Iron Man 2 (fight 4 of 4)

In which Iron Man teams up with his greatest ally.

Er, no.

4) Iron Man and War Machine vs Whiplash and Hammer drones

The Fighters:

  • Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, our hero. Doing a lot better than before, since he’s not dying. Played by Robert Downey Jr.
    • Armed with: The Mark VI Iron Man armor. It’s powered by a new element Tony invented (building off his father’s unfinished work), and in addition to powering his suit better it also overcomes the issue of the old arc reactor slowly giving Tony palladium poisoning even as it kept shrapnel out of his heart. (Iron Man 3 would later skunk this entire plot development with the casual revelation in the epilogue that Tony could have just had surgery to remove the shrapnel in the first place. Which… huh?) Along with the triangular chest plate that Joss Whedon hated, the Mark VI boasts a few modifications, though it’s not clear which are new.
  • War Machine, aka James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Stark’s reconciled pal and Air Force big shot. Played by Don “The Dragon” Cheadle.
    • Armed with: The same Mark II suit as before, but kitted out with tons of extra armaments courtesy of the DOD and Justin Hammer. Plus a new paint job, trading in the too-shiny silver for ominous grey.
  • Hammer drones, a couple dozen of them. Built by Vanko for Justin Hammer. There’s some slight variation amongst them depending on what function (land, sea, air) they’re built for, but they’re largely the same: arc reactor-powered, remote-controlled robots based loosely off the Iron Man designs. Outfitted mostly with automatic and missile weapons, and able to fly. They also go down very easy, whether it’s to a repulsor blast, a strong punch from the Mark VI, or a barrage of regular bullets; it’s strange because these are supposed to basically be Iron Man replacements, so they ought to be more durable. Perhaps Vanko deliberately built them to be inferior, or maybe they’re just prototypes.
  • Whiplash, aka Ivan Vanko. Stark’s new nemesis, who escaped prison and built up some new toys thanks to Hammer. Played by Mickey Rourke.
    • Armed with: A much more sophisticated version of his last getup. The improved Whiplash armor covers Vanko’s entire body much like the Iron Man suit. It’s also huge, though not quite the size of the Iron Monger. It contains a couple neat tricks like retractable plates in the feet which are good for locking down an opponent, but its main offensive capability is the two extra long energy whips housed in its forearms. There are cycling mechanisms visible in the back which make the whips extendable and constantly charged with electricity. It’s an intimidating design, but oddly lacking the iconic look of the previous incarnation, with all its fearless & bare-chested simplicity.

But, you know, this works too.

The Setup: Vanko has baited Tony into a trap at the Stark Expo in New York. After Iron Man arrives there and greets War Machine (who’d been demonstrating his new look on stage along with the drones), Vanko takes remote control of all the drones, as well as War Machine, and sends them all against Iron Man.

This launches an amazing chase sequence where Tony draws his pursuers away from the Expo and out into the streets & skies of Queens, evading fire and even managing to take out several of them. Eventually Iron Man is able to isolate himself and War Machine inside a large garden dome. Tony contains its attacks without hurting the helpless pilot inside until, in the aftermath of glorious Fight #3, Black Widow gets into Hammer’s computer systems and restores control of War Machine back to Rhodey.

The two’s reconciliation quickly devolves into macho one-upsmanship as they squabble over whose suit is the best; it’s highly amusing to watch such a silly argument play out with both characters wearing super high-tech armor. They spend so much time bitching that they don’t quite get into tactical position before the drones land and, one by one, surround the pair.

“We have them RIGHT where we want them!”

“We’re surrounded.”
“Good, that means we have them RIGHT where we want them!”

Without saying a word, the two close their face plates and go to work.

The Fight: At first, there’s actually no music– Favreau lets the endless cacophony of battle provide all the noise he needs. And what a cacophony it is: staccato bursts of automatic fire from the drones and War Machine, occasionally punctuated by repulsor blasts from Iron Man.

So much is happening at once you barely know where to look at any given time. The camera pans around smoothly to show the carnage as the two heroes unload at and dodge fire from the iron platoon surrounding them. Rhodey fires from both wrist gauntets and his shoulder cannon simultaneously, while Stark mixes in repulsor rays with punches for those that get too close.

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After the initial shot just showcasing all-purpose chaos, Favreau goes on to highlight a couple moments of particular badassery. War Machine grabs a drone that had gotten close and delivers a point-blank spray of machine gun fire that cuts it in half down the middle. Iron Man reprises a hit move from the first movie when he leans back casually to dodge an incoming missile (in a subtle detail, we hear a beeping sound from his HUD to indicate the computer has detected a lock), then returns fire in the form of small missiles from a hidden compartment on his wrist, which take down three drones at once; it’s so neat Tony even happily calls it out, and his friend compliments it.

It’s about 45 seconds of perfectly exhilarating CGI chaos– intense, glorious, undiluted. And it doesn’t outstay its welcome, either: when Stark realizes that there’s just too many bad guys to deal with, he orders his friend to duck and then activates two extremely powerful laser beams, which cut down all remaining drones as he pivots in a circle.

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Tony responds to Rhodey’s quite reasonable suggestion that he should lead with such an attack next time by pointing out that the beams are a one-time thing; they burn for a few seconds and then they’re done. Which is too bad, because what they initially think is just the last drone coming in is actually Vanko himself, big as life and twice as ugly.

After some talk, Rhodes launches what he assumes will be his secret weapon, the “Ex-Wife,” but it fails terribly, bouncing harmlessly off Whiplash’s armor and falling to the ground with a pathetic little fart noise. It doesn’t really make sense (would Vanko really know it wouldn’t work? Shouldn’t Rhodey have gotten farther away if HE thought it was going to work? etc) but it’s a fun excuse for just one more joke at Hammer’s expense.

Tony fires his own opening salvo– in another callback to the first film, it’s all those little smart dart-rockets he used against the terrorist hostage-takers in his Mark III debut) at Vanko’s exposed face, but his helmet comes back instantly and deflects them. Now it’s Ivan’s turn.

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From then on, it’s really mostly Ivan’s fight. The new Whiplash armor provides a seemingly perfect mix of durability, speed, and offensive capability. War Machine’s more conventional weapons can’t put too much of a dent in Vanko before he’s able to evade or fight back, and Iron Man’s quick maneuvers are canceled out by the long reach of those unpredictable whips. In what turns out to be a fairly brief struggle, both heroes are repeatedly knocked around, seized by the whips and slammed to the ground. Poor Rhodey even gets his shoulder cannon cut right off.

Stark gives Vanko the best run for his money when he comes in hard with a flying punch as Vanko is distracted by beating up on Rhodes, but a few blows later Ivan comes back even harder with a headbutt. Soon, Whiplash lassos a hero in each whip, holding them on opposite sides of him. It seems pretty bad at first, but at Tony’s suggestion, the two re-visit the idea of “crossing the streams”– having their two repulsor blasts meet in mid-air and creating an enormous energy feedback, this time with Whiplash in the middle.

Whaddya know, it works.

Whaddya know, it works.

The irony is, at that point the heroes didn’t necessarily have to resort to such a crazy tactic, because the very nature of Ivan’s double-hold meant that he left himself wide open to any attack. They were free to shoot at him in more direct ways as well.

After the smoke clears, a dying Vanko reprises his words from the race track, telling Stark “you lose.” Pulling a Metroid, Vanko starts the timer on bombs built into his suit as well as those of all the fallen drones, hoping for a Pyrrhic victory. Unfortunately for the villain, it would have been, in the words of comedian Doug Benson, more accurate for him to say “you lose… unless you happen to be wearing a suit of armor that flies really fast,” because the bombs have a long enough fuse for Stark & Rhodes to not just fly out of the blast zone but also for one of them to swing by and get Pepper to safety. Whoops.

For all Iron Man 2’s faults, where it really improves on the original is in its climax. The first film ended on a sort of limp note as it had the hero hobbled from the beginning and only barely limping to the finish line. The sequel, on the other hand, is a three-part roller coaster ride that starts with an extended chase scene, segues quickly into the chaotic destruction of the drones, and ends with not one but two fully-powered heroes up against a seemingly implacable boss.

The final fight is, unfortunately, a little too one-sided, but this is balanced out somewhat by just how one-sided (in the other direction) the showdown with the drones was. Also, while “believability” is a relative term when it comes to things like this, Whiplash’s dominance comes not from objective superiority but from a mix of quick-thinking tactics, technology, and surprise– exactly the kind of thing that would let you prevail in such an encounter. Just as in a real-life fight, you don’t win by gradually wearing down the other guy’s “hit points” or some such, it’s all a matter of acting decisively and applying just the right amount of pressure at the right place & time.

