Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Godzilla (1978): "Island of Lost Ships"

In “Island of Lost Ships,” the Calico is steered to a mysterious island when Carl is hypnotized by a strange song. 

The crew goes ashore and encounters the treacherous siren Morphea and her two sisters there.  She wishes to strand the Calico’s crew on the island for the next thousand years, but Godzilla is summoned to help.

When Godzilla arrives, he must contend with a giant chimera and Morphea, who can also grow to gargantuan proportions. Meanwhile, Godzooky and Pete tangle with the Minotaur in the labyrinth.

The siren was all the rage as a "monster of the week" in science fiction television of the 1970s.  The Alphans encountered a space siren, played by Catherine Schell, in Space: 1999’s (1975 – 1977) “Guardian of Piri” and the Enterprise was waylaid by sirens as well in the Animated Series (1973-1974)) adventure “The Lorelei Signal.”

Here, Godzilla and the Calico crew runs afoul not just of evil sirens (with glowing red, green and yellow eyes), but many elements of Greek myth, including the Minotaur (from the story of Theseus), and the Chimera (described in Homer’s The Iliad).  At times, the Sirens also seem capable of turning their victims (such as Brock), into stone, a visual reference, perhaps to Medusa the Gorgon.

Since “The Colossus of Atlantis,” Hanna Barbera’s Godzilla has been showing real signs of life, with weirder episodes, and ones that are less formulaic.  Godzilla is still summoned to save the day, and everything turns out all right in the end, but monsters are no longer the only fantasy element per story. 

Suddenly, the Calico seems to be intersecting with world like Atlantis, or the Siren Island, and this adds some much needed interest to the storylines.  The writers do a good job here (and in the previous two tales), of keeping Godzilla’s presence relevant in stories of aliens, Greek Gods, and the like.  There still ain’t no one stronger than Godzilla!

At this point, I’d rate “Island of Lost Ships” second only to the aforementioned Atlantis episode. 

Next episode:  “The Magnetic Terror.”

Friday, September 26, 2014

From the Archive: Dredd (2012)

The great age of science fiction movie dystopias occurred from the 1970s to the early 1980s.  During that span -- from roughly 1971 to 1981 -- audiences witnessed dystopias involving over-population (Z.P.G. [1972], Soylent Green 1973]), hippie communes (Zardoz [1973]) fascist computer control (Logan’s Run [1976]), and even rampant crime (Escape from New York [1981]).

John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s future cop, Judge Dredd, arose from that historical period.  The character first appeared in the British comic-book anthology 2000 AD in the year 1977.  In the comic-book universe, the fearsome, always-helmeted Dredd patrolled the mean streets of Mega City One on his law-master motorcycle, carrying his lawgiver pistol.  He was a policeman, judge, jury and -- if need be -- executioner.

The dystopian milieu of Dredd was first adapted to film in 1995, with Sylvester Stallone in the lead role. But Judge Dredd was poorly received in large part because it watered down the hardcore nature of Dredd’s dystopia.

In the Stallone film, Dredd often removed his helmet, took time to romance a fellow judge, and had a comedic sidekick played by Rob Schneider. The film seemed more concerned with fanciful, stereotypically “future” touches and comic relief than with the creation of a real sense of place.  Instead of a legitimately artistic vision, the 1995 film had the word “blockbuster” written all over it.  And there’s nothing more depressing than a film that homogenizes its source material in the hopes of being commercial…and then fails in that endeavor.

The same criticism could never accurately be applied to the compact, concise, and visually-dazzling Dredd (2012), the recent cinematic adaptation of the same comic-book material. 

This new version of the comic-book material is a breath of fresh air in a movie culture that eschews purity of vision in hopes of satisfying the widest possible demographic coalition.  The film’s script is spare, satirical, and relentlessly sharp.  Furthermore, Dredd is unburdened by unnecessary settings, characters, or plot points, making it -- brilliantly -- all of a unified (dystopian) piece.  The film thus represents a perfect introduction to Dredd’s unpleasant world, one where small touches -- like a homeless man holding a sign that reads “will debase self for credits”--  add up to a lot.
By avoiding that pitfall as well as the temptation to go for blockbuster scope and ameliorating, politically-correct touches, Dredd emerges as not only one of the best science fiction films of recent vintage, but one of the best action films since The Matrix, or going back even further, since the original Die Hard (1988).

