“Total Recall” (1990)
This movie is so freakin’ awesome that I will never watch the 2012 remake with Colin Farrell. I know I shouldn’t think of that film as a remake, but rather another adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” but just like the “Conan the Barbarian” remake, you just can’t recreate the magic of Arnie. Lines like “Get your ass to Mars,” and “Screw you, Benny!” So many great scenes like the shootout on the escalator where Douglas Quaid uses an innocent bystander as a human shield or when people get sucked out onto the Mars surface and the low atmospheric pressure causes their eyeballs bug out of their orbital sockets. Ronny Cox and Michael Ironside are great villains. Robert Picardo was the voice of Johnnycab. Marshall Bell, who was the bad guy in “Twins,” plays the mutant with Kuato growing out of his torso. Spectacular makeup and visual effects by Rob Bottin. I saw this extremely violent movie at the age of five while on vacation with my family in Orlando, Florida. I also saw “Die Hard 2” that week, but I liked “Total Recall” a lot more even if I had no clue what was happening in the story. All I knew was that Quaid needed to turn on a reactor. Sharon Stone became famous for “Basic Instinct” two years after this, but she was never hotter than in this film. Rachel Ticotin, though Quaid’s love interest, was a self reliant character. You’d be hard pressed to find too many damsels in distress in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. “RoboCop” (1987) was great, but this is my favorite of Paul Verhoeven films. Fans still debate whether or not the majority of the film takes place inside the mind of Quaid. The ending was ambiguous.
“Kindergarten Cop” (1990)
Arnie reteams with Ivan Reitman and again shows his range as an actor. His character, Detective John Kimble, actually has an arc. He goes from a clichéd tough as nails cop “who plays by his own set of rules” to a sensitive nurturer. The film opens inside of a shopping mall, so now you would think it is a satire of the mall sequence from “T2,” but the film was released a year before “T2.” Like “Twins,” there’s a lot of heart to the story. Arnie didn’t have someone like Danny DeVito to play off of this time, but he interacted well with all the child actors, which isn’t always easy. Penelope Ann Miller was a good love interest. I remember seeing a lot of this actress in early 1990s. I think she was great in “The Freshman” that same year, but haven’t seen much of her in recent years. Linda Hunt was great as the principal. She’s tough on Kimble at first, but she eventually warms up to him because of his surprising success as a teacher and also for slugging an abusive father. Pamela Reed was also good as Kimble’s partner. They had a real nice rapport. Richard Tyson added a lot to the film because he played his part straight. A key to the success of an action / comedy is for the actors portraying antagonists to come across as a serious threat and not be the butt of too many jokes. Look to James Remar and Sonny Landham in “48 Hrs.” (1982) as a strong example. “Kindergarten Cop” holds up today even though Arnie’s fan base has matured. The jokes still work. Lines like “I’m the party pooper,” and “It’s not a tumor!” And just like “Twins,” the ending was suspenseful. The final shootout in the locker room played like a genuine police thriller… accept for the ferret.
“I’m back” counter: 1
“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)
Was this the zenith of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career? Even with inflation, it is still his most financial successful film and perhaps his most popular. With the exception of “True Lies” (1994), it’s mostly downhill from here. Arnie reunites with James Cameron, Stan Winston, and Linda Hamilton. This time, the T-800 has become one of the good guys, reprogrammed and sent back in time to protect teenage John Connor (Edward Furlong) from the far more advanced liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick). The T-1000 seems to embody James Cameron’s original concept for “The Terminator,” using the ability to morph greatly to its advantage. The T-1000 is clearly the more efficient killer and it has the advantage over the T-800 in most physical altercations. Another unused concept that resurfaces here is having Sarah Connor in a mental institution. Something that James Cameron originally conceived for the character John Rambo in “Rambo: First Blood, Part 2 (1985)” but Sylvester Stallone had his own ideas. James Cameron had already crafted one of the great sequels of all time with “Aliens” (1986), following up on Ridley Scott’s classic, “Alien” (1979). Now, Cameron was adding to his own legacy. He makes sequels that aren’t reliant on the audience having seen the previous film to enjoy the current one. In my first Arnold Schwarzenegger article, I referred to his character as the T-800. But, I’ve now learned that some believe he is of the T-850 series, model 101. Whatever his designation is, he becomes a surrogate father to John Connor and learns the value of human life as the story unfolds. Arnie doesn’t even kill anyone in this movie unless you count the T-1000. Michael Biehn filmed a dream sequence cameo as Kyle Reese, but James Cameron decided to cut the scene. As I much as we all liked Michael Biehn’s performance in the original, I agree with Cameron’s decision. Sarah Connor was now a badass action hero in her own right and no longer needed a pep talk from Reese. On the “Shaun of the Dead” (2004) DVD audio commentary, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright poke fun at the overly sentimental climax, with Arnie giving John the big thumbs up as he is lowered into the vat of molten steel, but I though it was epic. I’m getting misty just writing about it. “Hasta la vista, baby.”