Well done.

Grade: A-

Coming Attractions: Stop.

Hammer Time.

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Iron Man 2 (fight 3 of 4)

Redheads. Am I right, fellas?

Yes, unfortunately.

Yes, unfortunately.

3) Black Widow Cuts Loose

The Fighters:

  • Black Widow aka Natasha Romanoff. A former Russian spy & assassin who’s become one of SHIELD’s greatest assets. Supremely skilled at infiltration, interrogation and various forms of combat, Natasha is the ideal agent. The comics have all sorts of wild stuff about how she got her abilities but so far the movies have wisely avoided that. But one element is that she’s a former ballet dancer, which definitely shows up in her gracefulness here. The Widow has gone undercover in Tony’s organization as “Natalie Rushman” in order to… it’s not really clear. Monitor him for SHIELD and help out just in case any supervillains show up, I think? Anyway, it’s fortunate she’s around for this. Played with understated gusto by Scarlett Johansson.
    • Armed with: Like, half a James Bond movie’s worth of little toys and weapons, all secreted in her various belt and wrist pouches. A pity the Avengers movie eschewed most of these in favor of simple if effective guns.
  • Security guards, about six or seven of them, working at the offices of Justin Hammer, Tony Stark’s corporate rival. Played by stunt men.
  • Also present is Happy Hogan, Tony’s loyal bodyguard, but he’s sort of a humorous non-factor here. Played by director Jon Favreau, who’s so money, baby.

The Setup: Hammer has secretly been conspiring with Ivan Vanko, our friend from Fight #1, to utilize arc reactor technology to make his own set of weaponized Iron Man-style drones. When said drones, along with a manually overriden War Machine, run amok at the Stark Expo, Romanoff and Hogan drive off to the Hammer building to investigate. On the way over, Natasha changes in the backseat into her special ass-kicking outfit.

When they arrive, Happy insists on coming in to “help.” Tee hee.

The Fight: It is so cool, you guys.

The first guard accosts them and Hogan immediately engages him in a fistfight. Black Widow just keeps right on moving, and when a second guard approaches, she nonchalantly slides right past him and, still moving, turns around and tosses two little discs towards the guard which paralyze him with a slight electrical charge.

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This pretty much sets the tone for the entire sequence. Johansson’s Romanoff is graceful, smoothly unpredictable, and frighteningly competent. She’s not always moving forward but she definitely never stops moving— she slides, jumps, runs, dodges, ducks, dips, dives, and all the rest with purposeful swagger. Every move and decision just flows seamlessly into the next. It’s glorious to watch.

The other little technological tricks Natasha employs are two small gas pellets she throws around the corner to stun another pair of guns so she can lay them out, and later she hooks one guard’s neck with an extendable cord (not a wire, those are for killing) to hold him in place while she takes down his buddy.

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But occasion permitting she often goes the physical-0nly route, as well. She rides a push-cart and jumps off it to double-kick one guard in the chest. She slides (again!) in-between another foe’s legs and attacks them as she does so, then jumps off his double-over body to land on the shoulders of another.

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The best is the penultimate takedown, when she tackles a guard and does this crazy thing where she spins all over his body while he’s still standing, raining blows on him the whole time. Then as she strides calmly away she uses his chemical spray to do a no-look neutralization of the last straggler just as he tries to sneak up on her.

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This is all over in a minute or so, and the action keeps cutting back to the progress of Happy’s brawl with the very first guy. It takes some doing, but Hogan finally knocks him out with a strong uppercut, and jubilantly looks up with “I got him!” only to find this:

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Between the red hair and this, are we sure she’s actually Russian and not Irish?

It’s a gag that works all the more effectively because the movie treats Happy’s artless tumble with just one guy with the same gravitas as it does a super ninja-spy methodically destroying half a platoon; whenever the camera cut back to Hogan, there weren’t any overtly comedic signifiers like a change in music or something. You get caught up in all of it equally and, like Happy, don’t realize how much she accomplished while he was toiling away. Very clever.

This scene does cheat a little. On close examination (ever the bane of the summer blockbuster), a good number of Widow’s attacks really should not have incapacitated her targets. There are times we merely see her punch someone’s leg, shoulder or what-have-you, and then boom, the guy’s down for the count. Doesn’t matter how hard she’s hitting, unless she’s packing knockout darts or doing some kind of crazy nerve strikes (neither of which is visually apparent or brought up in the dialogue at some point in the film), they simply shouldn’t be getting knocked out.

However, no amount of rewinding and freeze-framing can get around the fact that this is ridiculously fun. Again, it’s brief, but the scene just glides with the same effortless charm as the Widow herself does, possessed of a too-cool-for-school cockiness that’s just on the right side of the endearing/pandering balance. In a movie that’s about high-tech armored superheroes blasting and whipping each other, a quick sequence starring a 5’3 jumpsuited girl in a running around in a hallway comes perilously close to being the best fight of the bunch.

The scene’s not perfect but it’s breezily, joyfully confident, and just like all those sleazy pick-up artists book tell you: confidence goes a long way.

Grade: A-

Coming Attractions: Take down Iron Man?? Ha, you and what Army?

… oh.

Enter The Dragon (retrospective)

“Finally! What the hell took you so long?”

I can tell the wait has distressed you.

Enter The Dragon! One of the most famous, beloved, iconic kung fu flicks of all time. Starring Bruce Lee, the man who, via a combination of superb skill, airy philosophizing, fiery charisma and a tragically early death, did more than any one man to bring chop-socky action to the wider world.

Is it a great movie? Good grief, no. It’s strange and choppy and at many times laughable. But is it a great action movie? Well… not entirely. It’s unevenly paced and there’s little suspense, given that the majority of the fights are so uneven. Indeed, this is the failing of most Lee movies: typically, his character’s arc goes from most fights where he is in no danger whatsoever, to the final fight(s), where he is in moderate danger. This is a type of action that’s meant to be enjoyed less for the suspense or excitement, and more as simply a showcase for the godlike physicality (and absolutely magnetic personality) of its lead. The Raid, this is not.

Again, this flick is just packed with fights, many of them small or inconsequential, so we’ll look at it as a retrospective and give each battle a light touch.

1) Lee vs Fat Guy

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Still way less homoerotic than Top Gun.

Enter The Dragon certainly wastes no time getting down to business. Before the title appears and barely after the production company logos have faded, the audience is taken to an open-air duel between two men. Surrounded by Shaolin monks, the pair are for some reason dressed in nothing but speedos, shoes, knee-high socks and light boxing gloves.

The camera immediately and purposefully zooms in on Bruce Lee’s character (simply known as “Lee,” because why not), capturing his focused intensity. Of course even amongst perceived equals Bruce’s physique and persona would stand out, but here he’s faced off against a very unimpressive opponent. Visibly overweight, unimposing and never seeming particularly skilled, Lee’s unnamed foe is laughably doomed from the start. (Apparently this hapless opponent is a very young Sammo Hung, a contemporary/close friend of Jackie Chan and someone who would go on to become a Hong Kong legend both on and off the screen. All of which makes his non-entity appearance here more puzzling.)

As could be easily predicted, Lee wipes the floor with Sammo, taking him down multiple times with quick, powerful blows and skillfully evading all his counter-strikes. Hung performs a nice backflip evasion at one point (one of his career trademarks is how spry he is for such a large man), but he’s no match for the star. In the end, Lee defeats him by curling him up into a wrestling hold and making him tap out.

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“Matte!”

Again, this is all too easy for Lee. It’s also fairly cheesy, full of the HK exaggerated sound effects that defined the genre at the time. Still, there’s a loose, unpredictable energy here that distinguishes the battle from the kind of action both sides of the ocean had been used to, and that’s all due to Lee and “Jeet Kune Do”– the actor’s self-created martial art/philosophy which mandated improvisation and adaptability, rather than other rigidly traditional Chinese disciplines and their limited move sets. (Many argue that Lee essentially created what is now modern mixed martial arts.) You can even see some of JKD’s more explicit influence, such as the wrestling-like move he finishes with, and a foot-punch he pulls off early in the match.

All in all, not a bad introduction.

2) and 3) Williams and Roper

Bunching these two together for brevity’s sake. They’re our secondary protagonists. Before they even got to the villain’s island, we already saw both of them in some quick defensive bits that are too simple to feature here, but very telling as to their characters: Roper beat up some loan sharks on a golf course because he’s a reckless gambler, while Williams knocked out a couple racist cops because he’s an awesome 70s black dude who doesn’t have time for Whitey’s bullshit.

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As you can see, he doesn’t have time for this guy’s face, either.

