Puppet Master X: Axis Rising (2012)
Directed by Charles Band
Distributed by Full Moon Entertainment
2010’s Puppet Master: Axis of Evil was a colossal waste of time and, for me, the last chance for Full Moon Pictures to right a decade's worth of franchise wrongs. So disappointed was I with the finished product that I wrote an open letter detailing the ways in which Charles Band and co. could get this stagnating series back on track.
They didn’t listen.
Which brings us to Puppet Master X: Axis Rising, a direct continuation of Axis of Evil that manages to magnify everything wrong with the last installment without making a single improvement. When we last saw our pint-sized terrors, Tunneler had been abducted by the villainous Ozu, a kabuki actress / double agent with designs on cracking the secrets of eternal life held within the puppets. This doesn’t go as planned, however, and she’s immediately gunned down by Nazis who don’t take kindly to her nonsense. Meanwhile, our ineffective hero, Danny, mounts a campaign to retrieve the missing puppet.
That’s the story of Axis Rising, possibly the most ponderous offering this franchise has seen to date. Director Charles Band films everything with the utmost indifference, giving us endless scenes of people conversing in the two or three sets this movie could afford to build. Completely static locations that give Axis Rising the same kind of sheen you’d find in the lowest of low rent BBC offerings. All of the flare, energy and style of the earliest entries are nothing but a distant memory here.
In my review from two years ago, I remarked how poorly made the puppets were. And they haven’t improved in this new installment. We’re a long way from the charming character designs in the first three movies, and we’re even further away from David Allen’s incredible stop-motion animation that brought them to life. This iteration of the puppets is a shocking bore, as Full Moon can barely bother to show them move. It’s all the more depressing when we finally get around to seeing Six Shooter unleashed in the climax, completely devoid of any and all of the previous magic that made him an enduring fan favorite. Now he just lurches forward (shot from the torso up, of course), fires his guns, laughs awkwardly and that's pretty much it.
This begs a bigger question: who is Full Moon’s target audience? In the late 80s/90s, it was fairly clear that Full Moon was interested in carving out a niche for low-budget, fantastical genre exploitation. Results varied, but at least that stuff featured enough production value and actual acting talent that even the weakest offerings were work a look. Now? What minor violence Axis Rising has is the product of really weak and unconvincing CGI. The aforementioned puppet effects are about as intricate as a street corner puppet show and there’s absolutely no exploitative element. For a brief moment, Puppet Master X seems like it might offer a little depravity in the guise of a libidinous Ilsa-esque Nazi woman, but it never materializes into anything beyond PG material.
For about the fifth time in a row, we have a Puppet Master sequel that fails to deliver anything that genre fans might like. All that’s really left is the same trite character stuff that managed to sink Axis of Evil. The last movie ended with our resident hero, Danny Coogan, declaring war on the Nazis, which at least promised a more interesting story. But as soon as Axis Rising begins, the character is saddled with an obnoxious soldier chaperone who’d rather be out ”stompin’ krauts”. The end result is another dialogue-heavy sequel that can barely be remembered to include puppet violence at all. Instead the human characters bicker a lot, preventing the inevitable rescue attempt from happening until act three. Hell, at least Retro Puppet Master had the courtesy to wrap itself up in just a little over an hour. This one's almost 90 minutes of completely listless content.
It’s more of the no-budget same, with new and generic additions to the puppet cast to boot. A Nazi woman called Bombshell, whose breasts are mini machine guns. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? It’s not. The extent of Bombshell’s carnage is watching her swivel her torso back and forth while firing off-screen. There’s a Japanese puppet called Kamikaze that wants to blow something, anything, sky high. And then we get a grossly underused Nazi werewolf that is taken out of action almost as soon as he appears. None of this works at all, as Axis Rising can't muster an ounce of flare or fun along the way.
Worst of all, it ends on another cliffhanger –albeit a less egregious one than last time around. Honestly, there’s nothing to say about Axis Rising that I didn’t already cover in my Axis of Evil review. But this one is worse. The performances are more wooden (it should be mentioned that none of the actors from the last one reprise their roles here), the action less enthralling and the setting/locations look abysmally cheap. Anyone reading this probably holds the same modicum of hope that I do for this series. That, one of these days, Band and co. will understand that they need to spend some money to make money. This isn’t that day, though. Puppet Master X: Axis Rising is every bit as terrible as you might think, and then some. Cross it off the list and support Full Moon by buying the original trilogy Blu-ray box set instead. Let them know those are the movies we enjoy, and not this hackneyed nostalgia cash-in.
1/2 out of 5