By: Felix Felicis (Six Pack) –
Anyone who’s ever seen The Lion King knows that your realm includes everything that the light touches and there, yes, way over there, where the shadows live… is the Elephant Graveyard. We do not go there. Much like Simba, I tend to barrel recklessly and with breathtaking abandon into every fucking cinematic Elephant Graveyard possible it seems. I partially blame Hawk Ripjaw (who taught me that bad can be good if you’ve given up on life enough – shout out to my fellow Boozer bestie) but really, I think we all knew the moment I watched Bio Dome in college three times in one weekend (under various states of inebriation) that the writing was on the wall. I’m a masochist, and A-X-L my latest pain. I still say that Bio Dome is terrible(ly underrated).
A-X-L (checks notes because the acronym is purely fabricated to spell out A-X-L – YOU KNOW LIKE A MECHANICAL PART- makes all life on earth boiling down to this, and everything up to this point, meaningless… oh right. A-X-L stands for “Attack”, “Exploration” and “Logistics”) follows a robot war dog created by the military slipping his leash (sorry not sorry about that pun) and hiding out in the desert until discovered by the love child of sweaty mozzarella sticks and teenage petulance (Alex Neustaedter aka “Miles” who’s latest acting credit to date has been a recurring role on the television show Colony) where both misfits form a bond and, um, go dirtbiking until the morally bereft scientists who treated FUCKING HUMAN BEINGS AS MURDER-BAIT-LAB-RATS FOR ARTIFICIALLY-INTELLIGENCE-CHALLENGED-ADAMANTIUM-CUJO come to collect their prone-to-rust pup. At some point the credits will roll. This, too, shall pass. #peptalk
I don’t know that I actually enjoyed anything about A-X-L by any human definition of the word so I’m going to list some facts. I was the only person in the theater at 3 p.m. on the Monday that I saw this movie. Literally. The. Only. Person. The bathroom was more populated. So I live-tweeted the movie to stave off a boredom-induced coma. You can find that thread here (you’re welcome). Writer/Director Oliver Daly is living his best life because A-X-L was turned into a full length feature after Daly made a proof-of-concept, seven-minute-long short entitled Miles, in 2015. I’ll never shit on someone achieving their dream, but even the IMDB description of that short sounds better than A-X-L, plus the ONE STILL I found of the leads for Miles have more chemistry in a TWO DIMENSIONAL IMAGE than the pair in A-X-L (Alex Neustaedter aka “Miles” and Power Ranger’s Becky G as “Sara”). Lastly, there was a blip of emotion in my soul during the White Fang/Old Yeller finale showdown moment but I can’t decide if that’s because I still have Homeward Bound trauma to work through (if you don’t cry when Chance crests the hill at the end then, if I’ve said this once I’ve said it a thousand times, you’re a robot sent from the future to destroy mankind… AND I DON’T MEAN A-X-L) or my last functioning brain cell finally gave up the ghost. Even odds on either.
Buy a dartboard. Throw up on it. Toss a few darts. Miss because you’re blackout drunk and hit some poor schmuck sitting at the bar in his one good eye. Check to make sure it’s not Thor (it’s not). Write down all the profanities that spew from his mouth and subtract all of the actual curse words (hey, this movie you’re writing is PG) leaving you with enough basic material to feed your comatose gerbils sculpted from gelatin playing Generic Action Movie Mad Libs sufficient conjunctions and definite articles to piece your full-length script together. High-five yourself. Mom is gonna be SO PROUD.
I’m struggling to find the words (I know, SHOCKING) to accurately describe how this all went terribly wrong. Because it’s not like audiences aren’t primed to watch humans and the robots they bond with (Michael Bay built a goddamned FRANCHISE based on that concept), but the closest comparison I can make is if White Fang, Bumblebee, Velociraptor Blue, and, stick with me here, Black Beauty all got together and took a huge crap on cinema. Like, a Jurassic Park-sized crap.
A-X-L was a half-baked concept at best, and it showed in the scattered/fragmented execution. The narrative had little depth, if any, and the overall flow of events was a melange of incomprehensible mediocrity. Nothing made sense and there existed almost no genuine impetus to any character’s actions other than “the script says I have to do this”. Alienation of purpose was A-X-L‘s greatest flaw; movies equally as ridiculous (I’m looking at you, Max Steel) have, in my opinion, succeeded in being enjoyably entertaining under similar circumstances if there’s even a MOLECULE of intent/creativity with the direction a film takes. I know Max Steel is objectively a bad movie. But I’m not mad at it. A-X-L, on the other hand, can go dine on a cloth container of phallic objects.
