Monday, October 14, 2019

"The Soul of Our Culture, the Antithesis of Our Ways" - Terminal Force (1995) - Film #156

Let us to return to the never-ending well of excellent films that is the low-budget science fiction epic. It is time to discuss William Mesa's Terminal Force (1995) aka Galaxis, starring the inimitable Richard Moll and the slightly-more-imitable Brigitte Nielsen.

Some of your universe’s critics fail to appreciate epic science fiction adventure. Reviewer pchap writes, “A piece of poop really!....I also have to mention one scene where the directors tried their best to pull off the night club scene from Blade Runner. Looked more like the cafeteria scene from my local senior citizen's club.” Reviewer osloj writes, “This most [sic] be one of the most stupid movies I have ever seen.” And reviewer random451 writes, “There's not a single part of film making that this movie doesn't insult.”

Read on for an unbiased look at Terminal Force...

The film begins with a voiceover by Lord Tarkin, whose people have fled the evil Kyla, who is trying to steal a magic crystal, to the planet Sintaria. Orbiting the planet, spaceships shoot at each other, while on the planet, spaceships shoot at refugees walking across the desert. Despite the various explosions and laser blasts, the refugees are quite tired and move extremely slowly. Fortunately, they reach a bunker, where they are safe for the moment.

Fortunately for Lord Tarkin and the refugees, one of the military officers is none other than Sam Raimi.

Even more fortunately for Lord Tarkin and the refugees, another warrior is played by Brigitte Nielsen, though she is temporarily lost in the eastern quadrant. After shooting down an enemy spaceship, she reaches the bunker just before the doors close permanently.

Mr. Raimi counsels surrendering. “Let’s face the facts, Tarkin. We’re beaten. You’re beaten. You lost it. You lost it for all of us.”

Lord Tarkin, of course, disagrees. He will not give the magic crystal to Tarkin. “Without the crystal, we are nothing,” he explains. “It is the soul of our culture, the antithesis of our ways. Its power has guided and protected us since the dawn of time.” (Tarkin’s men, sensitively, do not point out that their lord might benefit from looking up the terms “antithesis” and “dawn of time.”)

Meanwhile, in a fascinating twist, one of the refugees, a little boy, reveals himself to be a cyborg—or more accurately a morphing robot that kills a handful of troops and moves through the magic of stop-motion animation.

The robot breaks into the command center, where Sam Raimi uses a woman as a human shield. Kyla, played by Richard Moll, enters the room and commands the robot to kill Sam Raimi. Using his mechanical hand, Mr. Moll stabs Lord Tarkin and steals the crystal.

Ms. Nielsen arrives in time to shoot the robot, which makes it stand still until she can approach it and put her hand on it for no apparent reason. Then Mr. Moll, having stolen the crystal, vanishes.

As Lord Tarkin lies dying, he explains a great deal of information to Ms. Nielsen. “There is another crystal. When the crystal was created, another was made for a time like this.” As he dies, he tells her to follow her heart, and that she is the leader now.

“No,” she says quietly. Then she screams, a little more loudly, “No!”

The film cuts to a small bar on Earth, where men named Jed and Manny drink during a rainstorm. “I got it, Manny,” Jed says. “I finally got it.”

“What you got?”

“The Eye of the Incas.” Jed has smuggled a crystal out of Peru. “My grandfather used to talk to me about it,” he explains to Manny. “About some long-lost power source, a magical stone lost in the Andes, hidden by some ancient tribe.”

He shows Manny the crystal, ensconced in a small puzzle box.

Next, perhaps predictably, Brigitte Nielsen materializes in front of a church in Los Angeles, having apparently followed her heart.

She immediately stumbles upon a mugging, which she stops, saving a young woman.

Back at the bar, Manny says, “I’m feeling almost kind of light-headed,” reacting to the presence of the crystal.

Jed gives the magic stone to Manny, who takes it away just before Jed is visited by a supervillain, Victor Menendez, and his thugs. Perhaps impractically, Victor ties Jed to a chair and puts a bomb in his lap. “When the counter reaches zero, no more hero,” Victor explains. “In fact, you’re gonna need a goddamn Thomas Guide to piece you back together.” (Contrary to Victor’s assertion, Thomas Guides were actually ancient maps used to find things, and could hardly be used to put an exploded human back together.)

Fortunately, Ms. Nielsen arrives just in time to rescue Jed. “The fire crystal. I’ve come for it.” (Also fortunately, her English is near perfect.)

The bar blows up, but nobody dies. Jed looks up into the sky, where a hole is forming. “What’s this?” he asks. “Some kind of storm?”

Jed and Ms. Nielsen walk through the streets of LA. Jed offers to give her taxi fare home, and he asks where she lives.

“I am from Sintaria.”

“Where’s that, somewhere in the Valley?”

She explains she needs the crystal or her people will be destroyed. Also, Kyla has arrived in the unusual lightning storm.

