Wild Wild West (1999) is a science fiction action-comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, starring Will Smith, Kevin Kline (in two roles, Artemus Gordon and President Ulysses S. Grant), Kenneth Branagh and Salma Hayek.
In the spirit of the original TV series, the film features highly advanced steampunk technology and many bizarre mechanical inventions, including innumerable inventions of the mechanological geniuses Artemus Gordon and Dr. Loveless, including nitroglycerine-powered penny-farthing bicycles, spring-loaded notebooks, bulletproof chainmail, flying machines, steam tanks, and Loveless's giant mechanical spider.
After the opening credits, viewer go to a railroad water station in Morgan, West Virginia. Trigger-happy Captain Jim West (Will Smith), one of the main protagonists, is hiding in the water tower, spying on the actions of a group of ex-Confederate soldiers working under General "Bloodbath" McGrath, a personal rival of West's. Following a runaway ride on a wagon filled with bottles of nitroglycerin, West arrives at a saloon where General McGrath (Ted Levine) and his rag-tag band of rebel soldiers are enjoying a raucous party. McGrath, whose head is fitted with a small swiveling trumpet to replace a missing ear, is seduced by an unlikely prostitute who, having seen McGrath's men carrying a man out of the building, attempts to hypnotize the general and learn his plans for the kidnapped man.
West breaks in and attempts to kill McGrath, but he is stopped by the prostitute, allowing McGrath to escape. West fights off a number of McGrath's men and finds himself in a Mexican standoff with the prostitute, who unmasks his disguise to reveal himself as the second protagonist; gadget-obsessed master of disguise U.S. Marshal Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline). The two escape from the saloon as the wagon-load of nitroglycerin tumbles down a nearby slope, destroying the building.
In Washington, D.C., West and Gordon meet at the White House with President Grant, who informs them of the disappearance of America's key scientists. Grant charges the two with finding the scientists within one week, before he inaugurates the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory, Utah.
En route to New Orleans on board The Wanderer, a luxury train fitted with an array of bizarre gadgets, West and Gordon come to blows before putting aside their differences. Pursuing a lead, the two arrive in New Orleans at the mansion of Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh)—a brilliant ex-Confederate scientist confined to a steam-powered wheelchair—who is hosting a party for the elite of Southern society. While investigating Loveless's study, West is almost seduced by one of Loveless's female bodyguards, Miss East. However, West escapes, and Miss East is killed in the process. West mistakes a female guest for Gordon in disguise, making a comic error that results in the guests leading West out for a lynching. Using this as a distraction, Gordon (in disguise) roams the mansion and comes across the film's main female character, Rita Escobar (Salma Hayek), rescuing her from the house. West, trying to talk his way out of being lynched, is saved by an elastic lynching rope, one of Gordon's inventions, and escapes with Gordon and Rita on The Wanderer.
Onboard his armored steam-powered gunboat, Loveless, hosting a reception for foreign dignitaries, demonstrates his newest weapon: a steam-powered tank. The tank crew uses General McGrath's soldiers as target practice, infuriating McGrath. McGrath tries to shoot Loveless, but Loveless shoots him first, using a gun concealed within his wheelchair, killing McGrath. Loveless explains to the assembled ambassadors the immense power of his new mechanized forces and invites the dignitaries to a reception at his laboratory to explain his future plans. Gordon, West, and Rita arrive at the scene of the massacre just as Loveless and his tank leave. The trio finds the dying McGrath, who reveals one of Loveless's past crimes: Loveless had used the tank to massacre a settlement of displaced slaves, including West's family (an attack for which West had held McGrath responsible). Loveless boards his armored train (based on his tank) and heads towards Utah. He is pursued by Gordon, West, and Rita, who travel on board The Wanderer. Using his advanced mechanical devices, Loveless relocates his own train behind The Wanderer. West, making use of one of Gordon's inventions, disables Loveless's train, but not before Loveless uses a locomotive-mounted cannon to stop The Wanderer. Rita, afraid of being recaptured by Loveless, accidentally releases sleeping gas, knocking out West, Gordon and herself.
West and Gordon wake up as Loveless, with a recaptured Rita, pulls away in The Wanderer, informing them (by a steam-powered megaphone) of his intentions to capture President Grant at the "golden spike" ceremony. They find themselves incarcerated in a strange prison, fitted with metal collars and enclosed only by a wire strung at ground level. West, ignoring Gordon's advice, crosses the wire and triggers a nearby steam-powered machine which releases two lethal flying disks – identical to the disk that killed the man earlier in the movie.
