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The plot, taking place during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, concerns government agents Jim West and Artemus Gordon attempting to prevent a renewal of the Civil War by amputee Southern Scientist Dr. Arliss Loveless and his giant mechanical spider. Just roll with it.
The movie did well at the box office since it was helmed by Men in Black director Barry Sonnenfeld reuniting him with Will Smith. Critics however were on the fence about it since the film didn't resemble the TV show much (Will Smith being cast as the lead role especially sparked off backlash). Added to the fact the pacing is uneven and often times throws out information that would've been best known earlier (Jim's backstory for example). Adding insult to injury, it won the 1999 Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture and Screenplay. (with Robert Conrad, star of the TV show, picking them up as a protest)
That said however, the film was praised for its special effects and creativity of steampunk tools and often regarded as a Cult Classic just for its fun premise.
The film provides examples of these tropes:
- Acting for Two: Kevin Kline as both Gordon and President Grant, including instances of Talking to Himself.
- All There in the Manual: The novelization explains how Jim West survived the 80 foot fall.
- And Then I Said: Artemus, while discussing Rita Escobar.
- And Starring: In one theatrical poster: "And Kenneth Branagh."
- Armed Legs: Jim West's blade-equipped shoes
- Artistic License Physics: The trap neckbraces have some truly inconsistent magnetism (the braces only attract themselves after Gordon hits them with a stone, the buzzsaws they're attracting rarely go in a straight line...).
- Batman Cold Open: Jim West and Artemus Gordon vs. General McGrath in the saloon.
- Belly Dancer: Jim West as "Ebonia", in a last ditch attempt to stall the meeting of Dr. Loveless and America's enemies and kill Loveless.
- Black Vikings: Jim West as a U.S. Army captain in 1869. Noted to be highly unusual.
- Blade Below the Shoulder: A Mook has swords that snap out of his wrists.
- Bodyguard Babes: Amazonia, Munitia, Miss Lippenrieder and Miss East.
- Briar Patching: Subverted. Artemus attempts to have Dr. Loveless capture him, dressed as Ulysses S. Grant, to lure him away from the real Ulysses. Loveless takes them both.
- Also, when Artemus is caught and about to be executed, he begs to be "shot in my heart, which has loved this country so much" because he is wearing his prototype for a bullet proof vest. Unfortunately, it doesn't work.
Loveless: Shoot him in the head.
- Brick Joke: West and Loveless continue their Volleying Insults near the end.
- Bulletproof Vest: Gordon's Impermeable.
- The Butcher: General "Bloodbath" McGrath is also "The Butcher of New Liberty".
- Chekhov's Gun: All of Gordon's inventions.
- Cool Train: The Wanderer
- Cosmopolitan Council: Dr. Loveless' foreign backers
- Cowboy Cop: Jim West
- Cyborg: Loveless and some of his Mooks.
- Dangerously Genre Savvy: "Shoot him in the head."
- Deadly Disc: Dr. Loveless' machine that fires high speed homing saw blades.
- Deadpan Snarker: Will Smith as Jim West.
- Artemus Gordon as well.
- Demoted to Dragon: We find this out about Bloodbath McGrath, when he is killed by the real Big Bad.
- Diabolical Mastermind: Dr. Loveless.
- Diabolus Ex Machina: When Rita Escobar turns out to be Professor Escobar's wife.
- Disney Death: West, who takes a point-blank gunshot to the chest but survives thanks to Gordon's "Impermeable".
- Disney Villain Death: Dr. Loveless and nearly all of his henchwomen towards the ending.
- Distressed Damsel: Rita Escobar
- Divided States of America: Dr. Loveless's plan for the U.S.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Loveless's rather phallic disc blade launcher.
- Dragon Lady: Miss East
- Dramatic Gun Cock: See Enhanced Interrogation Techniques below.
- Earn Your Title: General "Bloodbath" McGrath, AKA "The Butcher of New Liberty".
- Ear Trumpet: General McGrath has one, tipping out accumulated ear wax at one point for disgusting effect.
- Enhanced Interrogation Techniques: Jim West uses a Dramatic Gun Cock on "President Grant".
- Even Evil Has Standards: General "Bloodbath" McGrath is hardly a pleasant man, but he is haunted and horrified by Dr. Loveless's murderous inventions and his willingness to test them on human subjects.
- Evil Cripple: Dr. Loveless
- Exactly What I Aimed At
Loveless: "After all that, you missed?"
- Executive Meddling: Producer Jon Peters' obsession with Giant Spiders, carried over from his previous meddling with Kevin Smith's script for Superman Lives.
- Eye Remember: Retinal Terminus Theory
- Fake American: Kenneth Branagh
- Fake Boobs: Artemus Gordon has some.
- Faux Affably Evil: Dr. Loveless
- The Film of the Series
- Funny Bruce Lee Noises: Artemus Gordon, while performing his Karate Kid impersonation.
