After Escape from New York, I felt underwhelmed. Maybe it was because of the relatively small budget, maybe it was the technology limitations, or maybe it was a whole host of other reasons, but it seemed as if the action scenes never lived up to the potential that they had. It could have been an incredibly fun and unique adventure, but most of the former dissipated because all of the things in the film were rudimentary.
I mention this for two reasons. First, because Escape from New York is Escape from L.A.‘s predecessor. Yes, after more than 15 years, there was a sequel. Second, the sequel fixes this problem. I’m leaning toward the low budget being the reason that we didn’t have great action scenes, as Escape from L.A. was given a $50 million budget, and we get much more impressive action scenes this time along. In many ways, Escape from L.A. plays out like a remake because of how much material seems stolen from the earlier film, and yet because it’s bigger and more entertaining, I’m inclined to call it better, even if it is very derivative of its New York iteration.
The premise this time around involves an earthquake separating Los Angeles from the rest of the United States. Because that’s apparently a bad thing, the new government decides to use it as a place to hold all of the morally corrupt people its police force captures. So, yes, it’s more or less the exact same thing that was tried in New York in the first film. Not much mention is made about what happened to that city, although presumably, it still exists. I wager that since the government is now arresting people for wearing a fur coat or other such blasphemies, it needed more room.
Somehow, despite managing to evade authorities for years, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is once again captured. He gets told that he has another choice: Either be thrown into L.A., or rescue the MacGuffin that is within it. He chooses the latter, and is, this time, given a 10 hour time limit. The MacGuffin isn’t the President of the United States this time, though, it’s a device that could wipe out all electricity on the planet with the push of a button. The president’s daughter, Utopia (A.J. Langer) stole it from her father, and is hiding inside Los Angeles with her boyfriend, Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface), who functions just like the Duke from New York.
Once again, Snake meets a bunch of secondary characters along the way. Most of them come and go as the film pleases, which is too bad, because I thought some of them were actually interesting. Steve Buscemi turns up as a man who may work for Cuervo, or might not. Peter Fonda plays a surfer who only has a couple of scenes, but is involved in one very impressive action scene, while Pam Grier and Bruce Campbell also show up in secondary roles. I would argue that’s a better cast than the first film. And unlike in New York, I didn’t find most of them annoying and taking away from the main character, Snake.
I also found the plot to be better paced. Maybe it’s because there was a lot more to look at because the action scenes were much more impressive, but it seemed as if there were far fewer dull moments. In the first film, Snake spent a lot of time just wandering around trying to figure out where he was going. This time, he has much more of a focus and gets to do a lot more. He doesn’t look bored while he’s performing a motorcycle race, surfing a tsunami or, in the film’s most comedic action scene, shooting a basketball.
What’s even more shocking is that something as silly as that final example actually is very thrilling. I was tense throughout that entire challenge (you’ll see exactly what he has to do when you watch this film), and I probably held my breath the entire time he was on the court. Yes, it’s cheesy, as are many other scenes in the film, but the action is pulse-pounding regardless.
Unfortunately, unless you wanted a bigger and more explosive version of Escape from New York, you’ll probably be somewhat disappointed in this film. Its characters have less depth, most of this film is a retread of the first, and it is even cheesier. I didn’t mind all of this, though, as what I wanted was the same film with better action scenes. That was the biggest issue I had with the first film, and since this one kept me more entertained with its action, I couldn’t have been happier while watching it after being letdown by Escape from New York.
However, you can’t call Escape from L.A. “unique,” which was the biggest strength that its predecessor had. Everything is derivative, largely from the earlier installment, and as a result, nothing feels fresh. Apart from the action scenes, which are generally quite impressive, the film also feels cheaper, despite having a budget multiple times in size. I’m not sure what did it — possibly the reliance on more green screens and CGI — but the look of the film didn’t seem as authentic as the earlier film did.
I had a lot of fun with Escape from L.A. Sure, it isn’t as unique as it was when our setting was New York, but the potential that wasn’t reached last time seemed to be fully realized this time around. The action scenes were just so much better, and this led to the characters — and us, by extension — not feeling bored. Snake Plissken gets to do a lot more in this film, and that led to it being an enjoyable experience.