Death Race - Multi Movie Review
Death Race Movies 2008 - 2018
By Movie Knight
With the release of Death Race 4: Beyond Anarchy I decided to go back and re-watch the franchise before watching this new addition. After watching the four films back-to-back, I can say with some certainty that it's not something I'd recommend; you should probably stop after watching the first two!
Death Race (2008)
Jason Statham stars in this gritty modern remake of the 1975 cult political satire Death race 2000. The prisons have been bought over by private co-operations who, in it for the money, broadcast the live event of the Death Race – a deadly game where prisoners will race each other in armed vehicles to win their freedom. It's kill or be killed, and Frankenstein is only one win away from gaining his freedom. Until things take a horrible turn. After being wrongfully imprisoned for his wife's murder, ex-NASCAR driver Jensen Ames (Statham) is made an offer by the prison's warden Hennessey (Joan Allen): if Ames takes on the persona of Frankenstein and wins one race, she'll let him go to be reunited with his young daughter.
Jensen accepts but soon discovers its a ruse and that she has no intention of letting him go. With the help of his pit crew and fellow death racers, can Jensen escape the warden's plans and get back to his daughter before the prison or the race kills him?
This is a very loose remake. Director Paul W. S. Anderson himself actually likes to think of it more as a prequel, but it does stand on its own having very little to do with the cheesy original. As an actor, Statham has become typecast in his roles, but like the action heroes of the 80's, it works for him - and he's in far better shape than Stallone and Schwarzenegger whose attempts to try and pull off the rugged hero character are becoming increasingly embarrassing. Sorry gents, your time is over. This is one of those Statham roles where he shines: full of cars, guns, fights, cars with guns, fights with cars with guns - it's got it all. The story's pretty basic, but between the action and the supporting cast – including Joan Allen,
Ian McShane, Jason Clarke, and even a voice-over cameo from original Frankenstein David Carradine - there's plenty to keep you entertained, especially if, like Moviewoof, you enjoy a good Statham action flick.
Death Race 2 (2010)
A prequel to the last film telling the story of original Frankenstein Carl "Luke" Lucas (Luke Goss). When his uncle Markus Kane (Sean Bean) puts Luke in charge of a “routine” bank robbery, plans start to crumble when two police officers casually enter the bank. Bullets start flying causing Luke to shoot a police officer. As the getaway driver, he helps his accomplices escape, but he himself is soon caught. Since he refuses to give any information about his uncle, he is sent to Terminal Island Prison: home of The reality TV show Death Match - a live broadcast where prison inmates fight to the death. When the prisoners stop killing each other, the networks realise they need a new angle to bring the viewers back. And so Death Race is born. Pitting the inmates against each other again, if they can win five races they
will be released regardless of their crime. When Markus discovers the whereabouts of his nephew he worries that Luke may talk and offers a million dollars to the person who silences him. So the prisoners, with a million-dollar offer and a race to run that could potentially earn their freedom, set out to kill Luke in the Death Race. Can he survive the race and earn his freedom?
