Movie Reviews - A Guyver Doubleheader: The Guyver and Guyver: Dark Hero
With our theme of Toons, Terror and Toys for October, well, there are two films that would cover the first two…so I figured why not?
These films come with a story. [Goddamnit!!! – Ed.] Luckily, it’s covered in my review for Figma’s Guyver figure…so there…I don’t have to retype it! So, once you read that…you’ll know where I stand on Guyver. Now, I’d known about the live action movies for a while…or at least the first one. That one’s been widely available for some time now…but Guyver: Dark Hero had been out of print for some time. Thankfully, the good folks over at the Warner Archive have resurrected it as an MOD disc. [Made/Manufactured On Demand – Ed.] So, all that being said, I grabbed copious amounts of booze and nestled in for a live action Guyver doubleheader.
First up, The Guyver…starring Mark Hamill. Alas, poor Luke. The 90’s in general weren’t exactly kind to Mark’s film career. Sure, he was doing knockout voice work for Batman: The Animated Series as the Joker, but onscreen, it was either B-movies like this or live-action sequences for video games, such as the Wing Commander series. It should be pointed out that if you’re looking at the front cover of the DVD, the image there STRONGLY implies that Mr. Hamill will be the one wearing the bio-boosted armor, that is very much not the case. We’ll get to what Hamill’s actual role is when we start talking about the plot.
Which is this paragraph. All things considered, at its core, the movie does a decent job of Americanizing and adapting the Guyver’s origin in the span of 90-ish minutes…a scientist escapes the Chronos Corporation with the Guyver unit in an effort to turn it over to Hamill’s CIA agent, Max Reed. [Hollywood continues to fail to recognize that the CIA cannot operate in America…sigh. – Ed.] Said scientist is caught and killed by Zoanoids before he can get to the meeting…but not before he hides the Guyver unit in an alley. All right, now here’s where you have to engage your “plot-convenience-o-meter”. The guy who finds it in the alley is Sean Barker…who is dating Mizki Segawa…daughter of Tetsu Segawa, who was the escaping scientist. How convenient!!! Ahem, anyway, the story progresses through the whole “Fall of Chronos” from the original pretty much beat by beat…but with no additional Guyvers or Guyver units. If one were to judge the film just on this plot alone…it’s not bad and certainly has some potential to approach maybe even being good.
Unfortunately, it’s everything else in the film that does its level best to run this movie into the ground, which, depending on your BAC [Blood Alcohol Content – Ed.], determines how successful they were. The tone of the film is EXTREMELY different from the anime it’s based on. The best way to convey the film’s tone is to liken it to another “creature feature” from New Line at around that time…Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Come to think of it…I have to admit it’d be kinda cool to have the franchise/crossover mentality of today’s Hollywood back then…because this Guyver crossing over with the 90s Turtles…man, that reeks of all kinds of awesome. Back on topic, the tone is the first step, but as you watch the cast’s performance, the film devolves into satire pretty quickly. In some ways, it’s rather a novel concept…a B-movie that parodies B-movies. This outcome shouldn’t be a surprise, hell, you’ve got Jimmy “DYNO-MITE!” Walker as one of the main antagonists. Sigh. Other B-movie staple players find themselves here too: David Gale, Jeffery Combs, Michael Berryman (no, you don’t know the name, but do a google search, you WILL know the face), and Linnea Quigley…each of them overacting in standard B-movie fashion.
What does save this film are the creature effects…starting first and foremost with a VERY awesome interpretation of the Guyver suit. It really does look like it sprung forth from the anime and into live-action flawlessly. The Zoanoids, while looking nothing like their anime counterparts, still are very creative creatures and certainly serve their purpose. One bit of warning though, it is just me…or does Jimmy Walker’s Zoanoid form look A LOT like Jar Jar Binks? [And are you being racist by making the comparison? – Ed.]
All in all, the film is a curiosity…I shouldn’t like it…but I keep coming back to it. I guess in some way, perhaps it’s one of those films that ends up being so bad that it’s good. Go figure. [I’d wager the fact that you’re a raging alcoholic might have something to do with that opinion. – Ed.]
