Film Review: Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

Also known as: Lethal 4 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: July 7th, 1998 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Channing Gibson, Jonathan Lemkin, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Based on: characters by Shane Black
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, David Sanborn
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Chris Rock, Jet Li, Kim Chan, Calvin Jung, Eddy Ko, Conan Lee, Richard Riehle, François Chau, Al Leong (uncredited)

Donner/Shuler Productions, Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 127 Minutes

Review:

“I’m too old for this shit!” – Roger Murtaugh

Well, I’ve reached the end of my Lethal Weapon reviews. From memory, I thought that the third one was my least favorite but having re-watched them all now, so close together, I’d say that this is the worst.

That being said, I still like Lethal Weapon 4 a lot.

I think that the problem with this one is that we get to check in with characters we’ve grown to love but the Murtaugh-Riggs Family has grown so much that the dynamic between the core characters is kind of watered down and subtracted away from, due to the additions of so many new faces.

This does setup a really sweet ending for the final scene in this, the final film (for now), but the core dynamic worked best when it was just Riggs, Murtaugh and sometimes Getz, when you needed to throw in some comic relief.

Moving past that, I think that this film also suffers from the same thing that the third one did, it lacks the chutzpah of the first two films. Those movies were written by Shane Black, at the top of his game, and even though he is still credited for creating these characters, these last two films don’t have the same girt or energy as their predecessors.

Now Lethal Weapon 4 still boasts some stupendous action sequences. It’s certainly not lacking in that regard, I’m grateful that it still brought the fire and frankly, Richard Donner just knows how to shoot and present action better than most directors.

After analyzing the four films in this series with a sharper eye than I’ve given them, previously, I can see that Donner has a certain style in regards to action. Everything just looks organic and real and it’s edited to maintain a quick, flowing pace but not so quick that it becomes choppy and disorienting like modern action films. In fact, a lot of modern directors should take notes from these pictures.

Speaking of action, I really enjoyed the opening of this film. It’s the second best opener in the series, after Lethal Weapon 2, and it really gets things moving and off to a bang. However, the sequence that immediately follows with the Chinese boat, stifles the momentum.

Additionally, there are too many things that happen within the plot that just seem way too convenient to be real. This was a problem that started in the third film but it’s much more apparent here.

As far as the plot, it’s okay. It’s definitely a bigger scheme on par with the first two movies but it’s not that interesting. I guess it works to shed light on the fact that some Chinese are treated like modern slaves in an effort to buy their way into the United States but it’s presented pretty heavy handedly and also quite cheesily.

There are two saving graces in this film that keep it from sinking too far down in the muck. The first is the great action, which I already mentioned, and the second is the characters. The camaraderie is generally really solid and this movie does generate some real feels, especially towards the end in a scene with Riggs and Getz and then the big finale at the hospital, where two babies are born, expanding the family even more.

In the end, this is a “feel good” movie in how it closes things out for these characters. You kind of hope that you’d get to see them again but for now, this is the conclusion of the series. Granted, the television reboot did fairly well and stayed on TV for three seasons but that version of the characters is different. However, due to the show’s popularity, they have been talking about a Lethal Weapon 5 for the first time in years. So, maybe, just maybe… this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the real Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s/’90s buddy action movies.

TV Review: The Expanse (2015- )

Original Run: December 14th, 2015 – current
Created by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Expanse series of novel by James S. A. Corey
Music by: Clinton Shorter
Cast: Thomas Jane, Steven Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Paulo Costanzo, Florence Faivre, Shawn Doyle, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Frankie Adams, Chad L. Coleman, Jared Harris, Francois Chau, Cara Gee, Elizabeth Mitchell

Penguin in a Parka, SeanDanielCo, Alcon Entertainment, Legendary Television Distribution, Syfy, Amazon, 36 Episodes (so far), 42-44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Man, this show really leaves you with a lot to unpack and process. And I mean that in the best way possible.

I had heard a lot of good things about The Expanse and it has been in my queue for a long time. But I figured the time to watch it was now, as it is getting ready to be resurrected by Amazon after it was recently cancelled by Syfy.

