Gunhed had the novelty of being the first ever mecha film conducted in live-action. [The only other live-action mecha film we ever had was Stuart Gordons Robot Jox (1990), although more recent years have seen the huge success of the live-action Pacific Rim (2013)]. Gunhed is also a mecha fantasy that has jettisoned the anthropomorphised superheroic look of the cartoons in favour of a dark, grittily detailed Cyberpunk design. Unlike the animated mecha series, the entire film looks like it is taking place inside a huge rundown factory where dirty, grittily detailed machinery fills the screen and we actually see the oil, grime and grease of the machines in action.
The special effects are excellent. The scenes of the Gunhed transforming from a vaguely anthropoid shape into a tank form are stunning. There is a dazzling sequence with the Gunhed running up and down a cavernous shaft on a winch and firing attack missiles while a kid hangs onto the outside. The climactic battle with the Gunhed up against the Aerobot, with both slamming each other through walls and smashing each other up with claw arms, is enthrallingly good. For the effects alone, the film is a must see.
Alas, beyond the effects sequences, Gunhed is uneven. It almost feels like the live-action equivalent of a game like Doom. The film seems construed like a series of rooms, hallways and traps that must be ventured into and the menaces there shot up all that seems missing is the Gunhed robot collecting points as it goes along. Outside of the action, theres not a whole lot of plot. It is never particularly clear what is going on, what the Kyron 5 computer is trying to do and who it is that is shooting at people. For that matter, the people are not particularly important to the film. Brenda Bakke is a fine actress see tvs American Gothic (1995) who has never gained the exposure that she deserves. However, Gunhed fails to use Bakke despite casting her as a tough Texas Ranger who is the only one who appears to know how to fight, the film for no clear reason put her aside for two-thirds of the running time.
It is a shame with the clear budget that has been lavished on the film that such a shabby dubbing job has been done on the English-language translation, which comes with the flat, indifferent voices that we usually get in the 1960s Godzilla movies. The most wince-inducing line is when one scavenger goes into battle with a cry of Come on, you sushi slopper.