If the idea of pairing Nightmare on Elm Street dream-marauder Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) with Friday the 13th maggot tank Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger) means nothing to you, then Freddy Vs. Jason will also mean nothing to you. If, however, you have envisioned two of modern cinema’s most feared creations in a “Smackdown”-style one-on-one, then this film should have some appeal.
Yet the only reason to see Freddy Vs. Jason is to see when these two finally meet. Leading up to the most anticipated bout since Tyson/Holyfield, the film falls short not because it is the same-old same-old (which it is), but because the story that introduces them to each other makes little sense. Relying on “instant-script” techniques, Freddy opens by taking us through voice-over back-story that covers his early days as a soon-to-be torched child murderer and plays over clips of the previous Nightmare films. Already, the supposed “fanboy’s dream” is not aimed directly at fans, because the fans know exactly how ol’ knivefingers got started. The film is as mortified of new ideas as the misdirected teens are of Freddy and Jason.
Jason Voorhees, the ultimate mama’s boy, is still killing. Only this time, it turns out he’s not such a bad guy after all. After all, it was sexaholic teenagers who caused him to drown more than forty years ago. And it was teenagers which drove his mother to murder, and a teenager who sliced off his mother’s head. He’s only being a good son because he believes that this is what his mom wanted. His introduction comes off as funny, as he returns to slaughter an unsuspecting skinny-dipper at the infamous Camp Crystal Lake. Seeing him gallivant around the forest reminded me of the way the Lethal Weapon sequels opened with the heroes already set for their guns to blaze, as if they never stopped shooting.
How this gruesome twosome comes to meet is an interesting premise, but the execution is the laziest in a blood-puddle of already lazy ideas. Rounding up Freddy’s fourth-wall busting update, he spills the beans before the main titles even appear. Ignoring that title character number one was supposedly killed in Freddy’s Dead a dozen years ago; we are forced to accept that he is simply back. He is now a ghost of his hometown’s memories, and is eager to kill once again.
But the cover-up of his existence and use of a drug called “Hypnocil,” which prevents any dream activity, has rendered Freddy powerless. Without any explanation as to how he returns or has devised his newest plan (give it to Freddy, he always has a plan), he reveals that he will manipulate Jason (using the memory of his dead mother) into trekking over to Springwood to kill for him so that the town will figure out that Freddy is not the only problem and eventually empower him to kill again. How this actually helps Freddy is never made clear. And after Jason gets a taste of what should be Freddy’s blood, he keeps on killing, angering Freddy into taking action. Caught in the middle of the clash are teenagers Will (Jason Ritter), ex-girlfriend Lori (Monica Keena) and her friend Kia (Kelly Rowland).
Freddy Vs. Jason is, as I had hoped, more of a Freddy opus than it is for Jason. It is Freddy’s plan and as odd as it sounds, he is the villain. Jason is, also oddly, the victim, and thus, the hero. Rather than tossing these two in the ring and having them duke it out, clear roles are given to them, which adds a new dimension that neither have been given before. Since they are both at least fifty years old, they might even consider reuniting for something like Grumpy Old Maniacs.
Since the two are given distinct roles, the teenage characters feel directionless. Characters who are caught in the crossfire can be the center of the drama, but these are bland and uninteresting victims. Like every other film in both franchises, you have the handsome dark-haired jock type fighting evil with a busty blonde and a stoner on the side. Too much time is spent dwelling on how they feel, rather how they came to feel this way in the first place.
The film luckily avoids waiting until the climax to pit the angry goalie against his fedora-wearing tormentor in some interesting scenes that flesh out their dispute. When these two finally duke it out, Freddy Vs. Jason has undeniably the best battle of the year. With wonderful “moments” to spice up the action, the fight is a furious bloodbath, as Freddy uses his trademark razor glove, and Jason slashes away with his trusty machete. Whether the remainder of the film works or not, this is what the audience came for.
Director Ronny Yu has described Freddy Vs. Jason as more of an actioner than a horror movie. Since this is an action movie whose heart is a fight, I can accept that it is neither frightening nor shocking. Since the fight is a success, the film can be marked as one, too. While it’s far from your worst nightmare, it’s still not quite a dream come true.