In El Mariachi, the title character spoke Spanish, was played by a largely unknown actor and played the guitar. It was also made for somewhere around $7,000. In its sequel, Desperado, the lead character — we’re to believe it’s the same unnamed character as before — speaks English, is played by Antonio Banderas and no longer plays guitar, except in his dreams. Since the first film was a success, director Robert Rodriguez was given a studio budget and more famous actors, something that I think works in the film’s favor.
If you’ve seen El Mariachi, you know that our hero was a wandering mariachi who ended up fighting against all odds thanks to a misunderstanding. In this one, he goes around killing people because it’s fun for him. Well, he also wants revenge because the love of his life was killed near the end of El Mariachi, but since the person that he’s blaming wasn’t directly involved in the murder, I’m not entirely sure of his reasoning. I think that he got revenge in his mind and decided to run with it until he gets killed or everyone else dies first.
Nevertheless, he plans to kill a man named Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida), who was the big boss of the drug dealers in the previous film. He has made friends with Steve Buscemi, who enters bars and tries to locate where this Bucho might be. He eventually finds one, and this is where the action starts. He tells a story where the mariachi takes down a bunch of people, and while he’s telling it, we get to watch the action on-screen. This is either the best or second bast action scene in the film, I’m not sure.
That’s as deep as the plot gets. Everything that happens after that point is directly related to the mariachi’s quest for revenge. There’s also another woman, Carolina (Salma Hayek), who hides him while Bucho and his gang members search for him. Then they become friends, and soon, lovers. She also shoots a couple of people throughout, because every single character in this film seems to have a desire to spill blood. Well, there is one kid who never picks up a gun, but I think that might have been the only character not to have one (and even he carries drugs at one point).
Like El Mariachi before it, Desperado contains a ton of action scenes. Every ten minutes or so, you’ll get a shootout of some sort. Unfortunately, that’s the only type of action scene there is. On one hand, that’s a good thing, as it means there’s no obligatory chase scene or what have you, but on the other hand, you lack variety when you only have gunfights. My mistake, there’s also one character who uses throwing knives too, but he doesn’t last very long considering he’s fighting against people who use guns.
There are only two memorable scenes in the film. The first is the aforementioned story scene while Steve Buscemi narrates. The second involves our lead shooting up a bad, in which he fears no bullet, and decides to do everything with as much style as possible. He knows that he’s the protagonist, which means that lackeys aren’t going to take him out, so he puts as much pizzazz into this fight as possible. This makes you appreciate it, while also allowing it to stick in your mind after Desperado ends.
There’s one more memorable scene, although it’s this way for the wrong reasons. At the end of the film, you expect a large shootout involving the bad guys and our hero. That’s how these things work; it’s been built up for the previous 90 minutes, after all. We don’t get one. As soon as the shootout starts, we fade to white. I remember this because I felt cheated out of what could have been an amazing scene. Robert Rodriguez showed us in El Mariachi that he knows how to direct action, and he proves it here as well. As a result, I wanted to see the final showdown, but we never do.
The most entertaining parts of Desperado — after those two action scenes — are the cameos that are scattered throughout. Actors like Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo, as well as director Quentin Tarantino appear throughout, while Steve Buscemi also doesn’t play as large a role as we initially expect. Even the first mariachi, Carlos Gallardo, gets an appearance at the end, although seeing him standing beside Banderas, who was playing his former character, did seem quite odd.
Just like El Mariachi, plot and characters are largely ignored in favor of the action scenes. The plot, as I mentioned earlier, doesn’t get any deeper than a man wanting to kill another man, and that’s also as much depth as the characters are given. Our lead is a steely-eyed killer with about as much emotion as a tumbleweed, and neither of the other characters get development either. They all serve the purpose of shooting guns and nothing else, which works for the action parts, but when the pace slows down, we get bored because the characters aren’t deep enough to keep us interested.
I think that Desperado is a better film than El Mariachi is, simply because it’s more memorable. I could actually recall two of the shootouts in this film, while I couldn’t remember any in its predecessor. I was only bored when the action came to a halt, which wasn’t all that often. Still, cheating me out of the scene we spend the entire film building up to is a great misstep, while ignoring development of characters made it hard to care about everything that was going on, even if the artistry is still there, and you can appreciate that.