A Dead­pool Up­grade in the Bad­lands



Di­rected by Leigh Whan­nell, this film is a re­venge-filled, sci-fi hor­ror thriller that sup­ports the ar­gu­ment that we should steer clear of some high-tech. It does that by show­ing us how com­puter hack­ing can lead to bloody hu­man hack­ing when tech­nol­ogy goes awry.

When old-school car me­chanic Grey Trace (Lo­gan Mar­shall-Green) and his tech-lov­ing wife get amorous in their self-driv­ing car, the car goes hay­wire and crashes in an area that be­longs to vi­cious hooli­gans. Mo­ments later, Trace watches his wife be­ing ex­e­cuted as the thugs laugh and leave him a quad­ri­plegic.

An ar­ti­fi­cial-in­tel­li­gence ex­pert helps Trace re­gain mo­bil­ity by im­plant­ing a com­puter chip called STEM. It has the abil­ity to com­mand his body to ex­e­cute light­ning-fast, ul­tra-vi­o­lent mar­tial moves, which are used to wreak re­venge on his wife’s killers. Then the chip gets stuck in sur­vival mode and Trace can’t con­trol the blood­let­ting. Al­though crit­ics de­scribed

Up­grade as Death Wish with neoMa­trix ac­tion, the fights show a greater in­flu­ence from old kung fu films like Leg­endary Weapons

of China from 1982 and the Jackie Chan chore­og­ra­phy style that was cre­ated in 1978 for Dragon Fist. Chan com­bined kung fu with his opera back­ground and de­vel­oped a chore­og­ra­phy method that used arm/ hand skills that end with rhyth­mic snaps, then for Dragon Fist, he added me­chan­i­cal mo­tions to each move and per­formed them with straight­back pos­tures. Shoot­ing at 22 frames per se­cond hid the mo­men­tary pauses be­tween each move­ment.

In Up­grade, when Trace is un­der the spell of STEM, his back and torso be­come stiff and ro­botic, and they re­main so while he me­chan­i­cally does punches, blocks and eva­sive ma­neu­vers. That helps make the fights unique be­cause his body sways dur­ing each shot.

“We did that by strap­ping an iPhone un­der the ac­tor’s clothes, and then the cam­era lens locked onto the phone,” Whan­nell ex­plained. “So wher­ever the phone went, the cam­era that sat on a swivel in a mo­tion-con­trol hous­ing unit would fol­low.”

As tech­nol­ogy evolves, oc­ca­sion­ally some­thing old and bor­rowed is ma­nip­u­lated into some­thing new and cre­ative. In this case, it’s more about cam­era chore­og­ra­phy and edit­ing than fight chore­og­ra­phy and skill­ful ac­tors/stunt­men.


He’s b-a-a-a-ck, and this time it’s ir­rev­er­ently, vi­o­lently and self­loathingly per­sonal. Dead­pool (Ryan Reynolds) re­turns in Dead­pool 2. Al­though he’s a foul­mouthed an­ti­hero in a su­per­hero suit, he’s no chicken — un­less he runs out of good “c-luck.” Yet in this se­quel, a Domino falls into place, bring­ing Dead­pool ex­tra good luck.

As Dead­pool 2 be­gins, it her­alds that it’s di­rected by one of the two guys who killed John Wick’s dog, which is quickly fol­lowed by 600 sec­onds of Dead­pool out­ra­geously hack­ing and whack­ing thugs with hu­man-veg­e­matic, wise­crack­ing, fourth-wall gore. We quickly see that the fran­chise has a fab in­sur­ance pol­icy: You’re in good hands with di­rec­tor David Leitch.

Filled with heart-loss agony, Dead­pool re­luc­tantly be­comes an X-Men trainee. When his first mis­sion goes more wrong than pad­dling a rub­ber raft through croc-in­fested wa­ters, he finds new mean­ing in life: Pro­tect an emo­tion­ally dis­turbed mu­tant lad from be­ing killed by Ca­ble ( played by Josh Brolin), a bru­tal time-trav­el­ing cy­borg with su­per­nat­u­ral abil­i­ties.

Wield­ing a pair of katana as though they were Chi­nese swords and strik­ing vi­tal points with kali moves, Dead­pool uses Muham­mad Ali–like trash talk­ing to dis­tract his op­po­nents dur­ing their bat­tles. Al­though Dead­pool 2’s fights fo­cus on phys­i­cal­ity, Leitch’s ac­tion trade­mark is still ap­par­ent: Make one fight dif­fer­ent from all the rest. In this movie, that would be the meth-lab bat­tle in which Dead­pool de­stroys tons of hench­men while his neme­sis flees in slow mo­tion.

“It was a mo­tion-con­trol shot that took a day to re­hearse and pho­to­graph,” Leitch shared. “The cam­era rig shot two ac­tion passes, each with a dif­fer­ent frame rate. The first pass was with the vil­lain at 48 frames. Then a nor­mal-rate pass of Dead­pool fight­ing in the back­ground. Then we lined up the two takes. It was a tricky lo­gis­ti­cal puz­zle to get ev­ery­thing on stacks and work­ing, then tim­ing and comp­ing those two lay­ers to­gether.”


