Directed by Stuart Gordon
The film is set 50 years after a nuclear war in a world where war has been outlawed. The world seems to be divided into two predominant camps: the Russian lead Confederation and the western dominated Market. Instead of settling conflicts with large opposing armies they settle them with fighters in gigantic mech suits piloted by “robot jox.” Each nation has its own set of champions and each champion is contracted for 10 fights. The two most prominent champions are Alexander (Paul Koslo) who fights for the Confederation and Achilles (Gary Graham) who fights for the Market. Alexander is more than a little psychotic and has killed his last few opponents on the field. After Alexander kills his opponent on the battlefield it’s up to Achilles to fight him for control of Alaska. The Russians desire the oil and mineral wealth in Alaska and have decided to lay claim to it.
You may see this movie and say, “This movie reminds me of Pacific Rim,” but if anything, Pacific Rim should remind you of this movie. At least that’s how I felt when I first saw Pacific Rim. In broad strokes both films are similar. They both have giant robots with cool weapons piloted by celebrity drivers with the robots being as well-known.
The concept here is essentially two nations going to war, but it never quite feels like that. It’s just a fact lingering in the background but nothing that seems to greatly affect the movie. I really wish they had played it up. Given the politics of the time it would’ve made for a better movie. It would’ve been good to draw parallels.
There’s a plot line about the next generation of jocks and how Achilles is the last of his kind. Out with the old and in with the new so to speak. That plot line however is more of an excuse to give Achilles a love interest in Athena (Anne-Marie Johnson) than it is for anything else and that love interest is more like a plot device. She’s just there to give him some motivation for the final battle. She’s just someone for him to save.
The story is filled with plenty of casual sexism on the part of Achilles and his mentor Tex Conway (Michael Alldredge). There’s no other way to put it. I think it was a heavy-handed attempt just to show growth in Achilles but the things they said were straight out of a bad 1940s film.
There’s a plot thread about a spy in the program. If it had gotten a little more focus it could have been quite interesting but instead it was mentioned a few times with the the resolution done more in a manner that felt like they needed to wrap it up rather than give the audience a big payoff. The spy had been selling technical information on the mechs to the Confederation. In this world that’s serious because it gave the Confederation an upper hand in every fight no matter how good the jox of the Market were.
This thread could have added a little tension and intrigue to the story. An unseen and unknown villain is almost always good. However, it was handled casually and wrapped up with the spy making an idiotic speech and jumping over a ledge. They didn’t even bother to drop clues during the movie.
For its day the special effects were fantastic. This was a favorite rental of mine back in the age of VHS. And on Blu-ray it still looks good. The robots are accomplished through a mix of stop motion, miniatures and there looks to be even a smidgen of CGI during the climax. And they look beautiful. For me the scenes are still exciting. Then again, I love old school effects. They were more of an art than today. You really had to struggle and be creative to get your vision up on screen.
The sets and costumes are more than a bit bare bone. Just enough is done to let you know it’s set in the future but there isn’t enough to make it a detailed future. Some illuminated objects on the wall and video phones with buttons and corded receivers (?) are the only visual clues.
Robot Jox is a definite highlight of the B-movie genre. Visually it is probably the last hurrah of stop motion special effects animation. I can’t think of anything after this movie that used it to the extent that Robot Jox did. The script isn’t bad for a B-movie, but it could’ve been a little better. The actors give it their all and it shows because their efforts in addition to everything else make a fun and pretty watchable movie. And that is enough to lift this movie up a few notches. You have to suspend your disbelief at times and need to except some of the cheapness you see but the movie is just so wonderfully cheezie to watch.
The people behind this movie were trying to make a good movie with very little in the way of resources. And they did manage to create something enjoyable. It’s not sophisticated film but sometimes you need dessert just as you need a good meal. The story is good and the visuals are good and if you have a chance to watch this movie you should because you will enjoy yourself and I’m willing to bet you’ll want to take another look at it.