“Only one thing fighting for order in the chaos…”

In a harrowing future world, much of the United States’ east coast, from Boston to Washington D.C. is a vast metropolis called Mega-City-One.  Eight hundred million citizens live there, and 17,000 crimes are committed per day. Unemployment is at 96% and vast skyscrapers now house entire, self-contained slums of over two-hundred levels.

A cadre of highly-trained Judges enforces order in the unruly city, though even though they can only respond to 6% of the crimes that occur.

On the very day that Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is supposed to train an inexperienced rookie judge, a mutant telepath named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), he discovers just how outnumbered the judges really are.  He and Anderson answer a seemingly routine call at the Peach Trees Slum, and learn that the drug-lord, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) rules it with an iron fist.   In fact, she has just skinned and murdered a group of rivals.

Before the Judges can take a suspect back to headquarters who can finger Ma-Ma as the main producer of the illegal narcotic “slo-mo” in Mega City One, she locks down the entire slum, and announces over the loudspeaker that the two judges are to be executed.  Any residents who help or hide the law enforcement officers will be killed themselves.

Trapped in a hostile, self-contained city, Dredd, Anderson, and their reluctant witness make their way skywards, towards Ma-Ma’s headquarters, but not before encountering floor-after-floor of deadly resistance…

“It's a fucking meat grinder. People go in one end, and meat comes out the other. All we do is turn the handle.

Dredd is an extremely violent and bloody film. And yet that depiction of violence absolutely rings true with the dystopian world the film portrays.  This is the world Wayne La Pierre apparently thinks we live in today, right now, rife with gang violence everywhere, and the police under constant siege. 

It’s a vision the more reality-based among us would more commonly associate with the early eighties and films such as Fort Apache: The Bronx (1981) or Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981).  Nonetheless, the world of Dredd is still believable to us today in part because of sporadic mentions of high unemployment.  This is a problem which still threatens to derail our economy, especially when paired with the dire and looming threat of austerity.

In terms of its intense action, the film unexpectedly lands on a legitimate method to accommodate slow-motion, 3-D photography in its visual tapestry, an accomplishment roughly akin to the genesis of bullet-time as a side-effect of the virtual world in The Matrix (1999).

Only here, much of the action is rendered in glorious, beautiful, rainbow-colored slow-motion because of a narcotic called “slo-mo,” which slows time for the percipient to 1/100th of its normal speed.  Several crucial action sequences are filmed while gunfighters are under the sway of this drug, and the visualizations of these extended moments are incredible.  They are beyond incredible. They are jaw-dropping.

Such a creative visual conceit by itself would mark Dredd as dynamically original action film.  But the movie also succeeds because of its stoic, nearly ascetic artistic values.  The film quickly settles down into one setting and a central conflict, and doesn’t leave that arena, even though the temptation was no doubt to “world build” on a colossal scale. 

But the problem with traveling around and even outside the city, however, is that the sense of overwhelming urban blight, and thus dystopia, is lost.  The existential problem for those unlucky souls who inhabit this world is that they can’t escape the cycle of economic ruin and crime.  So to have Dredd flying off to locales far and wide (as he did in the 1995 film) would spoil the atmosphere of doom and hopelessness.  Dredd works so splendidly because the judge finds himself locked down in a claustrophobic trap, one where he must fight just to survive, let alone to execute the law.

Although the violence in Dredd is particularly bracing, it is also depicted in such a way as to be -- dare I say it? -- beautiful

In part, this aesthetic works very well because the film projects a hopeless future. The only way to experience pleasure for the poor and unemployed is to use “slo mo.” The drug permits one to mentally check out, and view the world as a kind of lumbering, slow-motion tapestry.  In this way, life is revealed as a slowly-shifting work of art, one with cascading light, frisson-able atmospherics and other tactile pleasures.

Nihilistically then, life can only be appreciated in a world that is not “convulsing, choking and breaking under its own weight,” to quote the film’s dialogue. Dredd’s drug-of-choice makes the visualization of the action revolutionary, but it also does something else too.  It reveals much about the culture that created it.

Ma-Ma’s death scene is the most egregious example of this aesthetic of violence. Dredd gives the crime boss a snoot-ful of slo-mo and pushes her off a high ledge. She will fall to her death down a trench of 200 levels, and the moments before her death will be extended dramatically because of the drug.

Is this a kind of mercy?

Or is it a brand of punishment? 