Déjà vu! He’s b-a-a-a-ck, and this time it’s re­ally per­sonal. The coolest new char­ac­ter in Sea­son 2 (episode 3) of this AMC se­ries, which fea­tures ar­guably the best mar­tial arts ac­tion ever on Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion, is the lethal “clip­per” Nathaniel Moon (Sher­man Au­gus­tus). Moon’s out to kill Into

the Bad­lands hero and fel­low clip­per Sunny, played by Daniel Wu. At the episode’s end, Sunny de­feats Moon, yet he’s happy to die an hon­or­able death. When Sunny spares his life, Moon loses face — and his right hand.

Fast-for­ward to Sea­son 3: Moon re­turns as an im­por­tant re­cur­ring char­ac­ter in search of re­demp­tion against Sunny. He runs into new predica­ments, learns new weapons and, as of this writ­ing, is slated for another eight episodes.

“If maybe I’m part Scot­tish, I want the keys to my house Fort Au­gus­tus,”

Sher­man Au­gus­tus said, jok­ingly. He’s re­fer­ring to the an­cient fort/set­tle­ment built circa 1715 at the south­west end of Loch Ness in the Scot­tish High­lands. I found his knowl­edge unique, and I was fur­ther moved when he replied to a ques­tion I asked about the first mar­tial arts film he saw and how it im­pacted him. “Shaw Broth­ers’ The Fly­ing Guil

lo­tine,” he said, re­fer­ring to a 1975 movie. “I had an ar­gu­ment with a kid in sev­enth grade who did mar­tial arts, and when I thought the ar­gu­ment was over and walked away, he did a spin­ning back kick and hit me in the back. I thought mar­tial artists weren’t sup­posed to be bul­lies and de­cided that if I ever learned, I’d do it the right way.”

Au­gus­tus got into foot­ball and worked his way up to the pros (Min­nesota Vik­ings and San Diego Charg­ers), which taught him plenty of dis­ci­pline. Re­tir­ing from foot­ball, he got into act­ing, and af­ter do­ing a big fight scene in Space Marines (1996), a mem­ber of the stunt team ad­vised him to get into mar­tial arts be­cause he’d be good.

“I re­call the kid who kicked me, self-de­fense as­pects, how Fly­ing Guil-

lo­tine res­onated with me and want­ing to do the arts prop­erly — dis­ci­pline and not want­ing to fight,” Au­gus­tus said, an­swer­ing the se­cond half of my ques­tion. “I be­gan train­ing and even­tu­ally got my black belts in tae

kwondo and kook sool.” Each sea­son of Bad­lands fea­tures more fights, bet­ter ac­tion and more stun­ning ways to present each char­ac­ter’s growth as a fighter — which other shows rarely do. The crew knows how to shoot and edit fights, and be­fore each sea­son, ded­i­cated ac­tors and new cast mem­bers at­tend train­ing camps to get in shape and im­prove their skills. Wu keeps things fresh by adding new tal­ent such as Jackie Chan’s for­mer stunt dou­ble and chore­og­ra­pher Andy Cheng, who joined in Sea­son 2.

Sea­son 3’s dif­fer­ences in­clude wire chore­og­ra­phy in­flu­enced by Swords

man II (1992) and The Heroic Trio (1993). The pre­pon­der­ance of es­o­teric and chi- based skills may stem from the Shaw Broth­ers’ four-part Brave

Archer films (1977-1982) with an in­ter­est­ing nod to the Amer­i­can Western

A Man Called Horse (1970). Au­gus­tus ex­plained a por­tion of the pro­duc­tion: “The show is treated and shot like a film, so we take five to eight days to do heavy fight se­quences. My Sea­son 3 open­ing fight, chore­ographed by Andy on a coal-mine chim­ney, took nine days plus spo­radic days to film due to weather holdups. You wake up, cold, rainy — some­times I’ll an­tag­o­nize an old foot­ball in­jury. You don’t dare gri­mace. You work through it. When we fight, we’ve got to bring it.”

I closed by ask­ing for his take on the sig­nif­i­cance of the Black Pan­ther phe­nom­e­non. “Right now, there’s op­por­tu­ni­ties to make not just black cin­ema but all cin­ema bet­ter — and not with just big com­pa­nies but [also] smaller in­de­pen­dents,” he said. “I’m hop­ing a re­nais­sance for all film­mak­ers is com­ing. I don’t need to keep see­ing films re­mind­ing me, ‘Hey, man, this is what you were.’ We know that. It’s time to progress and tell good sto­ries [that are] not be­ing told.” Dr. Craig D. Reid’s book The Ul­ti­mate Guide to Mar­tial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Ac­tion, Weapons and War­riors is avail­able at black­belt­mag.com/store.


Dead­pool 2

Into the Bad­lands

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