Spider-Man 3 (fight 3 of 5)

Clear as mud.

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Ew.

3) Spider-Man vs Sandman, round 2

The Fighters:

  • Peter Parker aka Spider-Man. Our hero’s gone down an increasingly dark path ever since an alien symbiote he unknowingly encountered* has bonded with him and created a blackened suit, which grants him increased power while subtly amping up his negative qualities, such as aggression. (It also makes him act like a jackass hipster, in one of the movie’s most criticized indulgences.) Unfortunately it enters his life at the worst possible time: just as he’s going through a messy fight with Mary Jane and facing the revelation of Marko’s involvement in Uncle Ben’s death. So like the kind of alcoholic who drinks because deep down he WANTS to act like a drunken a-hole, Peter enters a self-destructive spiral where he keeps donning the suit to enable his worst impulses. Played by Tobey Maguire.
  • Flint Marko, aka Sandman. Nothing new here. Played by Thomas Haden Church.

[*The symbiote crawled onto Peter’s scooter after landing nearby, in one of the quietest meteor landings in history. A bit  convenient, but the way Spidey finds the thing in the original comics is considerably too… involved to adapt here.]

The Setup: Not much to it. Shortly after Peter has gotten re-adjusted to his new suit, he hears some police reports of Sandman committing yet another robbery, and heads off to where he was last seen. On the way, he encounters Eddie Brock, Peter’s new professional rival, and they have an ugly confrontation. This will be important later, duh.

Marko has headed underground (in a subtle touch, Spider-Man throws respect for property to the wind by simply ripping a huge chunk of concrete away to make his entrance, rather than finding a more conventional way) and Spidey slowly stalks him through a darkened sewer/train tunnel area. For a little while, at least, it’s the sneakiest he’s been since he chased down carjacker Dennis Carradine back in 2002.

Metal Gear Spidey

Metal Gear Spidey

The Fight: Peter surprises his prey by lowering down from the ceiling right in front of him, and after dodging some blows, taunts him about Uncle Ben’s death– something that visibly unnerves Marko.

When a subway train roars by, Spider-Man webs himself to the side of it, letting its momentum pull him in for a strong double-kick against Sandman. The crook goes flying, dropping his bags of money (again) and lands on another platform in between two tracks. The hero tries to swing in again, but this time Flint is ready.

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Acrobatic even in the confined underground, Spider-Man recovers from his fall, loops all the way around from underneath the platform and strikes Marko from behind. The two then engage in some solid, painful-looking fisticuffs as two trains come simultaneously from opposite directions. Peter gets bounced around back & forth between the fast-moving cars like a human pinball, but Marko’s turn is even worse, as he gets half his face sheared off when the increasingly merciless hero grinds it up against one of the trains.

Sandman recovers his mass with some nearby dirt, but still, probably not the best experience.

After a little while of this, hero tackles villain off the platform and they both take a long fall, hitting a big pipe on the way down. Marko lands in a small puddle, and finds that the water is making it hard for him to maintain his cohesion. Spider-Man notices this too, and when he swings Marko’s way again, it’s not to hit him but to reach the big water pipe nearby. He violently opens it, making a burst of water come out and hit his opponent.

Degenerating into Mudman, Flint gets washed away in the flood, eventually coming apart completely as he hits a grate. Without remorse, Spidey smugly bids his foe good riddance.

A villain having an ambiguous death scene and getting carried away by water? How novel

A comic villain having an ambiguous “death” scene and getting carried away by water? Surely this will be the last we see of him.

The rematch with Sandman is short but an improvement in the Exciting department. Raimi & co get around the issue of the character’s seeming invulnerability not just by finishing him off with his Kryptonite-equivalent, but by having Spider-Man employ aggressive and creative techniques to keep pressing his advantage. This has the handy side benefit of further establishing not just the increased power offered by the black suit, but also emphasizing its effects on Peter’s personality; as fun as it is to watch this fight happen, there’s an undercurrent of “wrongness” to Spidey’s callous brutality. It’s the rare superhero fight where the villain feels like the victim… though, granted, Raimi had already stacked the deck beforehand by letting us in on Marko’s hard-luck story.

The underground setting is a new one for this film series, and handily allows the hero’s dark behavior to be complemented by the literal darkness of the surroundings. Who knows how “realistic” it is– half the time it just looks like a straight-up cave, but also has trains and giant water pipes running through it everywhere– but it definitely fits in with the movie’s cartoony aesthetic. Also, New York’s mass transit system played a big part in the previous movie’s climax, but you almost forget that because of the different role the trains play in this battle. Clever.

