I reviewed the first Django a while ago, and have watched it a few times since then. It is not as good as Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy. But it was still one of the best westerns I have seen. Tarantino seems to have the same idea. He has named his new project Django Unchained, in reference to this film. Since then, interest in this pair of films has gone up, but this one is still very hard to get a hold of. Well, hopefully, this look will suffice.
First, a bit of history. After the first Django was released, it inspired a slew of unofficial sequels and spin offs. Anything with star Franco Nero in it was given the title “Django” even if the film had nothing to do with the original. Not even Sergio Leone’s films had that wide of a breadth. Eventually, 21 years after the original, this official sequel was made. Unlike the grand salute that Clint Eastwood gave to the western genre five years later (in the Oscar-winning Unforgiven), Django Strikes Again was made in the same sort of B-movie spirit that the first one was made in. The production values are rather shoddy, and the film has been poorly dubbed. But then, the same was true about the first one, and it was still a classic.
Does this film work? In some ways, yes. It is an excellent low-budget western, filled with the typical violence and a few great performances, particularly from Donald Pleasance (yea, that English guy from Halloween is in this). But it feels like it should do more, especially given the impact the first film had. When it was made, the western was practically dead in the water. Django Strikes Again could have been the metaphorical “ride into the sunset,” but just never decides that it wants to feel as grand. The film is still worth watching, but does not feel as necessary as the first one did.
The film again stars Franco Nero as Django. After the first film, he wanted to escape his violent past by becoming a monk. But he hears about a silver mine that is run by a man named “El Diablo” (Christopher Connelley). They have kidnapped his daughter, and have been kidnapping farmers from the area. He resolves to pick up his ridiculously over-sized machine gun and free the local farmers.
There are several moments of great comedy in the film, in which Django more or less acknowledges the enormous influence that he has had on the action genre. Certain plot points are borrowed from the Rambo films, while there are other moments that are reminiscent of the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark. But it does not betray its roots, and still contains scenes of extreme violence that put those films to shame. I suppose I should mention the decapitation scene. There is also a wonderful low-budget feel to the whole enterprise, which is definitely in keeping with the nature these films were made. A $100 million dollar budget would mean that the film just does not look like Django, and I am glad that the people involved realize this.
Still, it ultimately feels meaningless and disconnected. The trademark coffin is gone (minus one cameo that makes little sense), and, in fact, the sequel does not really even seem to acknowledge what happened in the first one. The film seems to take place mostly in South America (it was filmed in Colombia) and the passage of time seems confused. Django has aged significantly, but has a very young daughter. Also, the film would have to take place at the turn of the twentieth century – so why does everyone act as though it is the 17th? The film does not create the sort of world that the first one mastered, but instead feels confused. I wanted to see more of the surreal frontier town created in the first film. Instead, I had to check to make sure I was not watching The Mission. Machine gunning a few bad guys is not going to fix that.
I still enjoy the first Django. It was a film that had meager beginnings, but used that quality to its advantage. This film does not manage to do so, instead becoming a limp noodle. It has some great moments, but still feels like a phantom limb. Should you see it? That depends on how much you like the genre. It is a film that would have fit perfectly in to the sixties heyday of the spaghetti western. The problem is, this was made in the eighties, long after the moment had passed and what was once revolutionary now just looked tired. Django was one of the films that practically began this genre. Surely it needed a better sequel than this.