Moving on to the second film, Guyver: Dark Hero, it’s almost as if the movie is a bit of a soft reboot. Yes, there’s some hold over plot threads from the first film, they mention the fall of Chronos LA and Mizki is still there for about the first 10 minutes before she and Sean break up, but overall it’s a new movie, a new direction and a new cast. Does this major course correction manage to save the franchise?
Well, given that the film came out in 1994 and you’re reading this in 2016…you tell me.
No, the change in direction didn’t help at all. While many online reviewers will tell you that Dark Hero is the better of the two films, honestly, I’m not sure that I can agree. It’s just bad for different reasons. The film opens with Sean killing a bunch of drug smugglers…all the while drawing these visions/dreams he’s having. The break-up with Mizki happens for two reasons: Sean feels like Chronos is still out there and she’s not a fan of the killing. “I’m not killing them…the suit makes me do it,” is his defense, or something along those lines. Yeah…that defense ALWAYS works.
A TV report of a werewolf-like creature attacking an archaeology dig site catches Sean’s attention and gives us the new direction that filmmakers felt was needed. In said TV report, they show some cave drawings that very closely match what Sean’s been doodling…so it’s off to…Utah…I think? Sure, let’s say Utah. After getting the usual small town ‘we don’t like strangers’ sort of welcome at the general store near the site, our plot-convenience-o-meter kicks in once again as Sean happens to be there at the same time as the daughter of the lead archaeologist. What luck!!! So, Sean’s allowed to help out around the dig due to his curiosity…and there’s the usual will-they-won’t-they that you’d expect along with the do-I-or-don’t-I-tell-her that’s typical of superhero movies. Well, thanks to Sean, they find out that the dig site houses an ancient spacecraft from the aliens that were responsible for both Zoanoids and Guyvers. Great…so where’s the source of tension/conflict? Well, the camp is full of it. [Boy, you said it! – Ed.] What I mean by that is within camp, you’ve got Zoanoids because it turns out Chronos is funding this little dig, you’ve got a government agent that is interested in turning Zoanoids and/or Guyvers into weapons and then of course there’s Sean, the Guyver.
Much like the first Guyver film, the plot should be a good basis for the film. Unlike the first film, that opted to go lighter in tone, Dark Hero goes…well, dark. That, in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad…but what kills it is that it falls into the tropes of superhero cinema at the time and as such…doesn’t bring much new to the table. Okay, okay, maybe that’s not a fair criticism, because, really, how many superhero films did we have by 94? I guess maybe the best way to say it is that it simply didn’t have much within its story to differentiate it from all the other nascent superhero film efforts out at the time. Of course, the one thing that this movie and this franchise had going for it, the creature effects, remain top notch, just like the first film and the Guyver suit continues to be awesome. To up the ante in this film, they do introduce a Guyver Zoanoid…which was pretty damn cool. As I sit here and think about why Guyver: Dark Hero didn’t work, perhaps it’s the acting…or lack thereof. Say what you will about the overacting of the first film, if taken as satire, it ends up infusing some fun into the film. There really isn’t that much of that here. Everything here is played straight…very, very straight and…well, bland.
Looking at the franchise as a whole, admittedly it does fall into that category of creature-effects-auditions-as-films. You see, Steve Wang, primarily a make-up effects artist, directed both films as well as being head of the creature shop. Granted, neither of these films ends up being pretentious crap, like, say Fire City: End of Days, and the skeletal plot underneath everything seemed to be a good place to start with both films. I can only help but wonder how these films might have turned out with different direction…that possibly might have brought on better writers and would’ve resulted in, well, better films. If you’re a fan of the anime, I’d suggest checking them out…preferably while getting intoxicated. Even then, given how protective and irritable most anime fans can be, the films are going to be of the love it or hate it sort. So you’ve been warned. For everyone else, if you like creature-based B-movies, then yes, these are going to be right up your alley. But if you’re looking for story and acting? Nah. We don’t serve your kind here.
I do have to close on this one last thought though…with the number of anime to live action film conversions coming out of Japan as of late…I’d be very curious to see what would emerge if this anime was revisited.