’90s Action Movies, Part V: “Tank Girl” (1995)

This entry is an unusual one. For starters, it’s the first film in this series that I’ve reviewed before on this blog. Hopefully, I’ll be able to say something new about it, rather than just repeating myself. I suppose I’ll need to find a new angle from which to talk about this movie,  since I’ve covered most of the plot in the earlier review.

I’m not sure if “tank movies” are officially recognized as a type of genre, but they ought to be. Obviously, they can’t officially be a “sub-genre”… that would have to be for movies like Crimson Tide and Das Boot.

Sorry. But there really is such a thing as a tank movie. 1988’s The Beast, about a Russian tank crew in Afghanistan, is one such example, and this is another one. Actually, as I think about it, there may have been some real tank nostalgia going on in the ’90s. After all, who can forget the big scene with the tank in the previous film I discussed? And this was also the decade that gave us BattleTanx, a post-apocalyptic video game about a future where rival tank gangs fight it out on the streets of ruined cities.

Tank Girl is more like The Beast, in that there is just one tank, all by itself in a huge desert. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end, because while The Beast is a dark rumination on the morality of war and man’s inhumanity to man, Tank Girl is a hilarious romp complete with Cole Porter musical numbers, half-man, half-kangaroo hybrids, and Malcolm McDowell hamming it up as the villain. Ladies and gentlemen, the ’90s!

Is Tank Girl a great movie? No, I wouldn’t say so. But here’s a thought for you: maybe every movie doesn’t have to be great. Maybe it’s good enough to just be fun sometimes. Tank Girl doesn’t feel like it had any pretensions, or grand ambitions, or designs to cleverly subvert or archly critique. The writing process was pretty much, “What if there was this punk girl who drives a tank and fights an evil corporation?” And that’s what you get.

Okay, I am going to repeat myself a bit. I guess it’s a bit tacky to quote from my own review, but hey, I stole the title of this blog from a stage direction in a Victorian operetta. I’m not one to stand on ceremony.

[W]hat amazed me most about the movie was that—despite being a combination of live-action and surreal cartoon animation, despite the bizarre set design, despite the male love interest being part kangaroo—at its heart, it’s just a good old-fashioned tale of frontier justice.

It’s tough to make something weird and unique that is still compelling. Most well-worn tropes are well-worn because they work very well. Telling a story that is both innovative and yet follows a good, solid three-act plot structure that will satisfy an audience is hard to do, and Tank Girl does it.

Maybe you’ll find the movie just too bizarre. Unlike the other movies I’ve covered so far, this is a cult film, with nothing like the huge blockbuster ambitions of the others. But I realized I simply couldn’t make this list without it. Its mixture of surreal and commonplace plot elements, its grungy aesthetic, and its essential optimism all make it a film that practically shouts “’90s” to me.

And finally, a note about the tank itself. According to my most-used reference website, it is an M5 Stuart tank in most scenes, though sometimes it is a T-55 or PT-76. The Stuart tank is also featured in another “tank story”: DC Comics’ Haunted Tank. Do with this information what you will.

9 Comments

    1. It’s not a very well known film at all. I stumbled across it on TV once, otherwise I would never have heard of it. 🙂

  1. Since the Tank Girl comics had by the time of the movie had moved way beyond ‘cult’ to ‘established belief system’ expectations were high. As always was the case, until 21st century CGI, disappointment amongst the faithful followed as sure as night follows day, and naturally the critics sensing blood in the water weighed in.

    You are quite astute in your observation that ‘it’s just a good old-fashioned tale of frontier justice’ and is probably best enjoyed that way with no knowledge of the comic books (I’m not a big fan of those).

    1. From what I can tell, it’s very different than the comics, as film adaptations usually are. That is the trouble with so many adaptations: the devoted fans are disappointed, and the general public is too unfamiliar with the story to even bother with it.

      1. Quite so:
        To understand what was going on in the film ‘Superman vs Batman : Dawn of Justice’, you had to be familiar with the excellent DC Comic Book series ‘Injustice Gods Among Us’ which itself was taken from a computer game.
        And even that didn’t explain why Lex Luthor felt inclined to do an office party impression of The Joker.

  2. I read a couple of the Tank Girl comics back in the late 1980s, can’t remember what I thought at the time. It probably didn’t appeal to me as much as the Judge Dredd comics as I remember those well. Had no idea there was a film of Tank Girl. Your review has piqued my interest just enough that if I happen to come across it, I might well give it a go 😊

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