“Tell me, future boy, who’s President of the United States in 1985?”
“Ronald Reagan? The actor? Then who’s vice president? Jerry Lewis?”
The 1980s are the decade I have most anticipated. I wasn’t even alive for half of the 80s but I have a sincere obsession with this decade. The best movies, music and at least the most exciting styles come from the 1980s. Sure it may only be an outsider’s perspective on the time, but I seem drawn to this strange period in America’s history.
Conservatism was on the rise, the “new right” had established dominance after Jimmy Carter’s perceived failure of a presidency, and Reagan ruled the 80s. Though the Cold War would soon be ending, the fear of the evils of Communism were pivotal in American culture and politics. Thankfully David Hassellhof was able to swoop into the Soviet Union and cure it of its Communist ways.
If people weren’t fearing nuclear fallout, certainly the second highest public concern was the growing aids epidemic. Gay rights activism continued to grow and one of the major concerns expressed was the large amount of HIV in the gay community.
¹”Not knowing how it spread, people in the 1980s worried that they’d get sick from holding hands or catch the disease from a public toilet seat. There were no tests and no real treatments. The disease struck so many young men so quickly, and it seemed to target the gay community, so much that its first name was gay-related immune deficiency. Some just called it ‘gay cancer.'”
Dr. Jesse Peel
Equally unsure about how to handle this issue was the new Evangelical majority. Some called for love and to use this as an opportunity to share the gospel. Sadly the aids outbreak was too often used as a “sign of God’s judgement” and homosexuality was singled out as a sin greater than most. To a degree, the Evangelical church is still attempting to right the wrong of how it handled AIDs in the gay community.
As far as pop-culture goes, I think the 80s is pinnacle. When it comes to music, movies and fashion, we are still copying what was done. And you won’t hear me arguing! Here’s a look at three very significant 80s contributions to cinema.
First Blood (Rambo)
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy and Richard Crenna. Directed by Ted Kotcheff
The poster for Rambo is a perfect start to the movies I chose for the 80s. You’ve got Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mel Gibson, some of the biggest action movie stars on planet earth (and Planet Hollywood!). But these movies are truly not what these franchises and their stars would be known for.
The image above gives you the idea that First Blood is about Sly Stallone doing a lot of shooting with a really big gun. That’s very true for the sequels, but this first movie is actually a drama depicting the struggle of a Vietnam vet trying to fit into civilian life and being rejected by the people he thought he fought for. It’s an emotional drama that does include action but has much more to it.
John Rambo returns from Vietnam, the only survivor of his team, and wanders into a little town called Hope. Hope is run by Sheriff Teasel (Brian Dennehy) and he makes it clear that Rambo isn’t welcome in his town. Rambo is arrested but escapes the police station and the chase begins! Rambo makes it into the woods where the entire police force and eventually members of the Army Reserves hunt him down. In the woods, Rambo is back in his element and feeling pushed he responds with equal force. “They drew first blood, not me.” Rambo makes it back into town and unleashes his gorilla-warfare tactics on Teasel’s town. Rambo’s old commander Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) arrives and allows him to voice his frustrations in a powerful emotional break down. Rambo surrenders and credits roll to unsure consequences.
That plot summary really explains the movie in total. The core is simple but there are layers of action and a lot of emotion. This movie is rated R only because of Brian Dennehy’s mouth. There are some fun action sequences and a surprisingly small amount of blood. First Blood Part II and Rambo III are where the parodies come from. Rambo III includes one of the funniest and most unbelievable scenes in which Rambo cauterizes a wound in his side by pouring gun powder in it and lighting it on fire. The much later finale of the Rambo franchise simply titled Rambo (2008) is a slight return to the series’ emotional roots but also includes some of the most intense violence in any of the movies.
I really enjoy this movie. It always catches me off guard with its great acting and depth. It looks like a film out of the 70s and because it’s dealing with post-Vietnam America it very much could be. Sylvester Stallone gives a rarely-seen diverse performance. He begins the movie happy and enthusiastic. Over time he goes from apathetic to frustrated to vengeful. That’s not exactly the performance we get in Expendables 1-3.
It’s very strange to see the anti-soldier sentiments that characterize some of the post-Vietnam sentiment. In 2016 America, saying anything negative about a soldier is incredibly taboo regardless of your political affiliations. Here, Sheriff Teasel expresses displeasure with Rambo because he is obviously a soldier, and doesn’t want him and potentially more vagrant vets wandering into town.