Williams is played by the late Jim Kelly, a genuine karate champion who parlayed his role in this movie into a healthy stint as a blacksploitation star. Roper is played by John Saxon, apparently another black belt, who would later go on to be better known for his appearances in the Nightmare on Elm Street series.

Both are apparently world-class martial artists, and have been invited to Han’s secluded island tournament. After a brief demo with spear-fighting, the first match is of Williams against an unnamed western fighter. Williams blocks all the man’s blows with ease, and puts him down twice, the second time for good. Afterwards, he gets some money from Roper, the two friends having an agreement to bet on each other with other viewers and then split the winnings.

The next match, in fact, is more dragged-out gambling joke than an actual fight. The “chump” these two pals are stringing along is a goofy-looking, middle-aged Asian man who inexplicably has a Hitler mustache. In addition to being a big gambler he’s also the most oblivious person alive because he fails to miss the painfully obvious collaboration Roper & Williams are doing right in front of his freaking face.

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“Hey Williams, don’t forget to tell me when I can op-stay owing-thray the ight-fay.”

Basically, the plan is that Roper takes enough punishment to the point where their sucker agrees to tilt the odds/payout ratio heavily against Roper. I don’t really gamble so I don’t know, but this doesn’t strike me as standard betting procedure or even common sense– can you really change the odds in the middle of the contest, and if someone was offering to do that for you when it looks like they’ll lose, wouldn’t you suspect something? Anyway, Asian Hitler doesn’t, and after Roper gets battered enough, he finally goes along with Roper’s hoped-upon 8/3 odds. At a completely un-subtle hand gesture from Williams, Roper gets up and knocks his erstwhile tormentor out with one punch.

Which reminds me: I might have missed something but the rules of this tournament don’t seem really clear. You would think they have a “best of X falls” system, because when any fighter goes down, they both stop fighting and then line up against each other to start the next round. But so far the fights only end when one party is unconscious. Meanwhile, Roper hits the dirt a total of three times before he wins, so if there’s any TKO, it’s some time after three falls. Say what you will about Bloodsport, at least it established some firm rules.

Anyway, of these back-to-back sequences giving us a fuller introduction to our secondary heroes, Williams undoubtedly comes out better. Saxon is indeed enjoyable and his character has a certain lazy charm, but he pales (ahem) in comparison to Kelly’s size, power, and cool-guy attitude. Williams also gets the only thing resembling a real fight, whereas Roper’s is more of a comedy routine (which, arguably, pulls the “rake joke” trick of going so far past tiresome it actually comes back around to amusing).

4) Bolo vs Unlucky Guards

Uh oh. This guy look familiar?

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He’s hard to forget.

Yep, our old pal Bolo Yeung had an early role in Enter The Dragon. Like Bruce, his character has one name but it’s actually not the same as his real name. Yeung was born Yang Sze and is credited that way in this movie; in a strange case of life imitating art, enough people started giving him the nickname “Bolo” because it’s the name of his character in this movie, and eventually it stuck.

Whatever his name is, young Bolo (see what I did there) is just as enormous and creepy as he would later be in Bloodsport, though so smooth-skinned and young-looking he seems almost boyish, like an embryonic Chong Li. But there’s nothing boyish about his hulking physique and the occasionally manic grimaces we’ve come to expect from before, though his rictus grins are more like a rough draft of what we’d eventually see in the Van Damme film.

Anyway, Bolo is introduced in this scene to dispense some very public punishment to four hapless guards who failed to stop an unidentified post-curfew prowler the previous evening (the culprit was Lee, skulking about doing recon, who knocked out or evaded all guards before they could identify him). Han shows he means business by having Bolo basically execute these chumps in front of the tournament crowd.

And an execution is definitely what it is. One at a time, Bolo calmly approaches and dismantles the terrified, smaller men. They try to fight back but their blows are either quickly blocked or calmly absorbed by the quiet killing machine. Bolo tosses one man casually over his head as if he were a rag doll (showing off that crazy strength) and then steps on his face, apparently fatally. After knocking the second opponent face-down to the ground, Bolo pulls back hard on his head from behind until his neck snaps from the pressure. Conspicuously, the third doesn’t seem to receive any killing blow, just a very painful-looking knee to the nuts.

But the final victim gets it worst of all: after being knocked around by the giant villain, he’s cradled in Bolo’s mighty arms almost like a child, and Bolo pushes him together until his spine breaks– he literally folds the man in half. Holy shit.

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Is… is this even possible? Holy shit.

Not very exciting, of course; just a nice bit of focused cruelty. Even young, rookie Bolo Yeung is plenty entertaining, even if his move set isn’t much more complicated than what we saw in the rather simplistic Bloodsport fights. But this is all a lot less stiff.

5) Lee vs O’Hara

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Finally, Lee shows up to work his mojo. (It only took, what? A little over an hour?) His designated opponent is one of Han’s top men, O’Hara, played by martial artist and veteran actor/stunt coordinator Robert Wall. The fight is a personal one for Lee, since it was O’Hara’s pursuit of Lee’s sister (who had been investigating Han) which ended with her killing herself to avoid capture. He got that ugly scar in the same encounter.

Lee simply gives one of his trademark smoldering glares, but his opponent opts for a more ostentatious approach, smashing a wooden board he’d brought along just for show. Lee is not impressed, uttering his famous “boards don’t fight back,” maxim. They line up, wrist to wrist, for the opening blow, and Lee scores it immediately, his fist striking out with blinding speed and intensity to hit O’Hara in the face and send him to his knees. Then he does the exact same thing again. The third time, his foe is able to block a bit, but Lee still gets him on the follow-up. (Again, any kind of “points” system in these matches and what indicates when they will take breaks from the fight to line up again is quite opaque.)

Eventually, O’Hara gets unhinged and desperate. He tries to grab Lee’s foot from the ground, which only earns him a backflipping kick in the face. When he tries to charge in with a powerful jumping kick, Lee simply ducks underneath him and puts his foot right where O’Hara’s nuts will land.

owowowowowowowowowow...

owowowowowowowowowow….

Rather improbably for a man whose genitals just had an unfortunate encounter with Bruce Lee and gravity, O’Hara can still continues to fight, though he only gets sloppier. Lee, however, only gets more worked up: at the beginning of the fight, he only moved to attack, but soon enough he’s bouncing around energetically, bobbing & weaving in the combat space.

Lee repeatedly puts O’Hara down with strong, single strikes, to the point where the audience even stops applauding since it’s not even a contest anymore. Lee puts O’Hara down harder with a strong kick to the chest he executes from very close, sending him into the audience.

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Ooooooh that’s a lot of straightening for his leg to do.

It certainly seems like a finishing move– it’s even in slow motion and everything– but O’Hara can’t seem to get enough. Over Han’s objections, he breaks two random glass bottles nearby him and tries to take Lee out, barfight style. Lee doesn’t exactly say “wow, seriously?” but it’s implied. He easily disarms O’Hara and knocks him on his back. He ensures it’s the last time when he leaps onto the man’s (not shown on camera) body with a look of deranged intensity.

Some sort of doctor confirms it afterward: he’s dead, Jim.

This is an improvement from a lot of what we’ve seen before, but still not too great. For all his stature and build-up as the villain’s right-hand man, O’Hara is reduced to a stumbling ox for Lee’s swift, flawless strikes– basically a walking punching bag. Bruce is, as ever, fantastic and graceful in his almost-too-quick-to-see attacks, but this barely seems like a workout for him.

6) Williams vs Han

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Having been shamed by O’Hara’s disgraceful behavior, Han cancels the rest of the day’s matches, and calls Williams in to his office for a private meeting. Han, played by longtime Hong Kong star Shih Kien (and whose voice was dubbed by Keye Luke), is a major criminal mastermind and drug trafficker. He holds these tournaments every three years as a covert way to find new talent and connections for his organization. He’s pretty much a straight-up supervillain, “right out of a comic book,” as Williams himself says in this scene. Dude even has a white pet cat he carries around sometimes.

He tries to get Williams to play ball by asking him who he saw snooping around last night, but Williams doesn’t have time for that jive crap. The confrontation turns ugly and Han calls in several guards, who the hero of course defeats easily.

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Once Williams has awesomely dispatched those punks, Han springs into action personally. The American is immediately caught off-guard when his opening strike gets blocked by what turns out to be a heavy iron prosthetic replacing his left hand. Besides that, Han turns out to be a surprisingly agile and canny fighter in his own right, dodging most of Williams’ attacks and making excellent use of his handy (heh) advantage.

There’s some nice camera work here, such as alternating POV shots as the two trade blows, and a brief view of both characters’ silhouettes as they battle behind a paper screen. And a fun bit of background detail: after a stray blow from Han’s hand breaks open a bird cage, the occupants of which fly around the room and at one point into Williams’ face.