Did you know Luke Goss was in a Boy Band? No? Count yourself lucky, because I still remember! Luckily he's come a long way since his Bros days and makes a better actor than a singer. Going for a prequel as opposed to a tired, repetitive sequel was definitely a good move with the film telling the story of the first Frankenstein. There is only one returning main character in geeky Lists (Frederick Koehler), who joins Luke on Terminal Island. They soon strike up an unlikely friendship when Luke saves him from a Death Match. Veering away from the escape storyline of the last film, the main goal here is simply to win Death Race, with the added tension of Markus wanting Luke dead. Overall this is a good follow up saving the persona of Frankenstein for the end to provide a satisfying link with the previous film. This is
Luke's story and the writers deserve kudos for branching out with new characters instead of falling into the prequel trap of putting the pre-existing characters through their paces in a pointless dance where everyone knows how it ends. Once again the supporting cast is strong: Lauren Cohan (The Walking Dead), Sean Bean (SPOILER: He dies), Ving Rhames, and, what sequel/prequel wouldn't be complete without...Danny Trejo. It tells its own story and the ending sets it up perfectly for the next instalment of the story. If you enjoyed Death Race (2008), you'll enjoy this. Goss is a good replacement for Statham and this is a strong prequel that isn't afraid to branch out on its own and carve out an entertaining story of
Death Race: Inferno (2013)
Continuing shortly after the last instalment, Carl "Luke" Lucas (Luke Goss) is 'officially' dead and Frankenstein is just one race away from winning freedom for him and his pit crew. That is until Niles York (Dougray Scott) forces the Wayland company to sell him the rights, intent on making a franchise of Death Race. Unwilling to let his star racer Frankenstein go, he moves the race to South Africa and threatens to kill Frankenstein and his crew if he should win. Not willing to give up the freedom of himself or his team, Frank/Luke - with some help from R.H. Weyland (Ving Rhames) - comes up with a plan to ensure he wins and gets the freedom he's fought for. So what can we say about this film? Em...At least they got the cast back from the last film...and they get to finish Luke's story...oh, and I am a fan of Dougray Scott, so it was nice to see he's still acting. Aside from that though there are a lot of flaws in this movie. First off, at the end of the last film, Luke is left burned and horribly scarred, hence the need for the mask and the persona of Frank - two minutes into this sequel and they completely fix his scars for...reasons? They did try to change up the Death Race itself to stop it feeling repetitive, but by this point, there isn't all that much you can do to make it different, so they
moved it to Africa, for...more reasons? Repeating the plot of the first film by not wanting to let Frank go, it's just something we've already seen. My biggest gripe though comes in the escape plan which, no matter how you look at it, depended entirely on luck...or more bluntly - because the script said so. The plan even required characters to be dumbed down to even pass as believable. It did, however, have an interesting ending with a new character being set up to take the place of Frankenstein – in fact, if they had seen that storyline through, it would have been a far more interesting film than the one we actually got. It's worth watching if you want to see the end of Luke and his crew's story, or you could just watch the first movie again in its place – you'd never know the difference.
Death Race: Beyond Anarchy (2018)
Probably the biggest change for the franchise, and the first 'sequel' to the 2008 Death Race. The death race has now been deemed immoral and has been made illegal but in the maximum-security prison (think Escape from New York on a smaller scale) Frankenstein (Velislav Pavlov) rules, and Frankenstein races. After a failed attempt to take out Frank, a black-ops specialist Conner (Zach McGowan) is sent in to enter the Death Race and take out Frankenstein in a bid to finally put an end to the Death Race and get the inmates back under control. Ugh...I don't know if it was watching the franchise in one sitting or not, but this one was a chore to get through. Frankenstein is now the antagonist in this film and loved by all the inmates (most inmates). We never get to see his face, but then again, he's not the main character this time. Conner is our “hero,” and I had zero interest in either character. Lists (Frederick Koehler) shows up again alongside Danny Glover as Baltimore Bob and Danny Trejo pointlessly reprises his role as Goldberg. It feels as though they were brought in just to have the familiar faces and another fairly well-known actor on screen, but ultimately weren't really required. There was a lot of female nudity throughout the film harking back to the exploitation of the original Death Race 2000 but minus the satire. It just felt unneeded, and at times just lingered for far longer than it should have. A cheap, lazy ploy from the film maker's to try and distract from the fact that there is nothing exciting or interesting about the characters, storyline or action sequences. The movie opens with some clunky dialogue and some cheap CGI which will distract you from the get-go, and it doesn't get any better. There's not much more I can say as the film just didn't grab my attention. Probably give this one a miss unless you're OCD and need to finish the series.
Overall the franchise has its ups and its downs – and it just so happens the films were released in that order. The first film is well worth revisiting, and the second is an enjoyable prequel. The franchise starts to lose itself in the third outing but it could still be seen as somewhat worthwhile as it finishes off the story that part two started. The newest instalment is trying to breath new life into the franchise and give us a new original story, but it just doesn't work and may have just killed it dead instead. Don't waste your time or money.