Having now seen this, I can’t imagine how it was cancelled other than the ratings just not being there. A show like this is expensive to produce but at the same time, it’s also one of those shows that’s special and you can see that it will find its audience. But maybe that just didn’t happen fast enough for Syfy, just as Halt and Catch Fire had its plug pulled by AMC after four seasons before it started to catch on through word of mouth and streaming services. Now I hear people talk about that show more than when it was on and that seems to be the same with The Expanse now that people feared its axing would be permanent.

I was immediately captivating by the opening sequence of the first episode of this show. It lured you in, was bizarre and it kicked off a big mystery. Little did I know that the mystery itself was just a tiny thread on a large tapestry that once pulled, would keep unraveling in surprising and shocking ways.

This show throws a lot of curveballs while hitting you in the feels and as turbulent as the narrative can be, it works and it keeps you hooked. In fact, this show starts out quite slow but it keeps adding new layers. This is meticulously crafted and I’m not sure if they knew what the long term plan was when they started writing this show or how closely it follows its source material but just after three seasons, this show has a mythos with a lot of depth and a richness that is missing in most television shows and films.

The show does an absolutely stellar job of developing its characters. Almost everyone is likable, even if everyone has very apparent flaws. Somehow, everyone is pretty relatable. Well, except for the human monsters that are doing terrible things behind the scenes.

Additionally, the show is superbly acted. Thomas Jane was a big factor in getting me to watch this in the first place but he’s just one of many talented people. The one person that just shines incredibly brightly is Shohreh Aghdashloo. I’ve always enjoyed her in other things but man, she was born to play the role of Chrisjen Avasarala. She is front and center of every scene she’s in and she makes every talented actor around her, just a bit better.

The world that this takes place in his a future where Earth has colonized Mars, the Moon, the asteroid belt and some of Jupiter’s moons. Things start with tensions at an all-time high and war could break out at any second. And while this features spaceships and space travel, I love that the weapons aren’t lasers and photon torpedoes but that the ships are decked out with Gatling guns, rail guns and nuclear warheads. It makes this world seem more plausible and closer to reality than stuff like Star TrekBattlestar Galactica or The Orville.

The Expanse may not grab your attention right away but it is worth sticking with into the second season where this show’s universe really starts to open up and expand in unforeseen ways.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: it’s hard to say, really. There’s nothing like this show but the closest would probably be the modern reimagining of Battlestar Galactica.

Film Review: G.I. Joe: The Movie (1987)

Also known as: Action Force: The Movie (UK)
Release Date: April 20th, 1987
Directed by: Don Jurwich
Written by: Buzz Dixon (uncredited)
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Rob Walsh
Cast (voices): Don Johnson, Burgess Meredith, Sgt. Slaughter, Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, B.J. Ward, François Chau

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, 93 Minutes

Review:

“I will stain my hands with your blood! No one defies Golobulus and lives… NO ONE! The last thing you will hear… is the cracking of your vertebrae… one… BY ONE!” – Golobulus

G.I. Joe: The Movie is where G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero jumped the shark. Granted, I don’t completely hate it and there are a few positives but at it’s core, this is not G.I. Joe.

This motion picture, which was originally intended to be a theatrical release but ended up being released on VHS instead, takes everything that was established in G.I. Joe and turns it on its head.

We find out that Cobra Commander is some snake dude and that he is from some secret Shangri-La like society called Cobra-La. The G.I. Joes and Cobra both get pulled into Cobra-La’s bizarre world and quickly discover a bunch of weird looking people who don’t use technology like humankind but instead have an organic type of technology. I guess it makes them similar to the alien Yuuzhan Vong from the polarizing New Jedi Order era of the Star Wars Expanded Universe continuity that Disney ignores now. Cobra-La is led by Golobulus, a creepy dude that sounds an awful lot like Mickey Goldmill from the Rocky movies.

The Cobra-La twist just really screwed G.I. Joe up. It didn’t feel right, at all. It just didn’t vibe with the great and rich mythos I had come to know before this movie hit video store shelves in 1987.

However, as I stated earlier in this review, there were some positives. So I’ll talk about those.

