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This is still Sparta! The muscles are still tremendous, the chests still massive, the beards nicely-trimmed and the togas and capes varying degrees of red and white. 300: Rise Of An Empire is attempting to re-create the sensation that came from the thrill of watching 300. But, oddly enough, action films have shown to be the one genre resistant to sequelization. Most people go big the first time, and topping that proves to be a challenge. Usually, the idea is just to repeat what happened before. But sometimes… expectations are outdone.
This week’s marathon is 24 (and a half!) straight hours of ass-kicking repeat performances. Part one was great, but wait until you see the follow-up! There are kicks and punches, car chases and gunfights, all in this 24-hour salute to following a tough opening act. Are you ready to dive in?
THE ROAD WARRIORWe begin on the dirt roads of a post-apocalyptic Australia in this lean, mean sequel to George Miller’s Mad Max. Here, Mel Gibson’s Max Rockatansky is already fully established as a badass, and he leads a group of survivors against a band of cannibalistic hooligans led by Lord Humungus, the self-proclaimed "Ayatollah of rock ‘n’ rolla." With a bigger budget than its predecessor, The Road Warrior is free to send cars and trucks flying in the air in its portrayal of a wasteland where the winners burn rubber, and the losers eat dust.
DEATH WISH 3A lot of sequels follow the formula of basically correcting the mistakes of earlier films. Here, we’ve got two corrections: Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey is back on the mean streets of New York, not the milquetoast sunny Los Angeles of Death Wish 2. And gone is the moral ambiguity of that first film: now Kersey’s a damned superhero. Having lost his old war buddy to a gang hit, Kersey and Chief Shriker (the late Ed Lauter) take to the streets to erase all ambiguity and blow the crap out of all the city’s scum. The final moments are practically a shoot-‘em-up side-scroller.
THE BOURNE SUPREMACYDoug Liman’s first film in the series is a siwft and entertaining espionage thriller. But it’s the sequel that cements director Paul Greengrass’ shaky-cam aesthetic. Here, Bourne is finally gaining an awareness of his status not as a spy, but as a weapon. And while the political sensibility results in a deeper film, this is also the movie where Matt Damon lets loose and creates an absolute martial arts monster. Worth it alone for the sequence where he beats a villain up with a rolled-up magazine before sticking it in a toaster to blow up a building.
A BETTER TOMORROW 2Yeah, all that Greengrass-style introspection is nice, but you just want to see dudes looking great and firing guns, don’t you? Lucky for you, John Woo exists. Chow Yun Fat returns as Ken Lee, the twin brother to the first film’s Mark Lee, teaming with an informant to free a captured drug lord from crooked cops. Loyalties and allegiances collide in a firestorm of bullets and a mess of corpses, as John Woo and producer Tsui Hark absolutely outdo themselves with this ballad of blood.
BAD BOYS 2This shit just got real. The most Michael Bay-est Michael Bay movie finds us reuniting detectives Mike Lowry and Marcus Burnett in a case that involves… eh, some drugs, and some of the most absolutely insane car chases you’ve ever seen. Bad Boys 2, in all it’s misogynist, homophobic and overall misanthropy, may be the most violent movie ever made, violent not only to the sets and actors, but to the very human soul. It’s nasty stuff.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION IIIt should be sometime after nine at this point, which means it’s time to revisit Popeye Doyle. True to the traditions of sequels "fixing" or "re-adjusting" the originals, this grimy follow-up attempts to answer the ellipsis at the end of the first film as Gene Hackman’s Doyle goes continental. He’s in France, stalking the drug kingpin that got away in The French Connection (and in real life), and acting every bit the awesome ugly American. The sleazy twist is that Doyle is kidnapped and hooked on smack, in a sinister attempt to cripple the intrepid policeman. But this isn’t Hackman as an irrepressible underdog like he was in the first film, this is Hackman the movie star who doesn’t stop until justice is served hot on a platter.
