful moment. If Simmons was having fun in his small role then Dafoe appears to be having the time of his life! Easily the most charismatic and memorable part of the film, Dafoe expertly walks the fine line between over the top and dead serious, switching on a dime between his two personalities and absolutely chewing up the scenery every time he’s on screen. The Green Goblin is fearsome, vindictive, and deadly, incinerating the Board members (some of whom were his close friends) and endangering lives without a second’s hesitation all to satisfy himself and, later, to lure out Spider-Man.

While many dislike the Goblin’s suit, I found the costumes and visuals to be impressive and fitting.

Unlike Maguire, Dafoe also knows exactly how to use the Goblin’s restrictive suit to his strengths, altering his voice and exaggerating his movements at every opportunity, and the scene where he talks to himself in the mirror (and to his mask) are all the proof you need that Dafoe made for one of the best supervillains in the genre. I mentioned before that some of the special effects haven’t held up too well and, while that is true (Spider-Man can look a little plastic-y at times, for example), the majority of them hold up extremely well thanks, largely, to Raimi incorporating a lot of traditional, practical effects; the Goblin’s suit and glider, for example, are usually always practical, as is the Spider-Man suit. While I’m not a massive fan of the raised webbing and the mask is a little too stiff, the Spidey suit looks absolutely incredible and is a fantastic recreation of the comic book artwork. I was never really too bothered by the Green Goblin’s restrictive, military suit; he wasn’t really a villain I had encountered all that much so I didn’t really care that he’d been visually altered. Now…yeah, I can see why people would be disappointed (especially considering Raimi dabbled in more faithful designs) but I find the helmet and its permanent, vicious smile to be quite unsettling and there’s something very off-putting about barely being able to see a masked killer’s eyes through a gruesome visage. Plus, the fights between Spider-Man and Green Goblin more than make up for this and I enjoy how they escalate throughout the film from a mid-air scuffle to the Goblin threatening Aunt May and their climatic (and vicious) battle.

Peter is devastated to unmask his foe and find his mentor, whose death only adds to his guilt.

Having pieced together Spider-Man’s true identity, the Green Goblin terrorises Aunt May and kidnaps M. J. (since “everyone” knows that Peter has been in love with her since he was a kid) to goad Spider-Man into a confrontation. Earlier, the Green Goblin offered Spider-Man the choice to join him, something Peter adamantly refused; angered by the insult, the Green Goblin forces him to make another choice: between M. J.’s life and the lives of a trolley car full of little kids. Like any good superhero, Spider-Man finds a way to save both, though at great physical strain on his part. Thanks to a gaggle of prideful New Yorkers, he’s able to lower M. J. and the kids to safety but is violently dragged into a brutal fist fight with the Green Goblin. Assaulted by the Goblin’s superior technology, Spider-Man is bloodied, beaten, and battered, his reflexes and strength effectively neutered by the Goblin’s unrelenting assault. Spider-Man’s vicious counterattack is halted by the revelation that it’s Norman under the helmet; pleading with Peter to spare him, Norman tries to manipulate and prey upon Peter’s good heart in one last cruel effort to kill his foe. Of course, Spidey’s reflexes kick in and Norman ends up skewered on his own glider; with his last breath, he begs Peter to keep the truth from Harry, a decision that weighs even heavier upon Peter when Harry swears on his father’s grave to make Spider-Man pay for killing him. Additionally, the entire escapade has taught Peter that his powers and responsibilities as Spider-Man mean that those closest to him will always be at risk, so he selflessly chooses to walk away from Mary Jane after she suddenly professes her love for him in order to continue putting others first as everyone’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.

