though i haven’t played it since the 90s, i would say that double dragon is somewhat of a classic of the 8-bit era, if not all time. it’s a side-scroller that’s not as cartoonish as super mario bros. and not quite as realistic as street fighter. and unlike contra, you don’t die as easily, which is always a plus when it comes to video games.
released in 1994, double dragon: the movie is the second video game adaptation released in theatres, a year after super mario bros., a month before j.c.v.d.’s street fighter and a year before mortal kombat: the movie. it’s often cited as one of the worst movies/video game movies/flops of all time. on sites that a lot of people like such as rotten tomatoes, it has a 0%, which makes it supposedly worse than all uwe boll video game movies such as house of the dead and in the name of the king. in retrospect, if they had known that uwe boll video game movies and other childhood-memory-raping picture book/toy/game adaptations are on the way, double dragon: the movie would probably have been looked on more favorably.
i don’t know how i would have felt about it had i seen it in 94 but watching it for the first time last week, it’s nowhere as bad as its reputation leads you to believe. it can’t be the worst movie of 94 anyway, since fucking stargate came out that same year.
after the always reassuring goodtimes video logo, the movie opens with villain robert patrick (terminator 2, die hard 2, from dusk til dawn 2, charlie’s angels 2) telling the story of the macguffin, a dragon medallion broken in halves, to his henchmen. the words “somewhere in china” show up on screen. it didn’t bother me and i actually think it’s kind of funny. i prefer this to movies that shows you a famous landmark (the pentagon, the white house, the eiffel tower, the pyramids) and then have a title card that says things like “washington d.c., usa,” or “paris, france” or “egypt.” it’s funny in movies like naked gun or team america but there are still feature film directors who do it sincerely, just in case you don’t recognize the landmarks. i appreciate the laziness. i always prefer laziness to condescension.
long story short, t-1000 got half of the dragon medallion and the twin brothers, billy and jimmy lee end up with the other half. the twin brothers are played by scott wolf (tv’s party of five, go, white squall, tv’s v remake) and mark dacascos (only the strong, american samurai, crying freeman, the island of dr. brando, redline, brotherhood of the wolf, i am omega, tv’s hawaii five-o the remake).
i don’t know if you’re like the younger me but i tend to hit the start button and all the other buttons until i have control of my character when i want to play a game. so the plot elements are usually skip over. in the game, the brothers are apparently twins, and caucasians. in the movie, the brothers could be twins and vaguely asian. but it works out in some kind of weird affirmative action way since robert patrick’s bad guy decides to be caucasian and uses a new caucasian name instead of his old asian sounding name.
the game also doesn’t seem to take place in the future. it’s just bad neighborhoods. the movie takes place in the futuristic year of 2007 after the big quake in the oh so cleverly named city of new angeles. there’s also mentions of another futuristic city called old york. i see what you did there, screenwriters.
after a karate kid-ish tournament, we find out that the brothers are under custody (do they still have that in the future?) of satori, played by julia nickson (k2, sidekicks, final approach), who only serves as an exposition character . there’s also alyssa milano as the power corp leader, which is one of the many gangs in the city of new angeles. sticklers of the game also don’t need to worry, abobo does show up as some kind of tragic hero/villian.
taken as a straight martial arts/action movie, double dragon doesn’t quite work. but again, in 1994, when seagal and van damme were still the most popular martial actistor. since only one of the leads is considered a martial artist, most of the action scenes go to decascos. wolf is more of less supposed to be the comic relief, the “cool” funny guy. unfortunately, that’s the worst parts of the movie. all of the “witty” and emotional scenes between the brothers are painful regardless of decade. they are no bruce willis/damon wayans, or val kilmer/robert downey jr., or farveau/vaughan, or jackie chan/chris tucker. they’re not even harold and kumar. they do however, tell each other to storke and rub things faster and harder.
as with most movies that take place in the future, it more or less looks like the time it was made. the flannels, bright color clothings, and backward baseball caps may still be popular today but as a whole it is undeniably the 90s. patrick’s villain even reminds me of vanilla ice or a member of a 90s top 40 r&b group. he would fit right in with say, color me badd or max payne’s funky bunch.
despite its flaws, double dragon is nevertheless quite enjoyable, in a retrospective sort of way. there is a sequence early on that is reminiscent of a jackie chan action sequence utilizing props around the set. the frequent mentions of the dragon medallion reminds me of one of jackie chan’s worst movies: the medallion and also the pretty entertaining/similarly titled twin dragon where chan plays twins. patrick is appropriately over the top as the villain. the futuristic references works about as well as demolition man. there’s the abobo scene late in the movie that’s hilarious. i also like the fact that the double dragon arcade machine shows up at one point, which apparently ruins the “realistic” factor for some people. i thought it’s a nice touch, since it was before all these post-modern/ironic/self referential elements become popular. the sets and special effects are also praise-worthy, considering the year it was made.
the energy drips a bit in the third act when there’s the final showdown between the heroes and the villain but there’s the who’s the boss reference we’ve all been waiting for. unfortunately, there’s no terminator reference. it mostly works as a not too serious take self-aware video game adaptation.
double dragon is another one of those movies that got such a bad rep that it makes me feel good about this blog. there are enough fanboy-catering hyperbole-loving hipster-smugness aren’t-i-funny-and-clever sites out there. i don’t understand how anyone can seriously claim this as the worst of anything, in addition, such claim raises questions about them such as the number of movies they see or how much attention they actually paid when watching a movie, or showing how refined their taste in film are.
they don’t really make these obviously low budget movies and release them in theatres anymore. today, they would probably give it ten times as much money, edit and cgi the shit out of it. insert some bombastic action score and sound effects. promote the shit out of it so it’ll have a big opening weekend and make its money back internationally. i don’t want to sound like an old man but it was a nice time when movies let you breath and doesn’t try to force feed your reactions.
in short, i would rather watch this again than g.i. joe rise of the anaconda, indiana jones 4, or the last airbender.
interesting fact: the two credited screenwriters went on to bigger and better things. peter gould is the producer and writer for tv’s critically acclaimed breaking bread where the dad from malcolm in the middle plays a meth teacher who hosts dinner parties. michael davis made the pretty good eight days a week starring felicity and shoot em’ up, one of the best movies in the history of humankind.
director james yukich also directed bruce’s the return of bruno, which if you have a copy, you should let me borrow it.
p.s. this looks awesome. kind of like the expendables of 8-bit video games, except without the distracting edits and weird zooms. it’s got sharks with friggin’ laser. click on the picture below for more info on abobo’s big adventure.