“I have no idea why people want to watch puppets be the slightly meaner version of the weirdo holding them. It’s beyond my comprehension.” -Daniel Tosh
“I have a huge love of puppets.” -Jason Segel
“I hate puppets so much.”-Trey Parker
After the last entry in the series came to an absolute, and somewhat underwhelming ending, the series was in need of something different and new to push the franchise in a different direction. Instead, they did another prequel with the puppets fighting Nazis in World War 2. It’s not an entirely unwelcome development, though. I mean, after Puppet Master: The Legacy, almost anything that included actual new footage would pretty much HAVE to be a step in the right direction, right? But Axis of Evil actually manages to stand up pretty well on its own merits. I’m not fully comfortable saying that this is a “return to form” because a) I’m not exactly sure what that means in regards to this franchise, & b) It’s better, but not by any means great. However, it didn’t make me want to hurt myself or others, so yeah. A step in the right direction is a warranted description.
This movie opens in the basement of the Bodega Bay Inn sometime in 1939. We meet Danny Coogan, who is making chairs in a dark room by himself. We learn that he really wants to enlist in the Army so he can kill some Krauts for Good Ol’ Uncle Sam, but polio has left him with a bad leg, so he couldn’t get medical clearance. In the meantime, he has become a talented woodworker, and befriended a guest of the Inn, a certain puppet enthusiast you might have heard of named Andre Toulon. On his way to visit Toulon in his room, he hears a gunshot, and later sees several men in dark coats leaving his room. He goes to check on Toulon, but finds that he is too late, and his friend is dead from an apparent self inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Danny knew from Toulon’s stories that he fled Germany because the Nazis were after his puppets, so knowing about the secret panel he hid them in, he collects the puppets, and goes home to his family’s house. The cool thing about this intro is that they intercut it with the opening of the first Puppet Master movie, and even took the time to either re-use some of the original sets, or do a hell of a job recreating them. The effect is actually pretty seamless, and for once in this goddamned series, actual attention was paid to continuity. It took NINE movies, but it happened!
At Danny’s house, we meet his brother Don, who is going to leave for combat soon, and their mother, who is thrilled that Danny is staying behind because the thought of possibly losing both her sons would be unbearable. Don is a master of sneaking up on people, and also a master of old-timey racism. He plans to use both skills in the war effort to “Slit the throats of those Japs”. Also in Danny’s life is his girlfriend Beth, who works in a munitions factory. After farting around a bit with the puppets, Danny finds the vial of green fluid hidden in a secret panel of Toulon’s chest, as well as pieces of Six Shooter, who has been disassembled, and a new Ninja themed puppet. He figures out that the fluid makes the puppets come to life, and rushes to Beth’s work to tell her about it. At the factory, he sees a dude flirting with Beth who he recognizes as one of the Nazis who he saw leaving Toulon’s room at the Inn. He tries telling this to Beth, but she dismisses him as just being jealous.
Danny decides to take matters into his own hands, and sends Jester to follow the Nazi dude to an old opera house in Chinatown, where he meets up with an offensive Japanese caricature. The Nazis and Kimono wearing Asian stereotypes have formed an alliance, and the Nazi dude has infiltrated the munitions factory with the intention of setting a bomb off, and blowing it to kingdom come. Danny and Jester managed to steal a piece of the factory blueprints as proof of the plan, but he’s spotted by the evil foreign randos, and Nazi dude recognizes him from before. After a quick call to the Bodega Bay Inn, Nazi dude finds out where Danny lives, and shit is about to get real.
Nazi dude goes to Danny’s house and kills his mother, shoots Don & leaves him to die, and kidnaps Beth. Danny comes home, and is understandably upset. He tries to save his brother, but it’s too late. He decides to put his soul into the Ninja puppet, since Don always liked to sneak around. Danny also hopes Don won’t be angry he’s in a Jap puppet. Yeah, more old timey racism. Anyway, Don seems cool with it, so Danny collects the rest of the puppets, and heads to the opera house to rescue Beth.
They get there, and almost immediately manage to wipe out all but like 2 or 3 of the bad guys. My favorite death in this HAS to be Leech Woman regurgitating a leech into a Japanese dude’s sushi, and he is poisoned when he shoves it into his face hole without looking what he was eating. So, it’s down to the Nazi dude and the Japanese lady against all the puppets. The puppets start getting kind of messed up. I guess they were better when they were able to be sneaky? Ninja Bro is taken out, and looks to be dead. Tunneler, Jester, & Leech Woman are captured. So Danny does what any logical person would do… threatens to blow everyone up with the bomb meant for the munitions plant. Somehow, Nazi dude ends up with the bomb and diffuses it, but from out of nowhere, Ninja Bro stabs him in the back with a sword. In the confusion, the Japanese lady escapes with the kidnapped puppets, Danny rescues Beth, and he declares that they’ve asked for a war.
And that’s the end of the movie. It’s pretty clear from watching this that the next entry was already planned, as this one didn’t really have an ending. That’s fine though, because half the movies in this series don’t really have proper endings. What’s important here is that visible effort was put into making this movie. The puppets looked good. It had period costumes. It even had a likeable and relatable protagonist. The main drawback is that it was maybe a bit too conventional for a Puppet Master movie. I like my films about ambulatory puppety abominations to be a little weird, goddammit! Also, it’s another prequel set in WW II, which has already been done. Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that having the puppets taken out of Bodega Bay after Toulon kills himself in part 1 raises the question of how they got back there for Gallagher to find them in the same movie. It might answer this in the next one, but I’m not banking on it.
Overall, this one is pretty good though. It’s certainly better than the last 3 entries in the series put together. It kind of feels a little out of place with the rest of the films in parts, but there’s enough here to ground it to established mythology to make it possible to overlook some of these issues. This one also works as a stand alone point to start the series… well except for the ending, that is. But it’s definitely worth seeing, and I appreciate it, even if only for helping wash the taste of crap out of my mouth before this franchise rolls to an end. One more movie left, you guys.
– find Johnny potentially carving puppets of his own here