“I’ll be back” counter: 5
“Last Action Hero” (1993)
“Magic ticket my ass, McBain.” The biggest problem with this movie was that it was a parody of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies… starring Arnold Schwarzenegger? So, most people didn’t get the joke, and even if they did, the jokes weren’t that funny. Imagine if Mel Gibson and Danny Glover had starred in “National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1,” which spoofed the “Lethal Weapon” franchise. This was Arnie’s second collaboration with John McTiernan and needless to say, this flick was nowhere near as awesome as “Predator,” their previous film. Danny DeVito voices a cartoon cat and Robert Patrick makes a cameo as the T-1000, which he had already done in “Wayne’s World” (1992), so that joke was already wearing thin. Sharon Stone also makes a cameo as her character from “Basic Instinct” (1992). Sharon Stone had co-starred with Arnie in “Total Recall,” though I don’t get how referencing “Basic Instinct” satirizes the action / adventure genre. It was a just pointless pop culture reference. I will say that both Charles Dance and Tom Noonan very pretty cool villains. And the one joke which definitely landed was seeing Sylvester Stallone on the poster for “T2.” Even though this was mediocre film, I still had a Jack Slater action figure as a kid, which I traded for a Michael Keaton Batman since I had three T-800 action figures from “T2,” so I was covered in the Arnie toy department.
“I’ll be back” counter: 6
“True Lies” (1994)
I don’t know if James Cameron is a big 007 fan, but there were several homages in this film, which I only recently learned was a remake of the French film titled “La Totale!” I’ve not seen the original, but I assume moments like Harry Tasker removing a wetsuit to reveal his tuxedo were inspired by “Goldfinger” (1964). This film poses the question, what if a suave super spy was also a family man? Outside of the “Halloween” franchise, this is the role Jamie Lee Curtis is most known for. As Helen Tasker, she displayed both her sex appeal and comedic chops during her erotic dance sequence. She’s spoken very highly of this film in interviews. Tom Arnold is serviceable as Arnie’s sidekick. He’s never been in anything else as good as this. And Bill Paxton was an absolute riot. His character provided so many laughs. But, how did Tia Carrere not become a big star after her performance this movie? She was such a superb femme fatale, worthy of a James Bond villainous. Between the “Wayne’s World” franchise and “True Lies,” the future looked bright, but after co-starring in just one Pauly Shore movie, she was relegated to syndicated TV. Shame. Though she acted in “Kull the Conqueror” (1997), which was initially conceived as a Conan the Barbarian movie. I pointed out in my review of “The Living Daylights” (1987) how political climates are reflected in cinema from one decade to the next. During the Cold War, Art Malik was a hero in a James Bond film. Then, just seven years later, Middle Easterners had replaced the Russians as Hollywood’s stock villains. While I do have my ideological differences with the late Charlton Heston, his macho onscreen persona was almost a precursor to Arnold Schwarzenegger, so it’s cool that he had supporting role. Also, his character wore an eye-patch which automatically makes him a badass. This is around the time that Arnie was rumored to be starring in a remake of “Planet of the Apes,” to be directed by Oliver Stone. That film lingered in development hell. Bummer. Eliza Dushku played Dana Tasker. She’s become a favorite of fanboys since. I saw her live at New York Comic Con 2012. “True Lies” was the last feature length collaboration between Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron. In 1996 they filmed “T2 3-D: Battle Across Time” for the Universal Studios theme park stunt show. There were “True Lies” sequel rumors for years, but nothing ever came to fruition.
*Sigh* I had only seen this movie once, but unlike “Red Heat,” I chose to watch it again before writing this article. Though Arnie is reunited on camera with Danny DeVito and Ivan Reitman is in the director’s chair, this is not the sequel to “Twins.” I do not fault Arnie for playing against type. Even Rainier Wolfcastle once offered to play a nerd, but I guess audiences won’t suspend their disbelief enough. Yes, they will accept Arnie as a barbarian, a cyborg, a soldier, a cop, or a spy with amnesia, but not a scientist. Shame. This was just such a bizarre concept. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a pregnant man? This isn’t what his fan base would want to see. And no one else takes him seriously enough as an actor to have an open mind. All that people remember about this movie is the dream sequence with the crying baby with Arnie’s face. At least Roger Ebert praised Arnie’s performance. Overall, “Junior” is a high concept film with too few laughs. The weakest of Arnie’s collaborations with Ivan Reitman. Again, I will commend Arnie for making some brave choices. He even dresses in drag, but the movie just wasn’t funny and a tad disturbing.