The fight spills through the wall into some kind of disco-themed opium den, where several slave girls baked out of their minds laugh uproariously at everything they see.

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“Talk to the hand!”

An ignoble place to die, and too bad because the fight’s pretty much over for Williams at that point. Increasingly tired and beat up, he admirably continues to rise and gamely fight back, but Han is able to take him down for good with repeated iron blows to his back. Brutal.

This marks the unfortunately too early departure of Williams from the film, leaving us with the less interesting Roper as the sole secondary protagonist (and we all know why). But at least he goes down fighting, and in a scene which proves that the movie isn’t afraid to kill the guy you like halfway through. Not a bad fight, either, especially in the beginning. So long, Jim.

7) Lee vs Everybody

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This is the big one, the centerpiece. The legendary sequence. It was even the centerpiece of this movie’s parody in Kentucky Fried Movie.

But here’s the thing: it’s… not very good. It’s not even the best fight in this movie.

“Dude, what are you talking about?” I inevitably hear when I say this. “It’s awesome! That’s the scene where Bruce Lee fights like 50 guys!” Well, that’s true in only the most technical sense. It’s more accurate to say it’s the scene where about 50 guys run right into Bruce Lee’s fists & legs one or two at a time, and stay down after they’re hit once. Less exciting, but more accurate.

Although one of those 50 guys is Jackie Chan. This one, I believe.

Although one of those 50 guys is Jackie Chan. This one, I believe.

Not once does Lee ever seem like he’s in danger here, not just because the individual guards he attacks (setup: after he Metal Gear Solids his way into Han’s underground lair to find evidence and send a message to his MI6 handlers, someone sets off an alarm and Lee has to fight his way out) pose no threat to him whatsoever, but also because there’s barely any sense of scale to the conflict. Only once toward the very end is there an angle showing a large crowd of thugs at one time; otherwise, both because of poor camera-blocking and because Lee encounters the bad guys in waves, you really have no idea how many foes he’s facing at one time. On several occasions, the camera keeps so tightly on Lee you don’t know there’s anyone else in the room at all until one of the hero’s limbs lances out and strikes someone.

The poor execution mutes the concept of what it should be… and again, Bruce Lee is so perfectly invincible in the world of this movie it probably wouldn’t have been thrilling even if it had been shot better. Look at more recent scenes like the dojo encounter in Jet Li’s Kiss of the Dragon or the famous hammer hallway rumble in Oldboy if you want to see this sort of scenario done right.

As ever, the entertainment value is just in watching Lee’s dazzling speed and power. He strikes with sudden wild ferocity of a coiled snake (incidentally, Lee did use a poisonous cobra as an improvised stealth tool just prior to this scene), taking down each thug with ease. Eventually they start coming in with weapons, but he simply disarms them and uses them himself.

"Great, we just made him MORE dangerous!"

“Great, we just made him MORE dangerous!”

First a bo staff, then two smaller sticks, and finally Lee’s signature nunchaku. Curiously, he spends more time twirling those around to scare a bad guy than he does actually using them to take down opponents. Considering his remarks about O’Hara’s board-related antics, Bruce is oddly hypocritical when it comes to showing off.

The only other bit of interesting incident is when the fight wanders down to where Han’s prisoners/experimental subjects are being held behind bars. They provide Lee with some help by seizing guards who get too close to their cells, but it’s not like he needed it.

The fight ends when Lee is trapped between several slamming steel doors. Lee sits down resignedly to await his fate.

"I just took down like 50 guys and I get defeated by a DOOR?! fml"

“I just took down like 50 guys and I get defeated by a DOOR?! fml”

You always have to wonder about what guys through the minds of henchmen in movies like this: “Hmm, I just saw this unbeatable superman mow through 30 of my colleagues, should I rush in at him too? Sure! One of us HAS to get lucky and it might as well be me!”

8) Roper vs Bolo

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After Han captures Lee, he brings him to the tournament grounds, and demands that Roper– who he’d been courting as an employee– execute him. After some hesitation, the cocky American decides there are limits to his sleaziness, and he refuses. Incensed, Han has Bolo fight Roper, instead.

As the hulking fighter approaches, Lee moves as if to help, but Roper gestures him away, preferring to handle this himself. Pretty gutsy, if not suicidally so.

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“You sure about this? I mean, you can see it’s Bolo Yeung, right?”

Their fight is the most entertaining one so far. They have a very solid back & forth, especially at the beginning. But soon Bolo’s strength advantage puts Roper on the ground, and Bolo pins him in an arm lock. Roper resists but he’s held quite tightly, and it looks like only a matter of time before his arm breaks. However, the plucky gambler takes the unusual step of biting Bolo’s leg, which lies conveniently near his mouth. Considering how much pain it puts Bolo in, and how he’s limping a bit after he finally lets go, Roper might actually have chewed some flesh right off.

But an hour later he was hungry again BECAUSE BOLO IS CHINESE GET IT

but an hour later he was hungry again BECAUSE BOLO IS CHINESE GET IT HA HA

When they both get back up, Roper presses his advantage, but Bolo still comes back strong, at one point throwing him down with an overhead press. Eventually, Roper is able to wear him down with repeated, rapid strikes to the face, and finishes him with a deadly combo ending with a kick to the nuts. Down goes Bolo. Freddy Krueger will avenge him.

This one’s a lot more fun. It’s fairly quick but neither is it too drawn out, and is relatively varied in terms of content. Saxon acquits himself well and all kidding aside, between his performance and the choreography you can actually buy him being able to defeat this massive warrior. Indeed, for most of the fight it seems like either of them really could win at any second– a crucial ingredient in crafting a suspenseful battle.

“Okay, but this is just one of my early roles. Surely I won’t continue to be known as the big hulking kung fu fighter who loses to inferior white guys, right?”

“Okay, but this is just one of my early roles. Surely I won’t continue to be known as the quiet villain who loses to inferior white guys, right?”

Bolo’s boss, obviously, is furious about the outcome, so this segues directly into….

9) Free For All

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Han starts barking out orders and having several students attack Lee and Roper at once. This goes about as well as you’d expect, but Han just keep sending in new ones. Hilariously, he keeps picking out random students by name, when it would be quicker and more likely to succeed if he simply said, “Everyone, attack those two!”

Since the heroes are effortlessly mowing down these goons left & right, this is conceptually similar to the underwhelming sequence of Lee in the dungeons, but it actually works a lot better. The camera pulls back enough so that we get a real sense of the number of enemies the heroes are facing, the takedowns are a bit more complex than just one or two blows, and the whole thing is faster, looser, more fun.

Unfortunately Lee & Roper merely fight as discrete units rather than actively cooperating, though they get the job done just the same. The sheer amount of foes might have overwhelmed the pair eventually, but we’ll never know because early into the encounter, a British mole within Han’s organization springs all the prisoners and sends them to even the odds. Now it’s total chaos.

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A MAAAAAAADHOUSE

The film takes a little bit of time, but not too much, to savor in this free-form carnage. We see Lee & Roper continue to stomp away, but director Robert Clouse also takes the time to highlight a few other moments of combat amongst faceless fighters of either side. It’s pretty darn cool.

Eventually, Han decides it’s time to join in on the action, and he gets his bear claw. Not the pastry, an actual bear claw. His iron hand is detachable and can be replaced with several other alternates, one of which is a bear claw with fur and everything. He and Lee eye each other amid the chaos.

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Bruce Lee making this face at you is a more surefire guarantee of your death than seeing the Grim Reaper with a rocket launcher.

10) Lee vs Han

Wasting little time, the two have a great battle outside for a little while, with Han’s uncanny agility actually giving Lee some trouble at first. After the villain takes a fall and loses his bear claw when a missed swing embeds it in a wooden board, Han hightails it out of there while Lee is briefly distracted by a random goon.

He flees back up to his office, where Lee quickly catches up to him just as he’s attaching an even more deadly claw: an all-metal one with four knife blades. Lee is unfazed by the Wolverine-wannabe and coldly informs him “You have offended my family, and you have offended a Shaolin temple.” SICK BURN. The melee continues outside unabated but no one else has followed them to this odd little office/trophy room. Now it’s just Lee against Han, solo.

Lee mostly sticks to long-range attacks here and doesn’t follow up most of his successful strikes, in order to stay away from the claw. Still, Han gets in a few slashes on his face and torso, though they’re mostly just on the surface and Lee is clearly the superior. He’s able to pull off this classy move where he doubles Han over, puts him in a headlock, and delivers a scorpion kick to his head. It’s almost as painful as it is insulting.

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He also gives Han a close-up view of his butt. Rude.

