‘Wild Wild West’ Review: We Goin’ Straight To The…

Posted in The Screening Room by - February 04, 2015

We start off this month’s science fiction movie marathon with Wild Wild West, a science fiction steampunk western, featuring Will Smith, Kevin Kline, a cut in half Kenneth Branagh, and a giant mechanical spider. If that doesn’t sound amazingly over the top to you, then stop reading right now. This movie gets a bad rap because it takes the source material and doesn’t stick to it at all, instead doing something so wildly imaginative and creative with a basic premise. It’s one of the most original movies I’ve seen, and it’s also quite ahead of its time even if it is essential Men in Black In The West

The movie follows Will Smith as Captain James West and Kevin Kline as Artemis Gordon, two government agents sent by the President U.S. Grant, also played by Kline, are sent to stop Dr. Arliss Lovelace, played by Kenneth Branagh. Smith is essentially riffing on his Agent J character from Men in Black playing yet again a wise-cracking agent except this time they give him a somber back story. Kline’s Gordon is an western Da Vinci, inventing a motorcycle and other Q-esque gadgets along with a plethora of costumes that he uses to comical effect. Their characters play off of one another superbly, with Kline playing the straight man to Smith’s comedian. The chemistry between the two is one of the strongest aspects of the film.

The real over-the-top nature of the film is provided by Kenneth Branagh as Lovelace who is literally half of a man due to an accident fighting for the South in the Civil War. Branagh, who is Irish, hams it up with his Southern accent, chewing the scenery in every scene he is in. His performance is pretty great and yeah, it’s really ridiculous, but it’s ridiculous in a good way. He also seems to have a indescribable affinity for spiders, possibly due to the fact he has no legs so he feels like he must compensate. Along with his campy Southern accent and arachnid obsession, his nefarious plan involves the building of an 80 foot tall mechanical spider so that he may divide up the country back to its original owners along with some land for himself. It’s campy and laughable but not in a bad way.

The gadgets and gizmos of the movie are pretty awesome with a huge influence from the steampunk world. Steampunk wasn’t really a “thing” back in 1999 so Wild Wild West was way ahead of its time when tapping into the steampunk culture. Gordon’s costumes and gizmos provide for some of the biggest laughs of the film, as well as factoring into action scenes. Along with the gadgets, there are a fair number of pretty clever pop culture references that hold up pretty well 16 years later. They are chuckle worthy, but the true laughs come from Will Smith. He is a master of comedy and brings humor to every scene he is in, especially the action scenes. I wish Smith made more movies like this and less like After Earth

Wild Wild West is by no means a serious film, serving as more of a parody of westerns rather than a serious take on the genre. While most wouldn’t classify it as a science fiction film, the steampunk elements along with the alternate history take on the post-Civil War west pushes it into sci-fi. It’s too bad Wild Wild West didn’t catch on like Men in Black did as it was clearly setup as a franchise as I would loved to have seen more adventures from Gordon and West. Don’t believe the bad press; Wild Wild West is a comedic sci-fi sendup of westerns that was ahead of its time and still holds up, along with the fact it features one of the greatest songs of all time: 

Final Say: Watch It

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Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He’s a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You’ll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.

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