Grade: B-

Coming Attractions: Spider-Man vs Wolverine!

Ha, you wish.

Ha, you wish.

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Spider-Man 3 (fight 2 of 5)

Enter Sandman.

Uh, not quite.

2) Spider-Man vs Sandman

The Fighters:

  • Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man. Played by Tobey Maguire.
  • Flint Marko, aka Sandman. An escaped convict with a heart of gold, Marko seems like a vicious thug but really commits all his crimes to help his sick daughter (awww). In a fan-maddening retcon, this movie “reveals” (i.e., invents) the fact that Marko was not only the partner of the crook who robbed the wrestling arena, but also the one who really killed Uncle Ben… then at the end of the movie they undo the retcon, but only slightly. Anyway, while on the run from Johnny Law, Marko fell into a suspiciously unguarded scientific experiment involving some sort of weird new radiation and a pit of sand, so of course now he’s a sand monster. In addition to being able to shift his body into pretty much any sand-like shape he wants, Sandman is effectively invulnerable against conventional attacks: the harmed pieces of his body just turn into sand, and eventually they re-form. He’s pretty much the T-1000, but with sand… and short of a handy lava pit, there seems to be no guaranteed way to kill him. It should be noted that composer Danny Elfman, at the behest of Raimi (as always, showing his campy roots), devised a musical theme for Sandman that’s something straight out of a 1950s monster movie. It’s simultaneously laughable and irresistible. Played by Thomas Haden Church, in the midst of a very unexpected career resurgence.
Thomas Haden Church, serious actor.

Thomas Haden Church, serious actor.

The Setup: After getting the hang of his abilities in a poignant scene, Marko decides to return his old past time of reluctant crime, in order to pay yet more medical bills for his cherubic little daughter. For his public debut, he opts for the tried & true route of attacking an armored car in broad daylight. He enters the vehicle while it’s still moving and takes out the security detail.

Unfortunately for him he didn’t try this in some nearby city that doesn’t have its own superhero, because New York’s current favorite son, Spider-Man, notices these goings-on and swings into action. Flint tells the vigilante to back off so he won’t get hurt, which Spidey brushes aside.

The Fight: Cocky as ever, the hero dodges the first punch and throws a devastating counter… which goes harmlessly through Marko’s chest.

My spider sense is telling me this is going to be a tad one-sided.

Sandman retaliates by enlarging one of his fists (that’s a thing he can do) and knocking Spidey through the back of the vehicle. He only barely keeps up by webbing back on to it and getting dragged from behind on a piece of broken door he rides like a skateboard.

Marko gets on top of the van to escape (seems impractical), and Spider-Man launches a few web bullets at him. They form a few temporary holes in the crook’s chest, but mostly just seem to annoy him. A bigger inconvenience is when Spidey gets to the top, avoids Marko with some nifty spin moves and kicks Sandman’s legs right out from under him. Literally.

But even while just a torso, the villain is formidable up close, and knocks Spidey away onto a bus while he rebuilds himself. Undeterred, the hero comes back and clings to the side of the van, which unfortunately leaves him wide open to a hammer-shaped blow from Sandy that knocks him clear through the other side of the van.

Thor’s gonna be pissed when he sees you stole his MO

Thor’s gonna be pissed when he sees you stole his MO

Parker survives, but the vehicle is out of control. The hero just barely saves the two drivers from an impending collision, and when he checks back for Marko, his new foe is gone, though he had to leave the money behind.

Spider-Man retreats to dump sand out of a boot (who knows how many other crevices it got into. Somewhere, Anakin Skywalker nods understandingly) and wonders where the heck all “these guys” come from.

A short, varied introduction to what Sandman can do. Both characters behave believably under the circumstances, with reluctant villain Marko fighting intensely & but savagely, and Spidey adapting rapidly to the situation. Sandman’s practically intangible nature makes anything resembling extended fisticuffs laughable, so Raimi & co had to come up with some creative acrobatics in order to compensate. Setting the whole thing in and around a moving car during heavy traffic ups the ante as well. Nothing special but a respectable placeholder.

Grade: C+

Coming Attractions: Spider-Man’s deadliest asset is the thing ability Sandman doesn’t have: the ability to change clothes.

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At least Flint still has that winning smile.

Spider-Man 3 (fight 1 of 5)

No no, don’t run. It’s okay. This is a safe place.

