Film / Escape from L.A.

President: If you go to Los Angeles, and come back with that black box and put it in my hand, you'll be given a full pardon for every moral crime you've committed in the United States.
Snake Plissken: Sounds familiar.

Escape from L.A. is the 1996 sequel to John Carpenter's Escape from New York.

America has become even more dystopian than it was in the earlier film: A theocratic fundamentalist Christian President (Cliff Robertson) has taken over control of the country, and Los Angeles has become penal colony/no man's land/landfill/roach motel after breaking off of the US thanks to The Big One. As the film begins, an airplane escape pod has crash-landed in Los Angeles; this pod carried the President's daughter, Utopia (A. J. Langer), who has since sided with Cuervo Jones and taken the United State's super weapon — a device that controls "The Sword of Damocles" satellite system, which would let the President hit any country in the world with an electromagnetic pulse — with her. Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is back as the President drafts Snake into entering Los Angeles, retrieving the device, and executing his daughter for treason. His reward for a successful mission will be a full well as an antidote to a virus injected into him to ensure his compliance, of course.

Left with no options, Snake enters the fortified and barbwired city of Los Angeles; like New York before it, the city has become a prison with no guards and precious little order. As Plissken makes his way through ruins of what was once a vibrant and lively city, he both gains and loses allies and fights off loads of bad guys.

Escape from L.A. contains the following tropes:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Carried over from the first film; the film being released in 1996 and being set in 2013.
  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: Used by Snake as an escape route following one of the many shoot-outs in the film.
  • After the End: With the United States already speeding down Crapsack World Lane in 1998, an earthquake measuring 9.6 on the Richter Scale devastates Los Angeles in 2000 and happens to fulfill the prophecy of an Activist Fundamentalist presidential candidate who is awarded a lifetime term of office.
  • The Alcatraz: Los Angeles, which has been separated from the mainland US by a massive earthquake, is now a prison for those deemed "unfit" to live in the new theocratic America. A Great Wall is built along the shoreline and the United States Police Force is encamped along it to prevent anyone from escaping back to the US.
  • Arc Words: "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
  • Artistic License – Biology: About a third of the way into the film this is Played for Laughs when Snake encounters a cult of plastic surgery-addicted murderers led by the "Surgeon General of L.A."
    Snake: What are they?
    Taslima: Surgical failures. They live here. Too many implants and face-lifts over the years... Their muscles turned to Jell-O. The only way they survive is to have fresh body parts transplanted over and over again.
  • Artistic License – Geology: The movie's introduction explains that L.A. was hit by a 9.6 earthquake. While not impossible, it is incredibly unlikely that a magnitude greater than 9 could be reached along that particular fault.
  • Artistic License – Nuclear Physics: Snake pilots a nuclear minisub to infiltrate the island, easily overloading the reactor by accelerating without causing a meltdown. The hologram projection device in his load-out also falls into this, as despite being the size of a hockey puck and equipped with a "mini-nuke battery", the battery only provides use for "about 8 minutes"
  • Artistic License – Physics: Perhaps too many to list, but here are a few:
    • The big threatening MacGuffin in the movie is the "Sword of Damocles", a network of space EMPs that will send the world back to the stone-age. In reality, most old technology is not susceptible to EMP disruption, and new tech can be shielded against such vulnerabilities. Considering the modern US military does for its equipment, it's reasonable to assume future-government tech should be able to shrug off such an attack.
    • Snake and Pipeline surf a tsunami. Given that even a normal wave can approach 100 mph and they were on land when the wave approached, it would simply envelop them rather than allow them to catch a ride.
    • By real-world standards, the hang gliders used to ambush the movie's Che Guevara clone stay aloft far too long, evidently floating on Rule of Cool.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Surfing on a Tsunami through the dilapidated ruins of L.A. chasing a Cadillac speeding on a high road...and catching it.
  • Badass Biker: Snake when he rides a motorcycle.
  • Badass Longcoat: Snake wears it.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: The American President is a religious fascist who turned his country into a police state and is willing to destroy entire countries if necessary to maintain his supremacy. Meanwhile, Cuervo Jones runs the largest gang in Los Angeles and has united Latin America under the Shining Path to invade the United States and get that power for himself.
