This review is of the edited TV-14 version of the film. All thoughts below should be addressed as such as a review of the unedited version would likely be more negative.
I wasn’t too familiar with The Running Man, but the plot definitely sounded like a lot of fun. A corrupt dystopian world has come up with a reality show where assassins chase convicts around. Seems messed up enough for this future. Then throwing in Arnold Schwarzenegger into the picture just makes the whole thing that much more epic. I can safely say that the film was pretty fun and is one that you won’t want to miss.
Ben used to work for the government, but when he defied their orders to murder a bunch of innocents, he was sent to prison. He helps some other convicts escape and decides that instead of trying to beat the system, he’ll simply find a way to survive it. He breaks into his friend’s home, but it is now owned by a lady named Amber. She doesn’t take kindly to being threatened so she gets the cops to lock Ben up. He is now going to be forced to be in The Running Man, where he will have to outrun several hunters who are each armed with deadly weapons. His two expendable “friends” (They aren’t, but the show thinks that they are so why not let them believe that right?) have also been thrown in though along with Amber. Can Ben take these guys down and figure out a way to shut the show down or is it simply too late for any last second heroics?
One thing you’ll notice about the film right away is that the soundtrack is on point. There are quite a lot of fun themes that play during the film and it certainly amplifies the experience. A good film gets that much better with a dynamic soundtrack and they really make the action scenes come alive. The visuals also look pretty good. Considering how old the film is, the effects have aged pretty well and I like how they envisioned 2017 to be. The city looks realistic enough even if it’s not quite so run down. I imagine that this film must have gotten a pretty decent budget back in the day.
The characters are also solid. Ben makes for a great lead. He’s heroic and dependable. Sure, he’s not quite willing to risk his life to join the rebellion at the beginning, but he doesn’t turn his back on others once he is forced into the game. He also doesn’t murder the villains once they are unarmed. If it’s the fastest way then he won’t hesitate to do so, but he won’t go out of his way just for revenge….for the most part. Ben’s a strong fighter and the heroes would have been doomed without his military expertise. I have to say that he pulled off the role quite perfectly as few actors can be as convincing.
The main villain, Killian is also pretty good. He knows how to work the crowd and does a good job of building up the suspense. He doesn’t even let Ben get to him as he knows that this will bring the ratings up. He talks a good game to everyone and while he is a ruthless boss, you’ll be okay as long as you stay on his good side. Mop the floors at your own peril since it can certainly get you into heaps of trouble. The sub villains were all right as well. The only bad one is Dynamo as he fulfills every overweight villain cliche in the book. He’s awful petty and also isn’t much of a fighter. Once you get past the suit, he’s the kind of villain who begs for mercy. The others at least had more dignity than that. Chainsaw put up a good fight before going down and I also liked Sub Zero. It was an interesting take on the guy compared to the Mortal Kombat version. Not as deadly, but fun all the same. The Fire villain was also pretty good since he got quite a bit of foreshadowing and hype. He probably should have moved a bit quicker though. Captain Freedom probably had the most personality from the minions and I like how he simply refused to get into the ring. Nobody was about to talk back to him.
Amber isn’t the best of heroines. She spends most of the film running and panicking. You have to give her some credit for getting away from Ben though. If you put yourself in her shoes, she totally did the right thing. Kidnappers always tell you stuff like “Don’t try to escape” and make a bunch of threats to keep you in line. She took a big risk by making a break for it and yelling and it paid off. While it didn’t work out well for Ben, at least she made a move. Too bad she couldn’t keep up that confidence for the rest of the film right.
If I had a minor nitpick for the film, it’s that the costume in the poster doesn’t really match the one in the film. At the very least I don’t recall the spikes being quite so big. It’s not really a negative just something that I noticed. The film’s camera work is pretty good. Sometimes it can be a little tough to see what’s going on in the background with the low lighting, but I feel like that was made to capture that CSI Miami kind of atmosphere as everything is a little grittier and more life like. Fortunately it was just in the camera work as the actual film isn’t really gritty at all. Some characters get stabbed and such, but at least in the version that I saw it wasn’t explicit or anything.
There is some unfortunate fanservice as we get a really long dance sequence. I suppose it’s a parody to the fact that if society did go downhill we’d be seeing that in every show. It’s fortunately not a huge deal though. The ending to the film is also pretty funny. I was personally expecting it to go down a slightly different path as the guy in the tube lands safely but then sees Captain Freedom and has to try and escape from him. How it was handled worked well enough as well though.
The writing is pretty solid with classic lines like “I’ll be back” and more than a few one liners from Ben. I love puns and one liners as you may know from my comic reviews and the film pulls it off well. It’s just another drop in the bucket to help this film reach “great” status. The climax is also pretty great even aside from the ending. The banter between Ben and Killian was really good and I liked seeing the heroes finally infiltrate the TV station. They were pretty well organized and it added some extra action and excitement to the ending. Even Amber got to win a fight on her own. The film carefully balanced the epic and funny moments with the serious atmosphere.
Overall, The Running Man is just a fun film. It really breezes by to be honest and the pacing was on point. It never dragged on and still managed to bring in a lot of content. We got to see Ben before the game, during it, and even become a resistance fighter afterwards. None of the pieces felt rushed either and it shows that you can still pull off quite a lot in under 2 hours. I certainly recommend watching this film. It’s not quite as well known as it could have been. It has all of the elements that you could want in a big action film.