Elwood Jones’s review published on Letterboxd:
As we live in an age were it seems that far too often we seem to form a hive mind about certain movies being good or bad with certain films all too often turning up as material for snarkcasters, who lets face it are essentially are to film criticism what mimes are to performing arts and since Kevin Smith gave his monologue on his brief attachment to Superman Lives there has been this continual bashing of this film which honestly from the trailer and concept made it hard to see how it could really be bad as they were so keen to proclaim. Even still as someone whose really seen what the bottom of the barrel movie viewing experience is like I was keen to see if it was as bad as everyone seems to claim it is.
Based on the cult TV show of the same name which ran for four seasons in the mid 60’s while the cast would reunite for two TV movies The Wild Wild West Revisited and More Wild Wild West but with the property largely forgotten it really opened things up to do something new with the property especially without the limits the TV series had. Originally the film was to be directed by Richard Donner who had directed three episodes of the original show with Mel Gibson playing Jim West and a script by Shane Black (so a Christmas Western I’m guessing) but Gibson ultimatly dropped out to make Maverick instead. Ultimately Will Smith was brought in for the for role which lets not forget he choose in favor of The Matrix (A choice a recently explained on his Youtube channel) in what would be one of many changes the concept saw in it’s transfer to the big screen with the series main villain Dr, Loveless being changed from being a dwarf in the original show to a legless ex-confederate.
Opening strong with Smiths Army Captain Jim West on a stakeout in a water tower while he half heartedly romances a local beauty all before dropping naked in on the bad guys and showing off his quick wit and even quicker trigger finger. So far all what we expect to see from Smith and certainly he delivers in spades throughout as while the character might have been remoulded into an image more suiting of his style of action hero. So far so good right and then we meet the first stumbling block of the film with the hit and miss Kline here playing the gadget laden and costume loving Artemus Gordon who might have suffered the most from the numerous changes made to the film when test audiences couldn’t figure out if they were watching a comedy and hence leaving him with a lot of misfire lines.
Certainly a mismatched partnership is nothing new and perhaps had the film been given a sequel it’s something I feel could have worked better especially as throughout we get flashes of what this partnership could have been but instead we get a lot of back and forth bickering between the two as their methods are set in constant opposition to each other. Thrown into the mix is Salma Hayek’s Rita who gets nothing much to do outside of being eye candy and testing the strength of her corset making it only the more frustrating that they couldn’t find her something more to do than play the damsel in distress unlike the Loveless beauties who make up a swiss army knife of roles and skills.
One person who seems to really be making the most of their role though is Kenneth Branagh who gleefully chews the scenery with a camp southern drawl as Dr. Loveless who not only is an engineering genius pottering around in his steam powered wheelchair but also gets to make the most of the steampunk twist climaxing with the now all to familiar mechanical spider which Jon Peters apparently has demanded be worked into not only drafts of Superman but also more baffling the long proposed adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. Thankfully the design adds for a suitable climax to the film with the Loveless beauties who serve as his henchmen adding another fun element to the film as they follow Loveless around like some kind of Western Robert Palmer and are all the more welcome in a film painfully lacking in those moments.
Equally fun are the action scenes were Smith certainly gets to shine, oozing charisma and punching bad guys while the streampunk setting really opens up the possibility for an amusing buzzsaw chase through a cornfield and the gadget packed train The Wanderer which serves as the vehicle / homebase for the pair as they trek across the states which frustratingly are largely interchangeable even for the setting it would have been nicer to see more than generic western towns.
Unquestionably one of the films biggest flaws though is that it never seems to commit to either being an action blockbuster or it’s comedic elements though the less said about the racial infused moments of humour the better because lynchings are so hilarious right. This indecisive tone isno doubt largely thanks to the studio demanded reshoots and only made all the more frustrating when Sonnenfeld has established a world of great possibilities with the steampunk elements only opening things further oh so it would have seemed. What we end up with though are these flashes of something better lurking beneath the surface in much the way we did with Sonnenfeld’s first crack at an Adams Family movie which thankfully got to redeem itself with the superior Adams Family Values and I believe this could have been the case here had it not been viewed as such a commercial flop by not only audiences but pretty much everyone involved aswell. Infact it has been rumoured that it only did aswell as it did at the box office because kids were buying tickets to see it and then sneaking into American Pie and South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.
So is the film really as bad as everyone says it is? Honestly I’ve seen worse and as the kind of movie you catch on a lazy sunday afternoon it’s certainly passable to have on in the background while much like Jonah Hex it’s one of those properties that feels like it still has much to offer and perhaps were studios so enthusiastic about churning out remakes should be focusing their attentions instead of established classics.