Directed By: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, special guest directing by Quentin Tarantino
Written By: Frank Miller
In the decade prior to the launch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the first Iron Man movie, comic book films were growing in popularity. You had the properties owned by Fox hitting the big screen with titles like X-Men, Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, and Daredevil. Though only X-Men could be considered a success. You had Warner Brothers still pushing Batman and Superman movies with no continuity between them; they would show up egregiously late to the Cinematic Universe party. Then you had movies like this one. Gritty adaptations to darker comics like 300, and The Spirit. All of these films helped build the momentum that would carry the movie industry into the huge market of films based on comic characters.
Beyond the R rated New Line films featuring Blade this was far and away the darkest of all comic book films that had been released. Not only was it dark but it was violent and graphic in ways nobody had seen before. Twice in this movie Bruce Willis destroys the genitals of a sex pervert, which specifically stood out as a new and obscene type of violence. This movie truly lived up to it’s name with all the evilness going on within the movie. There are sex criminals, cannibalism, corruption, betrayal, prostitution, and brutally satisfying violence. Shot in black and white with specific uses of colors all this sinful behavior is on beautiful display to dazzle the audience. I have never understood why it took nine years to make a sequel and why it wasn’t as successful.
I have never taken the time to see the sequel because I have never heard anything positive about it. I didn’t want a subpar sequel to disappoint me in what I had once hoped would be a successful franchise. I think waiting too long can sometimes hurt a franchise. For example, I couldn’t get into The Hobbit movies because I felt like too much time had passed. The time to make those movies were in a reasonable time frame after The Lord of the Rings finished up when it was still fresh on all our minds. I feel like that is the same reason I haven’t seen the sequel to this movie. Nine years is too long to wait on a sequel and by the time it finally came interest had waned. I wish Robert Rodriguez had continued this franchise in lieu of diving into the Machete movies. However, I have yet to see the sequel and if anybody wants to vouch for it please leave a comment. I only need to be slightly motivated to sit down with it.
This movie is a beautiful adaptation because it looks like the pages of a comic book came to life and started moving around. Shot nearly entirely against a green screen this movie is so clever with its use of color. Only specific items in the film are seen in color and their presence creates such a sharp contrast to the film noir setting, making the movie all the more beautiful. I do not know if the colors show up in Frank Miller’s actual comic because I have never taken the time to read it. Rodriguez is on record stating that he doesn’t really consider this film a adaptation and instead sees it as a transition of the page to the screen. That makes me think that the colors are part of the comic, and maybe one day I will find out for myself.
Robert Rodriguez has always been good at assembling a great cast in his movies and this one is no different. The cast of this movie is truly exceptional in all main roles as well as supporting roles. I have long considered this to be one of the last exceptional movies featuring Bruce Willis with few exceptions like Planet Terror or Moonrise Kingdom. Specifically this is before he decided to go back to the Die Hard franchise and destroy the legacy of John McClane. Mickey Rourke enjoyed a nice resurgence in his career around the time this film came out and his role as Marv had a lot to do with that. He was viewed as perfect for the part by creator Frank Miller. In the last of what constitutes the main roles I really liked Clive Owen as Dwight. Owen had burst onto the scene around the time this movie was coming out and just as quickly fell off the map. He is still active as an actor but isn’t anywhere close to the spotlight he found himself in ten years ago in the aftermath of playing King Arthur.
The supporting cast of this movie would just take far too long to cover in its entirety. I think special mention should go to Elijah Wood who is undeniably creepy and evil as the silent cannibal Kevin. Rosario Dawson is overflowing with sexuality as the leader of the Old Town whores, Gail. Benicio Del Toro is barely recognizable in make up for the role of Jackie Boy, which was originally offered to Johnny Depp. The late Michael Clarke Duncan was perfect as the golden eyed Manute. I think he was a tragic loss but find the replacement actor, Dennis Haysbert a good choice to play the same role in the sequel. Josh Hartnett looks quite dapper in his beginning scene with Marley Shelton and I specifically like how he shows back up in the end as kind of a bookend to a movie that bounces around in storylines. I have always been a fan of Powers Boothe, and he plays a great bad guy. As Senator Roark he is specifically scary with his efforts to protect his sex criminal son, even suggesting that he would make him President. Last but not least I feel compelled to mention Carla Gugino who is just unbelievably hot in this movie. I’m a big fan and don’t understand why she doesn’t have a more stacked career.
The special guest direction from Quentin Tarantino seemed more like a favor to me than anything else and it turns out it was. Rodriguez did the soundtrack for Kill Bill Volume 2 for one dollar and Tarantino returned the favor by directing a scene in this one. This was during the time I specifically began to despise Tarantino and thought he brought nothing to the table. He directs the scene in which Dwight is driving the bodies to the pit and he has a conversation with a dead Jackie Boy. I didn’t think the flashing colors worked with the continuity of the film and I felt the whole scene was too full of dialogue. That’s Tarantino’s thing though, give him a window and he’ll drone on forever with needless conversation.
This movie wasn’t the start of something greater as I had hoped but it stands on its own just fine. The sequel came out far too late and without the same enthusiasm that was put behind this one. Again, I haven’t seen it so anybody who has please share your thoughts. I think this movie is one of the finest adaptations to a comic I have seen and it was an important film for the future of the comic book era of films. I don’t know what went wrong with the sequel and can’t vouch for it but this movie is easily worth your time. It’s not for the faint of heart but if you have an appetite for something devious than you can’t do much better than this one.
NEXT MOVIE: The Sixth Sense (1999)