I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

America vs. the Crimson Boogie Man: Robot Jox 1990


by Andre Parker
June 23, 2013

When was the last time you saw a Russian portrayed as a good guy in an American film? Right? I can hardly remember myself. Whenever I hear the word “Russian” or “Russia” I'm instantly taken to a place in my head populated with snowy goons and henchmen toting around semi-automatic rifles and taking shots of snake blood in some dark bar under an alley that only serves vodka and fear. But why? The Cold War is long gone. Why does a Russian accent translate to drug dealer, mafia, or all around threat whenever I hear it? Because I'm a child of the 80's and Russian was the go to nationality for almost every villain in an American movie for an entire decade.

The Cold War may have been an invisible one but it's presence was still being smashed into our faces by the media well into my childhood. In the same way that most bad guys in modern American movies are commonly shown as Middle Eastern or with Middle Eastern connections as a direct result of the “War on Terror,” most popular films of the mid to late 80's featured bad guys that were either communists or from Russian decent. One of the most notable examples of this is Rocky 4. In the 70's the Rocky movies mainly centered around the working class and the local boxing scene in and around Philadelphia. Then all of a sudden in the 80's Rocky was thrust on to the world stage to fight soviet bad man Ivan Drago in order to avenge his fellow American. And unlike any of Rocky's former American opponents, Ivan was willing to cheat and even KILL to win because you know, Russians just don't have those wholesome homegrown values that Americans do because they are the BAD GUYS.

Although the Cold War stretched from 1947 to 1991, the years from 1979 to 1989 were definitely some of the tensest and most outwardly competitive of the entire conflict. The rivalry between America and Russia began as strictly political, but soon spread into all facets of life and spawned a wealth of propaganda on both sides. What started as hypothetical espionage overshadowed by a nuclear scare soon devolved into nuclear and arms races, then technological competitions like the space race, and then even boiled down Russia and America trying to out bid each other as host of the 1980 Olympics. This international competitiveness is mirrored in the 1990 cult hit Robot Jox.

In Robot Jox, directed by Stuart Gordon (Stuck, The Re-Animator) the rivalry between America and Russia is exaggerated and blown up (literally) to almost cartoonish proportions. Taking place 50 years after a nuclear holocaust which is surprisingly left open ended in regards as to who caused it, the surviving nations have been divided into two opposing factions. One which is called “The Market” and is basically just America, while the other is called “The Confederation” which is primarily Russian themed and viewed as the antagonist of the movie. In the future both super powers fight over unclaimed territories using giant robots manned by pilots chosen from each side. The piece of land being disputed throughout the film is Alaska because you know...Alaska. From the very first scene of the movie we're shown a Confederation robot beating one of the Americ...er...Market robots to a pile of rubbish. Then when The Confederation pilot is told he has won the match, the underlying theme that Russi...er...The Confederation is evil is hammered home when he chooses to ignore the referee and smashes The Market pilot with his robot foot while laughing hysterically and vowing to kill the next pilot that chooses to battle him. The next pilot is of course our American hero, Achilles, played by Gary Graham (best known for his role in the 1989 T.V. Series Alien Nation based off the movie of the same name) with his cowboy hat-wearing strategist Tex, who says things that a guy named Tex would say, like “It's hard to keep secrets around here. We got too many damn spies!”

Since this movie is mainly from the point of view of the Americ...er...Market side of things we never get to see the Confederation's strategist. But I assume since they're the bad guys of the movie it's just a shadow in Alexander's head telling him to do really bad things. Soon we discover that The Confederation may be receiving information using a spy from within The Market in order to gain the upper hand in battles because, you know, America has the most advanced technology on the planet and everyone is always trying to get their hands on it to do evil stuff ( although the chief engineer for The Market is Japanese) When Alexander and Achilles fight for the first time it's revealed that Alexander has indeed received some inside information on Achilles's “secret weapons” and uses it to get ahead in the fight. Thinking on his toes Achilles turns the tide of the fight, but just as he begins to start winning Alexander pulls a last ditch effort and launches a flying fist into the air which almost instantly malfunctions ( again, America is more technically advanced remember? GO HOME RUSSIA) The fist begins to head straight for the nearby spectators in the stands. But lucky for the fans Achilles, the American symbol of good is willing to throw himself in front of the “Iron Fist” of The Confederation (Literally!) in order to save thousands of people from this unfair cheater. Unfortunately, jumping in front of the fist causes Achilles's robot to fall on top of the fans instead, but when has America ever shied from spilling the blood of thousands for the greater good of millions? Whoops, I meant to say The Market! The Market! I won't get too much further into the plot because there IS a minor twist, but at the end of the day you can probably already guess who wins the respect of world and the highly desirable keys to Alaska.

http://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2012/11/25-most-memorable-communist-villains-movies/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russia%E2%80%93United_States_relations

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_War

http://www.screened.com/russian-villains/262-485/

http://alexleo.tumblr.com/post/2808000788/action-movie-villains-from-the-80s-to-today

Andre Parker is a San Francisco based comic and the host of Fresh Like Cadaver; a horror movie themed comedy show held in the basement of Lost Weekend Video Store. He has a twitter that he abuses on the regular. Follow him @AndreParkerSF he also has a robot butler.