132 minutes, 1983
Directed by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, created by Haruka Takachiho, mechanical design by Shoji Kawamori.
Joe (Michael Brady), Talos (Dave Underwood), Alfin (Juliet Cesario), Ricky (Shaun O’Rourke).
Rating: 3½ out of 5 (good)
Crusher Joe began as a series of light novels by the science fiction author and Studio Nue founder Haruka Takachiko. Considering the movie itself and the length of the Crusher Joe light novel series, I thought that Crusher Joe would be one of many long-running sci-fi 1980s series. I was disappointed to learn that this is not the case. I feel that Crusher Joe deserved to be a long-running series. It possess a likeability that would make me watch dozens of episodes or a handful of movies.
The movie begins with our heroes—who are Crushers, which is another name for space mercenaries, apparently because these guys started out destroying asteroids for a living—being offered a job to transport the cryogenically frozen body of a family member of one of the richest families in the galaxy. The supposed servant of this family, who is offering them the job, request that they transport him and the frozen girl to a nearby planet. The Crushers agree and they are welcome them on board their ship, the Minerva.
Almost immediately after get onboard the Minerva, it was obvious to me that this guy is not telling the whole story. He says, “We almost didn’t esca—I mean, make it out of there!” None of the Crushers seem to notice this slip, but at this point I was more than suspicious.
On their way to the nearby planet, the Crushers run into a freak accident: while in warp, their ship and themselves disintegrate. After waking up hours later, they find themselves stranded in an unknown sector of the galaxy and their clients missing and all their cargo gone. Shortly afterwards, they are boarded and imprisoned by a local military patrol vessel for piracy. Luckily for Joe, the leader of this team, his father helps him out of jail, through methods that are beyond the scope of this review. Suspecting they have been conned, Joe and his team head out to exact their revenge on whoever framed them.
The story of Crusher Joe is fairly simple and linear after this. There is a bit of political intrigue going on, but that is used more for driving the plot than being the actual story. The meat of the story is a group of mercenaries being framed and then exacting their revenge, but sprinkled on top is a tiny bit of intragalactic politics. Not a story for the ages, but it is more than just a revenge story.
Our heroes are a team of rugged space mercenaries, servants of the almighty woolong, and their personalities and actions reflect this. In other words, they are all bastards. Joe, the leader, despises any authority that is not his own, and is willing to take on any job if it pays enough; Talos, the 50 year old cyborg, loves getting even and in one scene does not flinch at the chance to beat a man to a bloody pulp to get that satisfaction; Alfin, the young space princess, is skilled at dogfights and using heavy weapons, such as rocket launchers; and Ricky, who is probably the most innocent of these four as he is also the youngest. Despite their faults, they are moral in their own way: they do not get revenge, they get even. They are down-to-earth and mostly self-serving. In other words, proper space mercenaries.
Their ship, the Minerva, is the most realistic of the ship designs. It reminds me of the Space Shuttle, if it were armed with a plethora of missile launchers. The other ship designs, however, are much more interesting. The ship used by the local military police that arrests our heroes in the beginning, is pretty damn cool. It is huge, long, and covered with cannons, turrets, and even little support combat ships attached on the side that float off when deployed. It lacks shielding from what I could tell, but it seemed to be invincible.
I would argue that considering the political aspect of the storyline, among other reasons that are actually spoilers, there is no single antagonist or villain. Among the candidates, I would point to the Murphy Pirates as the prime contender. For most of the film, Joe and his team are in combat with the Murphy Pirates; they are also the ones that conned Joe’s team in the beginning of the film. They are full of a diverse cast, although any sort of development or history is not provided. Their leader, Murphy, is not the most interesting of them, but his crew members are quite interesting on the surface. The most senior in rank is an albino man named Killie; a big and stupid muscleman named Roki; and a hot headed woman named Norma. Killie loves to screw with people’s heads. Roki absolutely despises being called stupid and he has, in my opinion, one of the best dying words ever, “He tricked us all. Maybe I am stupid after all.” Norma is armed with a whip that she uses liberally, and she looks like she was pulled off a heavy metal album cover, which I think is amazing.
Production values are also noteworthy, considering when it was made. Even after many viewings, I still consider the animation in Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato (1978) to be dismal, to put it nicely. In particular, I found the movement of the space ships to be awkward and stiff, because it seemed like the animators relied heavily on moving cutouts on top of a background cel. In a short five year period, animation had already progressed from the stiff animation in Yamato to the fluid animation present in Crusher Joe. Truly impressive.
The English voice cast provides a well-made dub. I have not seen the Japanese version, because I felt that the English dub was done with sufficient quality that I could quench. In particular, I enjoy the decision to give Alfin and Norma bearable voices, instead of the high squeaky voices typical in English dubs.
Action is rife and diverse. Within the span of one movie, there is a bar fight, dogfight, infiltration, chase scene, shootouts, shootouts with jet packs, bombardment, and a space battle. It takes awhile to get to the actual combat, but once there it only stops very briefly every so often to move the plot along. If you are looking for a movie heavy with action and a simple plot, this is a perfect one.