To start, I liked a lot of the new characters albeit not the Cobra-La ones. Lt. Falcon, who was voiced by Don Johnson, might not have had enough time to really have his story told properly, but he came a long way in this film and became a leader when it was all said and done. He started out as a womanizing, slacker douche but tragedy forced him to grow up and conquer insurmountable odds.

I also liked most of the new G.I. Joe recruits and it was cool seeing most of the old faces, as well. The scenes where Beachhead is annoyed at training the newbies makes for some good comedy.

Also, I like that the film scratched the surface with actual mortality. Duke dies in this. Well, they fixed it so that he was just in a “coma” and survived at the end (due to public backlash over Optimus Prime’s death in 1986’s Transformers: The Movie). Serpentor is also (presumably) killed when we see Lt. Falcon stuff his cape into a turbine engine, which sucks him in and grinds into his back as he screams in absolute agony and flies through the air to what should most definitely be his violent and gory death off screen. Although, he would be alive three years later in the Operation Dragonfire miniseries that kicked off the awful DiC Entertainment era.

The animation is consistent in style to the Marvel/Sunbow era of the cartoon. Although, the animation is also a bit better and a step up. That’s probably due to this having a bigger budget than the standard G.I. Joe television episodes. This would also be the last time we got the classic animation style, as DiC would take over after this film and they would turn out some really shitty looking art.

G.I. Joe: The Movie is better than the worst episodes of the Marvel/Sunbow era but it doesn’t come anywhere near the quality of the best episodes. Being that this was supposed to be the big theatrical film debut of G.I. Joe makes the end result a disappointment. It certainly isn’t unwatchable and was kind of fun in spite of its bizarre wackiness and major changes to the mythos. My mind doesn’t really consider this canon, even though it was made by the same people who gave us two great season of the show before it.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe and Transformers stuff.

TV Review: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Season 2 (1986)

Also known as: Action Force (UK)
Release Date: September 15th, 1986 – November 20th, 1986
Directed by: Ray Lee
Written by: various
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, Sgt. Slaughter, B.J. Ward, François Chau

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, Claster Television, 30 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Know that I am the one you seek! I am the one born to rule, destined to conquer! Let those who fear me follow me. Let those who oppose me die! For I am Serpentor, and this I command!” – Serpentor

As I discussed in my review of Arise, Serpentor, Arise!, which was the start of this season of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, this was where a lot of new members of G.I. Joe and Cobra debuted, as well as a slew of new vehicles. The cartoon was a vehicle to sell toys; so with every new year, this 22 minute, daily advertisement had to evolve to reflect the new product that was hitting the shelves.

The fact that this was a glorified toy advertisement worked to the show’s advantage and also, in certain regards, worked against it. Season two isn’t as good as season one but I’ll explain.

For the most part, everything is the same from a style point of view. We have the same animation, the same voice actors, the same music and everything is right tonally. However, the inclusion of a bunch of new characters forces some of the beloved characters from season one to take a back seat. The show did really well in its first season developing characters and fleshing out backstories. In season two, you really wanted to see the continued adventures of many of those unique individuals but instead, they’re brushed aside. You can’t give us that great Shipwreck story that was the finale to season one and not properly check back in with him. In season two, he’s just a buffoon that shows up for comedic relief and is usually the butt of jokes for the newer recruits.

Additionally, there isn’t a whole lot of Duke, Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow. But then again, even the newcomers sort of get shafted due to how many characters are now packed into the series and because season two was really only half the length of season one. There just wasn’t enough time to tackle it all.

Even Serpentor, who is created to be the new leader of Cobra, doesn’t get much screen time. At least, he doesn’t get nearly as much as Cobra Commander did in season one and really, Cobra Commander probably still has more screen time than Serpentor in season two, as he’s always got some scheme to try and overthrow the new Cobra emperor.

Most of the episodes, at least in the first half of the season, aren’t quite the same quality of the majority of the season one episodes. In the back half of the season, things really start to improve but by the time the season finds a good groove, it’s over.

Following season two was G.I. Joe: The Movie, which I will review at a later date. Then the show was given to DiC to produce after that and it really dropped in quality. This season was the last of the great Marvel/Sunbow era and despite my complaints about it, it was still a damn fine show.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe and Transformers stuff.

