Over the years since its initial release, I've slowly warmed to Robert Rodriguez's 'Once Upon a Time in Mexico.' His third and final installment to the 'Mexico Trilogy' always seemed a bit of a loud, rowdy mess, with several forgettable action sequences thrown together. Characters came and went — many suddenly killed — with little explanation to their purpose, connection, or background so as to give them importance. Then there's what feels like two separate plotlines working towards an ending that's ultimately complete nonsense. But the biggest problem, as I see it, is that this movie gives the impression of being just another version of the same story as the previous two.
And then unexpectedly, something clicked. I took notice of something I never thought was of much consequence or weight, and I'm gradually changing that tune and thinking there's something of worth in this second sequel.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I'm a fan of the original two, so I keep giving the third a chance. Maybe it's because I've watched 'Once Upon a Time in Mexico' for the nth time, trying to find some entertainment value in all the bedlam. Perhaps, it has more to do with recently watching all three films in sequence and discovering a certain angle to their story arcs I didn't pick up on before. But whatever the reasoning, the movie has grown on me and I think Rodriguez is working through a larger idea. The entire mariachi series is about myth making — about creating and perpetuating inflated legends with little or vague relation to the real events which probably influenced them.
The movies that follow 'El Mariachi' are not direct, conventional sequels. But rather, they're retellings of the same legend, where the facts and details are ever so slightly altered or exaggerated, making whatever small truth there is seem larger than life and heroic. Cheech Marin's one-eyed informant is the character who clues us in on this being a possible intention. (Steve Buscemi did the same thing at the start of 'Desperado.') Early on, while sitting at a restaurant with CIA agent Sheldon Sands (Johnny Depp), Marin's Belini explains that over time the tales of El Mariachi and his wild, fierce exploits have picked up some embellishments along the way. Yet at the core of each account, there is the love of a woman abruptly taken away and her lover in search of revenge to ease his suffering.
In 'Once Upon a Time in Mexico,' Antonio Banderas returns as the sorrowful musician dressed in black. Only now, there is no mention of the events in the previous movies. No mention of the hand injury which made him unable to play guitar. And this time around, the mariachi appears to be a deadly and feared killer. The woman he loves, Carolina (Salma Hayek), has grown from a saloon owner to a bookstore owner to the mother of El Mariachi's daughter. She has also gone from avoiding violence to being a willing participant. She's even a skilled knife thrower, using the same knives as Danny Trejo in the second flick. And her would-be murderer is no longer a drug lord, now, he's a military general attempting a coup d'état, hired by the drug lord Armando Barillo (Willem Dafoe).
By this third installment, there seems little to indicate the three pics are even related if not for this core element of the story being the same in all three. In keeping with this idea of telling a legend and myth-making, Robert Rodriguez also expands El Mariachi's courage and valor from purely out of love-retribution into an accidental patriotic hero and savior of the nation. The same level of silly, over-the-top action remains here as in the previous features with the guitarist escaping death in the most convoluted and hyped stunts imaginable. In fact, Rodriguez seems to push the boundaries of ridiculousness a few times, as seen in the city square shootout with motorcycles and a classic Chevy.
Still, it's all part of the spectacle and humorous excitement that goes along with presenting this idea of telling folk tales, full of elaborate and fantastical details. Embellishments are welcomed and endorsed with gleeful abandonment in 'Once Upon a Time in Mexico.' Sure, it's completely outrageous and preposterous, but man, is it fun watching the mayhem unfold.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings Robert Rodriguez's 'Once Upon a Time in Mexico' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc. It comes in a blue eco-vortex keepcase with the same cover art seen on previous releases. At startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu with the standard set of options.
Robert Rodriguez's third film in the Mariachi series finds its way to Blu-ray with an attractive and generally pleasing picture quality. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (1.85:1) displays a great deal of fine object and textural details. Lines in clothing and various other items, like leather guitar cases and the quaint Mexican architecture, are distinct and clearly rendered. Contrast is comfortably bright and stable, but there are a few minor instances of blooming and white-washing, possibly due to the digital HD camera that was used. Much like 'Desperado,' the photography shows a strong push towards oranges and yellows, giving the movie a warm but dirty feel. Nonetheless, colors remain vibrant and bold, especially greens and reds. Flesh tones appear natural and appropriate to the climate and in close-ups, reveal plenty of pores and some minor blemishes.
The one drawback is a also a negligible point, but worth mentioning. Black levels are mostly accurate and often lush, making the picture pop and providing good dimensionality. But there are also those moments where it wavers enough to suddenly flatten the image, looking a bit murky in the dark shadows. Overall, the action flick still looks good on Blu-ray.
The last movie in the trilogy blasts onto Blu-ray with an energetic DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. This is to be somewhat expected from a movie full of over-the-top action and a bunch of cockamamie stunts.
Most impressive in the lossless mix are the discrete ambient effects in the rear speakers with the occasional chirping of birds or debris from explosions. This is not a constant attribute of the design, but enough to nicely enhance the soundfield and make the movie a bit more exciting. Pans and movement between the channels, like bullets swishing by or cars driving off-screen, are smooth and convincing, creating some attractive imaging that envelops the listener satisfyingly. The track also displays a spacious and welcoming soundstage with excellently balanced channel separation and well-prioritized vocals. Dynamic range is extensive and cleanly rendered across the fronts while the low end provides a palpable and robust force to El Mariachi's double barreled sawed-off shotgun. All in all, 'Once Upon a Time in Mexico' sounds great on Blu-ray.
Sony reuses the same set of bonus features from the 2004 Special Edition DVD. It's an enjoyable collection for fans, accompanied by a couple of exclusives just for the format.
'Once Upon a Time in Mexico' is Robert Rodriguez's third and final installment in what has come to be known as the 'Mexico Trilogy,' an action-packed and entertaining series about a musician with a guitar case full of guns. The movie is the weaker of the three, but it's still amusing entertainment, where El Mariachi grows into a national hero. The Blu-ray comes with a very good audio and video presentation, porting over the same assortment of supplemental material. Fans of the movie and the series will be happy with the package, while the curious will be satisfied with a rental.