Don’t I look trustworthy?

Spider-Man 3 gets a bad rap, only some of which is deserved. It’s overstuffed, self-indulgent, and filled with are you-effing-kidding-me plot developments. Yet it’s not without its charms. The performances still mostly work, it’s ambitious (if too much for its own good), and in many ways, the action is more inventive than ever. So while it deserves to be studied as a textbook case of Franchise Bloat, the fanboy rage aimed at it is a bit over the top.

Most of all, I can’t fully hate it because it does offer a veritable buffet of fights. To finish what we started with this film series, let’s dive into them.

It also has the best Bruce Campbell cameo, but that, sadly, is out of this site’s purview.

1) Spider-Man vs The New Goblin

The Fighters:

  • Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man. You know the drill on his powers and whatnot. A lot happier than he’s been for pretty much the entire saga, and preparing to propose to his lady love. Played by Tobey Maguire.
  • Harry Osborn, son of the first film’s Green Goblin. Driven to take revenge against Spider-Man for his father’s death and newly armed with the knowledge of his secret identity, he undergoes the same chemical treatments. The procedures increase his strength, durability and reaction time, but don’t seem to result in any multiple personalities. Guess that’s only an occasional side effect. Note that he’s only called “the New Goblin” in supplementary materials, not in the movie itself; when Harry took up his dad’s mantle in the comics, he just went by “Green Goblin” again. Played by precious snowflake James Franco.
    • Armed with: A (thankfully) streamlined version of his dad’s equipment: the mask is simpler & retractable, the glider (which can also automatically return to Harry if separated) is about the size of a skateboard, and rather than bright green armor Harry has opted for a comfortable set of black clothing with light padding and a few attachments. He also has a set of retractable blades hooked up to at least one of his arms, and carries a green, katana-like sword. And while this Goblin tends to go for more up-close fighting, he also his father’s pumpkin-themed bombs and whatnot.

The Setup: At the end of the first film, Norman Osborn’s last-second attempt to kill Spider-Man inadvertently caused his own suicide, and Harry, ignorant of his father’s dual life, blames Spidey for it since that’s who he saw dropping the body off. At the end of the second film, Harry learned not only his “nemesis” Spider-Man’s true identity, but, after stumbling onto one of his backup lairs and talking to ghosts in the mirror (yep), about his father’s own legacy. Somehow his dad’s status as a certified supervillain (especially one who almost got Harry killed and either endangered or actively tried to murder his girlfriend Mary Jane on two separate occasions) doesn’t alter his view of Spidey’s apparent actions back in 2002, because apparently the Osborn intelligence genes skipped a generation.

And so it is that as Peter Parker is zipping happily along in a motor scooter, the masked Harry zooms in from out of nowhere and plucks him into the air.

Then again, look at that face. Can you really blame Harry?

Then again, look at that face. Can you really blame Harry?

The Fight: Our hero’s spider-sense may have been conveniently forgotten, but not his fighting instincts. As the two swerve all around the New York skyline, Peter doesn’t hesitate to trade punches with the mysterious figure who attacked him in broad, uh, nightlight.

The Goblin gets a good surface slash along Peter’s belly with his arm blades, but then Peter breaks free and webs himself to the spire of a tall building. As he swings slowly around it he fires several web “bullets” at his adversary, most of which have little effect.

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Osborn cuts through the web rope and punches Peter hard enough to embed him into the brickwork of another building. It’s here he reveals his face to his genuinely surprised friend, telling him “you knew this was coming.” (Did he? It seems an odd thing to expect.) As he continues his attack, Parker tries to explain what he should have two movies ago– i.e., your dad was a freaking nutbar who accidentally killed himself while trying to murder me for no good reason– but Harry’s too worked up too listen. A few missed punches knock a whole section of wall off, with the uncostumed Spider-Man clinging to it as it falls. As it tumbles end over end through the air, Raimi tracks and slowly pushes into it, and somehow manages to pull off a sneaky transition from CGI to the real Tobey Maguire.

Peter leaps to safety but gets knocked around in mid-air some more, then seized and dragged against a building. After getting thrown through two sets of glass windows, he loses the family heirloom ring he’d been planning to give Mary Jane. Pissed off, he’s able to get solid footing on Harry’s board, wrestle him a bit, and knock him off. While Peter goes to retrieve the ring just in time (it should absolutely have hit the ground by then), Harry’s board auto-homes in on him and saves him from splattering on the pavement.

