Powered Exoskeletons in Cinema – The Tuxedo

Hey! New year! How about that.

Everyone’s fucking dying.

Mise-En-Skeleton #8 – The Tuxedo (2002)

two shot DS

There’s an interesting comparison to be made, I think, between this movie and 1967’s The Ambushers. They’re both spy comedies, they’re both about a dim-witted man and his more competent female partner, and they both rely on sexual references and innuendo to carry their humour.  Jimmy Tong (Jackie Chan) is everything Matt Helm should have been – charmingly stupid, his grossness always the butt of the joke – while Del Blaine (Jennifer Love Hewitt) is a brilliant scientist who’s new to espionage but learns quickly and proceeds to kick ass throughout.

One complaint I had was that Del never gets her Sheila/Ripley moment. She never wears the exosuit. Looking back, however, I think maybe the whole point is that she doesn’t need an exosuit. In this film, exosuits are used exclusively by men to compensate for their lack of natural ability. How great is that? What a twist on the premise!

But the comparison isn’t all glowing signs of progress. There’s a lot of Ambushers still clinging, barnacle-like, to Tuxedo’s hull. Jimmy Tong may not be Matt Helm, but there’s a pair of idiot side-characters who are, and while the film clearly knows what they’re doing is wrong, it never veers into any form of substantial critique, and if anything feels a liiiiittle chummy with them at times.

Take the scene where Del Blaine and Steena (Debi Mazar) are practicing at the firing range while these two idiots use the security system to stare at their butts. As much as these men are painted as goofy and uncool, the camera still takes its sweet time moving away from the security footage, and even goes back a couple of times just to make sure we understand what’s happening. It’s butts. Butts are happening. While the film tries to justify its slightly leery camera work by having Hewitt’s character use seduction to accomplish her goals, there were still several moments where the camera would dip downwards a bit, or zoom in unnecessarily close, and I would think ‘Oh. This is for me.’

At the same time, there’s these little redeeming touches. Like during that uncomfortable firing range scene, we cut straight from a creepy zoom-in on Steena to a close-up of a male firing range target with a huge hole shot through its dick, by Steena. And then back to a montage of butts. It’s… what? What’s happening? Whose side are you on, The Tuxedo?

eponymous dS

On occasion I’ve seen powered exoskeletons referred to as ‘wearable robots,’ and the Tactical Uniform eXperiment (TUX) seems like the perfect realization of that idea. Sure, it lacks the industrial heft of say, the Power Loader, but if it means faster reflexes, being able to run as fast as a car and still being able to walk through human-sized doors… I know which one I’m buying at launch?

What makes the TUX particularly interesting is that, rather than amplifying the wearer’s natural movements, it takes direct control of their peripheral nervous system; rendering whoever’s inside it into an expendable, squishy puppet.

Luckily, the actions the suit takes can be controlled via a matching wristwatch. While certainly a convenient and stylish way for secret agents to control their exosuits, this watch opens the tuxedo up to what I’m going to start calling McGraw’s Problem: “What if someone steals your controls?” In this case it wouldn’t even be that hard. Watches get stolen all the time! I feel like the only reason this never happened in The Tuxedo is because it wouldn’t have made a very good fight scene.

That’s sort of the nature of this genre, though. The fights come first. And within that mindset, the TUX is a masterstroke of exoskeletal design. Its presence allows Jackie Chan to play a comic, fish-out-of-water character while still doing all his customary cool stunts. It’s something a bit different, seeing a character perform all this smooth, choreographed badassery while looking terrified throughout. I also appreciate how, since it’s manipulating the wearer’s body rather than moving mechanically, the TUX doesn’t require a great deal of special effects. It mostly does things a person could do. It’s perfectly tailored – sorry, let’s try that again – perfectly suited – fuck – It’s a great fit – HOW DID I GET TRAPPED IN THIS PUN HOLE?

It really complements Jackie Chan’s film making style, and has an in-universe reason for doing so. I thought that was neat. Moving on.

gecko DS

Just wanted to quickly mention these cool gecko hands. They let you climb up smooth surfaces. I think they’re pretty great and would probably justify a whole exoskeleton on their own.


What ever happened to this guy:

marco dS

I don’t think it’s ever said on-screen, but his name is Mitch, and he’s played by Romany Malco. He encourages Jimmy to talk to the woman in the art gallery who he has a crush on, (making that two skele-movies in a row) defends him from a violent bicycle courier, and disappears.

I’ve struggled to come up with a satisfactory explanation for this. Did Mitch originally have a larger role that didn’t make the final cut? Or was he just invented to be Jimmy’s friend for this one scene? Are they friends? Mitch is willing to confront a burly man jumping up and down on a car for Jimmy, but he also never bothered to explain why wearing a ‘Hooters’ shirt while asking a woman out might be a mistake. Who is this man? What are his motives?

It’s an extra shame because Mitch is one of only two named black characters in the movie, the other being James Brown, who… Jimmy kind of murders. And then yells “He fell down by himself!”

So that makes one ‘accidental’ death… and one mysterious disappearance. That Jimmy never mentions again.

Nazi murder eyes Ds

Maybe this movie isn’t so progressive after all!