West and Gordon attempt to run away, but they soon realize the disks are attracted to the collars' magnetic fields. Following a panicked dash through a field of maize, the two leap into a mud-filled pit from opposite directions, causing the discs to collide in midair. A comic scene follows in which Gordon loses his temper with West and accidentally reverses the polarity of their magnets, causing the two collars to stick to each other. Eventually, Gordon removes their collars and the two stumble across Loveless's private railroad track, which leads them to The Wanderer and Loveless's industrial complex. Here, they witness Loveless's ultimate weapon: a gargantuan, steam-powered mechanical spider, bristling with cannons, Gatling guns, and a powerful explosive flamethrower. Loveless, driving the spider, captures Gordon and President Grant from the railroad inauguration ceremony at Promontory Point, whilst West is apparently killed by one of Loveless's bodyguards.
At his industrial complex, a euphoric Loveless reveals his plan to destroy the United States with his mechanized forces unless President Grant agrees to divide the United States among Great Britain, France, Spain, Mexico, and himself. Loveless demands that President Grant sign a surrender treaty; when Grant refuses, Loveless threatens to execute Gordon. Before he can do so, he is interrupted by a belly dancer, who turns out to be West in disguise.
West, it is revealed, had escaped death when a concealed layer of bulletproof chain mail in his jacket (another one of Gordon's inventions) stopped the bullet fired at him. Using the belly dancer disguise, which he had found in the remains of The Wanderer, West had planned to infiltrate Loveless's lair and rescue the hostages. However, when West's brassiere is revealed to be a flamethrower (yet another of Gordon's inventions), Loveless's complex is set ablaze, creating enough of a distraction for Loveless to escape to his mechanical spider with an unconscious Grant while Gordon himself rescues the other hostages, including Rita.
Gordon and West, using a flying machine developed by Gordon, catch up with the spider and bomb it with nitroglycerin before crashing into it, sending Munitia, one of Loveless's crew, falling to her death. Unfortunately, another of Loveless's bodyguards shoots at the flying machine, making West and Gordon fall to the spider's control bridge. Loveless offers the two their lives in exchange for their service to him. West refuses and is dropped into the engine room to defend himself against the spider's crew, all of whom are fitted with bizarre prosthetics. After West defeats the crew, Loveless himself descends into the engine room to defeat West; in his absence, Gordon and Grant defeat Loveless's bodyguards and take over the spider's control bridge, which is difficult to manage.
Loveless, making use of four hydraulic mechanical legs concealed within his wheelchair, pins West to the floor and stomps on him until Gordon damages and incapacitates the walking apparatus. Pleading for his life, Loveless drags himself back to his wheelchair frame as the spider approaches a canyon. Loveless attempts to shoot West with the gun concealed in his wheelchair, but hits the control lines of the spider instead, bringing it to a sudden halt just before it plunges into the canyon. The sudden stop sends West and Loveless spinning towards the edge of the deck, where they become wedged by the wheelchair. West deliberately releases the wheelchair, sending both Loveless and himself plummeting into the canyon. As they fall, West is able to grab a chain that is connected to the deck and saves himself, while Loveless falls to his death.
After the second ceremony at Promontory, Grant promotes Gordon and West to the first two agents of his newly-formed U.S. Secret Service, then leaves aboard The Wanderer. Gordon and West meet Rita again, both of them planning to propose marriage to her, but she crushes both their hopes by announcing that Professor Escobar (another character) was, in fact, her husband and not her father. The film ends with a typically clichéd scene of Western films; it shows Gordon and West seemingly riding through a typical Western landscape on horseback, but the camera pulls back to reveal that they are actually piloting the immense steam-spider into the sunset (towards Washington, D.C.; a minor inconsistency since that city lies far east of Utah).
After making a very respectable $50 million on its opening weekend, the box office numbers dropped off precipitously. At the end of its US theatrical run, Wild Wild West made $113 million, well below its $170 million production budget. It made just over $222 million worldwide.
Ralston's experience brought to light a common Hollywood practice of the 1950s and 60's when television writers who helped create popular series allowed producers or studios to take credit for a show, thus cheating the writers out of millions of dollars in royalties. Ralston died in 1999, before his suit was settled. Warner Brothers ended up paying his family between $600,000 and $1.5 million.
Wild Wild West was a #1 hit on the U.S. pop charts, but also won a Razzie Award. It was produced by Rob Fusari and anchored by a sample from Stevie Wonder's 1976 hit I Wish. The song features guest vocals from R&B group Dru Hill, and was a star-making vehicle for Dru Hill lead singer Sisqo. Old school rapper Kool Moe Dee had recorded a Wild Wild West single of his own in 1987, and re-performs the chorus from his old Wild Wild West as the chorus of this new Wild Wild West.
Several songs not heard in the film itself are featured on the promotional CD album Wild Wild West: Music Inspired By The Motion Picture (released by Interscope Records on June 15, 1999). This includes the song Bad Guys Always Die, which marked the first collaboration between Dr. Dre and Eminem.
Neil Gaiman has said that Jon Peters insisted a giant mechanical spider be included in a film adaptation of The Sandman.