‘Machete Kills’: The Border Strikes Back
Machete: Machete don’t tweet.
I have a lot to say about Machete Kills, the latest Mexploitation film from director Robert Rodriguez. A lot of it may be negative, as the film, overall, tries too hard, despite having plenty of ideas and a wonderful ensemble cast, consisting of anyone who apparently had a free weekend at some point to come film with Rodriguez and his crew down at his studio. With that said, for whatever reason, I still know right now that I will easily see Machete Kills Again, when it eventually hits theaters. It is a strange thought to know that I am in the bag for the next installment of a series that seems to be getting worse, but I guess that just must be the power that Danny Trejo has over me.
Where do I even begin with this plot synopsis? Picking up after the first Machete, which ended with Machete (Danny Trejo) and ICE Agent Santana Rivera (Jessica Alba) riding off into the sunset together, Machete Kills begins with what else, but the death of the old female character to make room for the 7 new ones. Seeking vengeance, Machete has his chance when he is enlisted by the U.S. President (Charlie Sheen, credited as Carlos Estevez) to stop a crazy revolutionary, Mendez (Academy Award nominee Demian Bechir), from launching a missile at the capital. Mendez happens to be connected to those responsible for killing Santana, which is all Machete needs to get going. He heads back across the border, meets up with his handler, Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard), and sets out on his mission to stop Mendez by any means necessary, which will most definitely involve a lot of deaths by machetes.
There is something to be said for Robert Rodriguez sticking with what he knows. It is fair to assume that at this point, Rodriguez is not at all slumming with these kinds of films and more or less relishing with the chance to play with his toys and friends, in an effort to create this sort of trashy entertainment. While his buddy Quentin Tarantino has used the ‘grindhouse’ aesthetic to say something in his films, Rodriguez seems content to stew in it and become a reliable source for those that would want to see something like a Mexican day-laborer turned into a superhero, with tons of bloody action to follow.
The problem is understanding how much is too much. Rather than a quick 85-minute exercise, Machete Kills lasts a near ungodly 107 minutes in an effort to establish a plethora of characters and plot, which ultimately ends on a cliffhanger setup for the next film. Along with the characters I have already mentioned, Machete Kills features (Academy Award winner) Mel Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, (Academy Award winner) Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Hudgens, Alexa Vega, William Sadler, and Walton Goggins. All of these actors have various tie-ins to the core story being told, but at least six of them feel entirely unnecessary. It feels more like Rodriguez has too many ideas, but only plans to make three Machete movies, so he wants to stuff his films with every idea, rather than transplant them into future films separate from the Machete universe.
This also would not be so much of a problem if the film maintained its level of fun, but that is the issue as well. For a good 45 minutes to an hour, I was actually really enjoying this film for all its ridiculousness, as it seemed to be delivering on more of what the premise had to offer, over the first film, which has both pros and cons, but is better than this film for reasons I will get to in a bit. Unfortunately, things came to a screeching halt when one villain was eliminated in favor of handing the reigns over to Mel Gibson.
Now, truth be told, I have attempted to break ties with Gibson in films and was very reluctant to see Machete Kills due to his presence. There is no reason to really expand on that, it just stands to reason that it was weird to see the film be single-handedly brought down by the very thing that I was not looking forward to. It is not even his very presence that does it though. No, the reason is due to the character being this insane exposition machine. While he is ‘having fun’ with the role, Gibson’s character essentially lectures the audience about how evil he is and what his weird, Moonraker-like plan is for the world, before we finally get to a long action finale. It is all done to setup the next sequel, Machete Kills Again, which is really a disservice to the film we are watching currently and that is what bothers me. I am glad that Rodriguez has done all he can to get to a point where he can make his epic Machete space opera, but c’mon dude, one film at a time.
Oh yes, I said I would mention the first film again. Machete is a film I was excited for at the time, but was left with a less glowing reaction than expected. Like Machete Kills, the first film suffered from being too long, having too many characters, and too much plot. With that said, Machete actually had something to say, as it took some light satirical stances on immigration policies and controversies surrounding the Mexican border. Machete Kills lacks this extra level of subtext and that is not necessarily troublesome, but seems to signify how much screenwriter Kyle Ward does not seem to care about what takes Machete beyond just being a silly action movie. Look at this sequel as something like the Austin Powers sequels, which abandoned being actual parodies mixed with having something to say and more of an excuse to be a joke machine, with little regard to relevancy. I do not need great art from these films, but when the fun stops, having something to latch onto does seem important and I can’t say that really happened this time around.
Instead, the film is filled with stunt casting and goofy sequences. That is fine for a one time watch, but the real interesting thing is how Rodriguez has practically bridged the two sides of his career. By this, I am referring to his ability to make these hard-R action films (Desperado, From Dusk Til Dawn) and his family-friendly kids films (The Spy Kids series). Machete Kills is most definitely an R-rated film (though surprisingly pretty lax in sexual content, which may displease some folks, but also a near point in pride, given how female-heavy this film is and how in control they mostly all are), but it does play like a colorful comic book in a lot of ways, which essentially satisfies a young teenage boy. Does this film have or need to have role models? Not necessarily, though Machete does go out of his way to harm only those who are a threat, but it doesn’t feel like an irresponsible mash up of violence either.
Given how CG-heavy this film is, it does make me miss the early days of Rodriguez, the El Mariachi/Desperado days, where he had live squibs going off and a real sense of grit to his films. All the grit in these Machete films is digitally produced, which certainly emphasizes the comic book quality, but inadvertently takes away from the very ‘grindhouse’ aesthetic that Rodriguez so wants to replicate. At least the cast seems fairly game.
Danny Trejo is of course exactly what you expect – Danny Trejo. He is the resilient Mexican, who is unstoppable and very handy with any weapon. Most of the rest of this cast seems to get exactly what kind of film they are in, so it makes no real sense to point them out individually, though I will say that Sofia Vegara is in the role she was born to play, Amber Heard was stellar in delivering her Spanish dialogue, and Demian Bachir is bonkers crazy. I don’t know who will show up in the next film, but Rodriguez is apparently doing something right, when it comes to convincing people to do silly things on film.
So is that enough? Have I been thorough in explaining my thoughts on Machete Kills. I will say that this film has some of the most groan-inducing Star Wars references since Fanboys, so I’ll be curious to see how well it works in Machete Kills Again…in Space, which I have already stated I will see. That said, while by no means a great film, it accomplishes what it set out to do, I just wish these Machete films had more to offer in the way of simplicity, which is what one would expect in a film series such as this. Excessive silliness can be fun, but pure excess can be a bore.
Machete: There can only be one Machete.