I have a weakness for renaissance men. You know, the type who can do just about anything? David Hayter is a screenwriter who worked on both X-Men and X2. He's also a voice actor, known for both the charming Lupin III in Castle of Cagliostro, and the gruff and hardened Solid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid series. Being a fan of all three of those, I became a fan of the man himself. So when I heard he had also done live action films, I found a movie called Guyver 2: Dark Hero. A quick internet search told me that a viewing of the first film was unnecessary, and after Noel picked it and I was forced to watch it, I think we can all agree that the internet was trying to do me a favor back then. But will the sequel be an improvement over the original?
Before we begin, we should probably note that Jack Armstrong being replaced by David Hayter isn't the only casting change going on at the moment. While Jack no doubt got the boot due to his poor acting skills, it's only the demands of real life that caused our own Monthly Midnight Casting Change. It's with a heavy heart that I must tell you Tony will no longer be continuing on this journey with us. We enjoyed his sharing of the Ninja trilogy, and we got to expose him to some interesting films he had never seen before, but for the present, we must go on without him. He will be missed! But I hope you will join me in welcoming another renaissance man to our crew - Jak. Like David Hayter, Jak is also a writer and an actor, as well as a musician. His busy schedule doesn't often leave him time to watch films, but this project may change that.
All right, time to get on with it.
We start off being told that one year has passed since the original film. Sean still has the Guyver suit, and he's struggling with it. The suit is not content to sit around and live out a peaceful life with Mizky. It wants to kill evil doers, so Sean is being drawn out at night to do just that. He finds some thugs who are smuggling cocaine inside dolls, and proceeds to tear them apart. Their boss begs to simply be arrested, but the Guyver suit wants blood.
Back at home, Sean is plagued by nightmares where the suit makes him completely lose control. He also keeps seeing strange alien shapes that he sketches out in his notebook. While watching a television show where a man swears his brother was killed by a werewolf, the man shows a cave drawing he found near the site, and the drawing contains the same images Sean is seeing in his dreams. It turns out this all happened at the site of an archaeological dig, and Sean heads off to find it.
While asking for directions to the site, he runs into Cori, the daughter half of the father-daughter team directing the dig. She begrudgingly agrees to bring him along because she understands his quest for answers. She and her father are searching for answers themselves. They specialize in trying to find evidence of aliens, bigfoot, and the like. Their project is being funded by a corporation, and sure enough, it's Kronos, and all their men are really zoanoids. There's also a government agent named Atkins who is undercover on the dig. He knows something is up with Sean and wants his help to uncover this whole mess.
Eventually, they dig up an alien spaceship and find more Guyver suits inside. Kronos wants them, the government wants them, Cori and her father want to study them and prove to the scientific community that they're not crackpots, but only Sean knows it's best to get rid of them altogether. The ship keeps calling to him, and when he finally enters it dressed as the Guyver, it gives him some back story on the whole process. It reveals that the Guyver was a mistake made by the aliens - they wanted to use humans as their soldiers, but humans proved too unpredictable.
Amidst all this plot, there are of course fights between the Guyver and the zoanoids, and honestly, that's about all you really want to see. The fights are greatly improved from the last film. While the first fight with the thugs still mostly consists of him throwing the guys around, the later zoanoid fights are much stronger. The suits have been improved since the first film, giving them greater range of movement. The stuntman inside the Guyver suit uses martial arts and the fights are just all around dynamic with lots of blood gushing out. The transformation scenes are much briefer and just all around look better.
Unfortunately, the dialogue, script, and acting are only better because they were so horrible the last time around. Hayter is giving it his all, but his attempts at looking conflicted primarily come off as blank stares. He shines much better when he's voicing Sean from inside the suit, because he's clearly a stronger voice actor than screen actor. Kathy Christopherson deploys a whiny voice for most of her delivery, making her annoying when her character is otherwise a decent female lead. It also lacks any true emotional weight when it's revealed that Cori's father is also a zoanoid. And seeing as how he's killed off, the story doesn't really try to deal with it either. The most interesting thing they probably did with the movie was making the end fight be between Sean and a zoanoid/guyver hybrid. The design, at least, looks pretty great, and they seem more appropriately matched as opponents.