The Summary:
There’s something very pure, innocent, and wholesome about Spider-Man; since superhero films didn’t dominate the box office at the time, it was incredibly refreshing to see big-budget, serious adaptations being made of beloved comic book characters. Alongside Blade (Norrington, 1998) and X-Men (Singer, 2000), Spider-Man laid the foundations of the unstoppable juggernaut that we now know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and changed the way audiences (and Hollywood) thought about superhero films. Fundamentally, though, Spider-Man works as a love letter to the classic sixties and seventies Spider-Man stories; like Superman (Donner, 1978), the film can be cheesy and a little campy at times but that’s all part of the charm and direction Raimi is clearly shooting for. It’s not some gritty reimagining or part of a wider, colourful world of superheroes; it’s a very focused, carefree and yet poignant action/adventure film that exists within its own bubble, one that’s very close to our world but also a little brighter and maybe a little more fanciful and exaggerated but in all the right ways and it totally works for this version of the character. Spider-Man set the standard for how superhero films were made going forward; every subsequent adaptation had an origin story, a bit of a romantic sub-plot, and a villain who was in some way connected to the hero and it took a while for the genre to shake off those trappings but, here, they’re all fresh, new, and entirely fitting thanks to its timeless themes of power, responsibility, and maturity. Furthermore, it set the standard for all future Spider-Man movies; without Spider-Man, we wouldn’t have Andrew Garfield or Tom Holland, and without Raimi filmmakers wouldn’t have the visual language for how to convey Spider-Man’s costume, powers, and moral integrity. The technology, performances, villains, and scope of the character has changed, improved, and been expanded upon over time, even in Raimi’s sequels, but it all started here with this entertaining and whimsical roll of the dice that hits far more than it misses and still holds up incredibly well to this day.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of Spider-Man? How excited were you for the film back in the day and where does it rank for you against the many other Spider-Man movies? What did you think to Raimi’s approach to the character? Were you a fan of Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Peter and the Spider-Suit, and were you excited to see him return to the role? What did you think to the Green Goblin’s suit and Willem Dafoe’s performance? Do you think the film still holds up or do you prefer other filmic interpretations of the character? Whatever your opinion on Spider-Man, sign up to leave a comment or drop me a line on my social media and be sure to check back in next Friday as Spider-Man Month continues!

Talking Movies: The Butterfly Effect: The Director’s Cut

Talking Movies

Released: 6 July 2004
Originally Released: 23 January 2004
Director: Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber
Distributor:
New Line Cinema
Budget: $13 million
Stars:
Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, William Lee Scott, Elden Henson, and Eric Stoltz

The Plot:
All his life, Evan Treborn (Kutcher) has suffered from mysterious blackouts and a traumatic childhood but, in his twenties, he finds he can travel back in time to inhabit his former self during those periods of blackout. However, while he attempts to improve the present by changing his past behaviors and set things right for himself and his friends, there are unintended consequences for all.

The Background:
The Butterfly Effect was the brainchild of writer/director duo Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, who initially faced some difficulty in shopping the concept around Hollywood due to the film’s dark and complicated premise; they wrote the first screenplay in 1995 but no one would touch it until they proved themselves with their work on Final Destination 2 (Ellis, 2003). The duo traded different ideas for sequences in the film and enjoyed working in new twists and turns to the script, and even defended casting the somewhat-controversial Ashton Kutcher since they absolutely believed in his ability as an actor. To his credit, Kutcher fully committed to the role; in spite of his tendency to misbehave when bored, he brought a lot of his own emotions and experiences to the main character. However, despite making over $96 million at the box office, critical reception to The Butterfly Effect was generally poor; reviews criticised the inconsistency of the central premise and saw it as an unpleasant and sloppy affair, though many have come to regard its harsh criticism as being unjust and see it as a flawed but entertaining thriller. For its home video release, The Butterfly Effect was accompanied by this Director’s Cut edition, which added about five minutes of extra footage alongside a completely new, far bleaker ending and the film was followed by two pretty dire, barely-connected, straight-to-DVD sequels and is apparently tapped to receive a remake at some point.