I guess you can say that this was the last Arnold Schwarzenegger film that really felt like an Arnold Schwarzenegger film. No cringe inducing ice puns, no devils, no clones, just Arnie being a badass. He plays U.S. Marshall John Kruger, who assists people in the witness protection program, namely Vanessa Williams. I do wonder if Arnie’s character was named Kruger because director Chuck Russell had made “Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors” (1987)? Kruger is betrayed by his mentor, played by James Caan. This film has really great supporting cast. James Coburn, Robert Pastorelli, and James Cromwell. Also, some high quality action scenes. Kruger falls from an airplane without a parachute and acquires one in mid-air. How very 007 of him. He also shoots an alligator and follows up with the line, “You’re luggage.” This may not be Arnie’s most popular flick, but it’s guilty pleasure of mine. Chuck Russell also helmed “The Scorpion King” (2002) with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The Rock is one of the few modern day action heroes with Arnie’s charisma.
“Jingle All the Way” (1996)
Well, at least this movie has provided Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel with a lot of comedic fodder. The story begins a lot like “The Santa Clause” (1994), telling the story of career oriented man, who neglects his family even during the holiday season. Sinbad plays Arnie’s rival for the elusive “Turbo-Man” doll. Phil Hartman is his unscrupulous neighbor, always trying to outshine Arnie and seduce his wife, Rita Wilson. Jake Lloyd, the future Anakin Skywalker, is the son of Arnie. Jim Belushi has a small role as the crooked mall Santa Claus. Danny Woodburn from “Seinfeld” is his elf. Pro wrestler, Paul White, who at the time was known as The Giant in WCW and now known as The Big Show in WWE, plays the monstrous Santa Claus whom Arnie must fight. Curtis “Booger” Armstrong voices Turbo-Man’s unpopular sidekick, Booster. The movie did a good job capturing the insanity of Christmas shopping, but it all falls apart in end when Arnold actually becomes Turbo-Man. Not that he wears the suit in a parade, but that the suit is functional. He flies around the city while Sinbad tries to steal the doll, guised as Dementor, Turbo-Man’s arch nemesis. The silly ending makes the movie unwatchable for anyone over the age of eight. WWE Studios is actually developing a sequel starring Larry the Cable Guy. Wow, that will definitely suck.
“Batman & Robin” (1997)
See my article “Batman: The Joel Schumacher Years” for my review…
“End of Days” (1999)
Arnie never really bounced back from “Batman & Robin.” He somehow endured “Last Action Hero” and “Junior,” but “Batman & Robin” caused his star in Hollywood to fade. It was the end of an era, so maybe “End of Days” was an appropriate title for his final film of the millennium. I actually don’t dislike this movie as much as most people do. It was nice to see a mini reunion of “The Usual Suspects” (1995) with Gabriel Byrne and Kevin Pollack. It was just such a strange concept to infuse a film about the antichrist like “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) or “The Omen” (1976) with the action / adventure genre. I enjoyed the scene where Satan tries to tempt Arnie’s character and Arnie brazenly calls him a choir boy. Only Arnold Schwarzenegger can mouth off to the prince of darkness, but overall the film just doesn’t work. And this was the first movie where Arnie played a human who actually died. His only other deaths scenes where as the T-800. The best thing to come out of this film was Arnie appearing on WWF Smackdown! to promote it and he pummeled Triple H. But, that didn’t do anything help box office returns.