Film Review: G.I. Joe: Arise, Serpentor, Arise! (1986)

Also known as: Action Force: Arise, Serpentor, Arise!
Release Date: September 15th, 1986 – September 19th, 1986 (first run syndication, 5 parts)
Directed by: Ray Lee
Written by: Buzz Dixon, Ron Friedman
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Rob Walsh
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, Sgt. Slaughter, B.J. Ward, François Chau

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, 5 Episodes (first run syndication), 22 Minutes (per episode), 108 Minutes (movie cut)

Review:

“There can be no negotiation, you insignificant microbe!” – Serpentor

Season two of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero started the same way as season one, with a five-part miniseries that was edited and re-released into a feature length movie. In fact, this is the fourth and final miniseries in this canon. Although, I do look at G.I. Joe: The Movie and DiC’s Operation: Dragonfire as parts 5 and 6 of the original series of feature length films.

Arise, Serpentor, Arise! was the introduction to a lot of changes in the television series and the G.I. Joe franchise as a whole. It introduced us to a plethora of new characters, new vehicles and came with a seemingly more powerful threat, as Cobra created a new leader, had android troops and seemed to be finally getting their shit together, even if there was infighting between Cobra Commander and just about everyone else in his organization.

The biggest additions to the series through this story were Serpentor – the new leader and “emperor” of Cobra, General Hawk – the real commander of G.I. Joe and ranked higher than Duke, as well as Sgt. Slaughter – played by the real professional wrestler of the same name. We also got to meet new members of the G.I. Joe team, as well as some new faces in Cobra, most notably mad scientist Dr. Mindbender, who sort of erased the need for Cobra to have a slew of generic, one-off mad scientists in every episode.

Like the other big miniseries events before this one, we see G.I. Joe and Cobra fight all over the world in exotic locations, as there are separate pieces being collected to create another MacGuffin. The MacGuffin in this story is Serpentor, a super soldier that is sort of like a mixture between Frankenstein’s monster and Captain America if he were made for evil purposes. Cobra goes to all of these exotic locations trying to collect DNA from the tombs of famous tyrants and warlords throughout history. With all the DNA, they can create Serpentor, who is a combination of all of these historical figures.

I love these G.I. Joe stories where we get to see the Joes and Cobra duke it out all over the globe. As a kid, these big miniseries events always felt like something incredibly epic and special. This story, while not as good as The Pyramids of Darkness or The Revenge of Cobra, does not disappoint. It may feel a bit rushed and crowded with characters because there is so much going on but it still works in the same way it did with the earlier miniseries tales.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe and Transformers stuff.

TV Review: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Season 1 (1985)

Also known as: Action Force (UK)
Release Date: September 16th, 1985 – December 13th, 1985
Directed by: John Gibbs, Terry Lennon
Written by: various
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, Bob Remus, B.J. Ward, François Chau

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, Claster Television, 55 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“As of now, your little project is deader than disco! Hmmm… Deader than disco… I like that… I would have made a great stand-up comedian.” – Cobra Commander

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is the original G.I. Joe cartoon series that ran from 1983-1986. It actually became a full series in 1985, after two separate five-part miniseries in 1983 and 1984. It was created as a big marketing vehicle for Hasbro’s G.I. Joe toy line. It also paved the way for a similar series, The Transformers in 1984. Both of these Hasbro toy franchises followed the same marketing path and also had their shows created by Marvel-SunBow. Both also had ongoing comic book series produced by Marvel.

I already reviewed the three miniseries events that lead to this regular ongoing series. However, I wanted to review just season one here, as there were a lot of big changes between seasons one and two. I will follow up with a season two review in the near future.

G.I. Joe has had several television series come and go throughout the years but none are even as close to the greatness of the original. This series, along with Transformers, created a megafranchise that was only rivaled by Star Wars, at the time.

The series created a lot of heroes and villains that were all cool and still very memorable. Cobra was, and still is, the coolest villain organization in all of fiction. G.I. Joe were the coolest heroes. As a kid who always sided with the baddies, it was hard not to love the good guys too. This was an animated show with surprisingly good character development.