Perhaps sensing that his opponent’s flight gives him an advantage in the open air, Parker tries to escape down a series of narrow alleyways. The Goblin orients himself sideways gives chase at high speed, narrowly avoiding many obstacles as he closes the distance.

James Franco, serious actor.

James Franco, serious actor.

When he’s near enough, Harry whips out that sweet green sword and takes a few swings. When that doesn’t work, he launches a handful of his dad’s guided pumpkin blade/bombs, which Peter mutters that he (quite reasonably) hates.

Unable to dodge while being pursued, the hero gets cut up a good bit. But a vertical turnaround (he swings all the way straight up and reverses course in mid-air) puts Harry right in the line of fire instead, giving him a taste of his own medicine and Peter enough time to deflect most of them with his webbing. He grabs the last one with a web rope and flings it right at Harry, who manages to survive the explosion mostly unscathed.

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Somehow.

But the ka-boom was only a distraction for Spider-Man to set up his real finisher. As soon as Osborn looks up, he runs neck-first into a web-clothesline Peter was holding taut. His trip comes to a brutally abrupt stop, and he even manages to hit a few more obstacles on the way down. Yowch.

To see how far superhero cinema had come in such a short amount of time, one has to do nothing more than look at this fight. Both characters’ abilities are creatively explored, with a few surprising developments that still arise organically from the way they operate (e.g., the finishing clothesline). As is the mark of many a good fight scene, there is a reasonable sense of give-and-take between the two; the New Goblin is formidable but not invincible, with Spidey needing to employ a combination of power and smarts to take him down.

Not only that, it happens in a wild, fast-paced frenzy; indeed, the action is so inventive and fast-paced here that it borders on ridiculous. We’re a long way from the original movie, with its admirable but stiff attempts at using special effects & stunt work to capture impossible combat, and where a simple lack of sucking prompted a collective sigh of relief. This fight here is more complex than anything in the first and arguably even the second film, and it’s the opening battle. There are surely other, legitimate reasons people found this movie disappointing, but a big one was that by 2007, we were plenty spoiled.

And, of course, the fight does end with this happening:

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Classic.

Grade: A-

Coming Attractions: Bring me a dream.

Make him the cutest that… well, we can forget that part.

Three O’Clock High

Finally, a true clash of the titans!

Can’t you just smell the epicness??

Three O’Clock High is a bit of a forgotten film from the 80s, unknown even to many of the people who tend to like this sort of thing (I hadn’t even heard of it until less than a year of ago). Watching it now, it’s easy to see why, tragic though that might be, it fell to the cultural wayside. It’s an uneven movie, aiming as it does for an odd balance of broad farce, random weirdness, and straightforward drama… but what works about it really does work quite well, and the rest of it is inoffensively silly enough. Not a great movie by any means, but one that’s hard not to like, considering the creativity and effort that’s bursting awkwardly from its seams. (It also didn’t help the movie’s box office that it had no major stars of the time in it. Even the cast members who went on to become famous are largely on the sidelines.) It’s certainly more memorable than at least half of John Hughes’ overrated angst-fests.

Bottom line, the film has personality. That counts for a lot.

Three O’Clock High: Jerry vs Buddy

The Fighters:

  • Jerry Mitchell, a senior at Weaver High School. Jerry is sort of an Everyteen, admirable but relatable, with no defined place in the school ecosystem Hollywood always insists is so rigid. He’s clean-cut, smart and hard-working, well-liked enough by people who know him but not popular, coolly casual most of the time but nervous under pressure. Played by Casey Siemaszko, the bane of spell-check.
  • Buddy Revell, a new transfer student from a school for delinquents. Buddy’s reputation has preceded his arrival, with half the students gossiping about his epic propensity & capacity for violence. Surely the rumors are exaggerated, but he’s clearly dangerous enough. Hulking, surly, and dressed in the torn-jeans-and-leather-jacket look that’s been universally accepted American shorthand for “bad boy” for the better part of a century, Buddy is one mean-looking dude. In one of the more refreshing aspects of Three O’Clock high, Revell does not “suddenly” become a good guy or be revealed as a misunderstood nice guy. While he is more than you might think at first, he is still basically what he appears to be: a violent & cruel bully. Played by Richard Tyson, who you probably recognize as the bad guy from Kindergarten Cop. His mom isn’t here to help him but she’s not so tough without her car anyway.

There’s some small but pivotal intervention by others, and a brief use of brass knuckles.