The Review:
It think it’s only fair to start this review by saying that I’m not really, and have never been, much of an Ashton Kutcher fan. Or Amy Smart fan, for that matter. In my teenage years (and still to this day), I enjoyed my fair share of tweener sex-comedies like the American Pie films (Various, 1999 to present) and was more a fan of guys like Seann William Scott rather than Kutcher and, while I enjoy Road Trip (Phillips, 2000), Smart didn’t exactly do much to stand out for me against a sea of other attractive blondes so, in terms of the casting, The Butterfly Effect wasn’t exactly my usual forte. In fact, thinking about it now, I’m not even sure how I became aware of the film; I think it must’ve come to my attention around about the same time I was discovering Donnie Darko (Kelly, 2001), and certainly must’ve been added to my film collection around this time, and I was more than surprised to find how much I enjoyed both the performances and the premise of this movie. To begin with, the film subscribes to a very linear format as we follow young Evan Treborn (Logan Lerman at seven and John Patrick Amedori at thirteen) and his childhood friends, Kayleigh Miller (Irene Gorovaia), her brother Tommy (Jesse James), and Evan’s best friend Lenny Kagan (Kevin G. Schmidt). Evan is the only son of hardworking single mother Andrea (Melora Walters), who grows disturbed by his frequent blackouts; rather than fainting or going into a catatonic state during these moments, Evan simply loses all awareness of what’s happened around him and “comes to” only after the moment has passed, meaning he has no memory of drawing a disturbing picture of a knife crime in school or of why he’s standing in the kitchen holding a knife. Concerned for his wellbeing and desperate to avoid him becoming institutionalised like his father, Jason (Callum Keith Rennie), Andrea takes Evan to Dr. Redfield (Nathaniel Deveaux) who suggests that he start keeping regular diaries to help jog his memory and that his blackouts may stem from abandonment issues with his father.

Evan tries to correct his traumatic childhood with his time travel abilities and ends up a murderer!

To try and rectify this, he’s granted a heavily supervised visit to his father in hospital, only to blackout and awaken to find his father ranting and raving and attempting to throttle him to death, subsequently witnessing Jason being accidentally killed right before his eyes. Not only do Evan’s blackouts continue as he grows into a teen, but his childhood traumas quickly mount up as well; he blacks out during a trip to the basement of Kayleigh’s disturbed father, George (Stoltz), whose physical and sexual abuse of his kids causes Kayleigh to grow up ashamed of her body and sexuality and Tommy to become more than a little disturbed. Tommy constantly manipulates and insults both Evan and Lenny, flies into a rage at the slightest provocation, and even sets fire to Evan’s beloved dog after seeing a tender moment between him and Kayleigh. Eventually, Andrea reaches her breaking point and moves them away, much to Evan’s anguish as it means leaving his childhood sweetheart behind, though he vows to come back to her. When the story jumps ahead to find the now grown-up Evan acing his way through university, he’s stunned to find that reading his diaries triggers a reverse blackout; while his older self spaces out and becomes unresponsive, his conscious mind inhabits the body of his younger self, allowing him to experience moments he missed out on as a child and understand just how depraved George was. Confused, he turns to the only person who can corroborate what he experienced and finds Kayleigh (Smart) working as an abused waitress and deeply traumatised by her disturbing upbringing; when Evan’s questions only cause her further distress and drive her to suicide, he’s devastated when an angry Tommy (Scott) calls vowing to make him pay. Realising that he has the power to change events for the better, Evan travels back in time and delivers a scathing and unexpected tirade to George, altering events so that Kayleigh was spared her father’s wrath and lusts and resulting in the two of them being together in a fraternity at university. However, all is not entirely right in this new timeline; not only does Evan suffer a painful and disturbing convulsion as a new set of memories is crammed into his brain, but he’s now seen as a rich, douchebag frat boy who’s failing his classes. To make matters worse, George misinterpreted Evan’s message and poured all of his abuse into Tommy, who becomes even more maladjusted as a result and, during a violent confrontation between the two, ends up bludgeoned to death at Evan’s hands as payback for killing his dog and ruining Lenny’s life.

Evan’s repeated attempts to change things for the better only lead to more pain and suffering.