The characters, for a cartoon about toys, had really good backstories and unique personalities. The stories about Shipwreck were always phenomenal. The show could tap into horrific things but serve it in a way that was okay for kids to handle. It took a lot of risks, offered up a lot of serious lessons but did it in a way that was so cool, at that age, you didn’t realize you were being taught anything. It was a perfect package of badass, cool and educational.

The art was top notch for the mid ’80s. The tone of the show was always adventurous. It was like someone took the best of James Bond, the best of The Avengers, mixed it together and gave it a military twist. G.I. Joe are mortal men without any real powers but they are superheroes. Cobra is essentially a much cooler version of SPECTRE or Hydra.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is still the best version of G.I. Joe ever created in animation form. I’m still waiting for a movie or a series that gets it because nothing since has even come close.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe and Transformers stuff.

Film Review: G.I. Joe: The Pyramid of Darkness (1985)

Also known as: The Further Adventures of G.I. Joe
Release Date: September 16th, 1985 – September 20th, 1985 (first run syndication, 5 parts)
Directed by: John Gibbs, Terry Lennon
Written by: Ron Friedman
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Rob Walsh
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, B.J. Ward, Frank Welker, Christopher Collins, Zack Hoffman, Kene Holiday, Neil Ross, Keone Young, Corey Burton, John Hostetter, Bill Morey, Lee Weaver, Pat Fraley, Hal Rayle, Will Ryan, Ketty Lester, François Chau, Morgan Lofting

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, 5 Episodes (first run syndication), 22 Minutes (per episode), 100 Minutes (movie cut)

Review:

“Let’s reconnoiter, Snake Eyes. Try not to attract attention… Sure. Who’d notice a wet sailor with a parrot and a silent masked man with a timber wolf.” – Shipwreck

Like the two five-part miniseries events before it, G.I. Joe: The Pyramid of Darkness was made to be combined into a feature length film for VHS release and for weekend replays. Also, this was the first five episodes of the regular G.I. Joe television show. This feels like the third part of a trilogy with the two miniseries releases before it but it is also the start of a much larger G.I. Joe television run. This would also be the last five-part miniseries until the start of season two, which would kickoff with Arise, Serpentor, Arise!

The Pyramid of Darkness really ups the ante. We have all the major Cobra officers from the previous two miniseries but we now get introduced to my favorite fictional twins of all-time Tomax and Xamot, the Crimson Guard commanders. They also run Extensive Enterprises as a corporate front for Cobra and they basically function as Cobra’s CFOs.

We also get the debut of several new members of G.I. Joe. Three of the coolest characters Alpine, Bazooka and Quick Kick have a pretty big spot in the story. In fact, I like their chemistry as a group and they are a good comedic addition to the show.

Like the other miniseries before this, Cobra has a superweapon. In this one, it is the Pyramid of Darkness. The way this one functions is a lot more interesting and cooler than the previous two superweapons. Basically, Cobra positions four giant black cubes around the Earth. They also send the Dreadnoks to space to overtake a G.I. Joe space station, which is needed to link the four cubes. Once all five points are secured and operational, the top half of the Earth is covered by an electric pyramid that works like an EMP, killing the electrical power of anything within its massive reach. This gives Cobra a huge advantage in world domination. The Joes have to then battle it out with Cobra in exotic and dangerous locations once again.

The Dreadnoks in space element is really cool, especially when their genetically engineered beasts, the Fatal Fluffies, grow to monstrous proportions. I actually wished that the Fluffies would have returned to the show and also had toys, back when I was a kid. With Duke on the space station, this makes the third time in three stories that he is a Cobra captive. Really, Duke? Get it together, bro! You’re the leader of G.I. Joe until General Hawk comes along in season two.

I also wanted to mention the character of Satin. She was a pop singer that worked the Cobra nightclub circuit. Really though, she was working her way into the organization because her father was framed by Cobra for crimes he didn’t commit, which ruined his life. Satin works as an ally to Shipwreck and Snake Eyes and was instrumental to the story, yet we never see her again after this.

The Pyramid of Darkness is my favorite story of the Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe universe. Actually, it’s my favorite Joe story, period. Well, not counting Larry Hama’s G.I. Joe comic books because that dude wrote some amazing shit.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The other early G.I. Joe miniseries events: A Real American Hero and The Revenge of Cobra.