  • Big Blackout: Snake does this by activating the Sword of Damocles with the world code engaged. This is treated as a good thing, as it supposedly allows humanity to restart.
  • Bio-Augmentation: Played for Laughs when Snake encounters a cult of plastic surgery-addicted murderers led by the "Surgeon General of L.A."
  • Boring Yet Practical: Snake is given an array of weapons and gadgets going into LA... Among which is a simple box of matches. He uses them twice — once to destroy a car, and the other to light up a cigarette at the end of the film.
    Malloy: Stick matches. Plain, old-fashioned stick matches. Never know when you might need them.
  • Boxed Crook: As in the previous film, Snake is drafted by the President into entering Los Angeles to retrieve a MacGuffin.
  • Byronic Hero: Snake's a pretty cold son of a bitch when it comes to killing his enemies. But he is deeply if subtly enraged by injustice; When Taslima dies, he's visibly shocked and upset at the death of about the only person who hasn't either turned on him or outright manipulated him for their own ends. When the President sends his daughter Utopia to the electric chair, he's deeply disgusted. And when he shuts down the world with the Sword of Damocles, he may say, "The name is Plissken", but he means, "This is for the forgotten."
  • California Collapse: A portion of the California coast has become separated from the mainland by a quake that flooded San Fernando Valley.
  • Call Back
    Taslima: What are you doing here in L.A?
    Snake: Dying.
    Taslima: But first you have to find something, right?
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The holo-cam, to an amazing degree of awesome.
    • To a lesser extent, Snake getting his hand cut by the guard walking by him. It's revealed only a few minutes later what it was.
    • Also the matches.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: "Maps to the Stars" Eddie switches sides constantly.
  • Co-Dragons: Both Cdr. Malloy and Lt. Brazen fill this role for the President.
  • Combat Pragmatist: "Nobody draws until this hits the ground."
  • Cool Guns: The "Coreburner" assault rifle plus Snake's own pair of revolvers.
  • Crapsack World: Los Angeles, reduced to an lawless dog-eat-dog hellhole, is described by one of its residents as "the only free zone left in the world" and something of a dark paradise by Snake himself when compared to the police state of America and the rest of the world in general.
  • Cut the Juice: What the Sword of Damocles does.
  • Deadly Game: Basketball becomes a life-or-death Impossible Task in this movie.
  • Deadpan Snarker: It's probably safe to say Snake's even more of a snarker in this one.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: A surprising and realistically brief example
  • Dirty Coward: The President starts freaking out the second things go off-plan, and has to be snapped back to reality by his Dragons.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": Hershe doesn't like Snake calling her by the name she used as a man when they first met, "Carjack".
  • Downer Ending: In spite of the ending's attempt to come off as more "bittersweet", it really is something of a downer: Snake shuts down the whole world's electricity, instead of turning control of the world over to the President or Cuervo/the Shining Path, which all but surely caused the deaths of billions and turned the world into one big third-world country.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Really, the Shining Path and the US Government are absolutely no different in terms of how evil they are — both the President, a fascist fundamentalist, and Cuervo Jones, a vicious power-hungry terrorist, want the "Sword of Damocles" to use against the other's empire. And Snake, naturally, is trapped between 'em, and ultimately decides to just destroy them both.
  • Exact Time to Failure: Subverted. Snake's watch reaches zero seconds after he demands the cure for the Plutoxin 7 virus. Luckily, it turns out that Plutoxin 7 is just a fast, hard-hitting case of the flu.
  • Expanded States of America: Bangkok, Thailand (where Snake has been at some point between 1997 and 2013) is mentioned as being United States territory.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: A running joke with characters meeting Snake in the film.
  • Eyepatch of Power: His picture is even displayed on the page of this trope.
  • Eye Scream: Snake very narrowly averts this. Since it happened to him once already, it would've been a real bummer.
  • Fanservice: Snake's short, but memorable Shirtless Scene when he changes his clothes.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Deportation to LA is considered this, to the point that on-site executions are offered for those who would prefer death.
