Though they were always kind of juvenile and built more around images that looked cool than actual storytelling, Robert Rodriguez's films used to have a little meat on their bones. These days Rodriguez makes only kids films for kids and kids films for adults, movies built around paper thin excuses to awe us with bloodshed and an almost arrogant level of disregard for anything remotely resembling the real world. These films don't lack substance on accident. Substance can simply go fuck itself. With a gun shaped like a penis.
So if you go into Machete Kills knowing ahead of time that it's just going to be a goofy Saturday morning cartoon version of an action comedy, I'm not sure how you can really walk away disappointed. That's exactly what it is. At no point does Robert Rodriguez display aspirations for making a real movie. He just wants you to laugh at all the excessive violence and B-movie posing. I guess I can see being irritated by all the CG blood and 'we're going as nuts as possible' philosophy, but there's a certain line where a movie like this is either for you or not. If you roll your eyes at the idea of a somewhat flamboyant Mel Gibson playing a Lex Luthor-level villain who can see the future and plans to blow up all humanity while living large on a space station with an army of Machete clones, there was never any hope for you liking this film in the first place.
I liked the first Machete a lot more than I actual like the character Machete. It was a film I had low expectations for and saw way after it was actually released. That may have affected my perspective a bit. I found the tone agreeable, but also kind of admired the way Rodriguez tried to make Machete a legitimate Latino folk hero and commented on racism and immigration issues in his weird gonzo way.
This time, shit is just totally crazy without any thought, save for meditations on how it can get even more crazy. Machete is now a Latino composite of James Bond and Jason Voorhees. He is invincible. Literally. William Sadler (who someone needs to cast as George W. Bush immediately) hangs him in the first five minutes and Machete just dangles there, starting him down. So right from the get-go, we know this is going to be some seriously absurd nonsense.
This encourages us to let go of all logic, but then Machete Kills actually kicks things off with a well constructed story. A freedom fighter/blood thirsty maniac named Mendez the Madman (played by Demian Bichir who gladly exhibits the charm and fun lacking in the forever stone-faced Danny Trejo) has a big-ass bomb. The President (Carlos Estevez) wants Machete to go down to Mexico and kill him before he can set off this bomb. Unfortunately, Mendez has the bomb's trigger attached to his heart. If he dies, it goes off. If twenty four hours, it will go off, regardless. The only person who can disarm the bomb is in America. On top of that, a huge bounty goes up on Mendez's head, making him the number one priority for nearly every bad guy in Mexico.
This is great action storytelling. There's a ticking clock, an interesting character (Mendez has a pretty fun Me, Myself & Irene thing happening) a distance of land to cover, and a ton of adversity standing in the way. It's awesome.
But then, the film changes drastically and all that concentrated badassery turns into just regular old haphazard badassery, which, is must be said, is still badassery. The film's second act revolves around Mel Gibson and his big plan. I don't want to get hyperbolic or anything, but Gibson is ridiculous here, and even with his tons and tons of speechifying, I never got tired of watching him go. In the trailers, the sight of him having a machete fight while wearing a cap seemed like a highlight. That's nothing. Gibson is totally game for as much goofy bullshit as Rodriguez can throw at him, and it's great to see him so playful and broad.
Machete Kills ends on a cliffhanger and a promise of things to come that will have you shaking your head in exasperation, either in a good or bad way depending on your tastes. It's a testament to this series' meaningless that it doesn't really matter if they're never made another entry to follow up on all the threads that go un-dealt with here. In fact, when we watch the entire twelve film series ten or twenty years from now, it probably wouldn't even matter if you watch them in order, regardless of their continuity.
The film worked for me. I thought it was funny and delivered what it was supposed to deliver. It goes on a bit longer than it probably should, but I credit that to the clear James Bond influence it displays. In the end, if you can't laugh at a guy getting pulled by his guts into whirling helicopter blades, what can you laugh at?