But the direction is where this movie really suffers. It is a little over two hours long, and should really only be an hour and a half. The extra length is due to poor direction choices, like lingering on the pulsing guyver nodules on Sean's neck for far too long, or watching him fake drive a truck on the way to rescue Cori. If you went through and did a cleaner edit of this film, you'd end up with something much more dynamic and sleeker.
But perhaps I am being a bit harsh. Noel? Jak? What say you?
Damn. After the first film failed to live up to my nostalgic embrace of its memory, I had hopes that Guyver 2 would more than make up for it. But, damn. To be fair, it is a significantly stronger film than the first, but not being as bad as the one before doesn't mean this one isn't bad, too.
In terms of the direction, on a purely technical level, Steve Wang deserves massive props for how far he came in just three years. He only made one other film between the Guyver flicks, Kung Fu Rascals, which is the silly thing playing on Sean's tv just after the opening sequence. It was an entirely independent work where he and his friends went out to a park with camera equipment and home-made special effects and just experimented and had fun, and the lessons he learned through that experience are apparent. His camera work is much crisper and more dynamic, creating a nice flow to every scene, and the action sequences are especially fantastic as the camera and editing are fast, but never frenetic, often moving with each blow of the battle so as to keep everything nice and clear. It's definitely an emulation of the choreography of Hong Kong cinema, which was building a strong cult following on our shores at the time, but it's a solid emulation that shows genuine understanding of the technique.
Where I think the film largely fails is the script, which Steve Wang deserves just as much blame for as he does props for the direction. Sure, the screenplay is credited to Nathan Long, but Long was working off a story from Wang (note how I'm avoiding any Long Wang puns - you're welcome), and Wang not only supervised the development of the script, but has gone on to collaborate with Long again on subsequent works (while I really like Wang's Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight, Long was head writer of the show and the scripting is just as stiff there). Obviously, Wang didn't have a problem with how the script turned out, and that's a glaring oversight on his part.
The central story, while kinda weak as far as sequels go, isn't my main problem so much as it is the construction. Sean is our hero, but as with the first film, he's very inactive, often just standing around until the story throws something at him. He suspects someone at the dig is working for Kronos, but instead of coming up with a way to root them out, he just glares at people a lot until he's eventually attacked. He chooses to seek out the cave, yes, but all he adds to the dig are a few names, as it's the ship that finally reveals itself with the crack in the wall, and nothing that's found on board is really changed by him being there. Seriously, other than having to fight off the enemy at the end, there is nothing about this film that would have played out differently had Sean not been there. The dig would have gone on and eventually uncovered the ship. Kronos would have bided their time before revealing themselves. Government spy Atkins would have just kept watching everything. If you then change it so that two Guyver units are found and Cori dons one of them for the 3rd act fight, things still play out largely the same, even with the twist and final fate of her father. Who's death, yeah, is surprisingly muted given how much time they spend building up to it after his reveal.
But no, we have to keep Sean in there, and staple on a weak theme of self discovery as he sets out to uncover his place in the world, only to come to the conclusion that it's up to himself to define what he wants to be. Which is fine, but there's no reason he couldn't already be there. There's the struggle with killing, but he never hesitates to viciously slaughter his foes. Then there's a BS backstory about the Guyvers being a failure just so he has something to overcome. And I hate the opening sequence, which tries to paint Sean as an American superhero in a glaringly obvious imitation of Batman and Punisher. Sean leaving behind the laser-etched calling card of "Guyver" on the wall is awful and makes no sense, and if they really wanted to go the dark vigilante route, they should have stuck to the city and actually played it out instead of sending Sean into the woods and never mentioning it again. I mean, seriously, when he finally utters the word "Guyver", why does nobody mention the vigilante killings that have been in the news? Why doesn't Atkins confront him on it while he's in the middle of confronting Sean over everything else? What point did that opening sequence ultimately serve?
Atkins, though, is my favorite part of the film. He's just as clumsily written as everyone, but Christopher Michael plays him with the great energy of a dedicated agent who gets the job done despite being fully aware that he's surrounded by monsters that could rip him limb from limb at a moment's notice. Sure, his fight scene with the female zoanoid is a painful throwback to the comical warehouse chase/battle from the first film (and the "Bitch." tag is unnecessary), but he still sells the weak one-liners of the script better than anyone else, and I love when Sean says "Protect the girl!" and Atkins looks at the approaching, bullet-proof monster and says "Who's gonna protect me?" But he still does, and still fights the good fight against overwhelming odds, and I'm glad that he survives at the end. I also like his devout belief that everything will be better in government hands running up against Sean's knowledge that weapons like the Guyver would be misused, no matter who ends up with them.