Even crazier, Lee executes this wild double-trip thing where he slides his whole body in to attack one of Han’s legs, then, while Han is off-balance, Lee pivots his whole body and kicks Han’s other leg from the other side. It’s completely bonkers and I love it.

Knowing he’s losing, a dazed Han seizes a spear from a nearby statue, but it’s of little use and only ends up embedded in a nearby wall. Said wall turns out to be a revolving door– a hidden entrance to Lee’s private hall of mirrors where their showdown finally ends.

This is the other iconic part of the movie and it’s just so weird. Why does Han even have this place– did he have it built for just such an occasion? If so, that’s amazing. Also, I don’t think I’ve even been to a normal, non-supervillainous, funhouse hall of mirrors– are they as disorienting as the movie makes them seem?

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Yeah, that’s definitely a stuntman as Han and not Shih Kien.

It certainly is plenty disorienting to Lee, almost cartoonishly so. He advances cautiously everywhere he goes, not knowing which Han he’s seeing is real and which is the reflection. The hero’s confusion defies believability at a few points, because he does manage to stumble into the villain a few times and nail him, but then somehow can’t find him again a mere second later. Is Han disappearing into the mirrors somehow, like by magic or something? It almost seems that way.

Also triggering your “come ON!” alarm is the point where Han is able to sneak right up behind Lee and rather than deliver a killing stroke– he really does have him dead to rights– instead opts for a light slash on the back of his shoulder. Maybe next time aim for an artery, dumbass.

As with the big underground brawl, this is a great concept but somewhat underwhelming in execution, not to mention repetitive and overlong. There are only so many times you can watch a dozen refracted images of Lee sidling forward an inch at a time while a dozen refracted Hans sneak up behind him.

The whole thing comes to an end when Lee remembers his master’s advice about an enemy using “illusions” to win battle (a piece of wisdom that seems suspiciously apt for the bizarre uniqueness of this encounter), and he smashes every mirror he can reach. This allows Lee to easily find the Freddy-wannabe and kick him hard enough to impale him on the spear he’d left sticking through the wall.

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Schwarzenegger would have found a great way to make a “seven years’ bad luck” pun here.

Bye bye, Han.

In the end, though Enter The Dragon is highly flawed and disappointing, it’s hard to hold that against it. Since the film was such a breakthrough in so many ways (not the least of which was it being the first Hollywood production of an authentically Chinese martial arts film, a clash which accounts for much of its awkward sensibility), it pioneered a lot of what was to come. Earlier I compared the dungeon fight unfavorably to similar battles in more recent films, but without the success of Enter The Dragon and Bruce Lee’s legacy, it’s doubtful the scale of action would be where it is today. It’s the perfect example of a movie that needs to be seen primarily within the context of its time, and, in what’s recurring lesson here at this site, proof that movies are more than the sum of their parts.

There were no grades given for the ten fights in the movie; it seemed unnecessary. But the top three worth truly singling out are, in order: the final Lee/Han duel, Roper vs Bolo, and the wild brawl which happens between the two. Strangely those happen to be the last three fights to happen– a rare treat for such a succession of excellent bits to happen one after the other. Wataa!

Coming Attractions: It’s time to go back.

The Incredible Hulk (fight 1 of 2)

They have an Army, but we have a…

Um. Not quite.

2008’s The Incredible Hulk is underrated. It’s not great by any means, being underwhelming in certain aspects and lacking in others. But its heart is in the right place, and more importantly, it helped continue the groundwork its same-summer companion Iron Man had just recently begun. Again, this sort of thing is taken for granted in Marvel movies now, but all throughout the film you can feel a solid sense of respect & affection for the source material, an understanding that these people get the property, and want to have fun with it.

Certainly it can be credited with swerving the franchise sharply away from the dour, pretentious Ang Lee version. The director of the reboot, Louis Laterrier, is generally known as a genre schlockmeister, but in addition to all the competent action Laterrier actually pulls off some very striking shots and a few other nice tricks.

Unfortunately, while the movie fulfills its action quota, only two of its action beats could be reasonably qualified as “fights.” The first real Hulk-out, in a bottling plant after a tense chase through Brazilian favelas, is excellent but over too quickly and takes place mostly in the shadows; in one of the film’s smarter moves, it’s seen mostly from the perspectives of Hulk’s tormentors, and plays out more like a horror sequence.

But there’s still plenty of fun left to be had.

2) Hulk vs The Army

The Fighters:

  • The Incredible Hulk, aka Bruce Banner. In case you haven’t heard, Banner is a mild-mannered scientist who, thanks to a lab accident involving gamma radiation, turns into a nigh-unstoppable rage beast whenever he becomes too angry or afraid. (This movie seems to tie the transformations directly to his heart rate reaching a certain threshold, a rather bland interpretation.) The Hulk is enormous, incredibly strong, durable, and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. He’s also typically seen as “dumb” in contrast to the brilliant Banner, but this varies with each adaptation and even more so throughout the comic’s history; some Hulks are child-like idiots, some have a normal intellect, and some have just flat-out been Bruce Banner in a big green body. More recent work has even claimed that all incarnations of the Hulk retain Banner’s genius on some level, allowing the creature to intuitively calculate his seemingly random destruction so as not to harm innocent bystanders. Also important: not only does rage trigger the Hulk’s transformation, increased anger will amplify his power. “The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets.” Played by Edward Norton, who acquits himself well as a brooding & thoughtful man of action, and also apparently did extensive but uncredited re-writes of the script.
  • A small element of the United States Army, maybe a few dozen. They’re mostly equipped with small arms, but have several Humvees, a few of which are mounted with .50 caliber machine guns, and two more have some other interesting tech. Additionally, there’s a helicopter gunship nearby. (They’re also all wearing the woodland-camouflage Battle Dress Uniform, which the Army had fully phased out before 2008, the year this was released– let alone by 2011, the year this apparently takes place. Oops.) The troops are led by Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, a general deeply involved with the DoD’s gamma radiation/”special weapons” department, who has been obsessively hunting the Hulk for years and is also the father of Banner’s ex-girlfriend, Betty (awwwwwwkward). Played by William Hurt.
  • Emil Blonsky, Ross’ point man in this endeavor. A British Royal Marine “on loan” to Ross for the Hulk chase, Blonsky is a cold-blooded special forces veteran. As the lone non-casualty of the bottling plant encounter, Blonsky has a bone to pick with Hulk, and Ross has worked to enable this rematch by pumping Blonsky full of an unthawed attempt at a re-creation of the super-soldier serum– the same one that made Captain America. Played by GFS hall-of-famer Tim Roth.

“Huge invincible super-monster? Pfft, we got this.”

The Setup: Ross, as usual, is chasing Bruce Banner. This time around he’s pinpointed the fugitive’s location to the sprawling university campus where Betty works, after he’d re-surfaced there seeking assistance. Uncle Sam wants Banner alive, so they can figure out from his body how to re-create the Hulk, so as before they’re going after the guy with non-lethal means. After the hero bolts, Betty tracks down her father and implores him to stop. She is less than successful, and gets detained on the sidelines.

Though Banner’s inside, Blonsky and the majority of the troops remain out front, knowing that’s where they’ll need to be if they can’t subdue him before a transformation. In a neat practical effect, Blonsky is shown very easily out-running the rest of the infantry behind him– a cool way to introduce the effects his “treatments” are having.

Banner leads them on a merry chase across the campus, stopping at one point to swallow a thumb drive containing important data. Gross, but a necessary move for a guy whose pockets are about to get jacked up. Eventually, Banner finds himself trapped in a nifty glass walkway separating two buildings. Soldiers lock the doors on either side, and on Ross’ orders they fire knockout gas into his confined space. He starts to succumb, but when he looks outside and sees Betty distressed, his eyes turn green….

And then this happens.

The Fight: At Ross’ order, all the soldiers start to unload on him, mostly with M16s. It’s little more than an annoyance to Hulk’s thick skin, and deters him not at all as he charges forward. A few Hummers with mounted .50 cals show up and begin firing, but even good old Ma Deuce can only cause Hulk moderate pain. Before they can even try to do worse, Hulk knocks over the nearest Humvee to him, then picks up another and smashes it repeatedly into a nearby sculpture, then the ground. Not one to let a nice piece of wreckage go to waste, the beast rips out part of the vehicle’s engine block and hurls at at a third Humvee, hard enough to knock that one into another Humvee. They both explode, which is always welcome.

This leaves Blonsky to take on the Hulk directly. Armed with a grenade launcher, he starts closing in on the Hulk, firing at intervals the whole way. The first couple rounds catch Hulk before he can react and do knock him back a bit, but soon he’s able to display some battlefield improvisation, and seizes two huge chunks of the metal lawn sculpture and uses them as shields.

