Danny stumbles across Toulan's alchemical secret formula, and gleefully reanimates the puppets. Initially he plans only to use them to impress his (beautiful) girlfriend Beth, but when he discovers a secret cadre of enemy agents in his very own town, he concludes that his brother was right: there's plenty that he can do right here at home.
It's puppets versus Nazis, which is almost as strange as zombies fighting sharks. But this begs the question, can a horror movie be a horror movie when the monsters are the good guys? As it turns out....not quite. Although there are certainly a number of horrifying scenes (most of which are saved for the final act), it never truly seems to achieve that indefinable sense of horror. More like a wartime revenge drama, with a particularly short cast. Perhaps what keeps this from true horror territory is that no one with a quarter of a brain would dare root for the victims to escape safely.
Toulan's puppets have never been inherently evil, although they have done their fair share of evil things. Despite the fact that these are "living" puppets, nine times out of ten, there's still someone pulling their strings. They are tools, of sorts. Tools with personality, and tools with at least some semblance of sentience, but tools just the same. Whether they do good, or whether they do bad is always dependent upon who the titular Puppet Master is in this particular instance. It's up to the individual viewer to decide which side they prefer their marionettes to march on.
It's a competently-made addition to the legacy, and the acting is decent, though not great by any stretch of the imagination. I'm always one for going backwards in the timeline and exploring the "secret origins" and hidden tales that lie between entries--which is one of the reasons why I, no matter what anyone else says, still enjoy the Saw franchise. Puppet Master has done this quite well throughout the years, and this entry was no exception. I thought the concept of the story was pretty clever, even if it didn't fully live up to its potential.
My biggest problem with the movie was the casual racism that permeates the entire script. Yes, I understand that it's a period piece set during WWII. And yes, I understand that the Axis powers were guilty of untold atrocities. And yes, I understand that glossing over such things would not be true to the period. But constant uses of phrases like "Jap" and "Gook" really start to wear on you after a while, especially when used by the man who is supposed to be our hero in reference to people wholly innocent. I'm sure there was the occasional enlightened male to be found in 1939. Danny Coogan couldn't have been one of them?
Overall, an enjoyable film although it has lost a bit of that old magic that so filled the first three or so movies. Because very little reference is made to previous films (probably because none of the events in those films have happened yet in this chronology), this is a good jumping-on point for newbies, and the abrupt ending--which leaves you feeling a bit cheated, honestly--is a pretty good indication that the puppets will be back again.