“You know, wearing that flag on that jacket, looking the way you do, you’re asking for trouble around here, friend.”
If you can get past the language, I really recommend this movie a lot. Stallone’s emotional breakdown at the end had me truly hurting for this man, despite all the destruction be brought to this small town. And that’s not to imply he wasn’t pushed into doing what he did. The movie does a great job of inter-cutting Rambo’s arrest procedures with some of the trauma he experienced during his war time. At first, you understand both Rambo and Teasel and it’s hard to pick a side.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn. Directed by James Cameron
I feel like The Terminator is a movie everyone kind of knows regardless of whether you’ve seen it or not. While time travel plots can be tricky, this one doesn’t get to weighed down in the particulars.
In 2029, humans are at war with machines. The few remaining humans, led by John Connor, fight a rebellion that seems to be winning. In a final attempt to win the war, the machines send a cyborg in human skin (Arnold) back to 1984 to kill John Connor’s mother, Sarah to prevent the resistance from ever taking place. In response, John sends back his second in command, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to protect Sarah and stop the terminator. Kyle is eventually able to convince Sarah of the danger she is in after several encounters with the seemingly unstoppable man/droid. Kyle and Sarah eventually defeat the terminator by blowing it in half and then crushing its remaining parts. Kyle dies from his injuries and Sarah drives off into the literal and metaphorical storm, carrying Kyle’s child, the future leader of the human resistance.
Once again, this is another classic I truly enjoy. And it’s also another movie that is a lot smarter than later installments of the franchise might lead you to believe. Somehow James Cameron finds a way to get into a time-travel story, deal with issues of free will and determinism, and still make it accessible for an action-loving audience. Terminator 2 dives deeper into the details of fate and the effects of time travel. This movie gives you the basic structure of that complex issue and tells an interesting story within that.
One thing that struck me was how much this movie resembles John Carpenters Halloween.
When the Terminator arrives in 1984 he finds a phone book and gets the addresses of all Sarah Connors in the area. He then goes from house to house shooting them. There is a methodical, soulless quality that does more than just convey emptiness. Arnold deserves praise for portraying a robot, but not because he is a blank slate. He is clearly processing things and assessing situations, but he does so without any concept of humans having value.
⌈ I want to stop briefly and credit this film in a strange way. The core of this film is “machines take over the world and want to get rid of humans.” Then you send one of those machines back in time to get rid of a particular human who gives birth to the man who will stop all machines. If you are going to make that your thesis, then great. Let’s see how you do it. This movie pulls no punches in the overall idea. There is an emotionless robot that efficiently works out his mission. Civilians, police, anyone who tries to slow him down are mere roadblocks that need to be removed. But this is done in a way that is not grotesque. This isn’t a blood-fueled rampage. The concepts I’m describing seem intense but it is handled in a way that conveys terror without gore. This movie is violent, I don’t want to downplay that. But it isn’t done for shock and awe. It has purpose. ⌋
On the lighter side of things, this movie is dripping with the 80s. If you love big hair, synthesizer music, lazers, robots and a dance club called “Tech Noir,” you’ll get some.
One more content note. There is a brief sex scene with even briefer nudity. It is incredibly easy to know when it’s coming so skipping it isn’t a problem. Normally that’s something I would prefer to not have in a movie at all, but this one has purpose. One thing you come to find out is that Kyle Reese, the man John Connor sends back to save his mom, is actually his father. Did John know that? If he didn’t send Kyle back would he cease to exist? It opens up some great questions about paradox and theories of time.
This movie doesn’t dive heavily into it but their underlying belief is that our fate is determined. For the sake of this review I finally got around to watching the final installment of the franchise, Terminator Genisys. The first two movies are excellent and great fun. They are similar to Alien 1 and 2. A dark sci-fi drama followed by a fun sci-fi action. I recommend watching 1 and 2 together! Terminator 3 is a cheap knock off but adequate for afternoon tv watching. Terminator Salvation is a mess and boring. Terminator Genisys has some fun elements and is actually good for the first 30 minutes. After that it becomes loud nonsense with a poor imitation of the amazing transformation Linda Hamilton makes from T1 to T2.
I enjoy this movie a lot and I think it’s even better when you watch it with the sequel. The content earns the R rating so chose wisely.
Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior)
Starring Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Vernon Wells and Emil Minty. Directed by George Miller
I saved this one for last, despite it premiering before the others, because it is by far the strangest out of any movie I will be reviewing for the “Through the Decades” series.
Mad Max 2 or The Road Warrior follows Max (Mel Gibson) as he and his dog drive through the wastelands of post-apocalyptic Australia, trying to survive and find more fuel to just keep driving. Max is led to a large compound filled with men, women, children and plenty of fuel. He makes a deal that if he can help them escape their compound and get past a vicious gang led by Lord Humongous, Max gets all the fuel he can carry. Max leads a small group as a diversion away while the majority escape in buses. Max is left to roam the desert.
The story is simple, but the way it is told is what you pay for. This movie is insane and has the most unforgettable car chases you’ve ever seen. But before I go into the positive elements of this classic I need to underline the problem.
I cannot recommend this film. Which is tough because if you can edit out 45 seconds it would get 5 stars. The problem is, depending on which cut of the film you get, there is a rape scene. It’s seen from far away and is used to depict the lawless nature of the villains, but the bottom line is there is a rape scene in this film and I cannot endorse that. Depending on the version of the film you see it may be cut down, but I don’t feel like trying to navigate around this unnecessarily. With that said, I want to discuss all the great stuff in this movie.
First of all you are getting perhaps the youngest looking Mel Gibson you’ve ever seen. He says very little but gives a tremendous performance. This movie is a little bit of a redo of the first film which wasn’t very popular. That is why you get the interchangeable titles of Mad Max 2 or Road Warrior. I’ll save you the time and just say that the original Mad Max is quite slow, the Australian accents are hard to understand and the movie is quite boring until the last 20-15 minutes. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is the true completion of insanity that this film builds to. It was pretty fun and worth a watch. The most recent installment, a remake/reboot/sequel (?) is called Mad Max: Fury Road and I will get into that in a moment.
The Road Warrior has an Old Testament, book of Judges feel about it. The sense of a dangerous anarchy is in the air. They don’t go into much detail about why it is that way but depending on which version of the film you see, there is a small news reel at the beginning explaining that wars over oil led to a nuclear explosion that killed and disfigured most of humanity. Now the roads are owned by the most violent. Only the strong survive.
“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
The villains of the film are a wild gang led by the coolest/funniest persona in film history- The Lord Humongous. I love it. They are all outfitted in a slightly disturbing combination of leather, sports equipment and cloth. These guys seems very scary and unpredictable. Though you never get any sort of motivation or depth to them, they accomplish what’s needed and provide everything you want to see Max go up against.
There isn’t much to Max. He is a man with his dog and his car. He travels just because. There is a strange fatalism to him. He seems to feel tied to the barren desert roads. At the end he has the chance to escape with the compound of people to a place with water and clean air, but he chooses to stay behind.
I liked the majority of this film because it did such a great job of being high energy with almost no talking. Somehow you are invested in the well-being of Max and he says almost nothing in the whole film. And I cannot express how great the car chases are. That’s the central point to this film. Fast and Furious wishes they could do what this little Australian 1981 movie did out in the desert.
Mad Max 2 does break a big movie rule that says you can’t kill dogs or children. Max’s car is very much his child and it get WRECKED! And sadly, one of the gang members shoots the dog off camera.
Most of all what I was thinking through this whole movie (besides how strange and entertaining it was) is how great its remake was- Mad Max: Fury Road. That movie perfected the stunning visuals, edge-of-you-seat thrills, and crazy insane post-apocalyptic behavior. I adore that film and want to recommend it with a full blown 5 stars!
As I said, Mad Max 2 is great and exciting and strange but because of the content I cannot recommend it. Do with this review what you will, the movie is a strange look into the minds of irradiated Australians with nothing to live for and really cool cars.
Thanks again for joining me through the decades. I’m beginning to see some trends that I look forward to bringing out at the ends of all this. Now break out the flannel and turn up the Pearl Jam (or MC Hammer if you’re too legit to quit) because we’re heading to the 90s. I’ll be reviewing Fight Club, Seven and The Matrix.
As always, if you have any questions about these reviews, want to talk more 80s cinema, or want to debate what the greatest Power Ballad of all time is, leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And be sure to follow us on twitter @World_Re_Views as we post mini-reviews on movies and literature.
Reviews by Ryan.