Thursday, March 30, 2017

Blast from the Past Movie Review: The Guyver (1991)

When I was a little kid, I remember watching The Guyver on the Sci-Fi Channel and even renting it from the video store. The whole purpose of the film podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood is to see if beloved childhood films still hold up and although I remember enjoying the movie when I was a kid, I was also in elementary school, a lot of movies I've watched for Myopia haven't stood the test of time.

So how did it hold up? Here's the podcast. And now for my review..

The Plot

The sinister Chronos Corporation headed by Fulton Balcus (David Gale) is experimenting with turning people into Zoanoids, shape-shifting warriors of alien origin who had apparently lived among humans for centuries and spawned the myths of werewolves, vampires, etc. Dr. Tetsu Segawa (Greg Paik) attempts to flee Chronos with the Guyver Unit, a set of alien powered armor, to give to CIA agent Max Reed (Mark Hamill), but treachery leads to his death. College student Sean Baker (Jack Armstrong), who is friends with if not romantically involved with Dr. Segawa's daughter Mizki (Vivian Wu), stumbles across the Guyver and bonds with the unit, doing battle with a gang of Zoanoids who want it back.

And Balcus is much, much more than he seems...

(Or, if you want a more irreverent summary, "In which a mediocre martial-arts student bonds with alien powered armor and fights mutant monster gang-bangers in Los Angeles.")

The Good

*Although my cohorts on the podcast made fun of the film's fight choreography, the fact the fighting comes off as rather incompetent might actually have a good story reason. Sean is, early on, depicted as a mediocre martial-arts student, while most of the Zoanoids are street criminals Chronos has transformed into alien warriors. None of them, with the exception of chief thug Lisker (Michael Berryman), really have any idea of what they're doing with their enhanced abilities, and Sean doesn't know the full extent of his armor's capabilities or how to actually use them. See the trope How Do I Shot Web for more details.

*To that end, in a scene where some gang members try to mug Sean, they avoid the Mook Chivalry trope. Instead of engaging Sean, who has at least some hand-to-hand combat ability, individually, they just mob him and bring him down in seconds.

*Sean finding the Guyver and bonding with it came off as pretty natural and realistic. It didn't seem forced at all.

*The film has some genuinely funny moments, including a scene where rapper-Zoanoid M.C. Striker (Jimmie Walker) stumbles into a film shoot and is mistaken for a man in a monster suit. Striker himself is pretty funny, although I can understand how others might interpret him as being grating or even a racist stereotype. There's also a scene where a Zoanoid that looks like an obese midget dinosaur pursues two characters through a lab that could be something out of Benny Hill. All it needed was the Yakety-Sax.

*Jimmie Walker's most well-known role is on the show Good Times, which spun off Maude, which spun off All In The Family. Some of Striker's lines are a homage to that role, which film enthusiasts might appreciate.

The Bad

*There's an opening text-crawl like Star Wars--except it has a voice-over. There are several things wrong with this picture--for starters, it would be much more interesting if they started out with Dr. Segawa running from some thugs and then people just started turning into monsters. That would grab the viewers' attention. Secondly, there was no need for the voice-over when the information is provided by the text. Star Wars never had a voice-over in its openings. Finally, the actual text comes off like a badly-translated anime with the "Zoanoids" and especially the "Zoalord." Yes, the movie is based on a manga, but translation problems are still translation problems.

*The acting is, for the most part, not very good. Armstrong does a decent job when he's just playing an ordinary college student, but whenever he has to stretch himself or deliver powerful or moving lines, he's just plain awful. No wonder they replaced him in the sequel. Although the fact some of these lines are ridiculous isn't his fault, his delivery is poor. Armstrong's mediocre acting also tied in with how the movie was marketed--the posters strongly imply Mark Hamill plays the Guyver, not Armstrong.

(Hamill does an okay job and in one scene conveys genuine agony far better than he did in The Empire Strikes Back when Luke learns that Darth Vader is his father after losing his hand. But if he's the best actor, you know the movie has problems.)

Gale as Balcus has this weird staccato delivery, especially at the beginning when he's enraged at Lisker. Berryman comes off as kind of brain-damaged most of the time--although the actor has an actual medical condition, that doesn't affect him mentally. His delivery is more natural when he leads the Zoanoids into battle, but it's really stilted elsewhere. Wu's role as Mizki is poorly written--she spends most of the time as a passive hostage of the Zoanoids and is only active when the plot requires it--but her accent is bad. I don't remember her speaking like that in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3, so either her English improved or she was trying to speak English like someone whose native language was Japanese and didn't pull it off.

*Striker speaks pretty much entirely in rap and I can definitely understand why people might view him as a racial stereotype. Given how he's the most inept of the Zoanoids and the scene where he invades the movie set and tries to calm down a woman he thinks is terrified of him, he could have been developed as someone who isn't really evil at heart (as opposed to the thuggish Lisker or the domineering, kind of perverted Balcus) and is trying to impress his superiors. The filmmakers give Lisker some development by depicting him in a relationship with a female Zoanoid, so it's not like they couldn't have developed Striker more.

*In one scene, it's clearly morning and Sean offers to get him and Mizki some food. It's nighttime when he returns. Is Los Angeles traffic that bad? And then when the Zoanoids pursue Sean, Mizki, and Max onto the film set, it's night but it's clearly supposed to be daytime, since the director is talking about lunch.

(If overnight shoots provide a mid-shoot meal and call it "lunch" that might actually be clever, but those who aren't familiar with film industry practices won't know that.)

*There's a missed opportunity for Balcus to guilt-trip our heroes over a character's death. It'd show him as more devious and having obviously debriefed Lisker about how a previous fight went. It'd also be a good example of psychological warfare, in the vein of STAR WARS' Dun Moch battle technique.

*A character's death comes off as really silly--they get blasted through a door into another room, come to a stop, and then EXPLODE.

The Verdict

Might be worth watching once. Maybe. 5 out of 10. It had a good concept, but an inept execution. Michael Bay really should give it a $100 million reboot.

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