I’m aware that I’m so late to the table that this article may as well be an elongated treaty on me chewing on a wooden leg but I think I have a fairly important point to get across. Even if you disagree, you will hopefully find small comfort in the extraneous mentions of gentlemen’s ‘trouser-beans’. If this doesn’t provide comfort then I’m afraid you’re probably on the wrong website my friend…
Every few years a film arrives from the Orient and delivers a swift kick to the nuts of western action cinema. The Raid is one such film and, hopefully, it will avoid a similar fate that befell its brethren: its tics of originality diluted by poor imitations, while its director gets offered a progression of mid-range cinematic turd-polishing assignments and its star either disappears completely or swaps dignity for insta-recognition from the under 8s.
Think of Jackie Chan’s transition from Project A and Drunken Master 2 to Rush Hour 3, or John Woo’s ‘upgrade’ from Hard Boiled to Paycheck – notable for being one of the few films in existence where the title also describes the reason for its principals’ involvement. Or there are those who do not heed the call to Hollywood, preferring instead to stay at home, take the phone off the hook and paint the windows black, lest they unwittingly accept the title role in Spy Uncle 4 or Chop-Chop Cop (Tony Jaa and Stephen Chow).
To get back on the rails, what’s most refreshing about The Raid – beyond the fact that it’s violent as shit and that your eyes are able to tell you it’s violent as shit (no shaky-cam here) – is its grim practicality. While the hero is undoubtedly heroic, there’s also an element of merciless determination to get the job done. A job that is no more complex than surviving The Raid. For example, when faced with the seemingly insurmountable odds of fighting a really hard little bastard, he teams up with someone. This isn’t portrayed as unfair, nor does it display cowardice. In fact it’s actually condoned by the hard little bastard – aware, as he is, that he is a small yet really hard little bastard.
Other sequences involve our hero shooting and happy-stabbing people, finding novel uses for fridges, gas canisters and strip-lights and generally behaving like a total badass. It’s hard to see where Hollywood will take its inevitable influences. John McClane was perhaps the last big screen hero to indulge in such non-heroic heroics, and, last we saw of him, his body had been taken over by an imposter who refused to swear, didn’t smoke and could fly a helicopter.
In an ideal situation the mysterious ‘suits’ that run the American action cinema production line will see that success doesn’t depend on offering your product to as wide a demographic as possible, but upon making stripped down action tales featuring pared down plots and visually coherent action sequences that: A) make geographic sense and B) don’t shy away from showing the consequences of getting a boot in the gonads.
It’s not necessarily about advising this shadowy cabal of money-men to make good films, as it is getting them to avoid continually making bad ones. As blueprints go, The Raid is a damn near perfect example. And while it makes for a fantastic ‘How to’ guide to making great action cinema, its counterpoint, or ‘How not to’ would be Transformers 2: a bloated, confused mess whose only concession to the aforementioned rules was to show a robot’s gonads, which remain disappointingly un-pummelled for the few humourless seconds they swing across Michael Bay’s broadly-painted canvas of mentally-deficient racist hatchbacks.
Anyway, even if there are no lessons to be learnt from The Raid, and Hollywood doesn’t find its balls down the back of the sofa, we still have seen one of the finest action films of recent years. It’s nice to be blindsided every once in a while by something that seems genuinely new and exciting. Now, let’s guess where we’re first going to see The Raid’s influence. Totally Recall? Die Hard 5? Discuss!
It seems to be some kind of large metaphor…
If there’s one thing that can be gleaned from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus it’s that following in the footsteps of gods isn’t a very good idea. Not only would that have spared the crew of the titular spacecraft such indignities as being crushed by a giant space donut, oral violation by a space cobra, or dressing up like a cross between Robocop and one of Hugh Hefner’s testes, but it would also have saved these punishments being doled out to writer Damon Lindelof on Twitter and internet message boards.