Aside from Atkins, the acting is pretty flat. All of the secondary parts are forgettable. Once the big bad reveals himself, I just wanted him to jump into his creature form quicker because his human actor has the charisma of a lima bean. Kathy Christopherson isn't bad as Cori, but Angie's right about her squeaky voice being an annoyance, and Cori is kind of a jerk in the way she keeps cutting Sean down over what's in the cave. And as for David Hayter... I have to admit that, due to this film coming out around the same time V.R. Troopers was on the air, I went for several years thinking he and Brad Hawkins were one and the same. In retrospect, Hawkins is significantly beefier than the long and lean Hayter, but they have a similar striking look with the strong cheekbones and piercing eyes. Sadly, they also have the same lacking level of charisma, as Hayter's primary display of emotion is going from a flat look to a comical sneer face that made me laugh a few times. He does nail the voice, and I have much love for the man as a writer (his draft of Watchmen continues to be my favorite version of that story), but the world was not robbed by his on-screen performances being few and far between.
To get back to positives, I'm impressed by the production values Wang pulled off despite this entry being made for significantly less than the first film (the budget of this was, seriously, only $900,000). There are some cost-saving aspects of the creature designs in that we not only have the Lisker suit from the first back in full, but other costumes have been reused with different heads (Cori's dad has the same body as the elephant nosed Russian, the bug with ridiculously long pinkies was one of the lab creatures), and all of the monster suits - including the "Max's transformation" head - are recycled during the flashbacks as ancient zoanoids. But just by replacing the heads with ones that are now fully expressive with animatronics that let their eyes move and their mouths open and close with the dialogue instantly sells the creatures better than what we got the first time around. The redesign of the Guyver suit is spectacular - broader at the shoulders, heavier "boots", light blue coloring, all more true to the manga look - and the main villain monster is amazing in both creature form and Guyvered creature form, and even had to do some nice little bits of acting in both, which were pulled off well. In addition to the creatures, there's also the great cave set with the moving wall of the spaceship, the organic spaceship interiors, and the lovely model work during the flashback chronicling the history of the creation of both zoanoids and the Guyver unit. And there's also some choice uses of CGI in the film. A few morphing effects don't work, but the ship rising out of the ground at the end looks nice, and I absolutely love the two moments of Sean summoning his armor while in motion, one while running through the woods, the other after having just leapt off a cliff.
But the high-points of the film just aren't enough to make up for a largely flat cast and a very weak script that the direction, no matter how striking the camerawork, was able to overcome. The Guyver has always been a blip of undeserved success for what's ultimately been a cheep bit of tween boy silliness on both sides of the pond, and it says a lot that when the audience who embraced both this and the works of Rob Liefeld ultimately turned on Rob, they left The Guyver floundering as well. It only worked because it came out at the right time to run into the right group of people, but that time passed and those people moved on. Both films are a perfect adaptation of the manga and anime, not in that they made it into something good, but that they perfectly captured everything that made the series both momentarily interesting, but ultimately disposable and forgettable. They didn't elevate the material, so ultimately sank after cresting that passing wave.
A few extra thoughts:
- The music is essentially the same score as the first film, and just as uneven a mix of Terminator ripoff and random keyboard pounding. It has a few nice swells during action scenes, though.
- Favorite exchange: "You go get help, I'll handle the bear!" "Right...... Wait, he'll handle the bear!?"
"What's a Guyver?"
That was the question I've had no answer to since I was told what movie we were doing this month, though it had really been around for me much longer than that. I vaguely remembered hearing about these movies a long time ago when I was a teenager as one of those weird things the Sci-Fi Channel would advertise that I tuned out while waiting for MST3K or Star Trek or whatever to return. Back then, it was probably closer to "What's a Guyver? Eh, who cares, when's my show coming back on?" Now, it seemed, I cared, and I'd be finding out soon. I made a point not to look anything up about Guyvers and Guyver-related things, not even February's Monthly Midnight Movie Exchange on the first Guyver movie, because I was curious how well this movie would stand on its own. What better way to find out than to go into it genuinely ignorant?