“Conan the Barbarian” (1982)
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first cinematic endeavor was “Hercules in New York” (1969). It’s an atrociously bad flick. By the late 1970s, Arnie had improved as an actor and gave a surprisingly good performance in “Stay Hungry” (1976), playing a bodybuilder, which was appropriate casting and he held his own with the likes of Jeff Bridges and Sally Field. “Pumping Iron” was released in 1977 and chronicled Lou Ferrigno’s attempt to unseat Arnold Schwarzenegger in the “Mr. Olympia” competition. You wouldn’t think a documentary about buff men in speedos would make for a compelling watch, but the film was well received by both critics and general audiences. The 1980s then became the era of the action hero. Sylvester Stallone had the head star, establishing the characters Rocky Balboa and John Rambo. Arnold Schwarzenegger entered the mix when he was cast as the lead in “Conan the Barbarian.” Directed by John Milius, this film is a loose adaptation of stories penned by Robert E. Howard. Hard to imagine, but Oliver Stone was actually one of several writers who contributed to the screenplay. At a young age, Conan witnesses his parents murdered by Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). Conan is then sold into slavery and becomes a pit-fighter when he reaches adulthood. For reasons unknown, his master sets him free and he becomes a renowned thief. After a series of adventures, Conan and his new companions are hired by King Osric (Max von Sydow) to rescue his daughter from Thulsa Doom, who is revealed to be a cult leader of sorts. Conan is more interesting in personal revenge and his haste leads to the death of his love interest, Valeria (Sandahl Bergman). Mako plays Akiro the Wizard, who assists Conan in act three. Conan finally confronts Doom and despite Doom’s best efforts to talk his way out of trouble, Conan decapitates him, avenging his parents. Before the end credits roll, we see an older Conan on a throne, implying that this was merely his origin story and greater adventures await, promising a long running series of films. Unfortunately, there was only one mediocre sequel in 1984 and a remake released in 2011, which I’ve never seen. Jason Momoa from “Game of Thrones” seems like a logically successor to Arnie in terms of physicality, but it’s hard to find someone with Arnie’s charisma, who can match his unique movie star persona. Fans love all of the carnage in “Conan the Barbarian,” but my favorite scene is when Conan is chased by a pack of wild dogs into a cavern and he discovers the remains of a king. Such an eerie scene that also hints at the character’s destiny.
“Conan the Destroyer” (1984)
Okay, so why is “Conan the Barbarian” enjoyable despite of its generic story and weak acting, while “Conan the Destroyer” is panned? Many complain about the PG rating. Yes, the violence was sorely missed, but the adventure still had potential. Sarah Douglas was a suitable antagonist as Queen Taramis. What annoyed me the most was the amount of irritating sidekicks Conan was saddled with. Mako being the acceptation. Also, this film does not deliver on the original film’s cliffhanger. I thought the sequel was suppose to tell the tale of how Conan became a king? But, when Princess Jehnna (Olivia d’Abo) suggests they marry and rule together, Conan balks at the idea and the movie ends with the same exact cliffhanger as the original. “Kull the Conqueror,” which was released in 1997 and starred Kevin Sorbo, was initially conceived as the third Conan film. “The Legend of Conan” is now in development, but taking Arnold Schwarzenegger’s age into consideration, you would have to imagine that Conan is already a king. One interesting tidbit about “Conan the Destroyer” was that Andre the Giant played Dagoth, the horned creature that Conan battled in the climax.
“The Terminator” (1984)
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature character. A cybernetic assassin from the year 2029. Writer / director James Cameron originally envisioned someone like Lance Henriksen for the T-800. An antagonist who moves stealthily, but after meeting with Arnie, James Cameron reworked the script. He knew how essential Arnie would be to the success of the film and even waited while Dino De Laurentiis forced Arnie to shoot “Conan the Destroyer.” Cameron used this time to work on the screenplays for “The Terminator,” “Rambo: First Blood, Part II,” and “Aliens.” This is an action / adventure / sci-fi flick, but also works as a date movie because of the romance. The story is really about Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn). Usually, I’ll find it hokey when characters in a movie fall in love so quickly, but it works here because these two characters were clearly “meant to be.” Reese traveled through time to protect the woman whose photograph had given him hope in the post-apocalyptic world. This leads to the conception of the future savior of the human race. So, by Skynet sending the T-800 back in time, it brings about its own downfall. By trying to prevent the birth of John Connor, Skynet inadvertently brings him into existence. But, of course, John Connor had already known that Kyle Reese was his father because his mother tells him. That’s all I’ll say about the time travel aspect of the story because the more you analyze it, the less sense it makes. The T-800 was the part Arnie was born to play. Such an iconic villain. He can’t be reasoned with. He can’t be bargained with. And he absolutely will not stop until you are dead!!! On some levels, I might be disappointed that he becomes the hero in the sequels. Not that I have anything against “T2.” Because of my age, I saw “T2” first as a kid and had a bunch of the action figures. Along with Arnie and James Cameron, the late Stan Winston is the man responsible for bringing the T-800 to life with his celebrated animatronics and makeup effects. “T2” was a real pioneer when it came to CGI, but the original was old school. Matte paintings, miniatures, and stop motion.