Does slowed down time augment and extend Ma-ma’s terror at the oncoming death, or does it lengthen the last few, precious moments of her life on this mortal coil?

Although I don’t view Dredd as the merciful type, I would argue that the visuals raise the question.  Ma-ma’s falling body seems to fall first through a shattered snow globe of sorts, with glittering debris all around, and then, she passes through a kind of color rainbow and atmospheric rain cloud.  Implicitly, she gets to experience one lost moment of beautiful life before hard, cruel reality re-asserts itself….violently.

Maybe that is punishment: the knowledge that she could have done things differently, and experienced life’s beauty for many more years had she not been so terrible and murderous.

In whatever way one chooses to parse this climactic sequence, it is visually dazzling, and a reminder that even in the most unpleasant situations, life is still the best game in town. 

 Most of the violence in the film also involves the restoration of order in an out-of-control setting, and from a certain perspective, that too can be a beautiful thing, or at least a relief. The moment of Ma-ma’s death expresses the effect of the drug, of but also the liberation of Peach Trees at Dredd’s hand.  It is a sustained, gorgeous, visual catharsis.  .

Sometimes it is useful to discuss a movie in terms of other movies, and indeed, that’s the case here.  Dredd features the Training Day (2001) scenario of an experienced cop showing a rookie the ropes. It also features the “hostile city” scenario of Black Hawk Down (2001), wherein American soldiers fought a whole metropolis rising up to kill them in Mogadishu, with precious few safe harbors.  And in keeping with the dystopia comparison the contained “future” city of Logan’s Run (1976) is not all that different from the Peach Trees slum.

The remarkable thing about Dredd is th smooth, uncluttered manner in which it silently assimilates all those cinematic references into a dynamic and surprising new narrative.  If Training Day was about a first day on the job, and a corrupt cop, Dredd concerns instead, a policeman who, no matter the situation, won’t abandon his principles. Black Hawk Down was about a foreign policy failure and its blow-back on America, but Dredd concerns a terminal, ubiquitous economic failure and the internal blow-back resulting from that problem. Even the glittering shopping mall city-of-the-future from Logan’s Run (1976) is reflected or overturned in the blighted commercial landscape of the Peach Trees Ghetto. 

Paradoxically, Dredd is both a dazzling movie, and a grounded one. It is dazzling in its visual imagination and audacity, yet grounded in the way it adheres to the rules of its grim, future world. There is little sentimentality in the film, and yet the burgeoning friendship between Dredd and Anderson nonetheless transmits beautifully.

After the Stallone version of the same material, I was “dreading” this re-boot, but director Peter Travis has given us a new classic, and one that I wager we’ll be discussing for years to come. A sequel would be great, but it isn’t, strictly-speaking, necessary. We now have the definitive Judge Dredd movie.

Movie Trailer: Dredd (2012)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

At Flashbak: The Five Coolest Electronic Toys of the 1970s

My latest article Flasbak looks back at the electronic toy craze of the late seventies.

Today, we have iPhone apps and video game consoles…and thank goodness for them.

But when I was a kid in the l970s -- a long, long time ago -- the home video game market was only in its infancy, and another kind of toy ruled the market instead: the “electronic” toy.

This was the era of Quiz Whiz, Simon, BLIP, and the first Electronic Battleship (1977).  These and other electronic toys seemed incredibly futuristic at the time with their light-up indicators, keypads, and buzzing sound effects.

Today, of course -- over three decades later -- these toys would hardly pass muster with any eight year old. 

And yet the following five electronic toys I still remember with incredible fondness.  Indeed, they all have prominent real-estate in my home office to this day."

Cult-Movie Review: Babylon A.D. (2008)

Babylon A.D. (2008), based on a cyberpunk novel by Maurice Dantec, is one of those sci-fi movies that you stick with -- even though you have reservations -- in hopes that all the intriguing elements are going to somehow come together in the end.

Alas, in this case, the film's admittedly interesting ingredients don't ever truly cohere. As a result, you might leave a screening feeling disappointed, sensing some missed opportunities. 

Or to put it another way, Babylon A.D. is a fascinating story only half-told; one inadequately rendered in any significant human dimension.

Babylon A.D. is set in a near future world of dystopian proportions, and stars Vin Diesel as a world-weary mercenary named Toorop.  He is recruited by another mercenary, Gorsky (Gerard Depardieu) to smuggle a Noelite nun, Sister Rebekha (Michelle Yeoh) and an unusually empathetic young woman, Aurora (Melanie Theirry) across East Europe and into New York City. 