This timeline thus goes from bad from worse for Evan as he ends up in prison alongside some seriously depraved inmates who attack him, sexually violate him, and end up in possession of his only way of escaping: his diaries. Thanks to using his strange abilities to convince the religious Carlos (Kevin Durand) into helping him, Evan is able to jump back into his teenage body to try again. Unfortunately, this time he makes things better for himself but much, much worse for Lenny and Kayleigh; in an attempt to keep his dog from being burned alive, Evan unwittingly gives Lenny a sharp tool to stab and kill Tommy, leaving him (as in Lenny) in a vegetative state. As if this (and carrying the memories of his time in prison with him) wasn’t bad enough, Kayleigh has resorted to drugs and prostitution to get by and offers Evan little more than scorn, resentment, and derision when he tells her the truth about his condition and prepares to give up altering the timeline since he constantly makes things worse in ways he cannot predict. Despite her vitriol, however, Kayleigh offers Evan one last inspiration to set things right and he goes back in time to find out what happened when he and his friends left a stick of dynamite in a neighbour’s post box. Originally, this left Lenny psychologically broken as he was coerced by Tommy into placing the explosive that caused the death of her mother and baby but, this time, Evan tries to save those lives and ends up a multiple quadriplegic as a result of being caught in the explosion himself. However, things are much better for Lenny and Kayleigh, who are at university with Evan, caring for him, and in a loving relationship, and even Tommy has turned his life around and found God after tackling the neighbour and seeing himself as a hero. While Evan’s disabled alternative self is seen to have accepted his lot in life, he’s left a broken shell of his former self as he’s now completely helpless without the aid of others, his mother is suffering from lung cancer after taking to chain smoking, and he’s distraught to find that he can’t even kill himself since he’s so immobile. At the end of his tether, Evan tries one last time to set things right, returning to George’s basement once more, only to cause an even worse result when Kayleigh is killed, and he awakens to find himself in an institution under the care of Dr. Redfield and believed to be as crazy as his father was.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I couldn’t talk about The Butterfly Effect without mentioning Michael Suby’s haunting, deeply affecting score; an evocative melody that perfectly captures the desperation, action, and emotion of every scene, the soundtrack really hits its apex during Kayleigh’s funeral. As if Evan’s heartbreak wasn’t evident enough from his stunned, stoic, regretful poise and features, Suby’s rising, poignant music really hammers home the pain and sorrow he’s feeling in that moment. While I remember being mildly invested in the film up until that point, it was this moment that the film really caught my attention and, even now, it often makes me a little teary-eyed; it’s just such a great, incredibly moving score (and scene) and it never fails to draw me into Evan’s anguish. Also key to this is Kutcher’s performance in the role; while I’m not really normally too fussed about him either way, he really impressed me here with the ease at which he jumped between being a relatively well-adjusted young man, to realising how screwed up his childhood was, and the lengths to which he went to try and make things better for himself and his friends. His joy at creating a world where he and Kayleigh are together is quickly dashed when he realises that he’s seen as a privileged layabout in this timeline and his hopes sink into depression and suicide once he accidentally blows his limbs off.

Evan’s time travel ability is unique but he’s unable to make things right for everyone, try as he might.

The time travel mechanic, while somewhat flawed, is extremely inventive; Evan can inhabit his younger body and relive pockets of time he missed, which then fundamentally changes the present, and he’s able to retain full memories of every lifetime upon returning. While this causes brain haemorrhaging that eventually threatens his life, he’s pretty good at keeping track of where he’s been and what he’s lived through, thanks in no small part to his diaries. However, as the world changes in more drastic ways, he loses pages and even entire books of his journals and has to resort to violence and other extreme methods to make a jump. It turns out that his condition is hereditary, passed down from his father who was able to make similar trips using photographs, which makes his name (“Evan Treborn”, as in “Event Reborn”) take on a double meaning (if you think this is lacking in subtlety, I’m pretty sure the directors say in the movie commentary that they originally named him “Chris Treborn”, which is about as subtle as a brick). Quite how the males in the family have this ability isn’t explained, though Evan finds that his grandfather also had it but, when he tries to get answers from Jason, he ends up being strangled by his father for his arrogant assumption that he’ll be able to succeed where Jason failed and create a better life for everyone. Of course, Evan’s aspirations are doomed to fail; every time he makes a change, it has disastrous ramifications for either himself or those around him. He’s able to “fix” him and Kayleigh but at the cost of turning Tommy into even more of a psycho; when he tries to fix this, he improves his life at the cost of Tommy’s, Lenny’s sanity, and Kayleigh’s health; and, when he tries to fix that, he ends up a quadriplegic with a dying mother, but his friends are much happier in this timeline.

Suffering from lifetimes of memories, Evan sacrifices himself to ensure his friends and family live better lives.