“I’ll be back” counter: 1
“Red Sonja” (1985)
Understand, I’ve only included this flick in the article because the backstory of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s involvement in the production was classic showbiz absurdity. “Red Sonja” was meant to be an offshoot of the “Conan the Barbarian” franchise, but despite of Dino De Laurentiis being the producer, this film did not have permission to use the “Conan” name. Instead, Arnie’s character was referred to as Kalidor. He was also meant to only appear in a cameo, but he was kept on set for nearly a month and the film was edited to make Kalidor essential to the plot. It was almost like the real life version of “Bowfinger,” with an actor being forced to star in film through nefarious means. Is it any wonder that Arnie never worked with Dino De Laurentiis again?
“Total Recall” (1990) took a lot of flack for being an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie with a high body count, probably because it was released at the height of his fame, but in “Commando,” Arnie can be credited with 94 deaths!!! Wow. This film was never one of my favorites. John Matrix sounds like such a phony name and musical score seems to be retread of “48 Hrs.” (1982). Also, I found Rae Dawn Chong’s character so unnecessary. Matrix needed to carjack her, but why the heck did she have to tag along for the rest of the movie? And Dan Hedaya’s Hispanic accent was pretty cartoony. Having said that, “Commando” might be the best of Arnie’s worst 1980s movies. If that makes sense. I’d rather watch this than “Raw Deal” or “Red Heat.” This film is also noteworthy as it was the inception of his “one liners.” It would soon become a staple of the genre for the hero to make a quip either before or after vanquishing a foe. Something that had already been done in the 007 films, but Arnie truly made it his own. The character Rainer Wolfcastle from “The Simpsons” is a very popular parody of Arnold Schwarzenegger and it was probably his performance in “Commando” which was most inspirational. Also, WWE Studios’ “The Marine” franchise continuously steals from “Commando,” rehashing the ex-soldier saving a loved one from kidnappers plot three times. To say that John Cena and The Miz are a couple poor substitutes for Arnold Schwarzenegger would be a vast understatement.
“I’ll be back” counter: 2
“Raw Deal” (1986)
Okay, so Arnold Schwarzenegger now goes undercover with the mafia? And no one is at all suspicious of his pretty thick Austrian accent? Also, his character’s wife is suffering from depression, so instead of supporting her, he fakes his death. How is her thinking her husband is dead not going to make her depression even worse? And all he does to fake his death is blow up his patrol car. If there’s not a body in the car, why would anyone assume that he was killed in the explosion? The reconciliation happens off camera, but apparently his wife was totally fine with his supposed death and surprise return. “Raw Deal” is a Steven Seagal movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Having said that, there is one supremely badass sequence with Arnie driving around a rock quarry in a leather jacket, shooting some anonymous henchmen while “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones blares.
*Arnie says “I’ll be RIGHT back,” this time, which doesn’t make my official tally.
“I ain’t got time to bleed.” This is the sort of movie that puts hair on your chest. The 1980s was the time for machismo. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Sonny Landham, and Jesse “The Body” Ventura. I won’t get into all of the behind the scenes drama with Jean-Claude Van Damme as the original actor inside of the Predator suit or the failures of the early dog-lizard-like design of the alien creature because the finished product shows no signs of the flawed production. Directed by John McTiernan, “Predator” succeeds as an action / adventure and a sci-fi / horror movie. It was definitely my favorite movie as a kid. Stan Winston was responsible for the iconic creature design. An extraterrestrial trophy hunter with dreadlocks and mandibles, portrayed by the over seven foot tall Kevin Peter Hall. Nowadays, all these CGI aliens from “Cloverfield,” “Cowboys & Aliens,” and “Super 8” seem to be the same slimy amphibian with claws. There’s nothing distinctive about their designs. The Predator’s vision is infrared, it can mimic the sounds made by humans, and can also be camouflaged by its surroundings. The Predator hunts by code. It shows good sportsmanship. It will not kill a human who is unarmed. But, if you are armed, it will skin you and rip your spinal cord out before polishing your skull up to keep as a prize. It stalks and kills every member of an elite military rescue team, who were trekking through a Central American jungle, building to a final showdown with Colonel Dutch Schaeffer. When Dutch lets out his primal roar, challenging the Predator, you know shit is about to go down. Never had Arnie been overmatched like this. He takes a beating, but when he turns the tide, he proves to not be a cold blooded killer. He shows mercy, only to have the Predator set off an explosive device. Arnie barely escapes with his life. At the end of “Commando,” he sports a few scratches. At the end of “Raw Deal,” he is totally unscathed. At the end of “Predator,” he looks to have been in several car wrecks. John McTiernan knew that for an action film to be successful, the hero needs to be put through the wringer. Something that he would carry over into the “Die Hard” franchise. “Predator 2” was released in 1990 and starred Danny Glover. It’s not as good as the original, but not as bad as some people gripe. Nobody seems to like that the film was set in Los Angeles, but the sequel needed to do something different. If it too was set in the jungle, it would’ve been viewed as lazy and unoriginal. Arnold Schwarzenegger has yet to appear in any of the follow up films. Allegedly, he was to have made a cameo at the end of “Alien vs. Predator” (2004), but him being elected as governor of California put the kibosh on that. Robert Rodriguez developed “Predators” (2009) with Arnie in mind to reprise his role as Dutch, but the lead ended up being a new character played by Adrien Brody. Arnold Schwarzenegger > Adrien Brody.