He's got six days to do it.

Toorop is a guy who doesn't ask many questions, especially when he is a promised a passport back into his beloved homeland, the United States as reward for the successful delivery of Aurora to the CEO of the Church of Neolites (Charlotte Rampling). 

But along the  action-packed cross-continental journey (by train, by sub, by jet-ski, and by plane), the smuggler sees things that make him wonder about Aurora's true nature. She boasts the power to powerfully empathize with other forms of life, including cloned animals, and possesses an instinct for both healing and understanding the wounded.

Is Aurora carrying a virus that could wipe out an entire metropolis? Or is she actually the next step in human evolution?  In short, Toorop isn't certain if Aurora is savior or destroyer of man. In the end, he finally gets his answer, thanks to a clandestine meeting with Aurora's "father."

Babylon A.D. follows the cyberpunk playbook pretty faithfully. The film depicts a future society, post-2017, of "mega corporations."  Here, even Organized Religion is Big Business, and the Noelite leaders regularly check to see if their stock options are "sky high" or falling. 

More than that, these religious business-people believe that their professional trade is "miracles" and that people such as Aurora can be trademarked. Religion in this world is about selling people something they desperately want, spirituality, and about getting rich off the sale.

The impressive look of New York City -- just a step below Blade Runner (1982) perhaps -- affirms the importance of corporations in this near future milieu. Skyscraper exteriors are multi-story advertisements and commercials. Corporate logos appear on every surface imaginable, even on the sides of planes and city taxis. Clearly, big business is the way of the future, if we are to believe Babylon A.D.'s vision.

But Babylon A.D. is also a cyberpunk vision because it ponders a dystopian future in which high technology does not raise all ships, so-to-speak. The early portions of the film highlight life outside of the rich United States, in Serbia and Russia, respectively, and these are places of degrading infrastructure, miserable housing, failed technology, and populaces living in abject poverty. The human beings dwelling in these countries seem to live in spaces that aren't really designed (or safe) for people. 

In accordance with this idea, twice in the film Toorop is forced to contend with items that don't work properly: a hand-gun and lighter, in particular. The overall impression is thus of a used-up world, squeezing the last drops of viability out of late twentieth-century technology and wealth.

But it is the character of Aurora who points the film most clearly in the direction of cyberpunk literature.  She is the daughter of both biology and technology, anticipating a new epoch in which man and machine are mated. Some futurists refer to this new age as "Singularity," and the movie gets much mileage out of the idea that machines are now developing faster than the human race is. Aurora, we soon learn, is pregnant: a "vessel" for the next step in our very evolution.

Cyberpunk has much in common with film noir, too, so you won't be surprised to learn that the film opens with a laconic voice-over narration from Diesel (as Toorop), debating the future. "Save the planet?  What for?"  He asks, sounding a lot like David Twohy's Riddick.  

Toorop then contrasts that line of dialogue with his own example of "bumper sticker philosophy" as he calls it: "Life's a bitch and then you die."  

Toorop himself is pretty clearly a noir hero: an outsider living on the margins of society, attempting to remain uninvolved and yet secretly hoping for a reason to become involved again; to reignite his connection to the human race.

He finds that connection, surprisingly, in a revival of his spirituality. Certainly, Babylon A.D. speaks a lot in the language of faith: Aurora's journey across the globe takes six days, there's a human populace "starving for miracles" and, yes, there's also the idea of immaculate conception.

As I wrote above, all of these elements are authentically intriguing and worth noting. Yet Matthew Kassovitz's film remains incoherent; as though it has been edited with a blunt hatchet. We literally leap from set-piece to set-piece without rhyme or reason. We don't always understand, exactly, where the characters are and what they're doing in any particular place. 

For example, Toorop, Rebekha and Aurora find themselves running on a gigantic ice field with other Russian refugees at the start of one scene, and the moment leads to a bloodbath at a parked submarine.  Yet we don't know how anyone got there or what's going on. Instead, the scene plays as if someone blew a whistle, and all the actors started simultaneously running a race.

In truth, the film doesn't always seem certain which forces are pursuing Aurora, and for what reason. Several apparent thugs follow Toorop through a colorful, atmospheric bazaar and ensuing terrorist attack at a train station, and thus seem to be our bad guys. They are involved in an extensive fight sequence, and yet they have no reason to approach Toorop with hostility given what we later in the film learn about their allegiances.