- Gadgeteer Genius: Artemus Gordon and Dr. Loveless.
- Gag Boobs: Gordon's woman suit has those. So does a woman whom West confuses for him in drag.
- Genius Cripple: Dr. Loveless
- Giant Spider: See Spider Tank below.
- Good Old Fisticuffs
- Groin Attack: Jim West to two of Loveless' Mooks on the giant spider's engine deck.
- Also subverted.
- Half the Man He Used To Be: Occurs in Dr. Loveless' Backstory, but he survives.
- Hand or Object Underwear: West's hat.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Gilderoy Lockhart is the Big Bad.
- Hurricane of Puns: Jim West's and Dr. Loveless' Volleying Insults.
- I Surrender, Suckers: Jim West to Loveless' cyber Mook.
- I Know Karate: A Mook tries this on Jim West.
- Identical Stranger: Artemus Gordon looks like President Grant without the beard.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: No more mister knife guy.
- When Gordon is considering what to name his new flying invention: "Air... Gordon."
- In Joke: The "DO NOT PUSH" train button is an obvious nod to Sonnefeld's previous venture, Men In Black.
- In Name Only: TV show = Western + Spy Drama. Movie = Steampunk + James Bond.
- In fact, the movie looked more like Men in Black in the Wild West than anything resembling the TV show.
- Interrogating the Dead
West: That's a man's head...
- Intimidation Demonstration: During Jim West's battles with several of Dr. Loveless' Mooks inside the giant spider robot, one of his opponents does some fancy martial arts moves and says "I learned that from a Chinaman."
- Instant Awesome, Just Add Mecha: The giant spider.
- It's Personal: West wants to kill Loveless because he's the one responsible for the massacre that killed his parents.
- Knockout Gas: Artemus Gordon's sleeping gas billiard balls, except for one.
West: That was not sleeping gas!
- Large Ham and Cheese: Kenneth Branagh.
- And Kevin Kline.
- Last Request: Artemus, disguised as President Grant, tries to get Loveless to kidnap him instead of the real Grant in the finale. It doesn't work.
- Done again when Loveless threatens Grant by shooting his men, starting with Gorden. Gorden, knowing he's wearing a bulletproof vest, ask that he be shot in the heart to symbolize the country he loved. Loveless, true to his name, orders him to be shot in the head.
- Licensed Game: Wild Wild West: The Steel Assassin.
- The Load: Rita.
- MAD Magazine: Mild Mild Mess.
- Loves the Sound of Screaming: For practical purposes, of course. Loveless makes a note to drill his gunners harder after the screams of their victims prove unsatisfactory.
- Mad Scientist: Dr Loveless
- Made of Iron: Jim West falls 80 feet (5 stories) to the ground. The film seems to try and almost justify this by Jim being knocked out and severely bruised up when he wakes but the fact still stands.
- Master of Disguise: Artemus Gordon
- Meaningful Name / Punny Name: All of Loveless' Paid Harem Bodyguard Babes. Loveless himself too.
- Mexico Called They Want Texas Back: Texas and California will be returned to Mexico.
- Mistaken for Gay / Not What It Looks Like: The whole "touch my breast" scene.
- Mister Big: Dr Loveless
- Ms. Fanservice: Salma Hayek's character Rita Escobar, especially in her corset.
- The Name Is Bond, James Bond: "Mr..." "West. Jim West"
- Nitro Express: At the beginning of the film, Captain Jim West jumps on a wagon carrying cases of nitro (with only hay for padding) for a renegade regiment of the former Confederacy.
- Nobody Here but Us Statues: Loveless' Mooks hiding in the paintings.
- Of Corsets Sexy: Pretty much every female character's costume for most of the film (except for Garcelle Beauvais, who went without.)
- Official Parody
- One Bullet Left: Artemus Gordon's derringer.
- Overcome Their Differences: Jim and Artemus
- Overly Long Gag: See Volleying Insults
- Paid Harem: Dr. Loveless' Bodyguard Babes
- Pay Evil Unto Evil: Jim West's insulting Dr. Loveless about his amputee status.
- Politically-Correct History: Jim West is a U.S. Army officer before the U.S. Army had black officers.
- However, it averts it pretty much everywhere else. Jim gets himself in a lot of trouble for misbehaving at a party full of white people.
- Politically-Incorrect Villain: The strongly racist Dr. Loveless.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "No more Mr. Knife Guy.
- Punch-Punch-Punch Uh-Oh: Jim West while fighting a cyborg mook.
- Pursued Protagonist
- Quizzical Tilt: When the dog looks at Bloodbath McGrath's ear trumpet. Serves as a Shout-Out to the RCA logo, even referred to as such in the script.
