Desperado was intended to be a sequel to Rodriguez’s first film, El Mariachi, but acted more as a soft reboot as well as a sequel. Although far from original, Desperado manages to take the best of its predecessor and create something new.
Desperado’s weakest point is its reliance on the plot of El Mariachi. The main plot is the same thing we saw in the first movie: The nameless mariachi sets out on a series of misunderstandings that leads to his love interest being kidnapped. In the climax, Robert Rodriguez’s Mariachi With No Name must face various armed gangsters awaiting him at the gates of the local final villain battle. In El Mariachi, it’s local mob boss Moco’s mansion. In Desperado, it’s fellow mob boss Bucho’s. Because of these glaring similarities, Desperado’s plot can give off the scent of being predictable, as if Rodriguez chose to copy and paste his first movie to try and recreate the magic.
The only difference is, Desperado takes its own predictability and runs with it. Instead of striving to make a different movie, Robert Rodriguez tries his hand at making a better movie. Rodriguez rides the line between sequel and remake because he wants to tell the same story- without having to establish his main character all over again.
At this point, we know who the nameless mariachi is, despite knowing nothing about him. He is a naive boy who became a hardened killer through the events of El Mariachi; When he first walks into the bar, described by Steve Buscemi’s character as “the biggest Mexican [he’s] ever seen”, we know what he’s been through. His initial dream sequence where he sees Moco and the hole in his hand lets the audience know that El Mariachi definitely did happen, and its events left the Mariachi scarred both mentally and physically. This time, however, the Mariachi was portrayed by Antonio Banderas and not by Carlos Gallardo, who played the character in the first film.
By showing us the same events in a different way, Rodriguez was free to copy the first movie without consequence. El Mariachi had both happened and not happened, and that allowed him to pick and choose what elements to bring back, as well as how to introduce new ones. This particular arena is where Desperado thrives.
Whereas El Mariachi was strictly about the Mariachi’s singular storyline, Desperado feels more like an ensemble film in that there’s a whole universe of equally ridiculously badass characters. Be it Danny Trejo’s proto-Machete character or the Mariachi’s trio of mariachi vigilantes, it was clear that there were other stories revolving around the events of the film in Rodriguez’s Desperado universe.
Some of these universe-expanding characters remain undeveloped and almost random, but it’s an almost a welcome detail; Rodriguez doesn’t need to tell us the history of the Mariachi’s sidekick in Steve Buscemi, or the gun-guitar-case-toting mariachi, because it’s better to not know. Badasses can pop out from any crevasse in this universe, and they require no tragic background.
In addition to having new characters, its already-existing characters were much more dynamic and interesting. Instead of being the normal everyday man, the Mariachi was a tragic figure wandering the country paradoxically searching for both blood and peace. His struggle was within as much as it was against gun-wielding banditos; Just as Moco mentioned, the Mariachi was once a symbol of hope for his family. Instead, he is defeated. Just like Harvey Dent in Nolan’s The Dark Knight, his future and his symbol were torn apart and he became something darker.