His repeated attempts to save and change lives result only in failure or further suffering, driving him to the point of suicide but, desperate to fix his mother and regain his limbs, he tries one more jaunt to his boyhood and ends up accidentally killing Kayleigh and making it so that he didn’t write any diaries beyond that point due to being committed to a hospital. It’s at this point that The Butterfly Effect briefly toys with the notion that everything we’ve witnessed up until this moment has been a delusion of Evan’s, a manic fabrication to cope with the guilt of Kayleigh’s death, since Dr. Redfield sees the same similarities between Evan’s demands for diaries that don’t exist and Jason’s requests to view photographs he never took. Suffering from irreparable damage to his brain, which has been strained to breaking point after being overloaded with about eighty years’ worth of memories, Evan sees only one way out; he makes a daring escape from his room to view footage of his birth, and leaps into the body of his baby self to strangle himself to death with his umbilical cord. Although this leaves Andrea devastated at having lost another child, the knock-on effect is the birth of a happy, healthy girl not afflicted with the time travel curse and better, healthier lives for Kayleigh, Tommy, and Lenny without Evan’s influence. This harrowing and disturbing ending is, of course, very different from the theatrical cut, in which Evan simply scared Kayleigh off when they were kids and seemed tempted to woo her when their paths later happened to cross, but remains one of the bleakest and most affecting examples of self-sacrifice I’ve ever seen. Although Evan wasn’t a disruptive or toxic influence on his friends (at least he wasn’t before he started meddling with time travel), his absence means that Kayleigh and Tommy never went to live wither their father, sparing them from his maltreatment and Lenny from Tommy’s abuse, and effectively ends his family curse and results in improved lives for all at the cost of his own, something hinted at in an earlier scene also new to this version where a fortune teller (Chapelle Jaffe) reveals that he has no lifeline and was “never meant to be”.

The Summary:
Believe me, no one’s more surprised than me at how much I enjoy The Butterfly Effect. While I’m a big science-fiction fan, enjoy time travel stories, and have a twisted appreciation for a good old bleak ending, it definitely helps when actors I actually enjoy or believe in are involved but Ashton Kutcher really surprised me in this one. It’s a shame that I haven’t seen him do more thrillers or more serious roles as he really brought a surprising level of emotion and anguish to this film, which was a necessity given how dark and unsettling The Butterfly Effect’s content can be. While flawed at times (Evan’s “stigmata” trick really shouldn’t have worked, for example), the time travel mechanic is very unique; I liked that Evan was limited to where and when he could travel back to and how his attempts to improve things had devastating knock-on effects. All of the characters are traumatised in some way, having experienced some horrifying events throughout their childhood, and I liked that Evan wasn’t just trying to make things better for him; he wanted to improve Kayleigh’s life, then Lenny’s, then save his mother, alongside his own selfish desires for happiness. It’s only when he’s been left a heavily disabled shadow of his former self that he acts selfishly, and he pays the ultimate price by first losing his diaries and then having to give up his life to ensure a good future for everyone else. Those who find child sexual abuse, suicide, and the unsettling ending particularly triggering may lash out at this film, but it never fails to make an impression on me, and I feel it’s unfairly overlooked. The score, performances, and concept are all executed really well and it’s definitely a top-tier harrowing, sci-fi thriller for me that I often find myself returning to.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of The Butterfly Effect? Which version of the film did you prefer and what did you think to the Director’s Cut’s new, disturbing ending? Were you a fan of Ashton Kutcher’s performance in this film and what did you think to the traumas he experienced throughout? Which of the alternative timelines was your favourite and how do you think you would use Evan’s power? Have you seen any of the sequels and, if so, how do you rate them compared to this film? What are some of your favourite time travel and Ashton Kutcher films? I’d love to know what you think about The Butterfly Effect so sign up to leave your thoughts below or drop a comment on my social media.

Talking Movies: South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut

Released: 30 June 1999
Director: Trey Parker
Distributor:
Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros.
Budget:
$21 million
Stars:
Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Mary Kay Bergman, and Isaac Hayes

The Plot:
After seeing the new Terrence and Philip movie, the kids of South Park cause controversy when they freely spout a whole slew of new swear words and profanity. This leads to Kyle Broflovski’s (Stone) mother, Sheila (Bergman), becoming so outraged that she pushes for all-out war against Canada! However, the situation escalates when, after dying, Kenny McCormick (Stone) uncovers a plot between Saddam Hussein (ibid) and Satan (Parker) to use these events as a catalyst to bring an age of darkness to the entire world!

