The following is the fourth in my series of meaningless written explorations of the movies of Jean Claude Van Damme, the Muscles from Brussels. While today is a Wednesday, I originally wrote this on a Tuesday (and not one of my better Tuesdays, at that). Because, you know, I have to explain everything. It’s what I do. It’s why I’m such a buzzkill at parties.
Compared to General M. Bison, I have had a pretty lousy Tuesday. It wasn’t the worst Tuesday, mind you, but it was a Tuesday that found me overworked and exhausted, feeling more like a Thursday than a Tuesday. I didn’t get to invade any villages, murder anybody’s fathers, pillage or plunder, I didn’t even have the opportunity to chew any scenery the way that Raul Julia does in his final film role in Street Fighter: The Movie.
Street Fighter gets it. While most of us who grew up with the massive insane phenomenon that was Street Fighter II (and SF II Turbo and SF II Championship Edition and Super SF II, etc. etc. etc.) remember seeing the movie and feeling slightly gypped by the deviations from the source material (Blanka as a failed super soldier experiment? Dhalsim as a scientist played by that sleazy dude from the cult of Khali in Tempe of Doom? T-Hawk as a scrawny commando dude with a headband?), there was still something inherently rad about Jean Claude Van Damme flexing his American Flag-tattooed biceps and executing ridiculous jumpkicks at Gomez Addams. It just took some of us 15 to 20 years to figure it out.
Street Fighter is widely considered to be pure, absolute commercial crap, but I’ll tell you what: It’s still to this day the best GI Joe movie I’ve seen. Digest that for a second.
Okay, ready? We’ve now had two (TWO) live action GI Joe movies. Both have been pretty bad as far as movies go, with the second one showing a marked improvement in terms of presenting something that actually resembles the GI Joe that we grew up with. Dwayne “Rocky Maiavia” Johnson makes for a passable Roadblock who looks the part more than acts it, Cobra Commander’s past as Duke’s best pal Rex is all but erased from memory (along with the dubious handling of the Baroness, who is never mentioned), there’s some totally tubular ninja action that steals the entire movie, and even Channing Tatum’s 8 minutes of footage is actually likeable and endearing in a “bros hanging out” kind of way. It’s much, much closer to GI Joe than the first flick, for certain, but let’s be fair: LOST’s Josh Holloway in a sailor suit arguing with a parrot for 90 minutes would still make for a better GI Joe movie.
But Street Fighter? Now that’s a GI Joe movie!
Guile is Duke. He delivers Duke speeches. His subordinates put all of their faith and loyalty in him the way that Scarlett, Flint, and the rest would do the same with Duke. Even when he fakes his own death, people react the way everyone reacts in the animated Joe flick when Duke “goes into a coma.”
I don’t care if he has a Belgian accent, Van Damme is Duke.
A power mad warlord who spends every second of screen time maniacally boasting and yelling orders at incompetent minions? A bad guy who enacts ridiculous schemes, prints his own money, develops fringe scientific experiments to create the perfect soldier, holds the world for ransom, and even seriously considers kidnapping the Queen of England while also planning a massive shopping mall in the shape of his army’s insignia? Is there a way for Bison to be more like the actual Cobra Commander?
Even Sagat makes for a better Destro than the one we got in Rise of Cobra. As an arms dealer aligned with Bison but barely trusting his partner, all Sagat really needs is a metal mask and a Russian aristocrat on his arm.
As an aside, I think in Steven De Souza’s mind, Sagat’s line, “In Shadaloo City, no one tells me anything,” sounded more impressive than it really sounds out loud. Sagat sounds like he’s the last to know about anything in the town he purportedly runs. “Nobody tells me ANYTHING! Gawwwd!”
I will freely admit that my GI Joe comparisons pretty much end there. I’m a massive GI Joe nerd, and know my shit forwards and backwards, but I have the damnedest time trying to find more analogues among the characters in Street Fighter: The Movie.
