Charles Band is one to never keep a good robot down — not when he laid out several million bucks to create his first robot-verse romp in 1989. So the anime-inspired mechs that we know and love are back, along with an all-new, never-seen-before mech: the Lucasian-inspired AT-AT that is MRAS-2, which resembles a mechanized scorpion.
Now, if you read our reviews for the they’re-not-sequels Robot Jox and Crash and Burn (both reviewed this week), then you’re up to speed on the all-over-the-place timeline of the Band-verse that our poly-carbon alloy friends operate in. Adding to the confusion: In the overseas markets, courtesy of the U.S. home video promotional one-sheets touting the tagline: “First, there was Robot Jox . . . ,” this third installment of Band’s live action anime-mechs is known in the overseas markets as Robot Jox 2: Robot Wars. Yeah, we know. Crash and Burn was Robot Jox 2: Crash and Burn in the overseas markets. So, why not suffix Robot Wars with a 3?
Oh, ye poor B&S reader. Why are you overthinking a movie with a giant scorpion robot?
And speaking of overthinking: While Robot Wars takes place eleven years after (in 2041) the events in Crash and Burn (set in the year 2030), this isn’t the future-continuation of that timeline. In fact, the world — instead of being devastated by a nuclear war as depicted in Robot Jox, and the world economic collapse due to man’s dependence on technology ballyhooed in Crash and Burn: now the North American continent was devastated by “the great toxic gas scare of 1993” that’s left large parts of the former United States a barren, desert wasteland. (You know, the same desert wasteland Parsifal, Bronx and Ratchet drove across on motorcycles to the Eurac-backed Big Apple, aka Arizona, U.S.A.) Oh, and let’s not forget the great robot ban of 2015 that decommissioned all the battlebots. (Uh, oh. Are we pinching from Damnation Alley, here? Remember that ’70s post-apoc’er had giant scorpions raised on radioactive fallout.)
And Band changed the sociopolitical backstory, yet again. Gone are the U.S.-led Common Market and the Russian-bred Confederation. And it seems the Independent Liberty Union foiled the tech-oppressive Unicom Corporation. Now, the New World Order is known as North Hemi, which assimilated the United States. The opposing side is the Eastern Alliance. And, at one time, the Hemis and the Alliancers had at it out with their now extinct 120-foot mechs we know and love, hence the great robot ban of 2015. (Uh, oh. Are we pinching from Francis Ford Coppola’s Battle Beyond the Sun? Remember that Corman-hatchet job of the superior Russian space epic Nebo Zovyot (1959) was rewritten by Frank, set in the year 1997 with a world divided into North and South Hemi governments.)
Sadly, all that is left of the once ubiquitous war machine mega-robots is the MRAS-2 scorpion-styled robot, now reduced to being tourist attraction that transports civilians across the wasteland — but still carries a full weapons complement, complete with a laser-tipped tail. Ah, but this isn’t just another wasteland tour: Wa-Lee, an Eastern Alliance dignitary is on board, on his way to negotiate a trade agreement with the North Hemis to manufacture a new line of “mini-megs” for the Eastern Alliance. (Although Danny Kamekona is the only actor from the franchise to act in two of the three Robo flicks, he’s a different character in each.)
That trade agreement is jeopardized when it is discovered the terrorist-based Centros, desert bandits who attack North Hemi transports, are now backed by Eastern Alliance sympathizers. As the story develops, it’s learned that Wa-Lee, and Drake, our Plissken-styled MRAS-2 pilot (Don Michael Paul; he’s since written and directed sequels in the Jarhead, Sniper, Tremors, and Death Race franchises) were once friends, but now enemies. Their animosity boils over when Wa-Lee, with the support of the Centros, hijacks the MRAS-2 and holds its passengers hostage. And with that, Drake faces his fears and climbs back into the cockpit of a reactivated MEGA-1 for some battlebot action. Oh, and a pretty cool, double-turret laser tank (right off the cover of David Drake’s 1979 paperback Hammer’s Slammers) shows up. However, also showing up along the yellow-plotted road is the Bogie and Bacall-styled romantic bickering between Don Michael Paul’s Han Solo-esque scoundrel and Barbara Crampton’s (Re-Animator) Leia-inspired archeologist who helps him resurrect the thought lost MegaRobot — that digs itself out of its subterranean grave in an impressively executed effect.
Yeah, but just a little too late with the effects there, Chuck.
Charles Band was really onto something special with Stuart Gordon’s Robot Jox. Then he fumbled the ball with his two they’re-not-sequels and got ass-smoked by Toho Studios’ hell-of-a-lot-more fun, GUNHED (1989). And team Band (Charles produced while pop Albert directed) most likely realized that fact, as their fourth not-a-sequel, Battle Jox — featuring giant dinosaur-styled robots — was cancelled. (Thank the Lords of Kobol for saving us from that feldercarb. In what logic-verse would man build dinobots, except for some lame-ass toyline for kids 9 and under.)
Dave Allen and Jim Danforth really knocked it out of the park with the newly-added Scorpion robot. Double for the special effects team of Greg Aronowitz and Rob Sherwood who designed the robot cockpits. The plate work is also top notch in depicting the rocking of the passenger cabin/cockpit against the landscapes as the scorpion walks. (The VHS has a great documentary vignette — void from the later DVD presses — that explains/demonstrates the plate processes of the film.) It’s when the proceedings get outside of the cockpit — with the Paul-Crampton romancing, Lisa Rinna’s journalist investigating the nefarious goings in the metropolis of Crystal Vista (aka old Los Angeles), and the sociopolitical rambling — that it all goes to feldercarb. Is the third act here, yet? Can we please just get to the robot battle we came for in the first place?
While you’ll notice the Full Moon prop and costume department raiding throughout the film (that looks like leftovers from Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone and Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn to me; reviews coming for both, look for them), the proceedings are of the oh-so Buck Rogers plastic-verse variety to the point you’re wondering when a (bitchy-Season 1) Erin Grey or (pudgy-Season 2) Gil Gerard will show up. But we’re grateful for iconic Asian actors Danny Kamekona and Yugi Okimoto bringing their A-Game and selling the silliness with gusto. (They both appeared together in The Karate Kid Part II (1986); along with Don Michael Paul, they also appeared in Aloha Summer (1988).)
As with its sister films, VHS copies are bountiful in the online marketplace, with the first DVDs issued in 2007 as part of the Full Moon Classics: Volume Two disc set, and then the Full Moon Features: The Archive Collection, with 17 other Full Moon titles. Robot Wars is also double-featured with Crash and Burn on a Shout! Factory DVD issued in 2011. Blu-ray’ers can pick the Full Moon single-movie version issued in 2017. Question is: When are we going to get a three-pack set proper — complete with the VHS documentaries restored?
You can enjoy Robot Wars as a free-with-ads stream on Tubi.