“The Running Man” (1987)
Long before “Battle Royale” (2000) or “The Hunger Games” (2012), there was “The Running Man.” Based on a novel written by Stephen King under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, this film is both quintessentially 1980s and somehow still ahead of its time by presenting a dystopian future where the media, namely reality TV, has brainwashed the masses. The only difference between “The Running Man” and modern reality TV is that no one ever gets slain on “Survivor” or “Big Brother.” The stalkers on “The Running Man” all have pro wrestling inspired gimmicks. Professor Subzero, Buzzsaw, Dynamo, Fireball, and Captain Freedom, who was played by Jesse “The Body” Ventura. This was the second pairing of Jesse and Arnie, two future governors. Richard Dawson, the then host of “Family Feud,” plays Damon Killian. Killian was an excellent antagonist and one of the few adversaries in an Arnold Schwarzenegger film to have a comeback for “I’ll be back.” Killian replies, “Only in a rerun.” Wow. He dared to talk back to Arnie. The love interest was played by Maria Conchita Alonso. This was the first movie where Arnie gets the girl. Sandahl Bergman died in “Conan the Barbarian.” He rejected Olivia d’Abo in “Conan the Destroyer.” His relationship with Rae Dawn Chong in “Commando” was strictly plutonic and I don’t count the psychological torment he caused his wife in “Raw Deal” as a happy ending. WWE Studios took a break from rehashing “Commando” in 2007, releasing “The Condemned,” starring”Stone Cold” Steve Austin. The concept was similar to “The Running Man.” Convicts fighting to the death to win their freedom. The difference being the jungle setting and that this death sport was streamed live on the internet. Since the concept is so fertile, I’m actually surprised there’s yet to be a sequel or a remake of “The Running Man.” Maybe the popularity of “The Hunger Games” will facility this?
“I’ll be back” counter: 3
“Red Heat” (1988)
Despite of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hilarious Russian accent, this movie might be the lamest buddy cop flick of the 1980s. Personally, I’m more disappointed with “Tango & Cash” (1989) because Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell are two of my favorite actors, but that movie sucked. I’m less surprised about the poor quality of this pairing of Arnie and Jim Belushi. It’s just unfathomable to me that this uninspired film was directed by Walter Hill. The man who made “The Warriors” (1979). This film is just not a par with all the classic buddy cop films like “Lethal Weapon” (1987), “48 Hrs.” (1982), or even “Running Scared” (1986). There’s nothing special about the story. Arnie plays a fish out of water cop, hunting down the drug kingpin who murdered his partner. The few times this movie made me chuckle, it was Arnie and not Jim Belushi. Since I didn’t see this film as a kid, there’s no nostalgia for me. Arnie didn’t even say “I’ll be back” in Russian. A missed opportunity. In my opinion, this film is as forgettable as “Red Sonja.”
Critics are usually pretty hard on Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’ll agree that he’s more of a larger than life personality than an actor, but in “Twins” he gives a genuine performance. He’s not playing a tough guy who spouts one liners. As Julius Benedict, he is sheltered, naïve, but always compassionate and selfless. Danny DeVito as Vincent Benedict was the perfect foil for Arnie with his smart mouth and wiseguy antics. These two played off each other so well in both the comedic and dramatic moments. Kelly Preston provided the eye candy. Not to objectify leading ladies, but she was pretty hot back then. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito as brothers? I believe it was Leonard Maltin who said that “Twins” was a box office smash because of its poster, but beyond the inspired casting, this film succeeds on many levels. Director Ivan Reitman at his best. There’s plenty of laughs, but the climax was also quite suspenseful. Then, the film closes on a touching moment with the brothers being reunited with their mother. Me and my sister would quote this film a lot as kids. Arnie worked with Ivan Reitman two more times, as many times as he has worked with James Cameron. Evidently, there’s now a sequel in the works with Eddie Murphy being introduced as the long lost Benedict brother, but let’s wait and see if this project actually comes to fruition.
