Film / Menace II Society

"Went into the store just to get a beer. Came out an accessory to murder and armed robbery. It's funny like that in the hood sometimes. You never knew what was gonna happen, or when. After that I knew it was gonna be a long summer."

Menace II Society is a 1993 urban drama directed by the Hughes Brothers (in their debut). Along with Boyz n the Hood, it is one of the defining films of the early '90s and helped popularize the urban crime drama.

The story centers around a street life thug named Caine and his friend O-Dog living in the streets of Crenshaw. Caine is a thug with a heart, and the opportunity to succeed, if the streets will let him. With a father that dealt heroin and a mother who was addicted to it, he had no chance as a child, and went to live with his grandparents. After graduating high school, a feat that none of his friends pulled off, he had choices to make, and although his heart was in the right place, he was stuck in the wrong time. Watch as he struggles with car jackings, murdered friends, taking care of a single mother and her son, and a question that burns in the back of his mind, asked by his grandfather. 'Do you want to live or die?' is the simple choice his grandfather put out to him...but the answer doesn't come until it's too late.

This film provides examples of:

  • Anyone Can Die
  • Arc Words: "Do you care whether you live or die?" Several characters ask Caine this question (or a variation thereof), and he's honestly not sure.
  • Asian Store-Owner: The opening scene features Caine and O-Dog stopping by a convenience store to get some beer. The Asian store owner and his wife treat them with such suspicion and rudeness that O-Dog snaps and murders them both.
  • Ax-Crazy: O-Dog.
  • Bloodier and Gorier / Cluster F-Bomb: More so than in Boyz n the Hood.
  • Crapsack World: Watts, Los Angeles. It is not a lovely place, at least in this film. It is a district, as a whole, full of drug addicts, immorality, crazy and violent gangsters, and gang-wars.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Illena's cousin's mission to confront Caine got the ever-living crap beat out of him.
  • Darker and Edgier/Spiritual Antithesis: This film is far more violent, dramatic, downbeat, darker and edgier than Boyz n the Hood. The film has almost no lighter moments, mainly for the ending. ALL in this film is Played for Drama. Both films chronicle the struggles of the ghetto. But While John Singleton's film followed Tre, a decent kid who ultimately stays straight and escapes the hood, Menace follows one of the many youths who succumb to the streets and don't make it out. The Hughes Brothers wanted their film to sort of be the reverse side of the coin that we saw in Boyz.
  • Dead All Along: Caine is narrating the film beyond the grave, as a cautionary tale to others.
  • Did You Just Have Sex?: Happens in this scene during a domino game in which Stacy asks about what happened between Caine and Ronnie:
    Stacy: Let me guess: You was up in there knocking it out, huh?
    Caine: Stay out of my business, Stace.
    Stacy: How?
    In the Bowdlerised TV version it's "Playing House."
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Caine is a bloody mess, literally gasping out his final breaths, as Stacy holds him helplessly, urging him not to go.
  • Downer Ending: By the end Caine wishes to straighten his life and start anew by going to Atlanta. However he gets into a fight with Ilena's cousin which reaches back to his grandparents who promptly kick him out of the house. On the day he's meant to leave, the cousin gathers a bunch of cronies and do a drive by. Promptly killing Caine. And Shariff, who was going to Kansas himself and spent most of the film preaching about the Muslim religion in an effort to turn his friends' lives around.
  • Dying Dream: At the end of the film, Caine himself is thinking about his life as he lies there dying, and it's at this point that we realize (if you consider this interpretation of the film) that the ENTIRE film we've just seen has been Caine's life passing before his eyes, as he lies dying.
  • Establishing Character Moment: See the quote below. This is all the excuse O-Dog needs to murder the convenience store owner and his wife. The first moment (of several) showing O-Dog is a completely murderous psychopath who will kill anyone, anytime over anything at all.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: "What the fuck did you say about my mama?!"
  • Evil Versus Evil: It's a film of Gang Bangers and DirtyCops in a Crapsack World. What did you expect? The white morality is almost nonexistent here.
  • Famous Last Words: "My grandpa asked me one time if I care whether I live or die. Yeah, I do. And now it's too late."
  • Faux Affably Evil: O-Dog himself could be, because during the film, he gets several Kick the Dog moments.
  • Gangland Drive-By: The main character is killed in a drive-by shooting at the end.
  • Gorn: Even by the standards of an urban drama, the violence is extremely graphic.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: O-Dog, who could accurately be described as a black, slightly more trigger-happy version of Tommy DeVito. After killing the said Asian Store-Owner couple mentioned above, he steals the surveillance tape and proudly plays it for his friends on numerous occasions, much to Caine's chagrin.
    • Caine's father is this as well.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Caine does at least manage to save Anthony during the drive by shooting.
  • Hollywood California: Specifically, Watts.
  • Jerkass:
    • All of the gangsters are remorseless when it comes to living their criminal life, but O-Dog and A-Wax stands out as the biggest of them all.
    • Chauncey probably takes home the blue ribbon here. He's unpopular (and barely tolerated) by his associates; lazy; gets Caine and O-Dog arrested with a sloppy car theft plot; sexually harasses Ronnie (in front of her child and her boyfriend), and finally seals O-Dog's fate by sending the videotape to the police. In other words, he's an absolute bastard.
    • You can see that even the police that are around in Watts are not nice guys.
    • Caine's father fits the bill.
  • Karma Houdini: Ilena's cousin and his gang who shot Caine and one of his friends, Sharif in a drive-by at the end of the film.
    • A-Wax also counts.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: O-Dog, who is arrested in the end of the film.
    • Chauncey getting the living crap beat out of him by Caine was something he had coming for a while.
  • Letters 2 Numbers: Obvious.
  • Lunatic Loophole: Almost every main character, sympathetic or not, dies by the end...except for O-Dog. Though at the least, he does get arrested, so that's something.
  • Malcolm Xerox: Sharif, though he's not depicted badly - he's just disregarded by his troubled criminal friends. Although there's a lot of cynicism that can be picked up from the way he is written, especially how other characters treat him (even his dad!).
  • Name of Cain: The main character is a hood guy named Caine. While he's not as bad as his Ax-Crazy friend O-Dog, he still can't escape the culture of violence.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Caine was raised by his grandparents after his father (a drug dealer) was shot to death and his mother (a crack fiend) died of an overdose. It's clear that they can't keep him from getting involved in the thug life, and Caine's grandfather eventually evicts him from their home.
  • Only Sane Man: Stacy and Caine are this often, at least compared with other gang members. Caine's grandparents as well.
    • Sharif and Stacy seem far more reasonable than their friends.
  • Scary Black Man: The quietly terrifying detective played by Bill Duke.
  • The Sociopath: O-Dog and A-Wax.
    • The gangsters who killed a young man with Caine shooting in a car too.
    • Caine's father as well.
    • The whole film does a good job of depicting an environment so wretched and hopeless for so long, it actively creates people like this.
  • The '70s: Only taking place in Caine's flashback in the beginning of the movie.
  • Villain Protagonist: O-Dog and A-Wax.