Can We Fix It? #1 – Double Dragon
Over the years, Hollywood has released many a movie based off a beloved video game or anime franchise. Almost universally, they have sucked. Some were so terrible that they swung back around to good in a perverse, train-wreck of entertainment (i.e. Street Fighter), but most languish in a purgatory of mediocrity. They’re not good. They’re not awful. They’re just…kinda sucky.
But with a few obvious tweaks and a greater understanding of the adapted property, many of these movies could be good. Really. To prove it, I’ll be looking at some of the worst video game and anime based movies and asking a simple question – ’How do we fix it?’
And first on the chopping block, a title anyone who grew up in the nineties should know well – Double Dragon.
Now, for you goddamn young’ns that refuse to get off my lawn, Double Dragon was a side-scrolling beat ’em up with a somewhat unique twist for the time – co-op that went beyond someone else punching things on the same screen. Players could help each other out by grabbing a goon and holding him in place while their partner got in a few free hits. This encouraged teamwork, and is part of the reason why the game became such a big hit.
The story (all four levels of it) is that two martial-artist brothers, Billy and Jimmy Lee, find their mutual love interest, Marian, kidnapped by the Black Warriors gang. So, they go punch gang members in the face until they get her back. Simple enough story, but there’s a unique twist. If you beat the game in co-op, the brothers turn on each other and battle it out for Marian’s affections. Imagine the slow, dawning comprehension as you turn to the person who helped you through four levels of hell…and realize that one of you is going to have to throw the first punch…
Set in New Angeles, the movie introduces Billy and Jimmy Lee, two kids who fight in some kind of tournament…thing…that’s never really well explained. It also introduces the Double Dragon – a medallion that has been split into two pieces. Billionaire bad guy, Kogo Shuko, has one half. The Lee brothers have the other.
You see where this is going.
Shuko comes after the brothers’ half of the medallion, killing their guardian and burning their home to the ground in the process. Enraged, Billy and Jimmy immediately head out, fighting their way through waves of goons to take Shuko down for good.
Oh, wait. That doesn’t happen. Instead, our heroes spend half an hour messing around with the lamest street gang in the history of nineties films because this movie sucks!
This movie has a near endless supply of bad things. The dialogue features such wonderful quips as “Eat some of this, butthead!” and “Game over, ugly.” The immaturity would almost be acceptable, if it wasn’t for the fact that the dialogue’s being used in place of actual plot. After twenty-minutes – which feature one martial arts fight, one car chase and a dozen gangs that look like they were rejected from the Warriors – the actual story starts when Billy says “Hey, isn’t it about time our guardian tells us about the Maguffin?”
And she does!
Instead of spending time building the two main characters, the movie focuses on building an, admittedly, cool world (in a crazy nineties way). After a giant quake in 2009, Los Angeles and San Diego merged into one city. All sorts of crazy gangs rose up in the chaos, such as the Braniacs, the Mohawks, and the…Clowns. Outnumbered, the cops struck a deal and let the gangs roam the city after sundown, instituting a curfew to keep normal citizens safe. From smog fans to oxygen stands, the world is filled with fun little details that help flesh out this world and backstory.
Problem is, that does nothing to advance the plot, or offer insight into the characters. Half of the scenes in Double Dragon should just be part of a different, and better, movie. Here, they just serve to pad the length of the film so that a main character doesn’t even hit a goon until 28 minutes in – and this is a movie based on punching things in the face! Billy and Jimmy don’t actually make the decision to fight the bad guy until the 50 minute mark. And when they do, instead of going off to try and take Shuko down themselves, they ask for help. From Marian! Who’s no longer a damsel in distress, but now the leader of an eighties-based street gang. Instead of two lead protagonists, we have two dudes who can’t make a decision and their army of teenagers on skateboards. Awesome.
I could go on every action scene is a chase scene, they interrogate a mutated goon by feeding him spinach, they beat the final boss by turning on lights but then I’ll just run out of space. So, let me get to the point. In one of the few good moments in the movie, Shuko possesses Jimmy and turns him on his brother. During the fight, he retells the story of Romulus and Remus. Yet, even in the very scene it was mentioned, this movie refused to play the heart of that tale – betrayal.
The fight scene between the brothers ends with Jimmy being freed and the two of them, together, going after Shuko. The betrayal lasts all of five minutes.
It should be the whole movie.
Double Dragon is an easily adaptable concept, if you pay close attention to the potential personal story in the source material.
Instead of all the gang violence and post-quake world building, just set the story in a poor neighborhood in a major city – Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Chicago, Tokyo, London, Hong Kong, Shanghai – it doesn’t matter. Someplace gritty. The important thing is to set up that our three main characters can’t go to the police for help because they’re low on the cops’ priority list.
And I said three main characters for a very specific reason – a smaller cast means a more personal story, which means we care more when our heroes start beating a path of destruction through enemy lines. We should be following the story of Jimmy, Billy and Marian. That’s it. Give the big bad a few scenes and that’s our speaking cast. Everyone else who shows up on-screen is there to get punched in the face.
The movie should really play the relationship between the two brothers, almost following the structure of someone’s relationship with a stranger when playing the actual arcade game. Start Billy and Jimmy kind of cold – they’re brothers, but not really close. The only thing they share is their love for Marian.
When Marian’s captured, they go after her independently, get the snot kicked out of them, and eventually realize that they only way they can get her back is to work together. Instead of “Billy and Jimmy recruit the Electric Company,” play a more interesting concept that’s more closely tied to the game – two against the world.
Jimmy and Billy start to work together, playing some comedy as they adapt to each other’s styles, and some drama as they bond by being in the trenches. Maybe they even get to the heart of the issue that split them apart in the first place. This, of course, makes them an even better team. The final boss is the last test of their new bond, a villain they can’t defeat without trusting each other completely. And not in some mystical, mumbo-jumbo way…in a “I-really-hope-my-brother’s-going-to-kick-this-guy-in-the-face-while-I-distract-him” way.
Billy and Jimmy beat the gang leader. Bruised and battered, they lean on each other for support as they go to free Marian. That’s when one of them realizes that he’s going to be spending the rest of his life with his brother AND his love…and he doesn’t want to share.
Probably Jimmy. Jimmy’s a jerk.
So, we get a last minute betrayal, a vicious final fight and the victor freeing Marian and walking off into the sunset/dragging her into the sunset/getting slapped in the face and turned down for killing his brother. Maybe even pull a Clue and have two endings, depending on who wins that last fight.
This fix gives us an actual coherent story, with a specific goal for Billy and Jimmy that keeps them from spending half the movie running away from things. It takes them on an emotional journey, as a bond is forged and then broken right when the two of them reach their goal.
And, most importantly, it gets us more PUNCHING PEOPLE IN THE FACE!
A movie many claim to be so horrible that it’s actually great. I’m pretty sure it’s just horrible. Still, many of us 90’s kids will have fond memories of this one. What is it? Ah, you can wait…
And, of course, if you have any suggestions for movies that could do with the “Can We Fix It?” treatment, let me know in the comments.