‘Wild, Wild West’ or — When a Giant, Mechanical Spider is The Least of Your Problems?

Colin Edwards
4 min readDec 2, 2020

I thought I’d revisit ‘Wild, Wild West’ (1999) last night as I was curious if it was as bad as I remembered. After all, it’s got a steampunk vibe, cool gadgets and two charismatic leads so how bad could it b… SWEET JESUS CHRIST!!!

Okay, I’ll admit I was never a fan of Sonnenfeld and Smith’s ‘Men in Black’ (1996) anyway, finding it grating rather than funny, irritating rather than charming and the whole film reeking of being a factory manufactured product. So when I found their version of ‘Wild, Wild West’ had that same stench I wasn’t surprised. What was surprising was how much worse the smell had become.

‘WWW’ starts off not too badly either, relatively speaking. Actually, that’s a total lie as the opening is terrible too with the first thing we see being some guy called “Bloodbath” McGrath (the only reason I remembered that name is because I had to look it up), whom we THINK is going to be the main bad guy but isn’t so immediately this scene is irrelevant. But after some decent opening credits, and a score from Elmer Bernstein that’s WAY too good for a film like this, we are introduced to our two main heroes, Smith as West and Kline as Gordon, who are informed by the President that America’s finest scientists have gone missing, presumably kidnapped by McGrath. Yes, we have to put up with grotesqueries such as Kline in drag, rusted ear-trumpets and a set of hypnotic tits to get here but at least we know what the mission (and, hopefully, the film) is about.

And then, only twenty minutes in the entire film falls off a fucking cliff and doesn’t recover, tumbling straight down, Wile E. Coyote-like, for 90 minutes until smashing itself into cinematic pulp on the rocks below where it will, hopefully, never rise up again. This film is a mess!

Anyway, after being given their assignment and teaming up Smith and Kline then spend an excruciating ten minutes arse-ing about on Kline’s train for no reason other than to, presumably, introduce themselves to each other (and us), but this is pointless as they’ve already met and know each other. We, and they, already know Kline is a gadget man and that Smith is a smooth talker so this scene just re-enforces what we already know and does so in a highly frantic, highly irritating, effects heavy manner. As I said, it’s a mess.

And then Kenneth Branagh turns up with a performance so ridiculously over the top I’m amazed he wasn’t shot with a tranquilliser dart from off-screen by the second AD. Once again, the word that comes to mind is “grotesque” and this is a truly grotesque performance and maybe the worst of Branagh’s career.

Yet this is also illustrative of ‘WWW’s main problem which is a total lack of taste and/or restraint. That’s one of Sonnenfeld’s weak-spots as he often conflates abandoning taste and restraint for possessing a limitless imagination and seems incapable of distinguishing between the two. You can see this in his camera-moves which flail wildly about, the special effects creaking and straining (and ultimately breaking) under the strain demanded of them to keep up with his “vision”.

Then there’s the “humour” which is either shit, shit and embarrassing, shit and offensive (there’s a lot of HIGHLY dated and dubious gags here usually revolving around racism or killing and/or sexually assaulting women), shit and infantile, shit and obvious or, more often than not, shit and shit.

After forty minutes, when Smith is about to be lynched (but, unfortunately isn’t meaning the movie has to continue), I literally had no idea what was going on. Then Salma Hayek turns up in what might be the most thankless, underwritten role there’s ever been for a woman. She is simply picked-up by Kline because she’s sexy and tags along with them… and that’s it. She has nothing to do, no function to serve and no reason to be in the film other than to show the camera her bottom… twice!

Then Branagh kills off “Bloodbath” McGrath with NO effect on the drama or story whatsoever because McGrath was never properly set up as a villain anyway meaning, once again, nothing has changed and that this has just been meaningless filler.

Meanwhile, Smith and Kline’s relationship descends into the truly obnoxious where shouting at each other equates to witty repartee before a giant, mechanical spider shows up and I’m left thinking — “HOW much money did you idiots spend on this?!” Indeed, the giant spider is an apt symbol of the movie itself — a highly expensive, ugly, ungainly, trundling, destructive folly that should never have been made in the first place.

For the rest of the movie money is then thrown at the screen and napalmed to fuck to the point you’re almost recoiling from the heat as millions of dollars go up in flames before your eyes. I felt like adverting my vision, not just because the film is awful but because it’s like looking at a nuclear blast of wasted creativity.

‘Wild, Wild West’ bombed big time on release and boy, is it all too clear why. It’s not just boring, ill-disciplined and unfunny but also visually and tonally ugly and crass. Maybe Jon Peters was right and every film should have a giant, mechanical spider in it because without it I have the feeling this film would be even more intolerable, and that’s fucking saying something.

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Colin Edwards

Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.