It bothers me greatly that giant robot movies never gained much of anything in turns of prolificacy in the west. In the land of the rising sun, giant robots are often a subcategory of various forms of media, like video games focusing on mecha, or mecha anime. All we have in the west are a variety of occasionally good mech games, and a handful of movies focused on the city dwarfing machines. “Robot Wars” is one of these movies.
“Robot Wars” is a story about a much-divided planet earth. Large swaths of land are inhospitable and gas scares in years prior have condensed people into three areas of power: The North Hemi, consisting of former North American territories; the Eastern Alliance, a similar confederation of oriental countries; and the “Centros,” a loose faction of bandits who live in the wastes and survive by pillaging. The North Hemi is in an economic crisis and must sell the Eastern Alliance a hexapod assault transport mega robot, referred to as a mini-meg. But this transaction hides sinister motives behind a screen of diplomacy and North Hemi top brass incompetence.
Transforming a simple transport operation into an ambush, the Centros attack the mini-meg piloted by our protagonist Drake. Drake is appalled that his boss wants him to demonstrate the mini-meg’s combat aptitude against the Centros’ laser artillery platform, while he is carrying a load of passengers. He is directed to eliminate the threat as a demonstration for the visiting E.A. general and entourage. He begrudgingly does so, but promises to not pilot a mini-meg again.
Aboard the mini-meg was a reporter named Leda, who is investigating a Centros conspiracy. Her investigation starts to intertwine with Drake’s as his suspicions are leading him to believe the Eastern Alliance and the Centros are working together. It is not long into this investigation that the E.A. general is given piloting lessons for a mini-meg, and steals it shortly after; kidnapping everyone in the transport.
Drake, Leda, and the mechanic Stumpy are looking for a weapon to take down the rogue mini-meg, and stumble upon a buried mega-robot from a war many years ago, completely intact. It is not long until we get to the main event of the movie, the giant robot fight, and it is as corny as it is lackluster. The general is defeated and Drake and Leda find they have feelings for each other.
A short summary, but this is a movie that knows why people came to see it, and facilitates only the necessary chain of events to bring the big guys together to fight for you. While I do like the world they have built in the background, I will admit that it is sparsely detailed, again only to facilitate the background for why these robots fight. You are only given the backstory on why these factions were made and that is it. Everything else you have to pick up along the way, if there is anything at all.
In terms of design, “Robot Wars” is a mixed bag, anything involving the mega robots is excellent, with my friend stop-motion animation show its work in this movie. Since ‘Robot Wars’ was made in the early 1990’s, the imagination of what the robots could do is pretty condensed into physical combat and lasers, but the practical effects they employ in the filming of the animation is actually decent, with sparks coming out of a passenger cabin that was violently separated from a mini-meg. When we cut to interior shots of the mega-robot cockpits, everything is filled to the brim with detail. You can truly see how the set team thought a cockpit of this kind would look like, and it works. Box buttons, dials, switches, and crude television communication/information systems. I’m a sucker for retro futuristic design philosophies.
However, when we are discussing the design for other portions of the film, you are able to determine where the budget of the film was the least spent. The terminal for transport arrivals is a model crane with added architecture; the elevators on set are an actual tripping hazard, resulting in the cast having to step over the elevator door frame; and the third quarter of the movie is filmed in the favorite location of low budget movies everywhere, random abandoned warehouses.
Last remarks will be made for the acting in the film, which has me in a weird stalemate of opinion. On one hand, the dialog is awful and hilarious at its expense, while the acting is charming and actually decent for what material they had to work with.
The performances are corny and often silly but they’re charming nonetheless. You will, however, wonder why the hell they wrote the base commander to be such a dense incompetent moron, even in the face of evidence to a conspiracy against the North Hemi, but it isn’t a major detriment to your experience.
Giant robots aren’t for everyone, especially if you’re boring. I feel this movie is worth the time if you like bad movies and giant robots. ‘Robot Wars’ was part of a brief wave of western giant robot movies that resulted from the release of ‘Robot Jox,’ and is often thought of as a spiritual sequel. It’s got an old flair and personality that I find difficult to dislike. There will be moments where you will be inquisitive, such as “why do they use abominably slow hexapod robots in the future, instead of advanced aircraft?” When you come across these moments, I would recommend following the ‘Megas XLR’ motto, and continue watching robots beat the pieces out of each other:
♪YOU. DIG. GIANT ROBOTS.
I. DIG. GIANT ROBOTS
WE. DIG. GIANT ROBOTS… ♫