Rewatching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freaking Willow! You want swashbuckling adventure? Here’s your swashbuckling adventure. It’s the wagon chase, 48:59-53:47 on the Blu-ray.
We’re still inside the tavern as the fighting starts, with the tavern ruffians barroom brawling with the NockMaar soldiers. There’s a shot of Llug throwing one more punch. As Willow runs through the tavern, he does a roll, tripping one of the NockMaar. People say that Willow never fights, but this shows that he does have some moves. Madmartigan runs up some stairs. Sorsha is smart enough to know where this is headed, and shouts, “To the horses!”
Cut to outside, where it has stopped raining. Madmartigan, who has the baby, punches a guy and then uses the outdoor rope-and-pully system to lower himself from the third floor balcony down to the ground in an impressive stunt. This infamously begins the carrying-around-the-baby-during-action-as-if-she’s-weightless thing that persists throughout the movie. If Elora Danon is magic, perhaps she’s unknowingly (or knowingly?) using magic to make herself lighter during awesome action. The barrel used as Madmartigan’s counterweight smashes open on the ground, with red liquid (wine, I’m assuming) splashes out of it. This causes a man standing nearby to fall backwards out of surprise.
On a wagon, Madmartigan sets the baby down on what looks like a brown blanket, conveniently pre-shaped to hold a baby. He takes the reins, gives a cowboy-style “hee-yaw!” and the horses take off running. Willow follows, doing an impressive leap off the balcony and onto the back of the wagon. He yells “Madmartigan!” here, and he’ll continue to “Madmartigan!” throughout this entire sequence. The Brownies fall off of Willow and onto the Wagon as well. This also reveals more barrels of wine inside the wagon.
The Nockmaar soldiers hop on their horses and begin pursuit. I count six soldiers on horseback, plus two more riding a horse-drawn chariot. (Chariots are not normally intended for long-distance travel. Maybe they commandeered it from one of the tavern ruffians.) We get our final shot of Llug, still shouting “Not a woman!” as the NockMaar ride off. Whatever happened to Llug? We never see him again, and his and his wife’s fates are unknown.
The horses pull the wagon at full gallop, and the filmmakers to a good job of making it appear as if everyone is moving ridiculously fast. Now there are three NockMaar in pursuit, with the chariot farther behind them. The remaining three soldiers must have taken a wrong left turn somewhere because we never see them again. Willow checks on the baby and pleads for Madmartigan to stop as he checks on the baby. Franjean and Rool stumble around, interacting with an apple rolling about. Even during action, there’s time for jokes. Madmartigan reaches into his shirt and pulls out some fruit, which we’re meant to think was part of his disguise as a woman. He looks around, considering throwing it at the NockMaar, but the wagon goes over a bump, the fruit falls out of his hand, and bonk Willow on the head. This is a cheap laugh, but it also establishes the geography of the scene, to the audience is clear on who is where. Franjean, still believing himself to be the hero of this story, yells “Prepare to die!” at the NockMaar.
A NockMaar jumps onto the wagon from the left, while another fires an arrow from the right, narrowly missing Madmartigan. Madmartigan kicks the invading Nockmaar. Madmartigan picks up a shovel that happens to be inside the wagon and knocks the NockMaar (heh) off the wagon. Because it’s been rainy and muddy, I’m assuming this shovel was to be used in case the wagon wheels got stuck in the mud. The wagon continues on, with two NockMaar seen riding behind it.
The NockMaar to the right jumps onto the wagon with a flamboyant flip. Madmartigan hits him with the shovel, but NockMaar isn’t fazed. He swats the shovel out of Madmartigan’s hand and draws his sword. Madmartigan reaches for the man’s wrists, and they struggle for control of the sword. Remember that Madmartigan bragged earlier about being a great swordsman, but we haven’t seen him use one yet. I’ve always felt the “swordsman without a sword” idea behind Madmartigan is iconic, like something myth/folklore that’s always been with us.
The Brownies run around, avoiding everyone’s feet, while Willow climbs onto the front of the wagon, calling for Madmartigan to stop. The reins, however, are loose, barely dangling off of the front of the wagon. Somehow, the sword is gone, as the NockMaar is now strangling Madmartigan. This NockMaar is not wearing a metal helmet, but a big furry cap. (I’m guessing this is to protect the stuntman’s safety gear.) Madmartigan punches him, and then gets on top of him. We don’t see what he does, because the movie cuts to Rool, acting seasick (Carsick? Wagonsick?). It’s hard to hear, but Rool says “No more beer,” referencing the previous scene. Willow reaches for the reins, but they slip and between the two horses, who are still mindlessly galloping forward at full speed.