“I’ll be back” counter: 4
Directed by Tim Burton,
Starring Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Jack Nicholson as Jack Napier / The Joker,
Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale,
Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent,
Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon,
& Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth
Seeing Tim Burton’s “Batman” in the summer of 1989 while on vacation in Orlando, Florida is one of the most vivid memories of my childhood. To this day, I don’t think that enough is said about just how clever the opening of this film is. A family, a boy and his parents, leave a theater and take a shortcut down an alley where they are accosted by two muggers. You immediately think “origin story,” but The Dark Knight is revealed to be watching this from a rooftop above. Nice.
Some say that this film does not stand the test of time. I will agree that the visuals have not aged well. This representation of Gotham City was created my mat paintings and miniatures, which were never meant to be viewed on an HD DVD or Blu-ray. The look of this film is reminiscent of a 1940s gangster movie. Pinstripe suits and tommy-guns. This was appropriate as Batman was created by Bob Kane in 1939 and I think this film holds up better than “Dick Tracy,” which was released in 1990 and had a similar blend of Depression Era comic strips and gangster flicks.
Tim Burton was criticized at the time for his decision to cast Michael Keaton, whom he had directed in “Beetlejuice,” as Bruce Wayne. Though not a physically imposing actor, Michael Keaton embodied the poignant and infuriated orphan aspects of Bruce Wayne’s psychosis, the manifestation of which is Gotham City’s embittered Dark Knight. Burton and Keaton choose to omit the playboy façade and presented Bruce Wayne as a recluse. I guess the only real drawback to such an approach was that it would not take too much deductive reasoning to realize that Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne WAS Batman if you were one of the few to share his company. Keaton, to the best of my knowledge, was also the originator of the “bat-voice.” Adam West, who I had the honor of seeing live with Burt Ward at New York Comic Con 2012, never differentiated between Bruce and Batman in his dialogue. Kevin Conroy, who I saw live at New York Comic Con in 2011 and 2012, Val Kilmer, and Christian Bale have all taken cues from Michael Keaton. George Clooney harkened back to Adam West, but without much success.
Batman remains is the shadows for much of this film. Meanwhile, Jack the Joker chews up the scenery. I’m not sure if I’m calling him “Jack” because the character was named Jack Napier or if it’s because Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime seems like his true personality with the volume turned all the way up. In the comics, there is no definitive origin story for The Joker. A few had attempted to garner sympathy for the character while another established his past as the Red Hood, a less successful criminal persona. Screenwriter Sam Hamm simplified matters by having Jack Napier as second-in-command of the Gotham City mafia. His transformation into The Joker was more cosmetic since he already had this very anti-social personality. Having Joker as a Mafioso also justifies having an unlimited supply of henchmen (or soldiers). Something that is not easily explained with other comic book villains. 1-800-HENCHMEN? After Heath Ledger’s amazing turn as The Joker in 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” audiences now consider Jack Nicholson quaint by comparison. That’s not really fair since the tone of the films were completely different. Jack Nicholson was a mob boss Joker while Heath Ledger was a domestic terrorist Joker. That is two distinctly different interpretations of the same comic book character.
Comic book aficionados take umbrage with the final two scenes of the second act, which were not written by Sam Hamm. I too have problems with these scenes, but for different reasons. My grievances have little to do with any contradictions to the source material. First, a flashback reveals a young Jack Napier was the murderer of Bruce’s parents. A big departure from the comics, but since this film was my introduction to the Batman mythos, I accepted it at face value. My real issue is that the flashback comes out of nowhere. It wasn’t set up at all. Earlier, Bruce is skimming through Jack Napier’s wrap sheet and a mugshot of the young Napier is visible for just a moment. Extend that scene for a few more moments, have Bruce examine the photo, then inform Alfred that this Napier fella seems familiar. Something simple like that would have sufficed. Is it at all possible that Bruce was hallucinating that The Joker murdered his parents? Is he making himself believe that he heard the killer ask, “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moon light?,” after hearing Joker speaks those words in Vicki Vale’s apartment? I’ve been told not to read too much into my theory as Tim Burton probably didn’t have anything that complex in mind.
Bruce then snaps out of his daze and discovers that Alfred has shown Vicki into the bat-cave. Many consider this to be an ultimate betrayal. No girls allowed in the bat-cave. I always found it curious that a pre-teen male acrobat wearing skintight booty shorts is permitted into the bat-cave, but not the vivacious Kim Basinger. My only issue with the scene is that Vicki and Bruce appear head over heels in love after only one date. A flaw common in many films.
