Allegedly based on the television show of the same name, which I have never seen, Wild Wild West follows Captain James West (Will Smith) and U.S. Marshall Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) as they are ordered by President Grant (also Kevin Kline) to stop Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh) and his plot to take over the United States government.
I think the first problem with this movie that I have to point out is the historical inaccuracy. I know that sounds like kind of a pointless thing to talk about with a movie like this, but aside from all of the steampunk and the story, they are trying to place the film in the 1870s and doing a pretty terrible job of it. First off, a bit of nitpicking: there’s a point early on where they try to establish that the movie takes place in some time shortly after the Civil War by showing the dome of the U.S. Capitol being built. Of course, it’s pretty basic knowledge that this dome was finished in 1866, when Andrew Johnson was still president. This pretty much set the mood for the film, at least for me, knowing that the people who made the film did absolutely no research on the time period in which it took place.
One a more important note, they bring up West’s race a lot in the film. This is to be expected with the time period, but the way it is handled is incredibly poor, stereotypical, historically inaccurate and a little bit racist (in a way other than intended, of course). The only Southerners in the film are stuck-up rich white people, angry at black people and disgruntled over the outcome of the war. Incidentally, I’m pretty sure other than the girl he’s hooking up with at the beginning of the film, West is the only black character in the entire film. That’s including extras. Oh, and here’s a little bit of importance: Jim West on the TV show was white, so having him black in the movie was either specifically put in there to address the slavery issue or they hired Will Smith before writing it and decided to shove it in there because, “Hey, we got a black guy.” And I’m really hoping the latter is not the case because then it’s incredibly racist.
Regardless of whether that happened, the script is just terrible. The story is childlike and basic, with very forced chemistry between West and Gordon. The dialogue contradicts itself constantly. There are several points where West says that Gordon’s crazy inventions are bad and don’t work, but they seem to work perfectly fine. They may be completely insane and unnecessary but they work. Pretty much the only thing that did work about the movie was the villain, but that was only due to Kenneth Branagh’s performance. Loveless himself is a terrible villain with a tasteless gimmick and some very bad dialogue, but Branagh is a good enough actor to make it work for him. He’s not given a lot but his performance is what kept me from tearing my eyes out of my head.
I mentioned the inventions before and the steampunk aspect and I think that’s one of the biggest annoyances of the film. Apparently one of the things that at least somewhat stayed true to the television series is that Gordon invents things that help them out of jams. But the things he invents in the movie are illogical and make everyday tasks far more problematic than they should be. The guy keeps a spring-loaded pen and pad of paper in his jacket. West makes a point of how stupid this is and it’s just brushed aside, but it’s a legit point. Why would that make sense to build? There’s also a point later on where Gordon explains that he made a few alterations to West’s clothes, adding gadgets I would assume. I have to assume of course because we never see any of these, which is another throwback to the carelessness of the writing.
Also, why would Loveless’ steam-powered wheelchair be a good idea? Or for that matter, why would Loveless’ giant robot spider be a practical method of transport? In fact, they make a point early on that Loveless has a tank, but then they just throw that aside for the giant spider. So what was the point of the tank? And what was the point of the spider motif anyway? Loveless just seems to be obsessed with spiders. usually when a villain does something like this, they explain it at some point. Something they like about the animal or the weapon or the thing that they obsess over. But not Loveless. Loveless just really likes spiders, so much so that he goes out of his way to build giant robot spiders.
This is the sort of movie that takes away my faith in film as a medium. There is a reason this is considered one of the worst movies ever made, though I’d personally disagree with that claim. It is an enduring piece of garbage filmmaking that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.