There’s a big log in the path. The horses instinctively leap over it to keep running, and the wagon bumps over it and into the air, getting some impressive hang time before crashing back to the ground. The impact knocks Willow forward, onto the wooden rigging connecting the horses to the wagon (I know there’s a word for this, but darned if I could find it.) Rool is thrown a small hole in the side of the wagon and is hanging on for dear life. He calls to Franjean for help.
If all this wasn’t enough danger, one of the wagon wheels breaks apart. The practical effect of this is impressive, as the wheel more or less explodes, with pieces of it flying all over. Franjean finds Rool and asks “What are you doing?” as Rool cries “Help me!” I guess Franjean has gotten so used to Rool being mischievous that Franjean just assumed Rool is doing shtick and isn’t in real danger. He pulls Rool back inside. At the front of the wagon, Willow climbs forward with determination, hoping to get at the reins. He succeeds, but then has to climb all the way back up the front of the wagon before he can use them. There’s a quick shot of Madmartigan and the NockMaar fighting over the NockMaar’s sword — so the sword is back somehow — and a shot of the baby smiling, just enjoying the ride.
A second NockMaar jumps onto the wagon. Willow picks up a mallet for self-defense. Why is a mallet there? Maybe it was used to hammer the lids securely onto the tops of the wine barrels. This NockMaar is wearing a proper metal helmet, but it doesn’t help, because Willow smacks him in face. This causes him to rear upward, only to get smacked in the face a second time by a passing tree branch. He falls off the wagon (heh).
Time for yet another crisis as the wagon’s second rear wheel breaks apart. The entire wagon is now at an angle, it’s rear being dragged along the ground, with Madmartigan and the Nockmaar soldier being dragged behind it, Indiana Jones-style. If that’s not enough, Willow falls backwards at the front of the wagon, and is knocked unconscious. Madmartigan and the Nockmaar continue to exchange punches as they hang onto the back of the wagon. (Look closely: You can see Madmartigan’s legs being dragged through the dirt, but behind the scenes, those legs are not Val Kilmer’s but a stuntman behind Val Kilmer. Simple forced perspective pulls off this illusion.)
Franjean looks to Martigan and then to the barrels of wine inside the wagon. He says to Rool, “We can cut the rope.” They succeed, breaking the rope and causing one (but not both) of the barrels to roll down the back of the wagon and knock the NockMaar off. The Brownies jump up and down in celebration.
The action doesn’t end there, though, because those two guys in the chariot ride up behind the wagon. One of them throws a ninja star, narrowly missing Madmartigan. It strikes a post on the wagon, though, see we can see it in close up. This is the only time in the movie we see one of these ninja stars. According to the tie-in books, these smaller units of NockMaar were called squads, as opposed to larger regiments and battalions our heroes later in the movie, so perhaps only squads get to be equipped with ninja stars. Alternatively, the lore states that “charioteer” is an official title in the NockMaar army, so perhaps only charioteers get to have ninja stars.
Still without a sword, Madmartigan picks up a large block of wood as a weapon. If this wagon falls apart this easily, I’m sure spare wood was on board in case on-the-road repairs were needed. The charioteers keep the variety-of-weapons fun going by pulling out a mace. Willow regains consciousness as Madmartigan and the charioteers swing their weapons at each other. A tree is in the path, and the two vehicles go around each side. You can hear Madmartigan say “Willow, stay down!” So Madmartigan isn’t just trying to escape. He really does care.
Willow doesn’t stay down, and instead reaches for the reins once again. He pulls back and cries “Whoa,” finally slowing down the wagon, while the chariot races on ahead of them. Remember that Willow is farmer raised in an agricultural society, so it’s safe to assume he knows his way around horses. Madmartigan asks “Are you crazy?” But Willow says they can’t chase around with the baby like this. “We’re getting off,” he says. Madmartigan responds by taking the reins and hee-yawing the horses back into the full gallop. Willow falls backwards for a little slapstick humor.
The chariot has turned around up ahead, so now it and the wagon are headed right at each other, jousting-style. Madmartigan somehow now has the NockMaar’s mace, and his swinging it furiously over his head. The charioteer now has a spear, and is holding it in the about-to-throw position. Madmartigan does him one better by actually throwing the mace, striking the NockMaar right in the face. He falls off, causing the guy next to him to lose control of the chariot. The side of the chariot rides up against a small incline, causing it to topple over. Its horses drag it along behind them. The charioteers’ fates are unknown, either dead or out cold.
Madmartigan brings the wagon to a stop, and there’s a comedy bit of Franjean and Rool stumbling out the back of it. Madmartigan says to Willow, “Now we stop, peck.” He seems really angry as he says this, even though he cautioned Willow to stay down earlier. I assuming he’s just speaking with the heat of battle still in him. Then more comedy with the Brownies, as Rool is dizzy and says, “Ask him to the stop the wagon.”
Next: Getting the band back together.
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