The Background:
Back in 1992, Matt Stone and Trey Parker created a crude animated film using only glue, construction paper, and an old 8mm film camera. After being commissioned to create a follow-up short, the pilot episode first aired on this day in 1997 and a full series soon followed, which saw the duo joined by a team of around seventy employees. The duo also switched to replicating their cardboard cut-out style with computers, and the popularity of the show’s first season led to discussions of a feature-length production in 1998. Right off the bat, Stone and Parker made it clear that a feature-length film would have to be R-rated and eventually got this wish even after studio executives tried to sway them to tone things down. The filmmakers used a variety of additional computer effects to help the film stand out from its television counterpart, something further bolstered by the duo’s decision to make the film a musical, though production was made tense due to several battles with producers and executives regarding the film’s tone and marketing. Despite its vulgar humour, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut released to widespread critical praise and earned over $83 million at the box office, making it the highest-grossing R-rated movie until it was knocked from its perch about sixteen years later.

The Review:
Man, I was so hyped for this film as a kid; funnily enough, though, I don’t actually remember if I knew that it was a musical until I was sitting in the cinema with my friend and the opening sequence started. As surprising as this may have been, it definitely didn’t put me off and only added to the film’s charm. Considering how popular and notorious South Park was when the film released, it’s unlikely that many audiences went into it without at least some knowledge of the show, its crude humour, and its colourful cast of characters and yet the film helpfully introduces us to the snowy, quiet, and apparently unassuming town with its opening song (“Mountain Town”) and by having Stan Marsh (Trey Parker) tour through the streets recruiting his friends to the cinema event of their lives, Terrance Henry Stoot (Matt Stone) and Phillip Niles Argyle’s (Parker) Asses of Fire. Fans of the show will remember Terrence and Phillip from the season episode “Death” (Stone, 1997), which actually contained a similar sub-plot to this movie; the duo (sometimes depicted as crudely animated cartoon characters) are a couple of vulgar Canadian comedians known for foul language and toilet humour but they’re heroes to the South Park kids.

The kids pick up some new curses but Stan is preoccupied by Wendy’s new flame.

This opening song not only introduces the four main characters but also sets up many of the themes of the movie; Stan’s mother, Sharon (Bergman), sings about Stan’s pure-hearted innocence, Kenny’s mother, Carol (ibid), chastises him for skipping church to see the film and warns him that he’ll have to answer for Satan for his actions, and Kyle’s overbearing and controlling mother forces him to not only lie about where he’s going to avoid upsetting her further but to also take his adopted baby brother Ike (Various) along with them. Of course, Eric Cartman (Parker) doesn’t have to worry about his mother, his family, or money troubles like his friends since he emotionally manipulates his kind-hearted and doting mother, Liane (Bergman), with his callous and demanding persona but even he can’t get past the movie rating laws that forbid them from seeing Asses of Fire due to being underage. Stan, however, bribes a homeless man to pose as their legal guardian and get them into the film, which is a typical nonsense Terrence and Phillip affair of fart jokes and baloney but with the added bonus of including a whole new array of uncensored swear words and insults for the kids to pick up (“Uncle Fucka”). While the adults in the audience are horrified by the vulgarity, the kids are captivated and waste no time in impressing their fellow kids with their new vocabulary. Stan, however, is disheartened to find his long-time crush and on-again/off-again girlfriend, Wendy Testaburger (Bergman), has latched on to newcomer Gregory (Parker), an eloquent and sophisticated transfer student who appeals to her sensible and rational mindset.

Following Kenny’s death, Sheila rallies the town against Canada and their vulgar humour.