The Setup: Due to a misunderstanding in the men’s room (er, not what it sounds like), Jerry becomes the target of Buddy’s rage, and the new student informs him that at the end of the school day, the two of them will have a fight.

Given Revell’s reputation, that sounds more like an execution, and word of the upcoming duel spreads, building to a fever pitch amongst the student body. All Jerry’s attempts to get out of the fight fail or backfire until, using money he purloined from his campus job, Jerry bribes Buddy to leave him alone for several hundred dollars. Buddy agrees, but regards Jerry with open and genuine disgust for his cowardice. Fittingly, the blow to his dignity puts our hero through far more turmoil than the threat of physical violence did.

He goes to be sad about it in the bathroom. Lotta bathroom stuff in this movie.

After some soul-searching, Jerry decides it’s time to face the music. He re-confronts Buddy, demanding his money back and telling him the fight’s back on. The bully demurs at first, but finally grants him his wish. As the school day winds to a close, Jerry strides purposefully to their battlefield in the parking lot, soon finding himself surrounded by an almost comically large crowd of frenzied, cheering students. Siemaszko’s body language here is impressive: despite his diminutive size and buttoned-down appearance, he actually comes off like a bit of a badass, charged with a renewed sense of purpose. He carries himself in a subtle way: not cocky and assuming he’s going to win, just determined to face his destiny like a man.

As with the characterization of Buddy, the lack of subversion here is refreshing. There are no “higher lessons” imparted here where the characters learn that violence isn’t the answer or some goofy shit like that; the movie promises you a fight and it GIVES you a fight. It’s a bit of a throwback– fitting, since it’s openly modeled on/a satire of classic Westerns.

The Fight: How does a guy like Jerry beat a guy like Buddy? Well, a straight victory was never going to happen. Our hero displays some canniness & luck, but he also gets by with a little from his friends.

The first punch thrown doesn’t actually hit either of the two combatants. Just as they square off, they’re interrupted by the school’s principal, confident in his ability to put a stop to such shenanigans.

His confidence is… misplaced.

But Buddy doesn’t give a crap for authority, and when he touches Buddy’s arm to pull him away, Buddy decks him, and tells a shocked Jerry it’s his turn. This actually makes Jerry’s newfound confidence waver a bit, which Buddy takes advantage of by pushing him fiercely into the side of a van.

Fortunately, Mitchell gets a breather from the intervention of his not-girlfriend, a goofy hippie named Franny. Unfortunately, she’s little more than an irritation to the huge bully.

But what an irritation she is.

Revell gives her a relatively chivalrous dismissal in the form of a harsh shove to the face. Franny’s mistreatment stirs Jerry a bit, enough to rise, taunt Buddy and rush back into battle.

Jerry gets a punch to the throat for his trouble, but while he’s down he pays the bully back with SWEEP THE LEG! a nasty-looking kick to the shin. He follows up with the questionable tactic of jumping on Buddy’s back.

After some frantic spinning around, Buddy tosses Jerry overhead and he lands on a car hood. The school’s maniacal security guard (played by a hammy Mitch Pileggi, who would later be better known as Skinner from The X-Files) also tries to break things up, but even he falls to a single blow from Buddy. Meanwhile, Jerry stands again to give some more trash talk, and even gets a straight punch to Buddy’s nose that surprises both of them.

Unfortunately it’s not enough to bring him down, and the villain retaliates with a huuuuuuge roundhouse that leaves Jerry slumped on the ground in a helpless daze. Seeing this as the proper time to deliver the Fatality, Buddy gets out his brass knuckles. As he marches slowly over to Jerry, the director pulls a common but neat trick where the camera focuses first on the brass knuckles themselves, then they go out of focus as we see Jerry’s reaction to them.

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Buddy hoists Jerry up and rears back his other hand. But just before he can deliver the final blow, he’s interrupted by a flying tackle from Vincent, Jerry’s best friend who he’d had a falling out with earlier in the day. While the scrawny Vincent tries to redeem himself by raining mostly ineffective blows down on Buddy, Jerry’s younger sister spies the dropped knuckles and brings them to her tormented sibling.

Digging into his last reserves of strength, the battered Jerry rises yet again and faces off against Buddy, who had just downed Vincent with a knee to the crotch. The crowd senses this will be the final showdown, and their cheering reaches a fever pitch. Individual characters are shown all urging the hero to triumph, with even the principal awakening from his stupor to deliver an uncharacteristic (and hilarious), “Don’t f–k this up, Mitchell!”