  • Forced Prize Fight: In a variation, Snake has to win a steel-cage basketball game in order to escape. If he misses a shot or lets the shot clock run out, he gets shot to pieces.
  • Fourth Wall Psych: "Welcome to the human race!"
  • The Fundamentalist: The President, a mixture of Ronald Reagan and the duo of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, has turned America into a theocracy. For an added joke, he's played by a guy named Robertson.
  • Gambit Roulette: The ending of the film relies entirely on this. Snake's hijacked helicopter takes a hit from Cuervo Jones's hail-mary rocket, but since it was only grazed by it, it allows him to temporarily maintain flight instead of being blown out of the sky; he then uses the crash as a diversion. He plants a decoy mini-disk player on Utopia knowing she would be caught, it would be found, and would be thought the real Sword of Damocles. Plus, while Snake's use of the holo-cam is rather ingenious, the ruse would have been blown if anyone had decided to touch his projection prior to The Reveal, something that comes very close to happening in casual conversation.
  • A God Am I: During the climax, when the President when he sentences his daughter to be executed, he corrupts one of the Bible's most recognized verses, putting himself in The Almighty's place (of course, given that he's President For Life of a theocratic dictatorship, it'd probably be surprising if he didn't develop a God complex).
    President: For he so loved his country, he gave his only seditious child.
    Original Verse: For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten son (...) [John 3:16]
  • The Gunslinger: Snake has become a Type D in the intervening years.
  • Hell: The opening narration refers to L.A. as an "island of the damned."
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: Snake's old worn out leather coat makes a return, until he trades up for a Badass Longcoat. In fact, during the opening incarceration shot, Snake's entire wardrobe makes a return since Russel informed Carpenter that he still had his original outfit from Escape from New York hanging in his closet.
  • Heroic Neutral: Snake, obviously.
  • Historical Badass Upgrade: The real-life Shining Path has virtually no influence outside Peru while the Shining Path depicted in this film has conquered Latin America and preparing for an invasion of the US
  • Hostage MacGuffin: Snake Plissken is sent to rescue the president's daughter who voluntarily stole the codes to an EMP satellite to give to her terrorist paramour. Snake is sent to kill her, but can't bring himself to do it after she has a Heel–Face Turn, and brings her with him.
  • Human Resources: The plastic surgery freaks, who must regularly kidnap prisoners and harvest them for body parts in order to keep themselves alive.
  • I Just Want to Be Free: Arguably Snake's entire motivation. He just wants to get away and be left alone to his own devices.
  • I Have No Son: The president made it clear that he disowned his daughter. In fact, he was annoyed that his daughter was alive, and prompted to execute her.
  • Illegal Religion: The new extreme right-wing President who takes over the United States outlaws all religions other than Christianity as well as atheism. It is punishable by death through deportation to the hellish, crime-ridden Los Angeles Penitentiary Island. Taslima, one of the inhabitants, tells Snake that she was an American Muslim before she was shipped off to L.A.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Snake and a few other instances in the movie.
  • Insistent Terminology: In both Escape from New York and Escape from LA, the U.S. government is on a Last Name Basis with protagonist Snake Plissken, to which he consistently replies, "Call me Snake". However, during the respective climaxes of both movies, when one of the government's men finally does call him Snake, he reverses his previous attitude with the reply "The name's Plissken".
  • In the Back: Subverted. A neo-Nazi skinhead attempts to throw a knife into Snake's back as he's walking away. Snake turns around and riddles him with bullets before continuing on his path.
  • Invaded States of America: A united, Shining Path-led Latin America is on the verge of invading the US.
  • Ironic Echo: "Catches on quick doesn't s/he?"
  • It's All About Me: Snake cannot be persuaded to give a shit about anything but his own interests. Considering there is no particularly good side for him to be on, one can hardly blame him. This applies to the President, too.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Snake was more or less this since Escape from New York. However in this movie is a bit less anti-heroic as you would expect - it is shown when he spares The President's daughter's life when he had the order to kill her on sight. Although that may be equally due to Snake's utter contempt for the men who ordered him to do it.
    • Despite being a high-ranking officer in an evil Culture Police organization, Malloy still takes great care of his cacti.
