Thursday, 11 May 2017

TBT - Escape From LA (1996)

One of my biggest fears before watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 last week was the change in Peter's parentage. In the comics, Quill is the son of the Spartoi J'son. He's a complicated character who eventually becomes a villain who puts a bounty on his son's head. I can see why Marvel and James Gunn wanted to find an easier solution. That solution, as we now know, was to introduce Ego to the MCU. It initially like a bit of a risk but Kurt Russell's character quickly became the most memorable Marvel villain in years. He revealed a super dark and sinister side and rocked Pete's world for ever. Kurt Russell is fantastic in the role and it only got me keen to rewatch some of his classics. Now, it's not like I have the greatest knowledge of all of Russell's career but I know what I like. And what I like is Snake Plissken. He's the gruff, rough anti-hero who rocked an eye-patch way before Samuel L. got in on the act. It might not be Russell's finest hour but the two Escape films are some of the greatest films I've ever seen.

The 1981 film, Escape from New York is one of John Carpenter's best films. It's a weird mess of an action film set in a futuristic New York city. It's a fantastic watch and is brilliantly headed up by Kurt Russell as wanted criminal Snake Plissken. It's writer/director teamed up with the actor to write a sequel that was released 15 years later. It's safe to say that the sequel didn't quite live up to the first film and audiences were left feeling disappointed. And I can kind of see why. On the face of it, Escape from LA is nowhere near as good as it's predecessor. However, it just happens to be one of the best pulpy type parodies of all time.

For his return, Snake Plissken goes on a very similar journey to his last one but, this time, he's in LA not New York. Genius. At the film opens, we learn that an Earthquake has left part of Los Angeles covered in water and the rest has been cut off so the worst members of society can be shipped off and left to their own devices. The rest of America is controlled by a Theocrat who believes it was God's will to forsake the people of LA. When his daughter hijacks Air Force 3 and steals the codes to a series of satellites that can control and destroy every country in the world's power supply. She then heads to island to meet her lover, its de facto ruler Cuervo Jones. Snake is charged with getting the codes back without worrying about the president's daughter. If he doesn't, the criminals stuck on the island will revolt and destroy the world. Oh, and the deadly virus that has been injected into Snake's system will kill him.

So, it's kind of the same story but with some slight changes. However, the film had a larger budget than the first film and is full of all sorts of CGI wizardry. Obviously that looks dated now but, even by 90s standards, it was always falling a bit short. This is much less of a problem than most seem to believe, though. Surely, it's part of the point? This film doesn't claim to be the best action film of all time. It's a film that is determined to have fun with that premise and make it as loud, obnoxious and preposterous as possible. And that's what is is. It's not a clever or original film but it's a film that you can't help but enjoy. The plot is thin to allow Carpenter to have as much fun in the big set-pieces as possible. Why bother having a complicated plot when you could just watch Snake play basketball for his life? Who needs depth when you can watch Kurt Russell and co. descend over LA in gliders and shooting automatics at the people below?

Although, there is a certain amount of depth to this film. It asks important questions about morality and government that, certainly in this day and age, seem quite prescient. I mean, we're dealing with a psychopathic autocrat who wants to get rid of the people he doesn't see as truly American by building a massive wall and stationing guards all the way along it. Anyone who says this film doesn't have depth or point is a moron. It's just that every interesting and clever thing this film has to say is hidden behind the cheap tricks and attempt to push the genre to the limits. It's all wrapped up in garish and fun packaging but this film really is something.

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