And the action scenes -- such as a drone attack on two jet-skis -- feature impressive special effects but not the right tone. They play as unrealistically heroic or comic-bookish in what is otherwise supposed to be a grim, realistic world.  

But the most significant problem is that Babylon A.D. fails on a human, emotional level.  The story of Aurora -- as a messiah and Mary Figure -- is one that should be beautiful and inspiring, yet it isn't. Aurora is too remote a figure to sympathize with, and we don't understand her motives for most of  the adventure. 

Toorop's final revelation (about saving the planet again, one life at a time) feels more than a little facile because the audience never truly feels or experiences the connection between this mercenary and Aurora. We know it's there and we want to feel it, but the movie lurches mechanically from plot point to plot point instead of adequately developing the characters' relationships. 

Babylon A.D. is supposed to be a story about the dawn of a great new age for the human race, and the rebirth of one man's faith, but the film's closing line, "Ain't that a bitch?" hardly feels like an appropriate or worthy apotheosis given the circumstances. 

Because this cyberpunk film features a future world that already seems very familiar to us (from the likes of Blade Runner and Johnny Mnemonic, for instance), the only way Babylon A.D. could have differentiated itself  from the cyberpunk pack would have been in the handling of the unconventional relationship between Toorop and Aurora. This is where the filmmakers should have focused; on the emotional content of Aurora's journey; not the spectacle and danger of the actual trip.

So instead of being a movie about the wondrous joining of man to machine, Babylon A.D. feels like a movie made by a machine instead; one programmed to know and regurgitate every action cliche in the book. 

Ain't that a bitch?

Movie Trailer: Babylon A.D. (2008)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

At Flashbak: The Five Coolest Gadgets of 1980s Science Fiction TV (that aren’t from Star Trek or Doctor Who)

My latest article posted at Flashbak remembers the coolest gadgets of 1980s cult-television.  It wasn't a great time for gadgets (outside of Star Trek), especially in comparison to the seventies. And yet, some cool alien devices indeed showed up from time-to-time

"In the 1970s, the creators of science fiction television programming toiled to imagine what the future would look like as mankind stepped into the final frontier. Programs such as Gerry Anderson’s UFO (1970-1971) and Space: 1999 (1975 – 1977), The Starlost (1973) and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981) all imagined new technologies -- and gadgetry -- that would make better man’s future.

Intriguingly, the 1980s quickly proved a very different story. If the 1970s series involved man heading out into the universe, the new decade focused instead on aliens coming to Earth. Series such as The Phoenix (1982), V (1985), Starman (1986), and War of the Worlds (1987-1989) for example, all saw the final frontier coming to us.

Although Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in 1987 and brought space adventuring back to TV, the majority of the decade saw alien tools and gadgets, not man-made ones, taking center stage.

As before, I have labored not to include guns on the list, as guns serve quite a different purpose than gadgets do."

Star Trek: The Motion Picture Soft Poseable Figures (1979; Knickerbocker)

Action Figures of the Week: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979; Mego)

“Collect all of Mego’s fantastic action figures to recreate the adventures of the crew of the Starship Enterprise…”

In 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in theaters, and Mego manufactured a series of small, 3-inch figures to go with the revival film.  There were apparently two releases. 

The first release consisted of six Enterprise crew people: Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Commander Decker, Lt. Ilia, Scotty, and Dr. McCoy.  

The second release of six -- which I never saw in stores anywhere – included aliens featured in the films. These included Klingon, Zaranite, Betelgeusian, Arcturian, Megarite and Rigellian.  You say you don’t remember any of those aliens, except the Klingon? 

That makes two of us.

Although it was a relief to see that these action figures were not held together at the shoulders and knees by small, easily breakable metal pins (like Mego’s The Black Hole and Buck Rogers action figures), these Star Trek toys -- while “fully poseable” -- certainly seemed like a bare bones releases. 