  • Kill Sat: The Sword of Damocles.
  • Lighter and Softer: L.A. has little of the grittiness of New York, and Snake is more of an Action Hero. Then again, L.A. does subvert it with a much bleaker ending where, instead of just trolling the president, Snake essentially shuts down the earth's electricity supply, plunging the world into darkness. Something that Snake doesn't really seem to choked up about because he's even more pissed at the government than he was the first time.
  • Lock and Load Montage
  • Mad Doctor: The Surgeon General of Beverly Hills, a plastic surgery freak who regularly has people kidnapped, then dissects them so he can recycle their body parts for him and his brethren.
  • MacGuffin: The controller, which activates the "Sword of Damocles" defense system, an EMP cannon designed to destroy enemy nation's weaponry.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • The Sword of Damocles. It's an expression, based on an ancient anecdote, used to express an impending doom that can befall a person or, in the original tale, a tyrant, at any moment. Snake drops the sword on everyone in the end
    • Carjack is a transsexual and uses the name Hershe without a "y" on the end ("her" + "she").
  • Mexico Called; They Want Texas Back: The Shining Path has taken over all of Latin America and is about to launch an invasion of the United States. They want a bit more than Texas...
  • Missing Mom: It is briefly mentioned that Utopia's mother committed suicide, causing her to become depressed and withdrawal into virtual reality, and making her vulnerable to the wiles of Cuervo Jones.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The US President, a politician who takes advantage of a depressed, war-torn country to attain absolute power, and then proceeds to eliminate any and all "undesirables" from his new regime. He even uses the term, "Final Solution", near the end.
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight: The final battle between Snake and Cuervo has Cuervo use a knife against Snake.
  • '90s Anti-Hero: Snake exemplifies this. He was even this nine years before the nineties began, making him an Ur-Example. There's an unusual reason for this. Escape from L.A. was in development for ten years with a script commissioned in 1985. But then the project was shelved until the Northridge earthquake and L.A. riots revived interest, and filming began in 1995. But the fact that a delayed-sequel about an '80s anti-hero was in theaters just after Independence Day was why it was a box office failure.
  • Noodle Incident: Whatever happened in Cleveland.
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: Snake absolutely despises the authorities who literally have to coerce him into working for them with a tailor-made "kill you in 10 hours" virus in his body or he'd just bail on them in a heartbeat.
  • Number of the Beast: "666" is the world code for the controller for the Sword of Damocles.
  • Oh Crap!:
    • Snake, upon realizing that the cut on his hand he received in the hall infected him with the Plutoxin-7 virus.
    • And to a even bigger extent when the government officers realize that Snake confronted them via holocam, meaning that he could be anywhere within a half-mile radius, has the real remote for the Sword of Damocles, knows the world code, and was in full-blown '90s Anti-Hero mode before they sent him into LA at gunpoint. They get a long minute to realize that their world's about to end and there's not a damn thing they can do to stop it.
  • Only Sane Man: Snake appears like this, especially at the end.
  • Oppressive States of America: While Escape from New York was set in a crime-ridden Fallen States of America setting, this movie turns America into a full-on Police State.
  • Penal Colony: After being separated from the mainland US by a massive earthquake, Los Angeles is now a prison for those deemed "unfit" to live in the new theocratic America. A Great Wall is built along the shoreline and the United States Police Force is encamped along it to prevent anyone from escaping back to the US.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Snake persists in calling the transgender Hershe her old (male) name of "Carjack" despite Hershe's insistence otherwise.
  • President Evil: Hoo, boy.
  • The Purge: In the opening narration, it's stated that the President's first act is Directive 17: Americans who are found "unfit" to live in the new, "moral" America are stripped of their citizenship and deported to L.A. Don't want to go? There's always the electric chair.
  • The Quincy Punk: Virtually every character encountered on L.A. Island.
  • Race Against the Clock: Similar to the first film of the series, Snake has a limited amount of time to complete his mission, due to the Plutoxin 7 virus he's been infected with. He is given a wrist-timer, conveniently large for the audience, indicating how much time he has left before total failure.
