After repeated exhortations of extremely enthusiastic approval from my friend Tom, I decided to watch the movie Turbo Kid this evening on Netflix. I was not disappointed.
Turbo Kid is a study in contradictions. It’s a movie that is a perfect recreation of 1980s action flicks, but it was made in 2015. It’s not a comedy, but it’s hilarious. It is, at heart, simplistic and straightforward, but nonetheless compelling and thought-provoking. More than anything, though, it’s terrible, but it’s stunningly brilliant.
Turbo Kid is set in the apocalyptic far-off future wastelands of the year 1997, where some awful disaster that isn’t really explained (but was probably something to do with the Cold War and/or robots) has turned everything to shit. Our story centres around a nameless young boy, known only as The Kid, who was orphaned early in the post-apocalyptic period, but who has, against all odds, managed to survive in the wasteland through scavenging and keeping his childish hopes and dreams alive through vintage comics about his favourite superhero, Turbo Rider.
Early in the movie, The Kid meets Apple, who initially seems to be a charmingly dimwitted young girl, but subsequently is revealed to be a robot, because ’80s movie. Apple is dying thanks to getting hit in a skirmish, and The Kid, who after some initial reluctance to even be around her having been alone for so long, agrees to help her find some replacement parts before her “heart gauge” (rather beautifully depicted in Zelda-style pixel art on an embedded display in her wrist) runs out and she deactivates forever.
I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but suffice to say, The Kid finds himself taking on the role of Turbo Rider to the best of his capabilities, and there are plenty of ridiculous action scenes along the way, not to mention a particularly loathsome villain in the form of self-appointed wasteland baron “Zeus” — who of course has a connection with The Kid, because ’80s movie.
I was reading an article in a GamePro from a couple of years ago the other day, and someone — I forget who offhand, but I think it was someone like Tim Schafer or his ilk — made the very good point that the best comedy is made of juxtapositions, most commonly the juxtaposition of serious words with silly visuals, or vice-versa. Turbo Kid is pretty much entirely designed around this philosophy: it takes itself very seriously and never, at any point, winks knowingly at the audience to go “DIDYA SEE THAT?!”. Instead, it makes use of the exact same techniques ’80s action movies did to juxtapose the ridiculous with the deadly serious: terrible, extremely obvious special effects; excessive amounts of blood and gore; unnecessary swearing at the most bizarre moments; but, at heart, a rather touching story of a kid who realises he doesn’t want to be alone in the world any more.
Of particular note is the blood and gore, of which there is lots, but it’s so insanely exaggerated — again, like the best worst ’80s action flicks — that it’s impossible to feel grossed out by it. In one scene, a man gets his face thrust into the spinning blades of a blender. In another, someone gets his guts pulled out by them being attached to the back wheel of a bicycle (in this particular post-apocalyptic future, everyone rides pedal bikes — which sort of makes sense, when you think about it, as fuel would eventually run out). In the climactic battle scene, the dismembered torso and legs of two other enemy grunts become firmly lodged on the head of a third enemy. And, of course, Turbo Rider/Kid’s unique gadget is a device on his wrist that immediately causes anyone it is pointed at to explode into a fine red paste.
Turbo Kid really benefits from being written and constructed as an ’80s action flick, without any fourth wall-breaking self-awareness going on. In being designed this way, it provides commentary on how desensitised to violence we are these days — many of the more gory scenes in the film would likely have got the movie banned as a “video nasty” back in the ’80s — while at the same time pointing out how far popular culture has supposedly come in the last 30+ years. Or you can look at it another way: it can be interpreted as a fond look back at the ’80s, when not all entertainment was expected to have some sort of socially aware “message” behind it (with the possible exception of children’s cartoons, which tended to lampshade these messages extremely obviously) and it could sometimes just be about many boys’ childish fantasies: the ability to point at a bad guy and have them explode into goo.
If you have an hour and a half to spare, then, be sure to check out Turbo Kid on Netflix. If you grew up in the ’80s and/or you enjoyed Far Cry: Blood Dragon (which is a similarly hilarious but loving homage to the more ridiculous side of ’80s popular media), you will very much appreciate what it has to offer.