The characters don’t come equipped with phasers, wrist communicators, or even a tricorder for Spock and Bones.  And the photos on the back of the cards reveal the characters…in different costumes.  Kirk is wearing a short-sleeved tunic, not his two-tone (and very attractive…) admiral’s uniform.  Meanwhile Decker is in gray in the photo…while the figure is wearing yellow.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) Photo Story (Pocket Books)

Pop Art: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) (Marvel Edition)

Star Trek: The Motion Picture Electronic U.S.S. Enterprise (1979; South Bend)

Star Trek: The Motion Picture Water Pistol (1979; Aviva)

Trading Cards of the Week: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Topps)

Model Kits of the Week: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979; AMT)

Board Game of the Week: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Milton Bradley; 1979)

Lunch Box of the Week: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (King Seeley; 1979)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future: "War Dogs"

The second episode of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future (1987-1988), “War Dogs” is a bit of a disappointment, owing in large part to the fact that the characters are handled with very little depth or humanity, and the story feels familiar and trite. Also, stock footage is repeated quite a bit in the episode.  There’s a claustrophobic aspect to the episode too, and a sense that it was assembled in a tearing hurry.

In “War Dogs,” Hawk (Peter MacNeill) patrols over Sector 24, attempting to pin down reports of an unofficial resistance group fighting there. In short order, he encounters the rebels -- who have attacked a Bio Dread convoy -- and helps out.  Unfortunately, the rebels take Hawk for a “Dread Head” and shoot him down.

When Hawk awakens, he learns that he is the guest of the “War Dogs,” a resistance group led by a romantic interest from his past, Vi (Kate Trotter). Her second officers include Keiko (Jane Luk) and Cherokee, who is played by Dances with Wolves (1990) star Graham Greene. 

Hawk and Captain Power (Tim Dunigan) petition for the War Dogs’ help in taking down a nearby Dread Installation, but the group is more interested in finding the mythical Eden 2, a city that may have survived the Metal Wars.  In fact, Vi is ready to retire, noting that the “war is over” and that she just wants to “live in peace.”

When Captain Power and his squad stumble into a trap, however, Vi and the War Dogs come to the rescue.  They understand that the conflict continues, and that they must play a part.

“War Dogs” opens with another sustained action sequence (like the attack on a Bio Dread installation we saw in “Shattered.”) In this case, the War Dogs combat a heavily-armed convoy, and the battle, while well-orchestrated, just goes on and on. In an episode that is only twenty-two minutes, to lose so much time in an action sequence -- when we don’t even know all the players yet -- seems like a questionable creative choice.

Then, also like “Shattered,” a female resistance fighter from the past (not Athena, but Vi) shows up to vex one of the team, but this time Hawk is featured, rather than Power. Vi has a different or competing agenda, and this agenda creates some tension for the heroes.  In other words, “War Dogs” is pretty much the same narrative as “Shattered.”

Stock footage of Hawk’s battle with the sky-flying Sauron from the previous episode is also rerun here, and the good Major is actually shot-down twice in the course of the half-hour. He survives both times unscathed, which makes one question the very premise: that this is a deadly war, fought with deadly weapons.

The Bio Dread Installation that Captain Power targets, meanwhile, boasts the same entrance (and guard formations) as the Sub-Station seen in “Shattered.” And, again, many of the same action beats are repeated in the attack on the base. 

Specifically, Scout uses his camouflage techniques to save the day, this time mimicking Lord Dread himself, and flummoxing the bad guys.

The most intriguing elements of “War Dogs” involve two things hinted at, but not seen. The first is the aforementioned Eden 2, another sanctuary, perhaps, for humans following the metal wars. The second is Project New Order,” a secret initiative launched by Lord Dread, and one that no doubt bodes ill for the soldiers of the future. 

On a personal note, I liked the slang term “Dread Heads,” which I believe was introduced in this episode. It adds a reality to the scenario, because enemies in war are always given derogatory names by soldiers. It is logical that the same idea would apply in this context.

Otherwise, War Dogs genuinely seems to be marking time a bit.  And the fact that the bad guys are mostly interchangeable machines without individual personalities or competing agendas -- like the Visitors on V, for example -- means that the episode transmits as a slapdash cartoon or shoot ‘em up for much of the time. Since the series is so connected with its toy-line, this is a shame. “War Dogs” plays a lot like kid’s stuff that the series writers needed to avoid.

Although “War Dogs” feels like Captain Power treading water or marching in place, the truth is that second episodes are often notoriously difficult ones to vet, as writers and directors move beyond an introductory phase and attempt to determine what kind of stories they can tell successfully. “War Dogs” fills a half-hour, but does so without any real depth or human interest. 

Hopefully, the series will hit its stride and find its mark soon. The next episode "The Abyss," is a good one.