Buddy, finally wary of Jerry’s tenacity, lunges in with a punch, which Jerry barely dodges. Then, in super slow-motion, Jerry channels all of his might into one brass-enhanced blow to Buddy’s sneering mug. The bully weebles, wobbles, and finally falls down.

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You’d think after losing to a guy like Jerry, for his next adversary he’d pick somebody besides Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Jerry wins, and the crowd surges around him as the triumphant hero.

Afterward, in order to show their appreciation for Jerry and make up for the “robbery” he’d staged to get the bribe money, the students all show up at Jerry’s campus store and “purchase” standard printer paper at a dollar per sheet, effectively donating a huge sum of money to him. Finally, Buddy himself shoves his way to the store’s counter, and looks Jerry in the eye as he personally returns the wad of money the hero had given him earlier. He regards Jerry with a look that’s not quite a smile, just enough of a softening of his face to indicate his well-earned respect. Again, this isn’t an after-school special; the bully doesn’t suddenly turn good and become Jerry’s pal, but he is man enough to admit defeat.

As silly and uneven as the movie is, this stirring and fairly straightforward fight is oddly fitting for it. The staging actually makes Jerry’s eventual victory seems plausible, and while the actual “fight” fighting is pretty thin, the whole thing unfolds quite thrillingly regardless. Giving this absurd & petty confrontation an un-ironic bombast actually serves to make the story more honest, perfectly conveying the outsized emotional lens through which teenagers live their lives; everything feels so epic and important you’re in high school. In fact, in that way it’s a bit of a precursor to Joss Whedon’s approach to Buffy.

Grade: A

Recommended Links: Comedian and podcasting emperor Chris Hardwick recommends Three O’Clock High as a lost classic.

Coming Attractions: “MORE superheroes? Jeez. Will you at least pick something that everyone likes this time?”

… maaaaaaaybe.

Iron Man 2 (fight 2 of 4)

Time for the real Real Steel.

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Iron Bros

2) Iron Man vs War Machine

The Fighters:

  • Iron Man, aka Tony Stark. You know the drill. Played by Robert Downey Jr.
    • Armed with: the Iron Man Mark IV armor– he’s made some unknown improvements to the Mark III he finished the last film in.
  • War Machine, aka Lt. Col James “Rhodey” Rhodes, the U.S. military’s liaison to Stark Industries and Tony’s BFF. Rhodey has an inner playfulness that helps him bond with Stark, but most of the time he’s very much the no-nonsense type and has to play frustrated straight man to his friend’s antics. Note that while Tony uses the term “war machine” in this scene, it’s an offhand remark and he’s never formally called that in the movie, though by Iron Man 3 it’s acknowledged he did officially go by his comic book alias for a while before switching to (sigh) Iron Patriot. Played by Don Cheadle, who is not Terence Howard.
    • Armed with: One of Tony’s Mark II prototype suits, unpainted and plain, but still quite formidable. It’s unstated in the film but between the fact that the suit has an external power source and also how well Rhodes handles himself in it, Stark has clearly built this suit FOR his friend to use and has already let him practice in it.

The Setup: At the peak of his dying-induced nihilism, Stark is holding a birthday bash at his house, and is entertaining a legion of phony “friends” by hosting in his Iron Man armor and engaging in reckless entertainment. (If anything, this element is probably the biggest contributor to Iron Man 2 leaving a sour taste in many fans’ mouths: narratively necessary and ultimately redeemed such antics might be, it’s just not that fun to see Tony Stark act like a self-destructive dick for such a chunk of the movie.)

Rhodes heads out to not only stop this behavior, but as a last-ditch effort to get Tony to comply with the US government’s demand to turn over his Iron Man technology. Unfortunately Rhodey’s pleas fall on deaf ears, so he has to go downstairs and hop into something that’ll help him be heard.

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“I’m the party pooper.”

Ordering everyone out (you only have to ask once with a giant suit of advanced armor), Rhodes tells Stark he doesn’t deserve to have such amazing technology. Remarkably, the DJ has stuck around, and Tony orders him to play some music for them to fight to. The DJ picks “Another One Bites The Dust” by Queen, so it’s good to know Tony got his money’s worth when he hired the guy.

The Fight: They grapple a bit and Tony rockets the pair through a wall. They land in Tony’s personal gym which, fittingly enough, has its own boxing ring. Iron Man tries to dismissively walk away, but Rhodey starts throwing weight plates at him. Stark retaliates by grabbing a barbell, shaking the bottom weights off, and whacking Rhodey with it like a baseball bat, sending him right through the arena.