  • Religious and Mythological Theme Naming: The Sword of Damocles.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Taslima's character starts out by looking like Snake's potential love interest and moral guidance. She gets shot in the back quite suddenly for no particular reason — other than showing just how bleak the future is.
  • Same Story, Different Names: Escape from L.A. is basically an act-for-act rehash of Escape from New York, even down to some very unlikely coincidences for Snake, such as his meeting a sympathetic female character that happens to die shortly after they meet, being forced to compete in a Deadly Game for his freedom, or the person that helps him escape the prison being someone he worked with before, and also someone that double-crossed him and is going by another identity, complete with Insistent Terminology regarding their new name. It even has the same ending, wherein Snake uses the MacGuffin to double-cross the Big Bad after his Exact Time to Failure is rendered moot.
  • Sinister Minister: The US President is part this and part President Evil.
  • Sleeves Are for Wimps: Once again, Snake (at least when he isn't wearing his Badass Longcoat).
  • State Sec: The United States Police Force, who despite their name is well armed and equipped.
  • Strapped to an Operating Table: The plastic surgery freaks really want Snake's body...
  • Straw Character: Played on both ends, as Snake finds himself in the middle of a presidential Knight Templar in control of a national, overly-militarized police force and a Well-Intentioned Extremist uniting terrorists against him. The former is a little less straw-y in hindsight, as modern law enforcement has been criticized in recent years for being overly militarized.
  • Suddenly Significant City: After a President Evil rises to power in post-World War III and post-California Collapse America, he moves the capital to his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia.
  • Take a Third Option: Rather than side with a fascist theocracy and an equally brutal communist insurgency, Snake shuts off the entire world.
  • Taking You with Me: Cuervo is about to shoot the chopper that Snake, Hershe, Eddie, and Utopia are escaping in with a rocket. He gets shot by Eddie but still manages to get the rocket off before dying.
  • The Theocracy: The President Evil turns the United States into a virtual theocracy. He makes Christianity mandatory across the country and religious heterodoxy punishable by death, all while enforcing a set of new moral laws for the "new America".
  • Those Wacky Nazis: When Snake is looking for the original soldier sent into Los Angeles to retrieve the Sword of Damocles, he runs into a bunch of Neo-Nazis using the guy's corpse for target practice. When they try to kill Snake over an insult, he shoots one of them with his machine gun, looking nearly bored.
  • Title Drop: During the opening narration.
    The United States Police Force, like an army, is encamped along the shoreline, making any escape from L.A. impossible.
  • Too Awesome to Use: Snake's revolvers. In the two scenes where he demands them back (being sent into L.A. and escaping from the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills), he is carrying other guns (The Coreburner issued to him by the government and the Colt 1911 he takes from the Surgeon General), which he resorts to using first. Even after losing the Coreburner, he divests a mook of his shotgun and uses that. He only gets to use his revolvers once, showing off his Improbable Aiming Skills, and loses them when captured.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The bald knife thrower attempts to throw a knife at Snake when he walks away from him. Yeah, good look with that.
  • Take a Third Option: Faced with the world being just moments from a clash between fascistic fundamentalists and equally violent terrorists, Snake smugly uses the Sword of Damocles EMP satellite network to shut down the entire planet, returning the entire mess to a clean slate.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Snake since Escape from New York. In that film, he was an ex-Green Beret with pretty decent combat skills. In this one, he's able to achieve Man With No Name style quickdrawing, shoot rifles and shotguns one handed from a motorcycle with no significant effects from recoil, take a round to the leg from a Desert Eagle and still walk with only a limp. This while being infected with the Plutoxin 7 virus (granted, it turns out to be the flu, but still).
  • Transsexual: Carjack Malone/Hershe Las Palmas.
  • Uncanny Valley: This is invoked by the plastic surgery addicts, and it is intentional though. Especially creepy is the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills (a cameo by Bruce Campbell).
  • Used Future: But only in LA.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: The Surgeon General of Beverly Hills is simply mesmerized by Snake's eye...
  • You Have Got to Be Kidding Me!: "Map to the Stars" Eddie's reaction upon seeing Snake following him on the tsunami.