Generally, I created this blog as a way to share my thoughts on various entertainment-related topics, review films, etc. But once in a while I remember something I just want to gush about, and this is one of those.
I didn’t hop on the Cowboy Bebop hype train back when it was on Toonami during my high school years, though I was aware of the name from pop culture osmosis and ads on TV. My first actual exposure to the franchise came some time after, and it wasn’t of any of the original show. Instead, a close friend and I went out to the local Blockbuster (remember those?) and grabbed a few anime titles (like Appleseedand Ghost in the Shell) to binge on. One of those was the Cowboy Bebop movie, originally known as Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door in Japan.
I had zero knowledge of the series, its characters, or the story going in. Yet within five minutes, I had learned everything I needed to know about the main characters and the overall premise, thanks to an often-used but overlooked technique – the cold open.
The cold open, also prominently known as a “teaser,” is commonly defined as a short (usually one to five minutes in length) “mini-act” that usually takes place before the opening credits of a TV series or movie. Saturday Night Live and the James Bond films are both franchises that are famous for their cold opens. While a cold open, especially in television, is often used to set up the overall plot, it can also be only tangentially connected or even entirely unrelated to the main story. These kinds of cold opens can depict a “day in the life” of the series characters, but the purpose remains the same – introducing a new audience to the main players and the antics these characters often engage in.
The cold open for the Cowboy Bebop movie, depicting the two main characters (the series follows four characters, but Spike and Jet are the only two who are present throughout the whole show so we’ll consider them ‘main’ characters for this example) taking care of a routine job. Given that said job is bounty hunting, the cold open depicts an exciting sequence as they interrupt a convenience store robbery that culminates in a tense stand-off. Despite the minimal time available, we answer important questions such as:
Who are these characters?
What is this series about?
What do they do?
What are their personalities?
The sequence has no connection to the main plot of the film, but is followed up on in a conversation between Spike and Jet that ties the events of the cold open with the rest of the movie.
It’s been said by no shortage of screenwriting gurus that the first 10 minutes or act of a story are probably the most important, as you need to hook an audience in right away. A cold open is a simple way to do it, and Cowboy Bebop’s remains one of my personal favorites.
I literally saw this movie only hours ago and the moment I left the theater I knew I was going to have to write up a post on it. If there was ever a point in Roland Emmerich’s career where he went “full Emmerich,” it’s this movie. I will be discussing plot elements that occur in the film from this point on, so if you want to experience this movie’s rocketing into absurdity completely fresh then come back after seeing it.
Now then, let’s get started!
Twenty Years Later
Before I go into the movie itself, I should address the original film that probably serves as the definitive 90s summer blockbuster. I’m not tackling the new movie with some veneer of “They ruined my childhood” or somesuch because let’s face it, the original ID4 wasn’t some sophisticated examination of humanity nor did it pretend to be (computer virus, sure). But for any younger audience-goers reading this, you have to understand something. We were still at least four years ago from another Star Wars movie, and the idea of a live-actionLord of the Rings was unthinkable. When Independence Day showed up on the scene, yeah, it was spectacle. But oh man, what a spectacle. The build-up of tension throughout the movie culminating in the simultaneous destruction of New York City, Los Angeles and Washington DC was a revolution in visual effects for its time, and if you go back and watch those sequences you’ll see it still stands up today.
Independence Day: Resurgence, before the movie even starts, suffers from being another summer blockbuster in an era of blockbusters. Every year we’ve been getting massive visual spectacles in with Marvel superheroes, Harry Potter and The Hobbit. What’s an Independence Day sequel in a world where Star Wars is now a yearly thing? Judging by the end of the movie it’s clear Fox wants this to be a big sci-fi franchise, but even if that comes to fruition it’s doubtful it would stand a chance against the Disney juggernaut.
They try to escalate past the original by ramping up the scale of destruction, but global chaos is a dime a dozen these days when X-Men: Apocalypse features landscapes being torn apart the very same summer. Hell, even Emmerich himself did it for 2012 a few years back.
Nostalgia vs New
In the movie’s defense, there’s a lot of interest world-building potential and ideas present in the film. The whole theme of repurposing alien technology and advancing humanity with it made me think a lot of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which puts a big smile on my face, and I’m always a sucker for stories featuring the old generation passing the torch on to the next one.
Unfortunately, a lot of these cool ideas are forgotten about as the movie continues to descend into madness. Many of the backstories released for the characters sound very interesting, only to be discarded or ignored in the movie proper. Will Smith is noticeably absent in a film featuring his character’s grown son (which couldn’t be helped) and Vivica A. Fox returns only to be killed off (which probably could have been helped). Remember Jeff Goldblum’s wife from the previous film? Well, you shouldn’t, she apparently died sometime between the two movies. Will Smith at least had the benefit of having his death addressed in this movie, I had to find the other one online.
The movie sets up a roster of younger stars but the focus is spread too thin to really do a whole lot with them. The triumvirate of Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T. Usher and Maika Monroe gets some development but not really explored outside of some stock relationship and rivalry. Also, is it just me or did everyone’s kid become important? Well, except the Casse family.
By the way, I just found out that Mae Whitman was the President’s daughter in the original movie. Did you know that? I didn’t, and that’s freaking cool.
One of the pilots, played by Shanghai superstar Angelababy (and given China’s growing market in Hollywood I would expect to see stars like her and Bingbing Fan in more stuff in the future), is set up as an important supporting character with her uncle being killed in the first act. However, she too is forgotten about and serves as one of the extra pilots until the movie decides to possibly hook her up with Liam’s best friend at the end. It feels like a token romance that the movie didn’t even want to do, with Travis Tope awkwardly hitting on her at the start then just skipping everything in between. Would it have made for a compelling subplot? Very unlikely, but what’s sci-fi if you don’t dare to dream?
Going Off the Rails on a Crazy Train
The climax features a giant alien chasing a bus full of children.
I probably should have built that up somewhat, but I can’t help it. It has to be said and there’s a part of me that wants to delete this entire blog piece and replace it with just that sentence over and over.
The climax features a giant alien chasing a bus full of children. The alien queen survives multiple cold fusion devices going off point blank right in its face thanks to its super advanced shield that is then brought down minutes later from regular blaster fire, only to use its hive queen mind control that can apparently be broken by getting a short distance away so you can resume blasting it to death as it in no way attempts to reassert control.
Why does the alien queen leave its invincible base of operations anyway? Well, then we wouldn’t have the sequence of it chasing after a bus full of children and I am thankful that the movie opted to go in that direction. The alien queen is killed and then the movie similarly just keels over and dies, crushed beneath the weight of its own absurdity. It goes out on a sequel hook with Brent Spiner happily declaring humanity is going to lead the charge in an interstellar conflict against a galaxy-spanning empire, and before you can think “What the hell did I just watch” the movie ends.
I’m probably biased in this movie’s favor given that I have some bizarre taste (assuming I have taste to begin with) and I saw it at matinee pricing, although if you’re spending 20 bucks to see any movie these days you probably deserve to feel cheated. Is it a good movie? No, not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s something more like The Room, Street Fighter: The Movie or Double Dragon. Trust me; throw on this movie with the right collection of friends and drinks, and you’re going to have a grander time than you’re going to get from Francis Ford Coppola.