Rhodes seizes another pole (hard to see, probably one of the boxing ring’s corners) and knocks his friend through the ceiling, which takes the fight into a foyer where most of the guests had fled (are they waiting for their valets or something?). Here the two exchange in some extended fisticuffs.

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“Jarvis, execute file RockemSockem.exe”

It’s amusing to watch them go back & forth, punching and throwing. Each blow lands with a distinctive clang that is both exciting and funny. Eventually Rhodey goes down pretty hard, leaving Tony to face a crowd of frightened onlookers. After a pause he leans in and angrily roars at them until they run away. It’s right about here that the music dies down, signaling that, like many parties hosted by an narcissistic drunk we’ve all been to, we’ve shifted from fun & games to self-hating anger. Hopped up on booze and adrenaline, Tony is disgusted with himself and everyone around him.

War Machine gets back up and brains his friend with the DJ’s turntable (that’s why the music stopped!), sending him into the fireplace. Rhodes just want to de-escalate the situation, but Tony points his repulsor-charged hand at Rhodey and goads him into doing the same. After a quick exchange of frantic dialogue, they blast at nearly the same time and the beams hit each other in the middle, creating a huge explosion which separates them and dazes Tony.

What did we say about crossing the streams?

What did we say about crossing the streams?

Rhodes flies off with the armor, leaving Stark to stew in self-pity and a wrecked house.

Like most of Favreau’s action sequences, this is short but packed with so much rapid-fire goodness, if not greatness (the movie’s still saving all of its best cards for later). It plays out exactly like such a thing should play out. Yes, that seems like an obvious thing to say/expect, but that really is so much more difficult to pull off than it sounds, when it comes to a mix of CGI and live-action depicting two Iron Men (one of whom is drunk) having a contained brawl inside a mansion, so hats off to the special effects guys, sound team, storyboarders, etc. Downey and Cheadle do great work as well, albeit mostly as voices and occasional disembodied faces, their dialogue a perfect mix of genuine frustration and macho taunts.

In addition to injecting a much-needed burst of action into the film, this fight serves its purpose well in kicking off the final plummet to Tony’s personal nadir. The fact that it’s quite a bit of snappy fun at first makes it go down easier, but when it turns harsh at the end, the movie doesn’t shy away from the genuine ugliness of what the hero’s going through. Favreau pulls off the neat trick of making you want to see Tony take a good beating here, but still feel bad for him when it’s all over.

Grade: B

Coming Attractions: Justin Hammer’s guards have 99 problems, and they are ALL this lady.

She’ll send you to ghost world

Iron Man 2 (fight 1 of 4)

Hey, remember that big superhero movie we covered, like, a year ago?

Let's have more of that.

Let’s have more of that.

Jon Favreau’s sequel to his 2008 smash hit gets a bit of a bad rap. Sure, it makes some questionable decisions– many apparently the result of a rushed schedule and studio meddling to “build the universe”– but it doesn’t deserve its fanboy scorn as the black sheep of Marvel’s Phase One films. It’s quite entertaining and even improves on some of its predeccsor’s shortcomings.

One of those improvements is action. While the novelty is indeed gone, there are places that Iron Man 2 delivers where Iron Man didn’t. Let’s see if we can’t whip up a few examples.

Get it, ‘cuz whips… okay, I’m sorry.

1) Iron Man vs Whiplash

The Fighters:

  • Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, our returning hero. In the time since the first film he has “privatized peace” by effectively serving as a deterrent to tyrants, terrorists and other geopolitical bad actors. (This sounds unlikely.) Meanwhile, he’s been secretly dying of radiation poisoning from the miniature arc reactor that saved his life, and has been acting increasingly reckless as a result. Played by the one and only Robert Downey Jr.
    • Armed with: Here, the Iron Man Mark V armor, a new variant of the suit which can be folded up into a briefcase– likely a reference to the comics equivalent which Tony often carried around, disassembled, in a briefcase. It’s also distinguished by silver coloring rather than gold, and a thinner, more stripped-down appearance. Presumably the armor sacrifices some features for its portability– we never see Tony fly in it, for instance– but that’s not explored.
  • Ivan Vanko, the film’s main villain and a twisted, Russian version of Tony. Vanko is an incredibly muscled, taciturn and brilliant scientist whose recently deceased father was a former colleague of Tony’s dad, and feels he was cheated out of his share of the Stark fortune. Working off stolen blueprints, Vanko builds his own arc reactor, and tracks Tony down for revenge. The character is a combination of the comic villains Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo, though he isn’t called by either name in the movie. Played by Mickey Rourke, enjoying his career revival.
    • Armed with: Unlike Tony, Vanko didn’t have the resources to make a fully-functioning titanium suit, so his arc reactor merely supports a thin exoskeleton and powers two highly charged whips he holds in each hand. The whips have incredible destructive capability, able to slice through just about anything and even deflect Iron Man’s repulsor beams.
Jeff Gordon's worst enemy.