LIVE AND LET DIERoger Moore may not be everyone’s favorite James Bond, but he certainly debuted with a bang in the eighth Bond feature. Here, 007 is pitted against the villainous Dr. Kanaga, a Caribbean dictator pushing heroin in Harlem, turning Moore against the indomitable Yaphet Kotto. There’s a grab bag of action here, from speedboat chases to voodoo to martial arts and ultimately exploding villains. Guy Hamilton’s third Bond effort finds Moore off and running to Wings’ propulsive title theme song, one of the very best in the Bond catalog.
ELITE SQUAD: THE ENEMY WITHINIt’s close to 1:30, which is prime deep cut territory. How about Jose Padilha’s second film in the Elite Squad series? The first picture is a conventional rise-and-fall story, mirroring a promising new recruit and a corrupt officer named Nascimento, the latter played by Elysium nutcase Wagner Moura. Now Nascimento has risen up the ranks after a series of promotions, struggling to cope with the absolute power at his disposal as head of the B.O.P.E. police division. His grasp of the underworld has never been so strong, but his ignorance of the corrupt forces that want to place him six feet under have never been so clandestine. If you’ve seen the original, this one goes harder and deeper into the corruption and scandal of the police force, while never neglecting the teeth-rattling action.
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONINGIt’s the middle of the night, time to go down the rabbit hole. John Hyams’ hypnotic thriller is technically the fourth in the series, not counting the two direct-to-cable offerings. Though it’s history with the earlier films, even Hyams’ own Universal Soldier: Regeneration, is complex, and just the general idea that Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren have been killed and rebooted thousands of times is the only basic kernel you need. Beyond that, it’s a horror-thriller where a bruising, intense Scott Adkins plays a former soldier reeling after the execution of his family by rogue agent Luc Deveraux (Van Damme). The mystery leads him down the path to destruction, to an underground army, and to a truth he must confront. With as much kicking and punching as possible.
RAMBOIt should be around 5:20, so who better than to take you into the sunlight than Stallone? The Italian Stallion sequelized his own movies ten times, though none were as violent or as righteous as this 2008 reboot, where he returned as former P.O.W. John Rambo. Disillusioned from the war he was thrust into, and the war he eventually made, he’s a lone wolf on the river in Burma. Minding your own business isn’t common practice for a killing machine, however, and when a group of missionaries are kidnapped, "killin’s as easy as breathin.’"
CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGENearly 7 AM. Wake upppppppppppp! Wake up wake up wake up, it’s Chelios! The continuing adventures of Los Angeles hitman Chev Chelios are augmented with a steroidal shot to the balls in this chaotic, insane free-for-all, where an electronically-powered Chev must keep giving his body shocks in order to continue the quest for his own disembodied heart. No action star throws himself quite into his roles quite like Statham, who almost seems like a walking action movie himself: steroidally strong, effortlessly smirking, and always in motion.
DRUNKEN MASTER 2The first Drunken Master is a diverting martial arts film that showcases a young and lithe Jackie Chan showing off his wares. But the second film, retitled The Legend Of Drunken Master, might be the most insane martial arts film of all time. Chan’s Wong Fei Hung pursues the corporate villains in a respectable plot for a kung fu picture, but the fight sequences showcase the very best of Chan’s sensibilities, one part the ferociousness of a young Bruce Lee, one part the balletic grace and acrobatic invention of early Buster Keaton. The final battle is one of the most shocking and ridiculous battles you’ll ever witness. Have some breakfast when you start this up around 8:30, but make sure you’re not eating near the end because your mouth will be agape, and stuff’s gonna fall out, dude.
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAYThe first Terminator was ostensibly a horror film, with Schwarzenegger’s T-800 essentially a robotic slasher villain who cannot be stopped. It’s follow-up doesn’t showcase Arnold the compelling leading man, but Arnold the massive global legend, and his every massive step in this film is a mini-chronicle of one of the cinema’s invincible movie stars. When Arnold lifts up a gun in this film (particularly the righteous third-act gatling), it feels as if the world shakes. When he gets behind the wheel of a truck, the tectonic plates shift. And when he thows a punch at the amorphous T-1000, one of the all-time great action villains, the air feels as if it quakes. This will take you to around 12:30, giving you a marathon of maximum action excellence.