As it turns out, the previous movie's plot was summed up very neatly in a couple of lines right before the introductory sequence, a sequence bathed in Kool-Aid blood, some very cliche villains, and a truly unbelievable amount of slow motion. The uneven acting showcased throughout the rest of the film is established in this sequence as well. The head villain starts it off with some fine hamming followed soon by his gang shooting at the Guyver, all looking perfectly bored. I imagined the director saying, "Ok, everyone, here's where we point our guns in this direction. Ok, good, now you pull the triggers. Ok, cut, great, next scene." There's some serious cheese in how the title appears, too. "Oh, okay, so this is that kind of movie," I thought.
The story grabbed my interest early on, which surprised me because most monster fight movies I've watched use the plot as a simple vehicle to get on to the next fight. It's unfortunate that I found it really difficult to stay focused through the entire two hours because, like the acting, the pacing was all over the place. Scenes just end abruptly in the middle of conversations, fooling me more than once into thinking we were going into a flashback. On the other side of the spectrum are the travel montages and dream sequences that all went on at least three times longer than they needed to. I found myself shouting "Okay, jeez, I get it!" at the screen after sitting through more than a minute of David Hayter's pulsing neck nips juxtaposed with the collapsing walls of the dig. The endless shots of the sets and reactions when the ship was uncovered reminded me of watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which is never a good thing. Then there's the Gratuitous Jeep, a twenty-three second long shot of a Jeep falling off a cliff and exploding. Nobody's even inside of it, and it served no further purpose to the narrative. "This movie needs an exploding car!" This is why this movie is two hours.
The fight scenes were a mixed bag. Every impressive martial arts move seemed to be followed by an impossible segment of floaty nonsense that didn't even attempt to convey an illusion of impact. At times, the creatures were just standing there staring at each other. I couldn't stop laughing at the grey monster who kept beating his chest for no reason. I liked it so much that I went back and counted how many times he did it: nineteen times in two fights. At some point in the movie, I thought "You know, this doesn't look bad for an 80's flick." Later, I found out it was made in 1994. Oh.
As the scenes piled up, I realized that I've thought "Oh, okay, so this is that kind of movie" on no less than five occasions. By the time the main villain was chewing up the scenery with stock maniacal laughter and delivering the line "I love my job" straight to the camera, I was completely confused because I couldn't figure out how self-aware this film was. It felt like three or four different people with very different visions wrote scripts and cobbled them together. This is a movie that tries to analyze a man's struggle to determine his destiny. This is also a movie where "Bitch." is apparently acceptable as a one liner. So in learning the answer to "What's a Guyver?", I'm left with a new question that I may never know the answer to: "What's a Guyver 2?"
When we reviewed the first film, I promised the sequel would be better. I wasn't wrong, but I think all three of us have highlighted here that I may have also oversold it. Memories can be pretty good at lying to you sometimes, and it's possible I may have been crushing on Hayter a little too much the first time I watched this film. At least, that's the best excuse I've got in terms of why I remembered enjoying this movie before.
Noel does point out two of the funniest lines in the film, which did in fact make me laugh out loud. Unfortunately, they were more a case of the broken clock being right twice a day as much of the rest of the humor didn't come off as well. Christopher Michael did certainly make Atkins a more interesting character than the rest, but once again, I think that had more to do with one competent actor being surrounded by only passable ones.
Oh, and those chest beating moments Jak mentions? He left off the part where they used something akin to a cat wailing as the monster's cry every time he beats his chest. I kept looking around to make sure my cats weren't fighting with each other every time I heard it, because it just sounded so strange and out of place with what I was seeing on screen. I appreciate their efforts to give the monsters some kind of personality and life, but most of them came off just as silly as that.
Overall, I just can't recommend this series. Noel is right that these are a relic of their specific time period, and have not aged well at all. There are some moments that may be enjoyable in a "so bad it's good" kind of way, but you may get too bored with the films before you reach those scenes.
We'll be back on the 1st of May with a pick from Noel: Gunhed (1989)