Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Unnecessary Retrospective Follow-Up: Puppet Master X - Axis Rising Review

When I finished my second Unnecessary Retrospective on the Puppet Master series, I already knew another installment was coming at the end of this year. Hell, even if I hadn't heard about it, I would have assumed. There are ten after all (or nine depending on how you count). Much like the puppets themselves, it seems nothing can kill this franchise, and as far as I'm concerned, that's just the way I like it. Sure they're not as good as they used to be, either in terms of the story or the production values, but at this point, after decades of living with these movies, growing up with these mute tiny killing machines, it would make me genuinely sad to hear if they ever retired the series. It's like the Simpsons in that way, that regardless of the current state of quality, it's a part of my personal history, and taking it away would leave an empty space where my excitable kid self used to be. Yes, that's right, I just compared the Puppet Master series to the Simpsons. Deal with it, bitches.

So this new entry picks up right where the previous one left off, with the evil Nazi Geisha lady escaping with the drill topped puppet Tunneller as her captive. Thankfully, not only is she re-cast with a (slightly) better actress, she is also murdered in the first five minutes, and replaced by a much more interesting set of villains, if only because this time they are actual Nazi officers. We're introduced here to Commandant Moebius, who becomes instantly fascinated with the living puppet even as it brutally kills one of his subordinates. As the Geisha's body lies dying in the alley, his order to his second in command sets the tone for the rest of the movie - "Do with her corpse as you wish, then dispose of it." Yes, that's right, Nazi Necrophiliacs! It's never paid off in any real way, but just the implication is enough for me. We go from here to find the characters from the previous film re-grouping after the climactic battle we saw last time. They are re-cast as well, and at first it's a bit of a let down as they are not as interesting or talented as the previous actors, but they grew on me eventually. Also, this time they are joined by the rough, no-nonsense Sargent Stone, who is instantly enjoyable as a gruff foil for the two young kids. As they prepare to rout the rest of the Nazis hiding amongst us with the help of Blade relaying spy message through inexplicably easy to understand pantomime, the Commandant pressures a (somewhat) sympathetic scientist into helping him build a "Resurrection Device," to which his new discovery of Toulon's work might just provide the key.

They're joined by a female Nazi officer credited with the name Uschi, though you might as well call her Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. She deserves special mention not only for being the first evil Nazi in this franchise to qualify as sexy (Richard Lynch falling just short), but also for providing the first body for which the mad doctor will use to make his new army of Nazi puppets, which proves to be the main draw of the film. She's not a terrible actress, though the accent leaves much to be desired, and she's good at what she's there for, to basically use her boobs as a figurative weapon so that when she's turned into a living puppet that literally has weapons for boobs, it can make idiots like me chuckle. Her puppet form, named Bombshell, is basically a Nazi fembot with concealed machine guns, and while I can't help but question how so many bullets could fit into that small frame, or how powerful they could be being as small as they apparently are, I can't say that that ever bothered me with Six Shooter, so I have to give it a pass. And yes, it's a official, I have a lady Nazi fetish. I suspected as much when I watched Puppet Master 3 for the retrospective, and I can no longer deny it. I will make sure to feel bad about myself after I finish writing and posting this review. Okay, well, after I finish, then do some other stuff, then I'll feel bad about myself.

The other new puppets all fall on some point of the decent to ridiculous range. The only one that seems to have any real threatening potential is the metal tank called Blitzkrieg, ironically pulling off this idea much better than the puppet actually called Tank from Curse, though I would have called him Panzer myself. Weremacht, who is it would seem arbitrarily a werewolf in a Nazi uniform, just sort of stands around and growls. Just from the standpoint of absurdity, I'd have to say my favorite is Kamikaze, who has this insanely racist Asian caricature face, and just walks around shouting in Japanese as he holds his finger to a trigger strapped to the TNT on his back, threatening to blow himself up. The thing that bothers me about this new group (apart from the racism I guess) is that in their creation, the producers seem to have forgotten that in order to bring a puppet to life in this fictional world, you need to imbue it with the soul of a human. Other than Bombshell, none of the puppets are shown to be people resurrected, but seem to be brought to life on their own, which doesn't make any sense in the context of the series. Granted, I'm probably the only person in the universe who cares enough about the canon of Puppet Master to give a shit about this, but still, they remembered it as recently as the last movie. Why not take the time to stay true to what has been established? Even so, at least we get not one but two epic puppet chick fights between Leech Woman and Bombshell. At least as epic as a chick fight between two puppets can be.

On the mythology front, we get what could prove to be a very interesting notion in the development of the main villain's motivations. Commmandant Moebius, as he reads ancient texts dealing with the occult and obsesses over symbols we never see, mentions that his overwhelming interest in magic as a source for power has been inspired by visions he's had all of his life. He believes these visions to be from a force older than man, something akin to the Old Ones, and in the context of this series, could only be the supernatural being Sutekt. If this were expanded upon in further sequels, this could really be something, the idea that an ancient Egyptian God of Death has been secretly engineering world affairs and was the driving force behind the Third Reich during WWII. I doubt they have any grand plan for these movies, but it's fun to dream. Still, I can't help but continue to ask the question: Why can't the bad guy just be Hitler already? Why does it always have to be some random Nazi? I keep expecting that to be the twist ending to one of these movies, where the big guy finally shows up, but it never happens. I want me some Hitler! Come on Charles Band, grow some balls and give us Der Fuhrer! As soon as I'm finished masturbating furiously to She-Wolf porn, I have half a mind to shoot off an angry letter or two.

In the end, this series proves to be the only venue to ask the deep, profound sorts of questions that other, more mainstream films just don't have the stones to approach, like once you've stabbed a Nazi in the brain, is it also necessary to spit a leech into his mouth? And is it really an epic comeback for Six Shooter to appear in the third act when he never really went away, and the only reason he didn't appear beforehand was because you kept forgetting to pull him out of the box? These are the kinds of issues that J.J. Abrams wishes he could explore with his millions of dollars and all his fancy lens flares. There's very little I can say about this film by way of a recommendation at this point. It is what it is, it delivers what it promises. If you've seen the last one or the last five, you know exactly what you're in for. If you're like me, you'll enjoy yourself regardless of the flaws, which as always with something like this, are many and obvious. I highly doubt this is the last time we'll see this series, and when it comes back (hopefully with more actual Hitler), I'll be the first one in line.

How I Would Continue The Series - Updated

I think I had like ten ideas for other Puppet Master movies when I did the full Retrospective last time, but since then, I think I've come up with a pretty solid idea for a TV series. It would follow a young Toulon in between the events of Retro Puppet Master and Puppet Master Three, on the run from the forces of Sutekt and forced to flee to America during the roaring 20's. Gangsters rule the streets and after a fashion, Toulon's puppets are put into the position to stand up for what's right like a very tiny version of the Untouchables. This would be the first time Toulon finds himself in the Bodega Bay Inn, the place where he would end his life. It's a site of mystical convergence that aids him in his research and affords him some protection from the unholy hordes chasing him, but it also attracts all sorts of oddballs, mystics, psychics, and creeps, most of whom stay as guests on a temporary or permanent basis. You could use this to introduce the idea of Toulon's future, from fugitive to heroic Nazi hunter, to insane mad scientist, through the eyes of a fortune teller who can really see the future and introduces him to the world of psychic phenomena. That's it, puppets versus gangsters. Feel it in your balls ladies and gentlemen.

Ado. Until next time.

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