To try and win her back, Stan goes to Jerome McElroy/Chef (Isaac Hayes) for advice but the smooth-talking womaniser accidentally informs him that the best way to make a woman like him is to “find the clitoris”; since Stan is too young to understand this, he believes that this is more of a spiritual quest and begins a sub-plot revolving around him trying to decipher Chef’s words and win back Wendy’s affections. Thanks to the kids, though, the rest of their class bribes their way into Assess of Fire and, before long, they’re all singing and quoting lines from the film (with the exception of the sensible Gregory and Wendy). Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny’s blatant use of swears horrifies their teacher, Herbert Garrison (ibid), and sees them sent to the school councillor, Mister Mackey (ibid), and lands them in hot water with their mothers. Although Mr. Mackey tries to dissuade the children from swearing (“It’s Easy, M’Kay”) and the school places a ban on Terrance and Phillip apparel, the kids continue to sneak into the film at every opportunity and Asses of Fire becomes a huge hit all across the country despite concerns that its content is ruining America’s youth. This all comes to a head when the kids try to recreate a scene from the film and, in the process, Kenny burns himself to death trying to light his fart. For Sheila, this is the final straw; not only do the mothers ground their kids for two weeks but she takes her opposition to the movie, and all of Canada, to the next level by reorganising the Parent/Teacher Association into Mothers Against Canada (M.A.C.) and vehemently opposing any and all Canadian products and imports in the town (“Blame Canada”).

The arresting of Terrence and Phillip and war against Canada turn out to be signs of Satan’s return.

After paying off Conan O’Brien (Brent Spiner), Sheila then has Terrence and Phillip arrested for corrupting America’s youth; when the American ambassador (Stone) refuses to let the duo go and insults his Canadian counterpart (Parker), Canada responds by bombing and killing the Baldwin family and before long an all-out war between America and Canada is declared, with Sheila positioned as President Bill Clinton’s (ibid) chief advisor and Terrence and Phillip set to be executed as war criminals. While Kyle is angered at Cartman’s views on his mother (“Kyle’s Mom’s a Bitch”), the kids agree that they have to do something to stop their mothers and the war (“What Would Brian Boitano Do?”) and so unite the town’s kids under the banner of “La Resistance”. While they struggle to come up with a practical plan, Gregory leads them to Christophe/The Mole (Parker), who helps them to infiltrate the United Service Organisations (USO) show where the duo are set to be executed. Their motivations are only bolstered when Cartman is visited by Kenny’s ghost, who warns that this is all playing into an age-old prophecy that will allow Satan to rise up and bring devastation to the world. Having been denied entrance into Heaven, Kenny’s soul is cast down to the fiery depths of Hell where he finds Satan in a toxic relationship with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. While Satan is trying to focus on his opportunity to finally have his time in the sun (“Up There”) and wants more from their relationship, Saddam is an egotistical and self-centred schemer who’s focused only on sex. Although Kenny tries to convince Satan to leave his abusive partner, Saddam is easily able to emotionally manipulate Satan’s good nature (“I Can Change”) and, when the war culminates in Terrance and Phillip’s deaths despite the best efforts of La Resistance, he immediately usurps Satan’s position to steal the spotlight as the new dark ruler of the world.

The Nitty-Gritty:
As you might expect from South Park, the film is full of crude humour, sight gags, and ridiculous jokes; we see this right from the start as Cartman accuses Terrence and Phillip of having crappy animation and the kids are immediately seen jerking along in stilted movements. Cartman shines even brighter during his big solo where he complains about Kyle’s mother, his little gag with the microphone where he tells Mr. Garrison to suck his balls never fails to amuse, and he even absurdly tries to beat Kenny’s flames out with a stick! Kenny’s botched operation is similarly hilarious as Dr. Gouache (George Clooney) and his attendants slice his charred corpse up, beat him with a hammer, and accidentally replace his heart with a baked potato! The film also dips into comical satire with the “March of War” promotional video, Kyle randomly tapping keys on his computer to “re-route the encryptions” and get a message to the town’s kids (Cartman’s insistence on advertising that they’ll have punch and pie is a riot), and while Chef only has a small role he’s perfectly placed to lampoon the army’s notorious racism. Although created solely for the film, Christophe proves to be a true highlight; a foul-mouthed atheist with a dodgy French accent, the Mole provides some of the best and most absurd lines of the film with his rants about God, his mother (who stabbed him with a coat hanger while still in the womb!), and his “butt for” gag that are matched only by the wacky levels of blood and violence during the final conflict between the American and Canadian armies.

M.A.C.’s campaign against Canada quickly escalates to bigotry, a special chip, and all-out war.