Jed goes to Manny’s place, which is a loft filled with a multitude of artifacts, paintings, and possibly a sled named Rosebud. Unfortunately, Manny has been burned to a corpse by Richard Moll, who materializes through a brick wall.

Ms. Nielsen saves Jed again, and they run from Mr. Moll by hot-wiring a pickup truck. After the truck breaks down, they walk to a train station and then follow a man with a briefcase named Raymond who gets off a train and immediately walks into an alley to relieve himself. Jed believes Raymond has the crystal, based on no evidence, and the villainous Victor Menendez believes the same thing, based on the same evidence. Victor’s goons shoot up the alley. To make matters worse, Richard Moll appears at the same time.

Mr. Moll taunts Ms. Nielsen about leaving her planet for the last hour or so to retrieve the second crystal. He says, “While you were away, my dogs of war have so much enjoyed the generous and plentiful hospitality of your planet and people.”

After blowing up the alley, Mr. Moll simply walks away without the crystal, and seconds later Ms. Nielsen, acting oddly, walks into the alley and starts to seduce Jed, who holds the briefcase. Ms. Nielsen soon morphs into Mr. Moll, however, fooling nobody. However, the briefcase proves empty, and Ms. Nielsen manages to stab Mr. Moll, forcing him to vanish again.

They trace the crystal to a gambling room in the back of a Chinese nightclub, where Jed plays a (losing) game of poker for the crystal. Meanwhile, Victor’s gang finds the club, starting a bar fight. In the chaos, Jed finds the crystal, but Victor finds Jed...only to touch the crystal with his finger, resulting in a massive electric shock.

In the end, everyone disappears except Jed and Ms. Nielsen, who are arrested by police detectives who have been following them. At the police station, the captain, like most police captains, is apoplectic. “I’ve got a list of incidents longer than Prince Charles’s cellular phone bill. I want some answers. I want them now!” (He also says the press is having a damn field day, which leads me to believe being a reporter in your universe is quite the fun profession, as they are always having damn field days.)

In a short time, Richard Moll arrives at the police station, throwing an officer through a wall. At the exact same time, Victor arrives in a limousine. “Something’s going down here,” Victor deduces as the station is filled with laser beams and explosions.

Jed and Ms. Nielsen escape the station by jumping out a second story window. Ms. Nielsen commandeers a van, proving she is adept at driving Earth vehicles. Jed says, “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“No,” she replies, “but there’s a first time for everything.”

A car chase ensues, with Victor’s limousine chasing the van, all the while firing automatic weapons. Victor even fires a grenade launcher at the van, blowing it up, though of course Jed and Ms. Nielsen have escaped. They hide in a power plant. The filmmakers allot a good deal of time to the plight of Victor’s men, who get picked off slowly by both Ms. Nielsen and Mr. Moll, as Victor threatens Jed.

Victor tries to expose Ms. Nielsen by threatening Jed. Victor says, “Call out her name. Do it!”

“Forget it.”

“That...wasn’t...a multiple choice. Call her!”

Eventually, the police detective and Victor are incapacitated, and Mr. Moll grabs Jed, only to have Ms. Nielsen come for him.

Mr. Moll, however, demonstrates his control of time travel by rolling his eyes up somewhat in his head.

The climax is a fight between Mr. Moll and Ms. Nielsen which ends with a police helicopter exploding and Richard Moll, shot with a beam from the crystal, falling into the explosion.

Mr. Moll’s character, Kyla, is dead. Ms. Nielsen gives the crystal back to Jed, though we have no idea where the first crystal might be. Ms. Nielsen vanishes as the timeline opens (or closes, or something).

The End

Director William Mesa has had a long career in the special effects industry and he brings this expertise to Terminal Force, with its plethora of opticals, laser beams, and magical electrical explosions. Fortunately for the audience, Mr. Mesa is also a master at moving characters around so they encounter each other, mostly randomly, causing a great deal of conflict. Much of Terminal Force could be described as a chess game in which Mr. Mesa and writer Nick Davis (also a special effects veteran, and director of this film's sequel, 1998's The Survivor) manipulate Jed and Ms. Nielsen, Victor and his gang, Mr. Moll, and a handful of police detectives around the city of Los Angeles so they may confront each other in their quests for the crystal.

As always, it is a great pleasure to watch Mr. Moll as a villain. His forays into playing protagonists, such as in the classic The Nightmare Never Ends (1980), may be excellent as well, but it is as a universe-dominating supervillain where he excels. Few people are a physical match for Brigitte Nielsen, and fewer still are as charmingly evil as Richard Moll. It is unfortunate that his character Kyla dies at the end of Terminal Force, but it is truly fortunate that Kyla returns in the sequel The Survivor, about which more later.

Do filmmakers still make films about fish-out-of-water aliens who come to Los Angeles and work with clueless but basically good humans in order to save their own planets/universes? I insist they do so, as these films are almost always highly entertaining. And if they do continue to make these films, the list of models for these cinematic classics would not be complete without William Mesa's Terminal Force.