Written by: Charles Band (story), Shane Bitterling
Directed by: Charles Band
Starring: Kip Canyon, Scott King, and Jean Louise O'Sullivan
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
The battle is over. The war has just begun!
Iím not all that surprised that Puppet Master X: Axis Rising (the eleventh film in the series, despite the title) has arrived just two years after the previous effort, Axis of Evil. The franchise is Full Moonís only cash cow, and itís basically been milked and beaten into a dead horse, but thatís not going to stop Charles Band. Perhaps more surprising is the studioís insistence on directly following the storyline of Axis of Evil, a film that was pretty much universally reviled by whateverís left of the fan base. Maybe Band and company think that sticking with the World War II setting will recapture some magic from the last time this franchise was truly viable since most agree itís been a steep decline since part III, which first explored Toulonís history in Nazi Germany. Itís shaky reasoning, and it doesnít even pay off anyway since Axis Rising is hardly a concerted effort to correct the course.
Hell, itís hardy an effort at all. Picking up immediately after the destruction of the secret German armory in Axis of Evil, some of Toulonís puppets fall into the clutches of another Nazi officer (Scott King). When Tuneller ends up drilling through a subordinateís face, he realizes that the puppets might be of use to a scientist (Oto Brezian) that heís forcing to conduct secret experiments to discover the secret to resurrection. He hopes to resurrect an army of fallen brothers to fight again for the fatherland, and the only people that can stop him is Danny (Kip Canyon) and his girlfriend (Jean Louise OíSullivan), the two kids who thwarted the Axisís plans in the last film. Along with the remaining puppets and a crotchety army general, the two attempt to rescue their captured comrades.
Well, actually, they sit around and talk about doing this an awful lot. In between, Danny endlessly lobbies for a spot in the army (you might recall that heís a bit of a Steve Rogers-like kid whoís been rejected for service) as he also prepares to attend a ceremony thatíll honor him as an American hero. Meanwhile, Brezianís professor toils in a lab while resisting the advances of a buxom, Ilsa-esque fraulein whose ample assets represent the best acquisition since the last film. In fact, itís about the only notable addition since it soon becomes clear that the real Axis of Evil here is Band, a cheap budget, and a complete lack of shame. Calling this film ďuninspiredĒ is putting it mildly; its predecessor was hardly a bastion of effort, but it at least returned David DeCoteau to the fold and seemingly attempted to get back to the franchise roots a bit.
By comparison, Axis Rising lamely follows down a path that doesnít really exist; it might seem like Band has had some sort of overarching plan since the last two films have been connected, but this is one of the more arbitrary sequels in recent memory. Not only does the filmís title forget that this is the eleventh film, but it also falsely promises an Axis rise when thereís actually no Axis to be found. Instead, weíre just dealing plain old Nazis, and a grand total of two of them if you count the busty seductress. If the plot sounds kind of familiar, it should--half of it is practically lifted wholesale from part three, so Band really must be desperate to tap into those glory days. The truth, of course, is that those glory days were marked by true talent and care; itís been a rough decade for Full Moon, a studio that once represented the pinnacle of the direct-to-video market. Donít mistake that as a backhanded compliment, either--stuff like Castle Freak and the original Puppet Master are great cheapies that made the most of their limited resources.
Now, the limitations havenít just caught up with Band--theyíre essentially lapping him to the point where Axis Rising just seems like an attempt to craft a loose story around whatever new creations the prop team concocts. Thereís a handful of new puppets here, including a machine gunning Nazi girl that gives new meaning to the phrase ďtorpedo tits.Ē A werewolf puppet is nonsensical but kind of cool, while the slanted-eyed Kamikaze is a stereotype that smacks of juvenile desperation. Itís not offensive so much as itís just lazily delivered without an ounce of wit, which is true of most of the movie. Whatever intrigue the puppets bring to the table is snuffed out by their cheap, flat appearance; the best I can say is that theyíre not rendered via CGI (though thereís still some distracting computer generated gore), but the animation is so lackluster that the big climax (where the puppets finally do something) looks like Band simply filmed a bunch of kids playing with dolls. The human element doesnít fare much better since the cloying old fashioned dialogue renders everyone more wooden than the puppets, so thereís very little to latch onto here unless youíre a fan thatís absolutely starving for more puppet action.
If so, youíre still better suited with cozying up with the first few entries in this franchise. Axis Rising isnít just bad; like the more recent entries in this franchise, it makes the weird, mediocre middle entries look pretty good by comparison. Iím starting to think that Band cobbled The Legacy together just to ensure that the series had hit its absolute nadir. Since itís not a glorified clip show, Axis Rising manages to be more worthwhile than that one, but just barely. Full Moon released the film a couple of weeks ago on DVD and Blu-ray; the former offering is solid if not unremarkable (unlike the movie, which is remarkably bad): the transfer is anamorphic, and the 5.1 track is adequate if not a little front-loaded. The special features might reveal all that you need to know about Axis Rising itself, as most of them center on the franchiseís legacy. Thereís a 20 year old Videozone featurette, a montage, and some re-mastered trailers for Full Moon classics and recent releases. As someone who almost always advocates sequels for franchises no matter how bad it gets, itís even hard for me to be optimistic about the future of Puppet Master. If this latest offering is any indication, Toulonís box should probably be locked away for a while and only opened when Full Moon is serious about making real movies again. Trash it!
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