Double Dragon, the video game, is about two brothers punch and kicking their way to save a kidnapped girlfriend. It is a fairly basic premise but that is all you […]
Double Dragon, the video game, is about two brothers punch and kicking their way to save a kidnapped girlfriend. It is a fairly basic premise but that is all you needed for an 80s arcade game. Here is a reason to fight, now go fight. Double Dragon would go on to be super successful in both arcades and later on for home consoles. So when Super Mario Bros set the ball rolling for adapting video games into movies, I can see why Double Dragon felt like a natural fit to be put onto the big screen. There were a couple of ways you could go about it. The first could be a family-friendly martial arts film where two brothers beat their way through the film to rescue the girl. Or, you could take it into a completely different direction and add some lore to the proceedings while presenting an all new world for Jimmy and Billy to beat their way through.
Instead, Double Dragon tried to do so much at once that it ends up being a complete mess of a movie. It is a family adventure martial arts comedy film with elements of Mad Max, baby’s first martial arts film and somehow The Warriors thrown in. Double Dragon does not know what it wants to be which makes it similar to Super Mario Bros but to a much stronger extreme. Add to that some atrocious acting and lacklustre action and Double Dragon firmly takes it place as one of the worst video game movies so far.
The movie is set in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, now named New Angeles, which was ravaged during a big Earthquake. The year is the far distant…uh…2007. It is funny watching a lot of these movies from the late 80s and early 90s predict that the world would go up in smoke by the 2000s. Should have set the movie in the 2020s instead. The villain, Koga Shuko (Robert Patrick) gets his hands on the first half of the Double Dragon, two medallions that offer the wielder control over body and soul. Shuko has the soul half and the body half in the possession of Satori (Julia Nickson) who is protecting it alongside two orphaned brothers called Billy (Scott Wolf) and Jimmy (Mark Dacascos).
The Lee Brothers are our protagonists and I am delighted to say that they are kind of awful! Well, that’s not completely fair – Jimmy is alright. Billy, on the other hand, is terrible. This was the early-to-mid 90s so he has a ‘tude, he breaks all of the rules and he just does not give a crap. Imagine Sonic the Hedgehog but human and somehow less charming. Congratulations you have imagined Jimmy. He even wears blue. It’s too apt.
They get disqualified from a martial arts tournament because Billy is the worst, get attacked by a strong dude called Bo Abobo, a terrifying name if I ever heard one (in the films defence, Abobo is actually from the games). After a car chase, Abobo crashes his truck, we meet Marion (Alyssa Milano) and then it is back home where Satori informs the brothers of what powers the medallion has, just in time for Shuko and his entourage – with a bigger, stronger and uglier Abobo by his side – to come in, get their asses kicked and blow up their home killing Satori and the only competent non-evil character.
The brothers mope for a minute before deciding to take down Shugo, they join forces with Marion’s gang, her dad is the Chief of Police and they go to confront Shugo but he eventually gets the other half of the medallion but then loses because the lights turn on and blind him(?). The brothers take the medallion, beat Shugo and the city is saved!
Those two paragraphs are pretty much the entire plot boiled down to its bare essentials but there is very little else to say about it. I will give the movie some credit, there is some decent world building here. The whole city is one of the more interesting parts of the film with the earthquake disaster actually playing a decently big role in how the plot plays out – there is a boat chase scene that ends with the water itself catching fire and causing a big explosion, for example. There is also the truce between the police and the various gangs of the city that would be an interesting idea in a different movie – where the police enforce a strict curfew at nighttime where gangs are allowed to roam free. However this also brings me to one of my biggest criticisms of Double Dragon.
The film switches tone almost per minute and as a result it is hard to tell what to take seriously or what is meant to be comedic. The gangs are a prime example of this. The gangs are introduced with Abobo, the actor for which is so over the top in his acting that it is clear that he is a comedic character. So is his gang buddy. In fact, most of the gangs we see are not to be taken seriously because they either look ridiculous – there is a postman gang – or they act ridiculous. Yet, halfway through the film they have a Warriors moment where Shugo gets all the gangs together to work for him and the way it is shot it is trying to so hard to make this feel like a big moment and that they are a threat. This is not long before the boat chase where a few dozen gang members still struggle to fight two teenagers.
The acting is almost as bad, with characters switching between moods with every breath they take. In the scene after Satori dies, Billy is sombrely looking at old photos and for some reason Jimmy gets angry and throws it into the sea. Billy is, understandably upset, but a few seconds later they are both okay and she barely gets mentioned again. She does get a Mufasa moment when they unite the Double Dragon which is not meant to be hilarious but it just feels completely mistimed and out of place.
Robert Patrick does his best to portray Koga Shugo with a mix of menace and comedy but he is let down by a bad script. It really would have benefited both his performance and the movie if he just got to concentrate on just being menacing and let his lackeys be the comedic foils. Patrick is by far the best actor in this movie but that is really not saying too much.
The one thing that might have saved Double Dragon could have been its action but even that is poorly done. The actor playing Jimmy is a legitimate martial artist, but as far as I can tell he is the only one. If they had just made a martial arts movie, it could have been decent but most fight scenes are at best basic affairs and at worst super awkward – the fight between the Police Chief and Linda Lash in particular.
Super Mario Bros. was a flawed yet ultimately enjoyable and charming movie. Double Dragon is just flawed all the way through and as much as I quite liked the world they created, I wish it was featured in a different movie. Bad acting, bad action and constant tonal switches mean that Double Dragon just felt it was double dragging on towards the end. Double Dragon just does not know what it wants to be and in the end the only thing it got to be was a box office bomb and a bad review on a website 25 years later. I can’t imagine a worse fate.