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.”
INTO THE BADLANDS
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.
Into the Badlands