In true South Park fashion, the reaction to a vulgar film is suitably over the top and comical; all of the town’s adults are outraged that their children have become “corrupted” by Terrence and Phillip and resort to more extreme measures when their attempts to ground their kids fail. In addition to burning all Canadian paraphernalia and causing all Americans of Canadian descent and blood to be sent to death camps, M.A.C. employs the services of Doctor Vosknocker (Eric Idle) to create the “V-chip”, an electronic device that is implanted into Cartman against his will and delivers a painful electric shock any time he speaks a swear word. As if these extreme methods weren’t bad enough, Sheila’s commitment to opposing the vulgarity of Asses of Fire expose her as an all-out racist; as Kyle says, she even forgets that her adopted son is Canadian and not only takes every opportunity to attack the physical characteristics of Canadians (which are exaggerated in the film’s animation) but to wage all-out war against them. She’s so obsessed with blaming and punishing everyone else, that she’s willing to put countless lives at risk in a senseless and bloody war simply because of a few swear words, which is just another fantastic example of how clever South Park’s social commentary can be as it parodies how extreme parents and social groups can be when opposing things they believe to be morally questionable.  

Thanks to Kenny, Satan overcomes his dependency on Saddam and the town is saved.

As a result of Sheila’s pompous and fanatical ways, Satan comes across as a far more sympathetic and relatable character; while you can kind of see where Sheila’s coming from, she quickly goes to unbelievable extremes to persecute Canadians under the façade of protecting her son that it makes her thoroughly unlikeable, whereas Satan simply longs to escape his aeons of banishment to the netherworld and claim the world as his own. Not only that, it’s clear that he’s a sensitive and introspective demon who’s being manipulated by Saddam Hussein; when he spreads his army of darkness across the world and begins his reign of terror, he specifically states that it’s in reaction to Sheila’s bigotry and that the world must pay for her actions but he’s quickly pushed aside by Saddam’s own desire for power and conquest. Initially unable to work up the courage to stand against Saddam, Satan finally frees himself from his lover’s toxic influence after seeing him unsuccessful try and fool Cartman with the same lies he used on Satan earlier and, in gratitude for Kenny’s help in seeing Saddam for what he truly is, Satan agrees to restore the world and the lives lost prior to the war. Unfortunately, this means that Kenny has to go back too and, in a surprisingly poignant moment, he reveals his face for the first time and bids a fond farewell to his friends and ascends to Heaven as peace and understanding returns to the world (“Mountain Town (Reprise)”).

The Summary:
Even after all this time, my love and appreciation for South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut remains unchanged; it’s as fun, entertaining, and poignant to me now as it was back when it first came out, when the hype and excitement about South Park was at its most palpable. Indeed, the one complaint I have about the film is that it came maybe a little too soon in the show’s lifecycle, meaning that later breakout characters like Leopold Stotch/Butters (Stone), Tweek Tweak (ibid), Jimmy Valmer (Parker), and Timmy Burch (ibid) either don’t feature (due to not being created yet) or have extremely minor roles. This, however, is a revisionist criticism and does absolutely nothing to reduce my enjoyment of the film; by recycling a few of the gags from the show’s first two seasons and expanding upon the premise, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut proves to be as thought-provoking and surprisingly touching as it is vulgar and controversial. Many like to criticise South Park for appealing to the lowest common denominator with its immature jokes and crude humour but the showrunners often lace their episodes with commentary of modern society and media and the film is no different; by parodying the extreme reaction to vulgar content, the film holds a mirror up to South Park’s own critics and shows how there are things that are far worse than some naughty language. Add to that the legitimately funny jokes, the tight writing, a whole slew of catchy songs, some fun new characters, and the moving reveal of Kenny’s face and you’ve got an extremely humorous, witty, and touching animated feature that I enjoy just as much now as I did all those years ago when I first saw it at the cinema.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Did you enjoy South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut? Were you a fan of the musical approach and, if so, which of the songs was your favourite? Which of the kids is your favourite and did you enjoy Kenny’s side plot in Hell and Cartman’s troubles with the V-chip? Were you a fan of the film’s satire on the extreme reaction to bad language in films and cartoons? Do you agree that Canada isn’t a real country? Would you have liked to see a sequel made that included some of the show’s later breakout characters? How are you celebrating South Park’s anniversary this year? No matter what your thoughts on South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, or South Park in general, I’d love to hear from you so feel free to leave a comment below by signing up or on my social media.