Composer Danny Elfman’s score for this film is iconic. His opening title march rivals John William’s theme for “Superman: The Movie.” The Prince songs are a bit more polarizing. The general consensus is that his musical contributions date the movie. For the record, there are only three songs of his played in their entirety. A few seconds of “Bat-Dance” are heard in the background of the establishing shot of Gotham. Prince is not prominently featured until The Joker ransacks the art museum and again when the parade is in full swing. Tim Burton does acknowledge that Prince’s sound captured the essence of The Joker. A romantic ballad by Prince plays during the closing credits, but only after Danny Elfman’s march finishes. A variation of Danny Elfman’s work would be used as the theme to “Batman: The Animated Series.” Tim Burton’s “Batman” is not unlike other childhood favorites such as “Gremlins” and “Ghostbusters.” A true product of the 1980s, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Batman Returns” (1992)
Directed by Tim Burton,
Starring Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Danny DeVito as Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin,
Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle / Catwoman,
Christopher Walken as Max Shreck,
Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon,
& Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth
I remember playing with “Batman Returns” toys which came with McDonald’s Happy Meals. At the time, I was unaware that this film was considered wildly inappropriate for someone my age. It didn’t dawn on me for years how bleak this movie actually is. Tim Burton, talented as he is, insured that Warner Brothers would never permit him to direct another Batman film. I mean, the opening sequence shows parents attempting to drown their baby at Christmas. Wow, that is dark.
Oswald Cobblepot, AKA The Penguin, played by Danny DeVito, was not depicted as a crime boss with a nightclub, rather he was a vilely deranged circus freak, who had been discarded by his wealthy parents (Yes, that is Pee Wee Herman in a cameo as Oswald’s father). There were also liberties taken with Selina Kyle, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Instead of being a master thief, she was a mousy secretary, murdered by her boss and resurrected by alley cats. Her following nervous breakdown alone is worth the price of admission. I thought incorporating the supernatural was a nice touch, but comic book aficionados have condemned Tim Burton for tampering with these iconic characters.
The Penguin runs for office just as Burgess Meredith had done on the 1960s TV series, but Burgess Meredith was never as distasteful as Danny DeVito was in this movie. Tim Burton has an inclination of using stitches as a visual cue, but never as effectively as he did with Michelle Pfeiffer’s skintight leather Catwoman costume. I recall she described herself as “yummy.” A true femme fatale.
Christopher Walken portrayed Max Shreck, a character not in the comics, but who was the driving force of the story. I think most people know that he was named after the star of F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu,” an unauthorized silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” Max Shreck is Bruce Wayne’s rival in the boardroom, the man pulling the strings of The Penguin’s mayoral campaign, and he inadvertently creates Catwoman by pushing her out of a window. Apparently, Max Shreck took the place of Harvey Dent in the screenplay. Billy Dee Williams portrayed Gotham City‘s D.A. in the previous film and Tommy Lee Jones assumed the role of Two-Face in “Batman Forever,” but this film neglected to bridge the gap and show Harvey’s descent into villainy.
Robin, the boy wonder, was penciled in to appear this time around, but alas, he didn’t make the cut. The film was so cramped even without Robin that Michael Keaton, who receives top billing and plays the title character, had no more screentime than the other main characters. Batman and Catwoman did share a memorable “kiss.” I’m pretty sure that Michaels Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer were nominated for an MTV Movie Award for “Best Kiss,” but I can’t recall if they won and I refuse to look it up. This was the last time that Michael Keaton appeared as The Dark Knight. His departure was probably a combination of Tim Burton taking a backseat to Joel Schumacher on the next film and frustration over continuingly playing second fiddle to the villains.
I sometimes refer to “Batman Returns” as “The Nightmare Before Gotham” because the story takes place during the festive Christmas season. There is a macabre mood to this film without question, but there’s been too much griping about Batman taking lives in both Tim Burton movies. There was a body count, but it wasn’t cold blooded murder. I say it qualifies as abstract murder. The killing of a faceless enemy in the heat of battle. It’s not like Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne went all Frank Castle and was patrolling Gotham, wasting the bad guys with automatic weapons. The army of penguins were the most trigger happy characters in this movie, yet they were still compassionate enough to serve as the pallbearers for Oswald. Such a downbeat climax. Catwoman disappeared and it was hinted that she would return in a future sequel, but that never materialized. A Catwoman spin-off with Halle Berry was release in 2004 and it was atrociously bad.
Tim Burton’s unique style might not be everyone’s taste and some will argue that it just didn’t mesh with the Batman mythos, especially in this second outing, but he is an artist and unlike his immediate successor, cared more about the craft than monetary gain.