- Race Lift: Will Smith. Not the sort of thing that would make a bit of difference in this sort of work but of note since he plays an U.S. Army captain at a time when there were no black Army officers.
- There's also the issue of his dialect. No matter what race, West would not speak like he was, let's say, 1980s West Philadelphia, born and raised.
- Raised by Natives: Jim West, by Native Americans.
- Rant-Inducing Slight: Artemus Gordon after he and Jim West escape the Deadly Discs. See the Funny Moments entry.
- Rasputinian Death: McGrath is shot and thrown into a river before slowly bleeding to death.
- The Remnant: The ex-Confederates Jim fights at the start of the movie.
- Rescue Romance: Appears to be occurring with Jim, Artemus and Rita Escobar.
- Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony: President Grant hammering in the Golden Spike.
- Riding Into the Sunset: Played with by Jim West and Artemus Gordon in the last scene.
- Rule of Three: "That is a man's head".
- Salt and Pepper
- Say My Name:
Gordon (chuckling maniacally) Oh ho ho, I see. Now I'm the "master of this mechanical stuff." As opposed to five minutes ago, when I was calmly and coolly trying to find a solution to this very problem. But then something happened. Someone, who will remain nameless...
- Scenery Censor
- Scenery Gorn: The scenographic town of Silverado (built for the eponymous film) was destroyed for the scene the spider tank attacks it. (Silverado's director even receives a Shout-Out.)
- Shiny New Australia: Loveless wants most of the U.S. Northwest to retire on.
- Shout-Out: A scene imitates the painting on RCA's logo.
- Soul Brotha: Will Smith. Parodied and lampshaded on occasion, whenever Gordon suggests he act stereotypically black.
- Spider Tank: An eighty foot tall Giant Spider tank.
- Stand in Portrait: Loveless' Mooks hiding in the paintings.
- Steampunk: The contraptions created by Dr. Loveless.
- Super Wheelchair: A Steampunk, walking, shotgun armed, wheel chair for Dr Loveless.
- Tap on the Head: Jim West to General "Bloodbath" McGrath with a punch.
- Played more realistically, since McGrath was only down for a few seconds.
- That Makes Me Feel Angry:
Dr. Loveless: I am a visionary! I am a genius! And now I am angry!
- Theme Tune Cameo: Elmer Bernstein's score quotes Richard Markowitz's theme for the original show at one point (in the scene where West rides away from the train), but it's not mentioned in the end credits.
- Theme Tune Rap: Sung by Will Smith.
- They Fight Crime
- This Is as Far as I Go: The train's engineer, and US Marshal Coleman
- This Is Gonna Suck: After Jim West activates one of Loveless' death traps.
Gordon: [deadpan] And now we have to run.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Jim's reaction to Gordon's doctor friend. Despite the Squick factor, it may double as a Crowning Moment of Funny.
Jim: That... is a man's... head.
- Thong of Shielding: Miss East
- Traintop Battle: Between James West and Loveless' Native American henchman.
- Trap Door: On the command deck of Loveless' giant spider.
- Trashcan Bonfire: The former Confederate soldiers have some at their meeting place.
- Trigger Happy: Jim West.
- Actually Lampshaded by the President: "And you, West. Not every situation calls for your patented approach of shoot first, shoot later, shoot some more, and then when everybody's dead try to ask a question or two."
- Two-Person Pool Party: Jim and a buxom lady in a water tower
- Ulysses S Grant: The president in charge. Artemus disguises himself as Grant twice.
- Ironically, according to some historians, this film is actually one of the more dignified portrays of Grant on film, showing him as a tough, calm, and collected leader as he was in Real Life. Most film portrayals have either exacerbated his reputation for drunkenness or have thrown Grant into the background.
- Underside Ride: Jim West does this, using a cart designed to let him move between the train they were on, and a chase train. Unfortunately, the rope connecting him breaks.
- Universal Driver's License: Artemus Gordon has a Universal Pilot's License. Justified, since everything we see him driving was INVENTED by him. The only exception is the Spider Tank, which he did not invent and is seen having severe trouble with the first time he tries to steer it.
- US Marshal: Artemus Gordon. Also Coleman, the train's engineer.
- Villain Opening Scene: It starts with Colonel MacGrath and the death of a scientist.
- Volleying Insults: West and Loveless do this at every opportunity; Loveless with a racist tone and West ridiculing Loveless' lack of legs and newfound shortness.
- Wardrobe Malfunction: The bottom falls out of Salma Hayek's pajamas.
- Water Tower Down: How Jim West meets some former Confederate soldiers.
- What a Drag: Gordon, holding a high-powered magnet, is pulled toward a railroad track and dragged through the desert sands on the way.
- A Worldwide Punomenon: Jim West's and Loveless' Volleying Insults.
- Ironically, this is one of the few aspects of the film that is true to the TV series, as Markowitz was never credited with writing the theme there either (long story).