Machete Kills Review
If you enjoyed Machete, you’ll enjoy Machete Kills, it’s as simple as that.
3There was something wildly intoxicating about Robert Rodriguez’s low budget 2010 throwback flick, Machete. Ingeniously taking a popular mock-trailer that he made for his Grindhouse saga and expanding it into a full-length feature, Machete stood out from its Expendables counterpart mainly because it had a charmingly self-aware lack of pretentiousness about it. Where Expendables harked back to 80s action flicks in much the same way, it did so with a relatively straight face; Machete was much more self-depreciating in its journey, providing similar violent 70s and 80s action thrills, but not taking itself seriously in the process. Hell, as soon as Steven Seagal’s unlikely Mexican super-villain appeared on-screen, sporting a dodgy accent and wielding a samurai sword, you knew it was going to be a fun ride.
Machete Kills is bigger, bolder and badder. In a good way.
Indeed the only thing more over the top than this first sequel is the second sequel that Rodriguez and Trejo have planned – Machete Kills Again... In Space – which is fantastically promoted both at the beginning and the end of Machete Kills, imbuing the experience with a childlike glee; the only possible feeling you could have when you see the ridiculously ambitious blend of Machete and... erm, Moonraker. Probably one of the biggest criticisms you could level at this first sequel is the fact that they didn’t just go straight to space now. Because that would have been spectacular.
As is, the interim story is still quite out of this world, and totally in keeping with the conventions established within the Machete universe, gleefully lapsing into Bondian territory in order to set things up good and proper for the next chapter.
There’s a Mexican madman on the loose (Demian Bichir), threatening to launch a missile at Washington, and President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen, hilariously sporting, for the first time, his birth name of Carlos Estevez) wants ex-Federale-CIA-FBI-DEA-all-rolled-into-one-mean-burrito Machete (Danny Trejo) to go across the border and get him.
What he uncovers, however, is a grander conspiracy involving a psychotic billionaire arms dealer named Luthor Voz (a suitably wacky Mel Gibson) who wants to cleanse the planet while he watches from the stars in a spacestation populated by supersoldier clones. Hot on his trail, Machete has to contend with a series of killers (Cuba Gooding Jr, Lady Gaga, Walton Goggins, Antonio Banderas, Alexa Vega and Sofia Vergara) – including one, called El Cameleon, who has multiple disguises and another who just has metal bullet-firing bra (gunderwear?) – and has to enlist the help of old friends, like revolutionary She (Michelle Rodriguez), as well as new ones, like the President’s personal operative, Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard).
Guns will be fired, blades will be drawn, and bodies will be catapulted into helicopters.
Although not as gritty, dirty and intentionally worn-looking as the first outing, this bigger-budget sequel still carries the same carefree spirit and penchant for bloody deaths. The preview trailer sets the tone for the rest of the piece, a production not only infused with plenty of welcome Bond movie traits, but also a surprising number of Star Wars nods (although not as many as Machete Kills Again... In Space will have, from the look of the lightsaber-machete battles on space platforms) and at 24-style countdown (complete with requisite beep). At its best, Rodriguez’s sequel delivers enough knowing winks, film references and well-conceived action beats to keep you engaged for its duration. But its duration does work to its disadvantage, and you wonder whether the film could have been streamlined down a little to a more efficient piece. 108 minutes isn’t exactly long – it’s only a couple of minutes longer than the first film – but it could have easily been 10 minutes shorter and all that much punchier.
Thankfully, even though the globetrotting-style trips across the border and back do take up an unnecessarily large chunk of the proceedings before an almost rushed conclusion, every time things slow up for a little, Rodriguez throws a bomb into the action and sparks up your interest once again. Machete wandering around Mexico getting a little boring? Give him an armoured jeep and have him attacked by a bunch of gun-toting whores and a face-changing assassin. Or have him flip a speedboat into a pier-full of bad guys. Or tie somebody’s intestines to... ah, you get the point.
They also don’t rely on Danny Trejo carrying the piece. After all, he’s not exactly the most charismatic, expressive actor. But here he doesn’t need to be: he just scowls and glares from one of the most colourfully worn faces in the movie industry. His hanging sequence is laugh-out-loud funny and he doesn’t utter a word. And besides, he’s got plenty of company, with Rodriguez putting together an elaborate ensemble cast of recognisable faces, all of whom are wonderfully integrated into the proceedings.
Injecting the Walton Goggins (Django Unchained, The Shield) / Cuba Gooding Jr (Jerry Macguire and far too many DTV movies) / Lady Gaga (making her surprisingly smooth transitional screen debut in suitably over-the-top fashion) combo into the mix is the work of genius. Having Antonio Banderas (Zorro, The Skin I Live In, Haywire) pretend to be not perfect at speaking Spanish is a wonderful little idea, and having Charlie Sheen – sorry, Carlos Estevez – swearing, gun-toting, and advocating pot-smoking as the womanising President of the U.S. of A is superb. William Sadler’s corrupt Texas sheriff may not fill the void left by De Niro’s senator from the first movie (although his picture can be seen in the Sheriff’s office), but he’s another welcome face.
Then there are the women. Almost too many to name, and all sporting ridiculously over-the-top and desperately fetishist outfits, the ones having the most fun are clearly Sofia Vergara’s screaming wild Madame Desdemona (the one with the Gatling-gun bra) and, oddly enough, Amber Heard’s game-for-anything Miss San Antonio, with Michelle Rodriguez still looking fantastic as the eye-patch-wearing She (between Resident Evil, Fast and Furious and now this she’s surely done more sequels than any other actress ever before). A kick-ass contribution from the insanely-good-martial-arts-actor that nobody has ever heard of, Marko Zaror adds fresh blood to the proceedings, and the Oscar-winning Mexican actor Demian Bichir does a brilliant young-Kevin-Kline-with-a-bad-Mexican-accent impression – his character’s split personality problems being another great idea in the plot-development-via-character-design stakes – but as soon as Mel Gibson hits the deck, things go crazy.
He popped up at the start, wearing a Luchador mask and sporting a ray-gun, but you ain’t seen nothing yet. Gibson’s villain is the scenery-chewing scene-stealing star of the show, kind of like what you would get if you took an ageing Riggs from Lethal Weapon, tipped him over the psychotic edge, sent him into space and had Moonraker’s villain, Drax, clone him using a blend of both of their DNA. Oh, did I mention that he can see glimpses into the future as well? Seriously, Gibson pulls out all of the stops here, and between Get the Gringo, this and his upcoming Expendables 3 role, I hope he gets even more chances to shine like this. Rodriguez has well and truly gone to town for his Machete Kills cast, and it’s the strikingly colourful characters that draw – and keep – your attention even beyond the wacky Mexi-Exploit-Bondian-Star-Wars-ish story.
“You can’t beat my army of super-soldiers. You can’t beat me, because I know your every move.”
“Nobody knows Machete.”
The VerdictNot everybody will love Machete Kills. I’m sure some will switch off just seconds into the initial preview trailer for Machete Kills Again... In Space, but those people really shouldn’t have come here in the first place. If you’re not game for the weird, wacky, silly, spectacular places that this series is going to go then this franchise was never for you in the first place. But if you’re up for it, then this is the sometimes insanely fun, sometimes slightly drawn-out stepping-stone towards Machete – surrounded by armies zapping each other with ray-guns – fighting Rodriguez’s own version of Darth Vader. In space. With Lightsaber machetes. I can’t wait.
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