Cinema for Steampunks: Wild, Wild West (1999) Review

TV ShowThe television show Wild, Wild West, ran from 1965-1969. The 1999 movie by the same name was one of my absolute favorites in my teens. I’m sure I can’t be the only 30-something out there who can remember boogieing to Will Smith’s theme song at school dances.

Like the TV show, the movie is about two special agents for the US government upholding the law in the heyday for cowboys. Despite the title, the film does not actually take place out West at all (most of the movie is set in New Orleans), but is actually a pun on the name of Will Smith’s character, James West. Under orders from the president, he forms an reluctant alliance with his gadgetly-inclined partner, Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) are on the trail of a notorious Civil War general who was responsible for a masacre during the war. West is an impulsive, “shoot first, shoot second, shoot some more and if there is anyone left alive maybe ask a question or two” type of hero, where Gordon is a thinker and tinkerer, so you can imagine they don’t always see eye to eye.

Main 3Little do they know that he is cahooting with a brilliant inventor, Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branaugh), who is bent on revenge against the North. He has kidnapped several scientists to help him complete his work, which brings the lovely songbird Rita (Selma Hayek) into the picture as she tries to rescue one of them by going undercover as part of Loveless’ entourage. With her help, West and Gordon must stop the mad scientist from assassinating President Grant (also Kevin Kline).

What I thought of Wild, Wild West

Flying machine

I know a lot of people panned this movie when it came out, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable then and now. I think a lot of the criticism came from the fact that people felt it did not live up to Smith’s blockbuster movie a few years earlier, Men in Black, and Agent West and Agent J were almost the same character, just in a different black suit. This is true, but I didn’t really see that as a problem. I loved MIB, and so I loved WWW. Smith of course was not the only actor in the film, and I very much enjoyed Kline and Branaugh’s performances. The gadgetry was fabulous and includes a massive spider-like war machine and train car full of trickery.

I would absolutely recommend this film to Steampunk fans who are looking for some light-hearted fun.

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