It is surprisingly fitting that “Escape From L.A” was released 25 years ago, and this review is taking place on the heels of the newly released “The Suicide Squad.” Strangely, they’re more similar than people thinking, albeit one significantly better than the other. Much like the Suicide Squad “franchise,” the sequel is also a reboot of sorts, redoing and remaking everything while keeping the same basic premise of its predecessor.
The adventures of Snake Plissken are working in reverse, with the first one being far superior to its very late, unnecessary sequel/reboot. Director John Carpenter seems to believe otherwise as he has stated in multiple interviews that “Escape From L.A” is better than “Escape From New York,” but I’m likening this to David Ayer swearing that his version of “Suicide Squad” was better than what was released. Namely, it’s all retrospective bullshit from misguided filmmakers who can’t see the faults of their own work.
“Escape From L.A” is a strange beast of a film. A sequel released 15 years after the original that attempts to tell the same story as its predecessor but in a new city with a darker, more nihilistic message and borderline abusive special effects. I’m all for using the technology of the day and accounting for technological inflation, but “Escape From L.A” has some god awful effects that are consistently scattered throughout the film and are so obviously dated computer graphics its hard to believe they really thought it all looked good even for 1996. Moreover, the film is manic in both its tone and approach, constantly shifting gears from one weird encounter to the next, none of which feel like they’re all belonging to the same film. The only thing that holds it all together is that Snake Plissken is somehow at the center of all it, but if he were deleted or changed for literally anyone else, the film would be an unmitigated disaster.
Frankly, I’m never quite sure what to make of something like “Escape From L.A.” It’s manic, disconnected energy and whacky storytelling mixed with abysmal special effects ride the line between post apocalyptic social commentary to downright grindhouse B movie action. The film never really settles for either one, forcing the viewer to choose their own framework for how they want to watch it. You’re never quite sure if you should be taking any of this seriously or if you should be watching it as pure, unadulterated satire. The film never settles down enough to allow you to make the right or wrong decision, so you kind of have to go in with the decision already made. Truthfully if you think of Snake Plissken as the original Suicide Squad, it makes this sequel/reboot a bit more watchable. I don’t know if that’s enough to make it enjoyable, but you can at least have it on for a time before you inevitably give up.
Despite all of this, “Escape from L.A” has its moments, namely Kurt Russell’s antihero charisma as Plissken. Nobody really does “Plissken/Jack Burton/I don’t want to be here but since I am I’m gonna be a MF badass” quite like Russell, and it’s really hard not to relish in his brutality and cheekiness. For all the unwatchable elements in the film, it’s hard to tire of watching Plissken lay down the Bankok rules, throw the can in the air, murder 4 henchmen the cooly say “draw…” Something about this deliberate disobedience so cooly and calmly delivered through Russell’s deadpan character makes it really hard not to enjoy. Just him though. Everything else around him is just too much and not in a good way. It is an iconic, enjoyable character placed in a really bad movie.
For the sake of not trailing down a politically divisive rabbit hole, I’m not going to dig too deep into social commentary aspect of the film (and yes, whether on purpose or not, it’s most certainly in there). Let me just say this: “Escape From L.A” may have a grim, implausible and extremely dated vision of America (taking place in 2013), but there are elements of this film that in retrospect, particularly the last few years that don’t seem as far fetched as they did at the time the film was made. LA may not be an island, but there are some not so subtle critiques about American politics and beliefs that are eerily accurate. Maybe not so much on the exaggerated surface, but some of the unintentional underlaying commentaries just hit different, particularly after surviving 2020.
I don’t know that I could recommend “Escape From L.A” to anyone, but it’s certainly something you need to see for yourself. How you feel about the film is completely dependent on how you approach it in the first place, and even then it does so much so quickly and messy it may not live up to any expectations, even the lowest ones.
But hey, at least we know that in the post apocalyptic future, there will be basketball…