Awfully Good: Tank Girl

Before CAPTAIN MARVEL suits up, here's another female-led comic adaptation worth revisiting…


Tank Girl (1995)


Director: Rachel Talalay
Stars: Lori Petty, Naomi Watts, Ice-T, Malcolm McDowell

After an asteroid leaves the Earth a post-apocalyptic hellscape, a rebellious girl finds a tank and leads a group of kangaroo soldiers to bring down the evil corporation who controls all the water and power.

There's a trivia item on the IMDB page for TANK GIRL that simply says, "Naomi Watts is ashamed of this film." And after watching the Oscar-nominated actress get humped by a horny human-kangaroo hybrid onscreen for a solid minute, it's not exactly hard to see why she might feel that way. (Though she shouldn't.)

Naomi was ready this time when they came asking about another RING sequel.

Until recent years, female comic book heroes have not had great luck on film. Most of them—CATWOMAN, ELEKTRA, BARB WIRE, SUPERGIRL—have been bad enough to appear in this column. On paper, TANK GIRL also fits in that category. It was a commercial and critical flop when it was released in the mid-90s, with a messy post-production process that reportedly left the filmmakers, comic creators and studio all unhappy. However, despite everything working against it, TANK GIRL still manages to be memorable for its spunky heroine and zero-f*cks-given attitude. At the very least it deserves some credit for being a film in this genre with a female director and a fun, feminist spin long before WONDER WOMAN or CAPTAIN MARVEL.

The only time you can comment on a girl's bazookas and not get slapped.

The Tank Girl comic by Alan Martin and Gorillaz co-creator Jamie Hewlet is famous for its anarchist punk aesthetic and that spirit is 100% translated to the screen. Director Rachel Talalay (who would go on to direct some of the best Doctor Who episodes) delivers something that still feels unique 20 years later. Even at its worst, there's an infectious energy and zany tone to this movie that gives it a certain charm. (And the great soundtrack, allegedly curated by Courtney Love, helps too.) It's abrasive and aggressive and random with its in-your-face style, which was clearly off-putting to critics when it was released, but so much of TANK GIRL feels ahead of its time with just how weird and eye-winking its willing to get. It's easy to see why this has garnered such a dedicated cult following over the years.

Starring Kangaroo Ice-T and Burn Victim Don Cheadle!

The movie doesn't have much going on in the way of a real plot—there's a bad guy that needs to be stopped and a kidnapped girl the protagonists occasionally want to rescue—but for the most part TANK GIRL seems happy to just revel in the wacky world it's created.

How wacky? How about the heroine parasailing on a tank and raining down gunfire from the sky as Ice-T raps? Or the fact that everyone stops in the middle of a tense mission to rescue a child from a futuristic brothel to engage in a full-on Cole Porter musical number? There's also animated sequences, an interspecies romance, a clothes-changing montage, an impromptu construction worker calendar shoot, musician Iggy Pop getting maimed, and that really only scratches the surface.

So that's how Pauly Shore got Lori Petty to star in IN THE ARMY NOW.

Lori Petty is truly great as the title character, so much so that the movie would be absolutely nothing without her manic energy and nonstop one-liners. She even manages to make all the bizarre stuff seem natural. When Tank Girl trains her tank to come like a dog when she whistles, you don't even question it. (Also, watching this now, it's super obvious that Gwen Stefani stole pretty much her entire persona from this movie.)

The young Naomi Watts is fine in her first Hollywood gig, but it's easy to have your supporting role be completely overshadowed when you have Ice-T and the late Reg E. Cathey playing mutant kangaroos. In the film, Tank Girl encounters the legendary Rippers, a group of badass genetically-modified soldiers created by the military to give humans the dexterity and strength of Australia's jumpiest marsupial, but they're also excitable man-children who enjoy beat poetry and saxaphones and want to hump everything. If this sounds like a ridiculous idea for a group of integral characters, just know that the makeup effects were done by Stan Winston, who liked the concept so much he worked for half-price.

"You girls ever been with a guy with a pouch?"

And then there's Malcolm McDowell as the villain, an evil CEO whose weapon of choice is essentially a Brita pitcher that stabs people, drains their blood, and turns it in to clean drinking water. McDowell gives a great "bad guy" performance that works as an always annoyed straight-man to Tank Girl's cartoonish antics. Even better, when he's injured mid-movie, they bring in Lo Pan (James Hong) to turn him in to a VR cyborg. It's silly and doesn't make much sense if you think about it for too long, but it does allow me to type the sentence, "The finale involves Tank Girl shooting cans of beer at a holographic Malcolm MacDowell." and not be in any way inaccurate.

Malcolm McDowell's Face deserves every award.

There are stories about clashes between the studio and the filmmakers that resulted in severe edits that removed or altered major parts of the movie, from two alternate endings to a love scene that showed off one of the mutant creature's genitalia—a cut that was made after Stan Winston already spent $5,000 to create a lifelike kangaroo penis. (Somewhere, someone has that accomplishment on their resume.)

One of the film's most jarring, if not memorable, stylistic elements is the constant cutting between live action and illustrations from the comics—everything from establishing shots to a fully animated ending. However, apparently that too was a result of studio interference according to the comic creators, who had to draw new scenes to replace shots or sequences that had been removed or not filmed, just to help the movie make sense.

But hey, if a third of your film is technically just drawings straight from the source material, I think by default that makes it the most faithful comic book adaptation of all time.

Poor Naomi Watts.was never the same after this movie.

Sadly, the scene with the kangaroo penis has been removed, but allegedly it's out there on YouTube. (I would find it for you but I don't need that in my search history.)

Lock up your sons! Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • An illustration or animation is clearly used to replace something that wasn't filmed
  • Tank Girl makes a pop culture reference that would be wildly outdated in 2033
  • There's a cameo by Iggy Pop

Double shot if:

  • The Rippers howl


Thanks to Aubrie for suggesting this week's movie!


Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email and give him an excuse to drink.

Source: JoBlo.com



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