The Double Dragon videogame finds two brothers punching their way through a nuclear-rotting city, using karate to take down Shadow Warriors gang members, on a quest to rescue love interest Marion. It was every bit of ‘80s pop culture, colorful, rich, and hopped up on the idea of punk gangs runnng amok on city streets.
Whatever methods created Double Dragon’s movie adaptation warped that idea into one where the heroes, Billy and Jimmy Lee, drive the National Lampoon Vacation station wagon with an attached flamethrower. They live in an abandoned theater. They get into fights with a rabid postal worker and Asian goons named Huey and Lewis (villain Koga Shuko later asking the pair, “What’s the news?”). The name Shadow Warriors is then taken to a literal extreme as Shuko (Robert Patrick) uses a medallion to turn into a floating black mist with a weakness to light. Oh, and Vanna White joins Andy Dick to deliver nightly news.
One year before Double Dragon, a Hollywood studio famously twisted Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. into a ragged, apocalyptic nightmare. Double Dragon takes notes. It’s every bit the surreal, bizarre interpretation of videogame source material. In Double Dragon, Los Angeles suffers the after-effects of an inevitable earthquake. Buildings stand only due to improbable steel jacks adhered to their frames. Interiors sit cracking on their foundations, steel contraptions supporting any walls. Production design busies up the scenery with stray debris, graffiti, and randomized objects to serve the fight scenes.
[Double Dragon] is a failed artifact of an extended franchise
[Double Dragon] is a failed artifact of an extended franchise
At the time of filming, Billy Lee (Scott Wolf) was 26. Jimmy Lee (Mark Dacascos) was 30. The pair were cast as 17-year olds. Never mind that Dacascos and Wolf never look like brothers, Dacascos a Hawaii native with an Asian appearance. Robert Patrick tries as the gang kingpin, and Scott Wolf is forced into a corner as brutal comic relief (“I saw my life flash before my eyes. I sleep a lot”). Alyssa Milano takes on a heroine role, but is ludicrously sexualized twice as she crawls away from Billy and Jimmy.
Misfired cast or not, it’s clear Double Dragon aims for the teen market, with everything older producers thought kids were into. Scenes of skateboarding, roller bladers, gangs with mohawks, and kids defying their parents all serve their purpose, if not to any entertaining degree.
The circumstances of ‘90s inner city Los Angeles were that of extreme poverty and the outgrowth of west coast rap. In Double Dragon’s take on 2007 Los Angeles, the gangs were replaced by all white punk rockers wearing wild face paint, and rap all but disappeared. It’s more akin to the typical vision of ‘80s New York, not the future. In Double Dragon, the police still lost control, establgiving night to the gangs. That’s a wild fear for the generation who thought nonsense scenes of kids rollerblading were enough to sell tickets.
It’s difficult to dissect Double Dragon, flimsy as it is. What’s left is a failed artifact of an extended franchise. Double Dragon continued a videogame series, but also a wacky cartoon meant to sell toys. If the Double Dragon movie elicits an uncomfortable weirdness, the cartoon sees the Lee brothers on futuristic motorcycles battling helicopters likely deleted from G.I. Joe. Thankfully, everything tanked, leaving only the videogames to subsist as part of pop culture. The movie, mercifully, didn’t count for much.
An uneven visual presentation puts Double Dragon in an interesting spot. Visible reel markers indicate this is pulled from a release print, but frequently displays enough texture to indicate a better source. Dirt often litters the print with little apparent clean-up done to handle things. Resolution appears quite high. It’s odd to simultaneously see this much care combined with the lack of securing a better print.
The standout here is color. Production and costume design help. Neon graffiti sticks to the walls while the primary red and blue worn by Jimmy and Billy deliver great saturation. Flesh tones brighten to a pleasing hue. This doesn’t feel digital or unnatural.
It’s also a strong transfer in contrast, with consistent brightness paired with deep black levels. That merges into a dense, packed image. Once past the first 15 minutes or so, grain replication takes hold, monitoring a light, untouched, natural grit without issue. Early digital effects do cause problems, but not to any excessive degree as expected for such material.
Two audio options come on the disc, both of them in Dolby Digital. Take the 2.0 stereo, because the 5.1 option is a mess. Dialog either comes through too low or too high, with minimal discrete effects. It’s more of a jumble, tossing audio around with minimal spacing. Bass runs ragged, messy and muddy.
In the stereo mix, this sounds more controlled. Although hardly a revolution, the compact design isn’t allowed to run wild. It’s natural, with the same level of overall fidelity (adequate for the period and compression).
Double Dragon is given far more than it deserves. A brand new making of brings in Dacascos and Wolf, the writers, and producer to discuss the project. While not the sharpest in terms of production value, it runs a bit over an hour, digging into the thought processes that went into this project. Mostly, the writing team takes charge, animated in their discussion and pointing out blatant editing faults. That continues with a separate feature on producer Don Murphy where he delves into his career and why he took on Double Dragon. That runs 24-minutes.
The animated pilot for Double Dragon is included, a 22-minute dud. Some raw behind-the-scenes footage runs four minutes, interesting to watch. A promo featurette follows. After that, a bunch of galleries and a slew of trailers bring up the rear.
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One of the wonkiest of all film-to-videogame adaptations, Double Dragon destroys the source material to an unsuccessful end.
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