Holy shit nobody in this movie was remotely relatable, empathizable, or even really that likeable (some of those are probably not real words, I’d like you to know I don’t care, I gave up after YOLO became a thing). Miles, our de facto protagonist, was an envious, naive, immature, petulant, nascent bully-in-training (with a bonus lack of an overall moral/ethical compass). The second he got any kind of power or upper hand (with control over A-X-L), he was held in check by his own personal Jiminy Cricket (Sara) from allowing A-X-L to decimate Motocross Dick (who returns the mercy(?) by attempting to revenge-toast the Robot Pooch campfire-s’more-style. By the end, I was kind of rooting for the robot attack bees to take everyone out and start a new world order. And I fucking LOATH bees. In addition to that, this movie doesn’t do great things for women.
The only three main female characters in A-X-L are as follows: Sara (tiny Ariana Grande in Daisy Dukes – because god forbid a woman get to cover her vagina in public) who functions as a bone of contention to cause added friction between the two male leads (poster children for toxic masculinity and mild-to-moderate misogyny), and is ultimately won as a prize by Miles for being the least dickish. Congrats. Sort of? Not at all. The second female lead is Sara’s mom, who serves as a maid/housekeeper for the Motocross Dick’s family and actively accepts verbal belittlement with a bemused smile from the aforementioned Motocross Dick. But wait! There’s more! THE ONLY WOMAN IN POWER IN THIS ENTIRE SHITBRICK OF A MOVIE swoops in at the last minute to utter, max, three lines. HAHAHA STRONG WOMEN AREN’T THREATENING AT ALL!! LET US GIVE THEM MORE THAN ONE LINE BUT LESS THAN FIVE!
I don’t know what holy hell this creature design crawled out of, but it’s almost as bad as the hyper-realistic design of Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Swamp Thing’ in Shape Of Water (but for totally different reasons). Del Toro’s creature design was TOO good, TOO realistic, so much so that when the line between what you would and *wouldn’t* bump uglies with blurred in Shape Of Water IT WAS HAUNTING AND IT HAUNTS ME STILL.
Adamantium Cujo in A-X-L is what happens when you’re on a budget (just kidding I looked it up and A-X-L has a listed budget of 10 million dollars – HAHAHA FUCK MY LIFE) and I’m pretty sure they tossed a dude in mocap (motion capture) and/or a very bulky robot suit and called it good eruff (again, sorry not sorry for that pun I’m clinging to the hope of a better life, a different life, where I’ve never seen this movie to get through this review) for PG work. It was cheap, fake-looking, and way too bulky not to notice the CGI substitution whenever it had to move around at a distance.
As Hawk Ripjaw and I often do, egging each other on to worse and worse life choices – it’s only a matter of time before one of *us ends up with a mullet (*him)- we end up seeing a fair amount of the same movies even when we’re not slated to review them, just because the other one has to (codependency is the new black, Ma!) and I tell you that to tell you this. Hawk summed up what was ultimately (and definitively) wrong with A-X-L in one sentence (it’s taken me just over 1800 words). And I quote:
“A-X-L is a roadmap of how *not* to make a movie.” -Hawk Ripjaw
I can’t say what it takes to make a movie, I’ve never made one myself and I have nothing but respect for the passion and hard work that goes into this industry. The blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to follow an idea through from conception to realization is admirable. That said, art is both objective and subjective to its viewer. You put your art out there, and for every person that might love it, another ten might, say, compare it to a pile of Jurassic Park shit. A-X-L was a failed attempt, crafted decision by decision through every stage of development, at an overly saturated genre designed to appeal to the tween dude bro and, ultimately, ended up being a black hole where creativity, character depth, chemistry, and narrative ingenuity went to die.
I went to the dentist the same day I screened A-X-L and, I have to say, I had more fun getting plaque scraped off of my teeth than during this movie. 10/10 would endure a root canal sans novocaine before watching again.
A-X-L (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: anytime A-X-L demonstrates a new life skill.
Take a Drink: whenever a parental figure makes an appearance (I’m honestly surprised these kids aren’t in jail or pregnant by the end of this flick).
Take a Sip: for every A-X-L attack-mode and POV shot.
Take a Shot: every time A-X-L growls “yo, send it.”
Shotgun Your Beer: for the explosive finale moment between boy and robo-dog. You’ll know when.