Kylie Minogue’s Cammy doesn’t really make for a very good Scarlett or Lady Jaye, but then she also doesn’t have a gratuitous undressing scene like Jaye has in Retaliation nor is she the object of male competition the way that Scarlett is in Rise of Cobra. She also does more in the movie than Cover Girl does before getting killed in Rise of Cobra, so she has that going for her as well.
T-Hawk, meanwhile, could be Flint as one of Guile’s right-hand people, but his character development has just as much depth as Flint’s in Retaliation.
As for characters who actually do are better developed in Street Fighter, it’s difficult to match them up to anybody in GI Joe.
Regardless, there is another important factor that makes Street Fighter the best live action GI Joe movie: the tone.
While sure, Larry Hama’s stories in the comics were more serious in tone when compared to the adventures depicted in the Sunbow cartoons, let’s be fair: they were still pretty goofy, and how could they not be when your job is to fit a testicle-crushing amount of different, ridiculous toys into every issue? Regardless of the tone that Hama attempted, GI Joe, in all of its media incarnations before the “Real American Hero” era of the toyline ended in the mid-90s, was jingoistic, hokey, over-the-top and filled to the brim with simple idealism.
This is where Street Fighter blows the recent actual GI Joe movies out of the water. Street Fighter is the product of mass commercialization and, admittedly, a manufactured sense of idealism that we all got to experience in the pre-9/11 world, but because it comes before the era of the “War on Terror,” it doesn’t feel the need to be “realistic,” or to let itself be bound by modern studio executives’ perceptions that everything has to be grim.
This is a movie where the good guys are essentially U.N. Peacekeepers (called the “Allied Nations” in the movie), in an optimistic world where the U.N. is incredibly effective and there apparently aren’t insane right-wing nutjobs that think the U.N. is a vast “one world government” conspiracy. It’s a movie where the commando dudes are all nice, freethinking, open-minded and surprisingly liberal when they aren’t invading a country and overthrowing its dictator in a fairly gung-ho neoconservative manner (“Now who wants to go home, and who wants to go WITH ME?!”). This is a movie where embedded TV journalists are apparently secretly kung-fu badasses. With all of these things, and with the premise of a war-torn southeast Asian country occupied by commandos, it’s still somehow kind of happy-go-lucky.
And while it certainly oozes with machismo, it’s a kind of machismo that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a Jean Claude Van Damme cartoon, not no-homo brodawg entertainment for guys in Affliction tees.
This is not to say that it has any more heart than the actual live-action GI Joe movies we have received to date: all are products of clueless studios looking for big money (no Whammies), with filmmakers who feel like they can somehow come up with something better than the source material they’ve been handed.
While Street Fighter is a great GI Joe movie, it’s an absolutely shitty Street Fighter movie.
In all the ways that Resident Evil and Doom fail as adaptations of the video games they’re named for, even in the ways that GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra failed as a GI Joe movie, so is Street Fighter an awful adaptation of its source material. Granted, it’s better than the more recent Legend of Chun-Li starring the hollow, emotionless doe-eyed girl from television’s Totally Not Superboy, but that’s not a surprise. What could be worse? (Answer: that Dragonball Z movie with the narc that totally screwed John Locke.)
Especially when you take into consideration the number of movies JCVD has starred in that feature him partaking in some kind of fighting tournament, it’s utterly bizarre that they attach him to a property like this and then give us a GI Joe movie instead. My assumption? De Souza’s only actual exposure to Street Fighter prior to writing the screenplay was probably just a pile of the Street Fighter GI Joe figures Hasbro put out. I picture him being walked into a meeting room at Universal and then a pair of Hasbro reps in clown suits run in and dump a wheelbarrow full of Sonic Boom Tanks on him.
As far as Jean Claude Van Damme movies go? It’s obviously not his best, but it does deliver two key Van Dammisms in spades: dick-exploding kicks and vomit-inducing one-liners.
Watch Street Fighter: The Movie. Love it. Revel in how many times you nearly shit your pants at its greatness/badness.