He’s Jeff Gordon’s worst enemy.

The Setup: Part of Tony’s thrill-seeking behavior has led him to participate in an F1 race in Monaco. (One would think driving a fast car would be a little underwhelming after you’ve worn a suit of advanced armor that not only goes faster but also FLIES and blows up bad guys, but okay.) It’s here that Vanko has decided to make his very public, and likely suicidal, attack on Stark.

The villain has infiltrated the proceedings dressed as a mechanic, but as Tony’s car comes around the corner where he’s chosen the confrontation to be, Vanko opts for the direct route, and marches right onto the track. In a neat little detail, as he activates the arc reactor, the machinery it powers heats up enough to burn through his jumpsuit.

Strangely, it doesn't seem to bother his skin.

Strangely, it doesn’t seem to bother his skin.

Vanko whips one approaching car in half, and does the same thing to Tony’s shortly after, causing a magnificent wreck that leaves him mostly unscathed. Still, he’s at a distinct disadvantage.

The Fight: Once he frees himself from the car, Stark has to rely on pretty much just his wits to survive against a superior opponent. He disappears from Vanko’s sight when he can, he lures Vanko into sparking an explosion in some loose gasoline, he flings some car wreckage at him, and he employs some surprising agility when those whips get too close.

Fortunately for him, Tony’s bodyguard Happy Hogan shows up and rams an SUV into Crazy Ivan, pinning him against a wall. Before Tony can get in to escape, Vanko comes to and attacks the vehicle, preventing the trio (Pepper’s along too, of course) from getting away. Fortunately for Happy and Pepper, Tony is able to find enough time to get the briefcase and don the Mark V armor, which unfolds automatically over his body and evens the odds.

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“Now I have an arc reactor-powered suit. Ho, ho, ho.”

The fight seems like it’s going to take a turn for the better here, but oddly, it doesn’t. Iron Man does kick the car to safety, but every blast he fires at Vanko, the villain parries with well-timed swings of his whips. Immediately after that, Ivan is able to wrap Tony up in his whips and fling him around a bit. The pulsing electricity from the weapon damages Stark’s armor somewhat, making him falter and his viewscreen flicker.

Down but not out, Iron Man decides to use the whips’ now-stationary (because they’re holding him down) position to his advantage, and seizes one by the hand.

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Pulling himself forward one step at a time, Stark gets to Ivan pretty quickly, and subdues him with a few punches. When he falls, the hero leans in and plucks the bootleg arc reactor right off his chest, neutralizing him for good.

Iron Man and the other good guys are all more or less okay, but Ivan gets the last laugh as police drag him off, telling Tony “you lose!” repeatedly. Because while the villain had indeed wanted to follow through with killing Stark here, he already accomplished his baseline goal: proving very publicly that Iron Man is not invincible, and the technology to make him can be replicated.

Not a bad opening bit of action, though it’s unfortunate the movie takes so long to get to it. Despite being over quickly it includes some variety: Tony in the car, Tony struggling outside of it without his armor, the comedically tense bits as Happy distracts Vanko, and then finally Tony’s frantic struggle even after he gets the suit on. Once Iron Man finally gets to lay a hand on his foe, it’s pretty much over, but then of course it would be: Vanko’s apparatus provides him no real defense. In a way this is what the confrontation between Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus should have been like, logically.

Also, note that in contrast to the first film’s first big action sequence, Tony Stark experiences not an empowering moment as he frees himself from captivity, but an upsetting & humbling one as he gets knocked from his arrogant perch. Origin movies build the hero up, sequels gotta bring him down.

Grade: B-

Recommended Links: Mood music.

Coming Attractions: Think you’ve had some regrettable fights when you need to rein in your drunken buddy?

At least your drunk buddy wasn’t a superhero.

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.