Isn’t the guy with the super soldier serum supposed to be using a shield?

After he gets in close enough, Blonksy drops the weapon, though it’s not clear if it’s because he ran out of ammo or if he lost his grip when he has to leap forward to avoid Hulk’s first counter-swing. Either way, Emil is reduced to just using his sidearm from here, which obviously doesn’t faze the big green guy at all. But his acrobatic dodging is quite incredibly, leaping and flipping all around Hulk’s would-be swings.

Ross, impressed, orders Blonsky to draw the target into the next phase of the plan: the sonic cannons.

Sonic BOOM

These new weapons (apparently made by Stark Industries, of course) are non-lethal devices which fire visible waves of “sound” into the air and somehow incapacitate the target. It’s not clear if they do so merely by causing overwhelming pain to the target’s hearing/inner ear, or if they have their own concussive force, as is implied when Blonksy gets grazed by one just as he’s jumping out the way, which sends him tumbling too. But either way, you have to love these things: they’re SUCH a deliciously comic book-y contrivance, symbolic of how much fun this movie’s willing to have.

The cannons, once they’re both trained on Hulk, actually fix him pretty well at first, bringing him to the ground in pain. But once again, Hulk draws his strength at the sight of Betty’s visible distress over him, and forces himself back to his feet. Mitigating the sonic waves somewhat by first putting the metal shields in their path, and then he throws one right down the middle of the vehicle it’s mounted on, blowing it up. With the damage output reduced by half, Hulk is free enough to leap right onto the other cannon, destroying it personally.

Nearly out of options, Ross calls in the nearby gunship. Overly confident and disregarding orders to stand down, Blonsky takes a few more rifle shots at Hulk. When he’s out of ammo, he confronts Hulk face-to-face, daring him to continue their wildly disproportionate duel. “Is that all you got?” he taunts.

This seems… unwise.

Disgusted, Hulk casually but swiftly boots Blonsky right in the chest, propelling into a tree about a hundred feet ahead. It looks like it hurts.

Betty tries to get close to the Hulk to make him calm down, which her dad somehow fails to notice before the gunship closes in. He tells them to not fire but it’s too late, leaving Hulk to use his body to protect her from the hail of powerful ammunition. The entire patch of grass they’re standing on is reduced to a smoking pit by the strafing helicopter, but Hulk survived it. Cradling an unconscious Betty, he leaps away to safety. Mark this one as another loss in the government’s War on Hulk.

This is good, if not great, stuff for the superhero genre. It’s a tight and confined to one location, but still fairly epic in its small-scale way; the 2003 Hulk disaster had another, bigger confrontation with the military which eventually wore out its welcome. Hulk goes up against not just conventional Army might but also some wonky sci-fi weaponry and a deranged, British version of Captain America (not to be confused with the other British version of Captain America), which adds to the fun. And throughout there’s nice beats like the Hulk’s improvised shields, proving the creature’s tactical intelligence.

We even some nice character moments: right after the Hulk transforms, Ross mutters to himself, “now she’ll see,” thinking that Betty will lose her affection for Bruce now that she personally witnesses how much of a monster the Hulk is. But ultimately it’s the Hulk who bravely rescues Betty from Ross’ own monstrous bad decisions.

Grade: B

Coming Attractions: Something abominable.

Ladies.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World (fight 4 of 4)

For once I’m at a loss to make a video game analogy that the movie itself hasn’t already beat me to.

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+6 Blogger Pre-emption

4) Gideon Graves

The Fighters:

  • Scott Pilgrim, obviously. Much more pissed off and determined than before. Played by Michael Cera.
    • Armed with: Eventually, he gets to use two swords, The Power of Love and The Power of Self-Respect. They’re both in the form of flaming katanas, the latter being more powerful.
  • Ramona Flowers again takes part in the proceedings. Played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
    • Armed with: Nothing much, but she briefly makes use of a standing lamp to defend herself.
  • Knives Chau, the teenage “Scottaholic” who’s been messed up since Scott ditched her for Ramona. She incorrectly blames Ramona for this. Played by Ellen Wong with manic enthusiasm.
    • Armed with: Befitting her name, a pair of short but wide knife-like blades.
  • Gideon Gordon Graves, aka G-Man. The Seventh Evil Ex and leader/founder of the League. A wealthy businessman who has his own record label and several nightclubs, Gideon is manipulative, arrogant and cunning. The comic book incarnation is more overtly evil & villainous, but here he’s portrayed more passive-aggressive, a kind of transparently phony kindness that’s both creepy and amusing. Played by Jason Schwartzmann.
    • Armed with: Two swords, one of which is concealed in the cane he carries with him. The other he seems to conjure basically out of thin air, with a glowing blue blade that makes it resemble a lightsaber.
  • Also there’s some henchmen, who are pretty nondescript.

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The Setup: After a fight with Scott, Ramona ditches him and goes off to be with Gideon, who rubs it in by signing Sex Bob-omb to his label (Scott refuses to come along, and with no objection whatsoever from the rest of the band he’s instantly replaced). Our hero spends a while being lonely and rejected, but a follow-up call from Gideon– oozing obseqious insincerity– spurs Scott to go fight for the woman he’s in lesbians love with.

A series of improbably correct passwords gets him into Graves’ new nightclub (the Chaos Theater, a reference to the amazing game Earthbound), where he quickly finds his enemy, perched at the top of a stage, captive princess and all, like, well… a boss.

"You have no chance to survive make your time"

“YOU HAVE NO CHANCE TO SURVIVE MAKE YOUR TIME”

Sex Bob-omb is playing, feeling conflicted at Scott’s presence but still reluctantly obeying their new boss. Pilgrim tells off the villain and goes to charge the stage, but gets repeatedly stopped by Gideon, who pretends to act confused at Scott’s hostility. When Scott explains he’s in love with Ramona and fighting for her, he gains the Power of Love sword, which emerges from his chest and increases his level.

Of course it’s never that easy, as Graves demonstrates when he snaps his fingers and summons several henchmen. At G-Man’s request, Sex Bob-omb plays some accompanying music.

The Fight: Pilgrims and the henchmen waste little time throwing down, but he makes short work of them– really, Lucas Lee’s stunt men were more of a headache. Though that’s to be expected, because Scott is not only armed with an amazing weapon, but he’s also got some serious narrative momentum on his side.

The sequence, though light, is shot with Wright’s usual dazzling style, switching effortlessly between multiple camera angles (including one excellent, extended tracking shot) as Scott cuts them down one by one, leaving a man-shaped pile of coins each time.

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With no one standing in the way, Scott & Gideon leap at each other to exchange mid-air sword blows a la Ninja Gaiden, but surprisingly (or not so surprisingly if you played Ninja Gaiden) it’s villain who gets the best of it, his cane sword smashing the Power of Love into pieces. Before the villain can finish Pilgrim off, he’s interrupted by Knives Chau’s arrival. Descending from the ceiling, Knives kicks the sword from Gideon’s hand, but immediately turns her rage against… Ramona.

"You broke the heart that broke mine!" she actually says without somehow making you hate her

“You broke the heart that broke mine!” she actually says, somehow without making you hate her

Knives starts dueling with Ramona, to Ramona’s confusion and Gideon’s amusement. Meanwhile, Graves gets back to the business of attacking Scott, this time more physically since both of them are unarmed. The villain is pretty good hand-to-hand but not great, the two of them seeming more or less even. The ladies’ brawl is a bit more frantic, with Ramona gruntingly denying Knives’ accusations in-between avoiding her attacks.

Filming simultaneous fights is always tricky but Wright handles it well, alternating between showing the battles unfolding both separately and concurrently.

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On the lower level, Scott is eventually able to get the upper hand, or perhaps foot– he wraps his legs around Gideon’s neck and scissor-flips him down the stairs. Then he goes to sort out the cat fight up above, and in doing so has to face the painful truth that what he did to both these women was actually pretty crappy. Even as he retreats back into his old persona and tries to duck responsibility, Scott is suddenly stabbed from behind by Graves.

No visual symbolism there.

No visual symbolism there.

It looks like Game Over, with Scott seeming to drift into the afterlife as he says goodbye to Ramona (and also learns that Gideon was controlling her via computer chip in her neck) in a limbo-esque subspace desert.

But then we’re reminded: Scott has an extra life, having collected the strange icon after his battle with Exes 5&6. In the book, the 1UP was employed in a more arcade-traditional way: Scott simply got back up to fight some more. But here, Wright employs it more ingeniously, like starting the whole level from scratch or picking up from the last save point. In a rapid montage, we see Scott run off to the Chaos Theater, only this time he accesses the club more smoothly, makes amends with his band, and wastes less time on Gideon’s small talk.

