A rogue bomber pilot steals two nukes.
Directed by John Woo
Starring John Travolta, Christian Slater, and Samantha Mathis
Review by Jon Kissel
The action movies that dominated the mid-90’s occupy an interesting place in the culture. The Cold War’s over, so Communist villains are out, but it’s pre-9/11, so the next easy bad-guy shorthand hasn’t arrived yet, either. Hollywood’s still reveling in leftover masculinity from the 80’s, so there’s none of the introspection of something like the Bourne series. We’re all gung-ho with nowhere to go, so these movies frequently envision internal chaotic enemies i.e. your Castor Troys, your Cyrus the Viruses. Whatever it takes to keep the Department of Defense-sponsored glorification of war games going. Broken Arrow is an early example of the six-year period that would be dominated by Jerry Bruckheimer and his protégé Michael Bay, and no one would say it’s the best of breed. Hong Kong action staple director John Woo still hasn’t figured out how to marry his distinctive style to English-language film, a synchronization he would finally crack one year later with Face/Off. These absurd movies need to get as far from realism as possible, and Broken Arrow, while it’s no one’s idea of realistic, is still too close. I at least need magnet boots or their equivalent in my nonsense action.
The term ‘influential’ is a complicated one in film history. It implies some kind of groundbreaking idea or technique that no one had thought of before and future filmmakers adopted, but there’s a difference between first and widest-reaching. There were zombie movies before Night of the Living Dead, and there were McGuffin movies before Raiders of the Lost Ark. Movies that are supposedly influential, too, have the disadvantage of being the original, such that dozens of directors get to take a crack at them before a viewer goes back and sees the original. Going into Seven Samurai for the first time, I’d seen plenty of Japanese period films, Westerns, war films, and teams being assembled. I also knew of Seven Samurai’s reputation as one of the most critically acclaimed films ever made, currently standing at #17 on the Sight and Sound Top 250 list of lists. That’s a lot of baggage to put on its hefty 207 minute runtime, but this is still a classic worthy of imitation. Strip all the expectations away, and it’s just as entertaining and resonant as it was when it was released sixty-six years ago.
We live in complicated times at this moment, but it’s easy to forget that our parents didn’t have it any easier, and arguably had it harder. They also lived through an unnecessary war, choking economic stagnation, and intranational conditions that erupted in violence. How film dealt with the 60’s and 70’s, specifically the Vietnam War, is an attempt at public therapy but it can’t help but fall into political poles. Some of the most memorable and acclaimed movies about Vietnam, like Apocalypse Now or Full Metal Jacket, focus on the insanity and the absurdity, and therefore split the right/left divisions. Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July work as axes to grind by their director, Oliver Stone, who remains justifiably angry at the government that deceitfully sent so many of its own citizens to kill and be killed. On the opposite end of the spectrum are films like the Rambo sequels and Hamburger Hill, works that feed into a victimization and a stabbed-in-the-back narrative that has sustained fascist movements throughout the 20th century and beyond. Hamburger Hill reeks of political messaging in the most blunt way imaginable, a film that laments the loss of life while reveling in blood and gore. Along with American Sniper, this might be the worst war film I’ve ever seen.
If there’s a kind of blockbuster film that drives me crazy, it’s the franchise originator that automatically assumes sequels are coming. These kinds of movies aren’t self-contained nuggets of story and character, but stall games that are mere first acts of a single story compared to first entries in a continuing saga. Green Lantern, Tom Cruise’s Mummy, The Last Airbender, that movie that cast John C. Reilly as a vampire mentor, all half-measures and aborted corporate wastes of time. This brings us to Alita: Battle Angel, a long-gestating James Cameron project/hentai masterwork. It gives snippets of backstory that will inevitably be filled in later, withholds a single glimpse of the giant city above the city where the action takes place, and casts Ed Norton just so he can wear futuristic goggles and smirk in a single scene, like the viewer is going to be enticed to come back to this franchise so they can watch him type menacingly. Movies often end on ellipses, but this whole outing is an ellipsis, a vehicle for CGI that could’ve moved through its thin plot in about 30 minutes.
Nerd idol Edgar Wright has been pumping out references and homages to cultural totems for a few decades, dating back to his English sitcom Spaced that he created with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. This trio would go on to make their Cornetto Trilogy of rapid-fire comedic genre films with, for me at least, diminishing returns, and Wright’s forays into summer filmmaking haven’t hit the nail on the head either. Baby Driver was too eccentric for my tastes, as is Scott Pilgrim vs the World. A cult hit that failed to find much of an audience in its theatrical run, Scott Pilgrim is a movie-as-video-game, kinetic and vaguely nonsensical with graphical and audio flourishes that work on those who’ve dug deep into the hidden properties of… checks notes… Seinfeld and The Legend of Zelda. This action comedy for the hipster set is both narrow in its appeal and broad in its references. There’s fun to be had in certain corners, but Wright is throwing an exhausting amount at the wall. Some sticks, and some pathetically drips down to the floor.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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