Clearly Lindelof is in awe of Scott. And who wouldn’t be? I imagine their first meeting was a bit like the end of Back the Future: Lindelof sat in his house trying to crack the story of More Cowboys and More Aliens, or trying to figure out what LOST was all about, when suddenly Ridley Scott appears behind the wheel of the nearest real-life incarnation to a flying time travelling DeLorean and asks for help returning to the Alien universe. Only a fool would pass that chance up – especially when the alternative is to find thematic and narrative sense in LOST, or over-think a film about Cowboys and Aliens twatting each other.
But the metaphorical goo-mutated snake that is being force fed to Lindelof seems a little harsh to me. In exploring the secrets of the universe he’s managed to uncover the one great truth: humans are fucking stupid and probably deserve to travel halfway across the galaxy only to be punched across a room by a giant wax bodybuilding space scientist. People can complain about a biologist who’s terrified of what is, in essence, the remnants of an interstellar KFC variety bucket one minute, only to play grab ass with a space vagina the next, but they’re missing the clues that are spelled out from the very beginning of the film…
Prometheus opens with a supposedly advanced alien life form walking through what appears to be a typical Northumbrian summer wearing nothing but a brown curtain and a nappy. He walks up to a giant dangerous waterfall and finds an equally enlarged poisoned Rolo, which he precedes to eat. He is then surprised to find that eating food left precariously on the edge of a giant waterfall is a bad idea and falls to his doom. Sadly – in a tragic display of prescience – this leads to the creation of the human race.
From there we meet his descendants: a plucky Christian scientist (uh oh) and a handsome man wearing a silly hat. They discover a piece of ancient space art which is enough to convince a mechanical prune who resembles Guy Pearce to fund their interstellar expedition to meet the artist on his not-at-all-ill-named spacecraft Prometheus. It’s a bit like naming your cruise ship ‘Spirit of Titanic’, or your child ‘Gaddafi Hitler’ and expecting shit to be Bisto.
Similarly, the approach to the mission itself is not unlike our descendants finding a piece of graffiti in an entombed urinal that suggests you should call ‘Dave’ for ‘a good time’, only to travel thousands of miles at great expense to find that not only is a hibernating Dave not up for ‘a good time’, but he’s also pretty pissed off that someone once suggested he was. It’s worth pointing out that one crew-member does describe this plan as ‘bullshit’, but he’s also a geologist who later manages to get lost in a straight cave made of stone. I would say people in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks, but he probably wouldn’t understand that, or the word ‘rock’.
Anyway, from there we are presented with behavioural patterns that appear to have been plotted with a broken Spirograph. Much has been made of the scientists taking their helmets off in an unknown alien climate, the aforementioned snake petting, opening the door to the missing geologist who’s about four-foot shorter with a head like a balloon and yellow eyes and my personal favourite: the scientist who throws his toys out of the pram when he finds out that the aliens are unable to high-five him, despite the fact that he has made the most significant discovery in the history of the human race – save for the Northumbrian waterfall Rolo that opened the film.
Clearly neither Scott nor Lindelof are dumb; in fact I’d say that they’re both very intelligent, which suggests that these plot holes and leaps in logic – not to mention the additional meta-displays of idiocy that come from the filmmakers – intentionally serve to highlight the one character who displays slightly more rational thought and intelligence than all the other characters combined: Michael Fassbender’s charming android David.
Through strange physical quirks David brings an arch-awareness and relatable humanity that’s curiously absent in every other area of the film. While much has been made of the deleted footage from Prometheus, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see a large part of it consisting of David uploading footage from the crew’s helmet cams to YouTube for LOLs. It’s not uncommon ground for Scott: Bladerunner’s most overt displays of humanity came from the artificial replicants and not from the ‘humans’ themselves.
While I’m not going to suggest Prometheus is a worthy companion to what is officially recognised as the second best film of all time*, I will say that I enjoyed it more than most seemed to, despite the overt flaws – whether intentional or otherwise. It’s a very enjoyable mood-piece, which is probably Scott’s most consistent trait as a director. I only hope that when we regain the adventures of proto-Ripley and her head in a bag, not only have they discovered a little more about the origins of their creators, but they’ve also found a more complete script.
*Note: by me.
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