Most importantly, rather than declaring he’s fighting “for love,” Scott answers that he’s fighting for himself– for his own dignity rather than any tangible reward. This is apparently worth way more experience points than before, because it gives him the Power of Self-Respect sword, and a Level-Up that’s even stronger than the first time through.

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See? Check the stats.

Scott makes even shorter work of the henchmen this time, a veritable purple blur. He faces down Graves again and this time it’s Scott who wins the Ninja Gaiden-off, breaking through the villain’s sword and cutting him on the arm.

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Graves collapses for a while, giving Scott time to call out Knives and try to dissuade her from attacking Ramona. She drops down in a frenzy anyway, but Scott cuts her rampage off early by coming clean and apologizing, to her and Ramona both. Through some unexplained means, this shuts down Ramona’s control-chip.

But Scott and the Evilest Ex still have unfinished business and, in true genre fashion, the previous incarnation wasn’t even his final form.

Silly Canucks don't even know how to spell

Silly Canucks don’t even know how to spell

In his upgrades form, Gideon fights with a kind of lazy but graceful power, often holding his sword in just one hand with the other poised oh-so-aristocratically behind his back. He is able to work a good number on Scott at first, but things look up when Knives decides to enter the fray (looks like a simple “I’m sorry” can do wonders for a girl). Their first assault against him is enough to make him swallow his gum, which he reacts to with disproportionate outrage.

The next stage of the fight is more overtly video-gamey than ever, with characters flashing red as they take “damage” and even flickering a bit.

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The Pilgrim/Chau team does quite well at first but soon Graves is able to knock Knives off the platform, and soon after he hits Scott’s sword hard enough to break it, too. With the hero stunned, Ramona walks over to Gideon, who still thinks she’s under his sway. She surprises him with a knee to the groin (attack his weak point for massive damage!), which earns her a block that sends her down the stairs. Fortunately that’s just long enough for Knives to recover and disarm the villain.

The attack on Ramona gets Scott incensed as well, and Graves is looking at a tough combo.

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It goes higher than two, trust me

Without his glowing sword Gideon is no match for the team, and they pepper him with a furious onslaught of blows in a brief, exciting and stylized montage. Knives delivers a devastating attack at the end that whittles his (visible) life bar down to the very last, leaving him to utter a final bitter monologue while he flickers on the edge of death.

Scott has little patience for it, and delivers the final blow himself.

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Easily the best fight in the film. Not much in terms of laughs, relatively speaking, but it makes up for it with some sneakily-affecting character work. The gimmick of Scott’s extra life extends the fight in a way that feels both natural and not tiresomely repetitive. Though the staging is all combined to one very tight location, the fluctuating number of fighters and varying weapons still makes it quite dynamic indeed. Indeed, this is Scott Pilgrim’s finest hour.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: YOU ARE NEXT!

Scott Pilgrim vs The World (fight 3 of 4)

Girls, girls, girls….

Always fighting over a boy. Sorta.

Always fighting over a boy. Sorta.

3) Roxy Richter

The Fighters:

  • Scott Pilgrim, as always. Played by Michael Cera.
  • Ramona Flowers, Scott’s new girlfriend, joins in on this one. Turns out she’s a pretty capable and aggressive fighter in her own right. Played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
    • Armed with: A giant sledgehammer, which in true video game fashion she can produce at will from her deceptively small hand bag due to her skill at accessing sub-space (or perhaps more accurately, hammer space). She can wield the heavy weapon with surprising speed.
  • Roxanne “Roxy” Richter, a female ninja (or “half-ninja” as the comic elaborates) and Ramona’s fourth Evil Ex. (Their relationship occurred as a result of what Scott calls her “sexy phase” but what Ramona merely describes as “experimenting.”) Roxy is cranky, aggressive, and humorously insecure. She also has the ability of short-range teleportation, which she uses quite cannily. Played by Cera’s erstwhile television love interest, Mae Whitman. But I like to call her Annabelle because she’s shaped like a…….. she’s the belle of the ball!
    • Armed with: A very loose whip-sword she’s quite skilled with.

The Setup: At an after-party in a swanky night club, Scott’s relationship with Ramona is beginning to clearly deteriorate due to his insecurities regarding her past romantic history. They verbally jab at each other for a while, and Scott asks why Ramona keeps correcting his description of the League to the gender-neutral “exes” instead of “ex-boyfriends” as he’d repeatedly phrased it. But before she can answer, the explanation kicks him in the back of the head.

He gets up, assesses the situation, and puts it together.

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This anatomical depiction of the male brain is the most realistic thing in this movie.

You know what that means.

The Fight: As Ramona starts to explain, Roxy gets miffed at being reduced to a “phase” and decides to take it out on Scott, winding up a big spin kick… which gets blocked, rather effortlessly, by Ramona.

Though Scott will later vocalize his reluctance to fight a woman (“they’re soft!” he whines), Ramona’s motivation here seems mainly to be about finally being proactive in defeating her past. Snarling in defiance, Roxy calls Ramona a “has-bian” which is hilarious, and takes out her chain sword. Ramona prepares her own attitude-adjuster.

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The two have the most complex battle in the movie yet, with some really inventive staging to match Ramona’s slower, bludgeoning weapon against Egg’s Roxy’s longer, faster, cutting one. There are some neat acrobatic tricks & flips, though everything stays much more local than the high-flying escapades of the Patel duel. Neither one gains much of an edge against the other, though Ramona seems to be the more dominant fighter.

They break a lot of surroundings until Roxy is able to use her whip to seize Ramona’s hammer and send it out the window. But the villain gets too caught up in celebrating her accomplishment to defend against a brutal axe kick from her ex-lover, putting Bland to the ground.

After some taunting, Roxy insists that this is “a League game” meaning that Scott has to be the one to defeat her (it’s unclear what will happen if he isn’t. These rules are being unilaterally invented & imposed by one side of the conflict). So, getting by on a technicality, Ramona stands behind Scott and manipulates his limbs to use him as a fighting dummy.

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It looks better than this in practice, I promise.

The impromptu solution actually works pretty well and Roxy gets beaten back, until she employs her teleporting powers again and BAMFs right in-between the couple, separating them. She then punches the vulnerable Pilgrim into the ceiling, and after he falls back down she tries to finish him off with a devastating axe kick of her own. As her heel comes down in slow-motion, Scott & Ramona improbably find the time for a conversation, where she advises him to strike at the “weak point” just behind Roxy’s knee. It’s clear even before Roxy’s moan-heavy reaction that “weak point” is a metaphor for something else.

That's... hot? I think?

That’s… hot? I think?

So, yeah. Amidst the ecstatic moaning, Roxy collapses to the ground and explodes in a shower of coins. K.O.

Another fun if not spectacular fight. Throwing Ramona in the mix allows for a much-needed change, as does the addition of some unusual weapons. It’s also quite amusing on the whole and very fast-moving. Though the talented Miss Whitman doesn’t reach the heights of Chris Evans’ Lucas Lee, she’s really quite funny in what could have been an unlikably shrill role if played poorly.

The climax conclusion of the fight is… unusual. Obviously we all get the nature of the joke, but it seems a bit of a stretch, a double-entendre that’s also literally true. It just makes no sense for that to be the thing that kills her– not just distracts her enough to be finished off but actually kills her– even for this movie’s value of “making sense.” I guess they don’t call it le petit mort for nothing.

Grade: B+

Coming Attractions: The conclusion of the movie-length boss rush(more).

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War does funny things to men.

Pacific Rim (fight 5 of 5)

Feel free to make your filthy sexual jokes about “disappointing climaxes” here.

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Gipsy and Striker will be hiding from them at the bottom of the ocean.

