In 1996, 15 years was a long time between sequels. The ’90s saw a lot more smoothing out of narratives, which is one reason why many movies from that decade don’t seem so dated. In the ’80s and before, everything was a bit looser and contained a lot more visual exposition in genres where now, we’re not at all used to–like action films.
1981’s Escape From New York is a good movie, but it feels dry and disjointed at times. Escape From L.A. is just a lot more fun and easier to follow. We get more depth from Snake Plissken and see him actually care about something and someone.
Just like New York, Los Angeles has now turned into an autonomous prison where the inmates are left to fend for themselves. It’s 2013 and the president’s daughter steals her father’s doomsday device, which can rid any nation or region of the world of their technology at the press of a button. She takes it into the prison and gets it to a mastermind criminal who intends to use this device to threaten the US government if they try to stop him from taking over the country. The government hires Snake (Kurt Russell) to retrieve this device.
The president believes that anyone who is convicted of performing an immoral act must be banished to L.A. Which is basically how real life prison works–except in this movie, he puts people away for eating red meat or not having the same religious beliefs as he does.
Basically, as rough as it is inside the walls of the L.A. prison, at least they have true freedom–unlike life outside the prison walls. This gives Escape From L.A. more of a wild west feel.
At one point, the villain says, “This city can kill anybody.” I can’t help but feel like this is also a parallel to the real life Los Angeles. People come here to become something and fulfill their dreams, usually to find out that it doesn’t happen as easily as they thought, or may never happen at all. It defeats them and eats them alive.
But depth of story is nothing without depth of character. Plissken actually seems vulnerable, and even has a hopeless look on his face at times. He’s given someone to care about other than himself for once, and his own personal philosophies and growth are more realized.
The film gives us a lot of information at first, but doesn’t take long to become engaging. The action scenes are entertainingly ridiculous. There’s an actual sequence where Snake is surfing a 40-foot wave next to a cliff, and then jumps from the wave onto the back of a car that’s driving on the cliff. It’s cartoony and silly, but intentionally. Another scene that takes place inside a pseudo-replica of Disneyland is another charm.
Just like the first film, it creates this whole world within the city walls, yet this one expands on that and even makes it a little more fun and mysterious. Making us feel like there’s so much more we haven’t even seen yet.
Escape From L.A. is an improvement on its predecessor. The themes are much more relatable and timeless. Escape From New York acts as commentary on the Watergate scandal, whereas Escape From L.A. talks about the state that this country has always been in. It has an epic feel and an extremely memorable and rewarding finish.