Total Recall: Mel Gibson's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Edge of Darkness star.
Eight years is an eternity in Hollywood. Why, in 2002, Pierce Brosnan was still James Bond, Nia Vardalos was a budding film mogul, and Ryan Reynolds was still just that guy from National Lampoon's Van Wilder. It was also the year Mel Gibson starred in M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, an eventual $400 million hit -- and the beginning of an unexpectedly long absence for one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Aside from an appearance in The Singing Detective the following year, Gibson has been uncharacteristically camera-shy for almost a decade now, but all that ends this week, with his starring turn in Martin Campbell's Edge of Darkness. Seeing Mel return to his action roots has us in a celebratory mood -- and what better way to celebrate than a look back at his best-reviewed films? Yes, folks, it's Total Recall time!
Okay, so maybe there's still grumbling in the critical community about it taking the Best Picure Oscar. And it may very well have deserved its high ranking in the London Times' list of the most historically inaccurate movies of all time. Whatever its flaws, though, it takes a special kind of historical epic to hold an audience in thrall for nearly three hours, and that's exactly what Braveheart did -- to the tune of a $210 million worldwide gross and five Academy Awards against a rather incredible 10 nominations. Making his directorial follow-up to 1993's The Man Without a Face, Gibson initially resisted casting himself as Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace, but once he took the role, he made it his own, infusing what might have been a fusty period piece with plenty of timeless, vein-bulging action. Forgive Braveheart its arguably bloated length, as well as the many smirking cries of "Freedom!" it triggered; applaud it instead, because, in the words of Film Scouts' Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, "At the heart of Mel Gibson's tumultuously entertaining epic is the almost-quaint notion that movie heroics should mean something more than a play for the much-coveted 18-25 box office demographic."
9. The Bounty
The oft-told tale of Captain Bligh and his unwieldy crew got the revisionist treatment in this watery Roger Donaldson-directed epic, which gave a young Gibson (as the mutinous Fletcher Christian) the chance to lock big-screen horns with Anthony Hopkins (as the tyrannical, or perhaps merely beleaguered, Bligh) for the fate of the HMS Bounty. Of course, we all know how things turned out for Bligh and his men -- so it's to Gibson and Hopkins' immense credit, as well as a testament to a stellar supporting cast that included Laurence Olivier, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Liam Neeson, that The Bounty was such a critical success. Though some critics took issue with the script's historical errors, as well as an overall absence of the type of fireworks one might expect from a cast of this caliber, the majority had kind words for the film -- including Roger Ebert, who wrote, "this Bounty is not only a wonderful movie, high-spirited and intelligent, but something of a production triumph as well."
The first two films in the trilogy are widely acknowledged action classics, leaving 1985's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome the runt of the litter. Of course, an 81 percent Tomatometer rating is nothing to sneeze at, particularly when we're talking about the third installment in a series, but Thunderdome is easily the most hotly contested of the franchise, with fans and critics either hating it ("Definitely the worst movie in the Mad Max series," wrote James O'Ehley of the Sci-Fi Movie Page) or preferring it to its predecessors (Roger Ebert called it "more visionary and more entertaining than the first two"). No matter how you feel about Thunderdome, though, one thing's for sure: Between George Miller halfway bailing on the project after the death of his friend Byron Kennedy, and the stunt casting of Tina Turner as the power-hungry Aunty Entity, things probably should have turned out a lot worse than they did. In fact, Thunderdome has some of the most memorable moments and quotable lines in the series -- and boasts, according to Time Out's Derek Adams, "Enough imagination, wit and ingenuity to put recent Spielberg to shame."
After the immense success of 1987's Lethal Weapon, and the enduring popularity of the buddy cop genre it helped define, it came as no surprise to anyone when a sequel surfaced two years later. What was shocking, however, was just how much fun Lethal Weapon 2 turned out to be. Boasting further opportunities for Gibson to test the limits of action-hero funny business as nutty LAPD sergeant Martin Riggs, some of the nastiest bad guys in any late '80s action thriller, and rapid-fire comic relief in the form of Joe Pesci, the second Weapon flew in the face of conventional wisdom by scoring with filmgoers and critics alike. In fact, some preferred it to the original -- including scribes like Brian Orndorf, who called it "One of the finest examples of the genre, and, in my humble estimation, one of the greatest sequels put to film. Perhaps deranged hyperbole, but rarely does a follow-up outgun the original film as swiftly as Lethal 2 does."
A number of films have tried to send a message about the futility and waste of war, but few have done it with the plain and heartbreaking precision of Peter Weir's Gallipoli, which recounts the terrible saga of the Australian soldiers who perished in a poorly planned attempt to break a stalemate on the Turkish peninsula during World War I. By focusing less on the action-heavy aspect of the war and more on the doomed friendship of two soldiers named Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) and Frank Dunne (Gibson), Gallipoli underlined the human cost of the campaign, culminating in a harrowing final sequence that painfully illustrates the human cost of battle. "Weir's work has a delicacy, gentleness, even wispiness that would seem not well suited to the subject," observed Janet Maslin of the New York Times, "and yet his film has an uncommon beauty, warmth, and immediacy, and a touch of the mysterious, too."