5) Operation Pitfall

The Fighters:

  • Gipsy Danger, heroic leader of the Autobots our main jaeger, a little banged up from the last fight, but after a quick repair job is good to go.
    • Piloted by: Raleigh Beckett and Mako Mori, who are played by Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi.
  • Striker Eureka, the sleek new jaeger model with the highest kill count so far. Apparently the EMP didn’t do it any lasting damage.
    • Piloted by: Chuck Hansen and Stacker Pentecost, played by Robert Kazinsky and Idris Elba. Chuck’s father, Herc, broke his arm during Fight #2 and is unable to continue, so veteran pilot Stacker has volunteered to take his place and left Herc back in command at Shatterdome. In a completely gratuitous subplot, Pentecost has cancer due to his prolonged exposure to radiation in the poorly-shielded early-model jaegers. The cancer is said to be largely subsided as long as Pentecost doesn’t enter a jaeger again, so presumably the point of this plot element is to show how noble he is for stepping up for duty… but since there are no other worthy pilots on hand, if Stacker hadn’t helped out the apocalypse would remain un-cancelled so he’d die in a kaiju attack eventually, and besides that he (spoiler) dies by other means during the fight anyway. Guillermo Del Toro already pulled the exact same “give a cancer diagnosis to the older mentor figure who’s going to be killed off later” in the first Hellboy, so maybe he’s got a thing for that strangely specific trope. Oh and apparently Hansen and Pentecost are drift-compatible, but the movie is so nebulous about how that works it hardly matters at this point.
  • Raiju, an extremely fast kaiju with a crocodile-like head. Very little is seen of this little beastie, but its body seems almost optimized for swimming. Named after a Japanese mythological beast that has thunder & lightning powers.
  • Scunner, a large kaiju with four arms and a bull-like head. Beyond that, doesn’t seem to do anything special– besides being a huge monster, obviously. It’s named after a Scottish slang word for having a strong dislike for something. It’s never really clear who’s naming these things, incidentally: as soon as they’re spotted on radar, the way the guys at HQ call them out it’s like the names are pre-existing, even though the jaeger program people are the only ones tracking these things. This is such a weird movie.
  • Slattern, the most enormous kaiju yet– he’s immediately identified as a “Category 5” kaiju, even though there’s never been anything bigger than a 4. Again, weird. In addition to its ridiculous size, Slattern has three long tails and a devilish appearance, though given that the two have similar facial protrusions it can be hard to tell it apart from Scunner. The monster’s name (which I don’t believe is ever mentioned on screen, only gained from ancillary material) is taken from an archaic insult for women.

The Setup: Having fended off the assault in Hong Kong, Team Jaeger is now executing their planned operation to directly attack the inter-dimensional breach the kaiju are coming from by dropping a nuclear bomb in it. In a modification of the original plan (thanks to the demise of Typhoon and Cherno), this time it’s Gipsy pulling security while Striker goes ahead with the payload.

As the pair approach the breach, they get word of two large signatures emerging from it, and are on lookout. As they’re deep in the ocean, their visibility is terrible and they have to “switch to instruments” though it’s never clear what that means, and in any case it doesn’t seem to affect their performance. Raiju and Scunner begin to circle the pair, moving too fast to be seen.

As the robots get to the hole where the breach is, both kaiju stop their advance, which clues Pentecost into the presence of a trap. Just then, Dr. Geiszler and his frenemy Dr. Gottlieb burst into command, fresh off their drift with a dead kaiju fetus. The pair tell everyone that the plan won’t work, because whatever weird science that runs the breach will be able to tell monster from machine, and won’t let them through unless they bring a kaiju corpse along for the ride.

As if that wasn’t complicated enough, this is also when Slattern decides to make its appearance.

So: we know that each kaiju is harder to defeat than the last. The previous two monsters managed to easily take out three veteran jaegers, and only fell to Gipsy after it took them on one at a time while using some spectacular moves. This time it’s the good guys who are outnumbered, including one super-duper-jumbo-sized opponent. And it all takes place entirely underwater, where the monsters’ increased maneuverability will give them even greater advantage. How will our heroes overcome these odds?

Luck, mostly. Luck and some cheating.

The Fight: Striker fully extends its wrist blades (where were those in the second fight?) and gets ready. Gipsy tries to catch up and help, but gets attacked from behind by Scunner, who had been hiding nearby.

"I fear you are underestimating the sneakiness."

“I fear you are underestimating the sneakiness.”

We see Striker get knocked down pretty hard by all three of Slattern’s tails. Meanwhile, Gipsy has to tangle with Scunner. It’s able to pin down the kaiju with one hand, but before Gipsy can deliver a killing strike with the sword attached to its free arm, the jaeger gets rammed from behind by Raiju at high speed. The swift little beast knocks the whole limb off, chomping it in half as it swims away.

While Gipsy recovers, Scunner takes the opportunity to bite the robot’s… leg? It has to be the leg, considering what happens later, but the editing is so poor you would swear it went for the intact arm (I rewound multiple times and it really seems like the arm). The leg is also an idiotic tactical decision, because it is indeed the leg right underneath Gipsy’s remaining arm. The jaeger whips out the other sword and shoves it right through the back of Scunner’s head, pinning it to the ground. Attempting to finish it off for good, Gipsy slowly drags the kaiju over to one of several volcanic pits, where the fiery discharge gives it a good burnin’.

Anyone else having flashbacks to Tim Curry in Legend?

Anyone else having flashbacks to Tim Curry in Legend?

Unfortunately, Scunner is able to wrench free before it gets the full Freddy Krueger, and swims off to lick its wounds. Right about this time, Raiju has finally gotten far enough away to start up another charge, and heads straight for Gipsy to finish the job.

With miraculous timing, the one-armed robot is able to duck and lift its sword just in time to catch Raiju right in its ugly snout. The beast has so much momentum that the body just keeps on going, so Gipsy doesn’t have to do anything but stand still in order to slice the kaiju completely in half, length-wise. It’s a really cool kill, but in addition to being an abrupt exit for a brand-new foe, it’s also a bit too easy.

"Well, that was a freebie."

“Well, that was a freebie.”

We go back to Striker, who’s been damaged enough by that one blow it can no longer release the payload. Striker’s more pressing problem, though, is a tackle from the enormous Slattern. After some struggling, Striker’s claws are able to tear up the Cat 5 pretty good, forcing it to draw back and unleash a visualized sonic shout that draws Scunner’s attention.

The (comparatively) smaller kaiju rushes to the aid of its superior, and as the two slowly circle Striker to get into optimal position, the pilots come up with a new plan: they’ll set off the bomb right now to take the heat off Gipsy, who can then detonate its own nuclear reactor to blow up the breach afterward.

After some emotional radio moments straight out of Armageddon, Strikers sets us up off the bomb just before it would have been crunched between the two charging kaiju. Gipsy, at an apparently safe distance away (ha!), keeps from getting flung to Kingdom Come by planting its chain sword in the ground. Meanwhile, the blast displaces all the nearby water, creating a nifty Moses effect. Too bad it’s not to last, and Gipsy’s battered again as the water comes rushing back in.

"nononononononono....."

Surf’s up……. and right back down.

Gipsy grabs a big chunk of Raiju to get through the gateway, and limps toward the breach’s location. (In one of the many humanizing touches the CGI work provides, Gipsy’s limping here, which of course is a natural result of the damage sustained, makes the unfeeling machine look like a human being in pain.) But despite sustaining a point-blank nuclear detonation, Slattern is somehow still alive and seemingly not much worse for wear.

Our heroes improvise accordingly, dropping the Raiju half-corpse and using Gipsy’s jets to tackle Slattern just above the hole leading to the breach. They struggle against each other as they sink, with Gipsy skewering the kaiju through the chin with its sword, and finally finishing the job by burning off a ton of excess fuel through the nuclear turbine in its chest.

"HEAAAAART'S OOOOOOON FIIIIIIIIRE....."

“HEAAAAART’S ONNNNNN FIIIIIIIIRE…..”

After that, it’s pretty much a matter of simply playing out the thread. Gipsy passes through the portal, arms the reactor, both emergency pods eject back up through the portal– how’d they get back through without a kaiju corpse? For that matter, how did they get radio reception back to HQ through another dimension??– bomb goes off and closes bridge. Raleigh ends up surviving process, he and Mako embrace (but don’t kiss), blah blah blah.

Eh, who cares.

Eh, who cares.

Well, this is not bad, per se, but it certainly pales in comparison to the level of carnage we’ve seen before. And it feels like a rush, a cheat. After all those overwhelming odds, the solution ends up being pretty underwhelming: a few lucky hits and a big explosion. Raiju goes down almost as quick as he showed up, getting so little screen time he makes Typhoon and Cherno look like stars in comparison. Scunner isn’t bad, but doesn’t leave much of an impression either. And the actual “boss” is most disappointing of all– after that excellent entrance, Slattern pretty much gives one big blow, then doesn’t do a whole lot else and only showcases one special ability the whole time. And that special ability is basically a glorified distress signal, which means the only noteworthy thing the biggest, baddest monster in the movie does is call for help.

In this, Pacific Rim indulges more in its “war movie” side than it does in its sentai/kaiju side. Which is the filmmakers’ right, but it’s disappointing nonetheless from the perspective of fight scenes. And it’s not without merit: the entrance of Slattern, the bisecting of Raiju, the skewering/cooking of Scunner, and the emotionally-charged sacrifices are all good stuff. But on the whole, it’s the weakest fight of the movie, which is always a bummer to say about the climax.

Grade: B-

Coming Attractions: Wait… more Pacific Rim?

Wait... where'd all the giant robots go?

Where’d all the giant robots go?