Friday, February 23, 2018

Robot Ninja

Robot Ninja
J.R. Bookwalter

Leonard Miller (Michael Todd) is the creator of the popular Robot Ninja, a violent comic about a masked vigilante. His creation has been turned into a campy television show and he’s not happy about it. After failing to stop a gang of rapists and murders, he enlists the help of his friend Dr. Goodknight (Bogdan Pecic) to create a Robot Ninja suit of his very own so that he can go out and fight crime. Things do not go well for him.

Robot Ninja subverts the expectations of the superhero movie decades before superhero movies were even really a thing. Batman (1989) had just proven that comic books movies could be profitable, critically lauded, and appeal to both fans and casual viewers a few months prior to Robot Ninja’s release, but the formula for big-budget successful superhero films was still nearly twenty years away. Robot Ninja taps into the darker more cynical tone of comics from this period driven largely by the immense popularity of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, this movement would reach its absurd apotheosis in the 1990s, where even Superman would end up being a gun-toting lunatic.

Our hero looking almost competent for once.
Robot Ninja is interesting in that our hero spectacularly fails to accomplish anything. Virtually every interaction he has with the villains ends with hostages dead and the Robot Ninja himself on the end of a severe beating. He also manages to get hopelessly addicted to painkillers to a point where he is hallucinating. Watching all this unfold simply because Leonard Miller is upset that his successful grim and violent comic book has been turning into a light and silly television show just adds a sarcastic edge to the whole affair.

Robot Ninja’s action sequences are few and they are choreographed in clumsy obvious ways. There are no ninja skills on display, and people are reduced to flailing around on each other until someone is shot or stabbed. What the movie does offer is heaping buckets of gore, entrails spray out, pistols are jammed into eye sockets and fired, the Robot Ninja jams metal into his arm to shore up a broken wound. All this gore is over the top, but it is never played as Grand Guignol comedy.

Better like this or better like this?
There is a small amount of humor in the movie mostly delivered by Burt Ward, Linnea Quigley, and Scott Spiegel as people at a comic book company. These inserts have virtually nothing to with the plot and I feel like to were inserted only to lighten the pitch black tone. The true scene stealer is Bogdan Pecic as Dr. Goodknight, the inventor of the Robot Ninja suit, his good nature, and yooper accent make for some of the most fun moments in the movie. Maria Markovic is a notable comic book villain in that it’s rare to have a woman as the heavy, much less one who more than a physical match for the male hero despite his robot suit and wrist blade.

Robot Ninja looks like it might be a fun ultra low-budget action/superhero movie but in reality, it is relentlessly grim and violent. If you approach it with this in mind, it is, in fact, a neat little horror movie and nasty counterpoint to most superhero stories.

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