Friday, August 14, 2015

Attack on Titan: A colossal letdown of a film

Attack on Titan: A colossal letdown of a film
by rick olivares

My manga and anime days are long past me. Like many other youngsters, I loved them as only kids can no matter how violent they were. I only followed three manga series in my life: “Fist of the North Star” and “Battle Angel Alita.” 

“Attack on Titan” came much later on in my adult life when a friend of mine who knew I was a fan of both the comic book and the television series of “The Walking Dead” recommended the work of Hajime Isayama. By then three years into its first publication release, I picked up the third tankobon of “Attack on Titan” or volume as we say in English and have since followed it quite closely.

The anime version Titan, like my other two manga favorites in North Star and Battle Angle, is even better.

When it was announced that a live action film of Titan was in production, I was both excited and skeptical; a natural reaction to any successful print story being adapted. And as is the norm when it comes to films, I avoid reading or watching too much pre-release material so I am not influenced by what has been said.

Well, post-screening of “Attack on Titan” the film adaptation, it is one giant letdown.

When the film starts, we see a more adult Eren, Mikasa and Armin attempting to see what is life outside Wall Maria, the massive wall and one of three that protects what is left of humanity from the marauding Titans. Changing basic plot elements can be tricky. It will only appease fanboys if the plots or origins are improved.

Here’s where the story diverges. In the manga, Eren’s motivation is joining the Survey Corps is when his mother is eaten alive. Here is it is the belief that Mikasa is was some Titans lunch. The manga version is way more powerful especially when she tells Eren to leave her as she is rendered immobile when her legs are crushed by a giant rock hurled by one of the Titans. Yet as Eren reluctantly is brought to safety, the mother has a change of heart and wishes to be saved. Except she is finger food for one female Titan.

Now cut to the movie version. Eren and company are prevented from going out by a cadre of Garrison guards and on cue, this 50-meter tall Titan, the biggest one they’ve seen yet appears and begins tearing a hole for the smaller Titans to get inside.

In the manga version, the young Eren and company witness the return of a Survey Corps regiment that went out with a hundred men but came back with only 20 many who are injured. That certainly added to the tension and climate of fear and helplessness by a humanity that is held hostage by the Titans and he walls.

Film director Shinji Higuchi sort of makes up for it when he depicts that stark terror that grips the populace when the Titans break through the wall.

It is this point where it gets annoying. The wall guards take too long to react. Sure, people can freeze in fear and disbelief at sight of this massive giant that finally breached what was previously believed to be unassailable. Based on the film’s story (not the manga version), it has been over a hundred years since the last Titans incident. Nevertheless, there has been previous contact with the massive cannibals so they know that no cannonball shot will hurt them unless they are sliced at the nape. Instead the guards act like imbeciles. One even challenges the order to fire at the Titans. Why weren’t the massive rail guns used in the manga adapted for the film instead of using the antiquated cannons?

During the attack, Eren believes that Mikasa is eaten alive by a Titan. He joins the Survey Corps to seek vengeance and to reclaim the lands from the Titans. During a mission to close the breach in the wall it all the more gets mystifying.

The soldiers are told to watch their voices because the Titans can hear them yet they yak like they are taking a stroll at the park. Worse, discipline is out of the window as Hiana breaks ranks because she can hear a baby cry. Eren follows and they find a massive baby Titan that draws the attention of the larger Titans.

They are saved by Mikasa who to the surprise of Eren and Armin is not only alive but this powerful warriors who has not only mastered the Vertical Maneuvering Device that allows them to navigate an urban setting like Spider-Man but is also an expert at dispatching Titans. Furthermore, she is an apprentice to the mysterious Shikishima who takes the place of Special Operations Squad leader Levi from the manga/anime version. It is said that “Levi” is Caucasian and the filmmakers wanted the character to be Japanese. Okay, I can understand that so I can let that pass with some grumbling.

Now the soldiers manage to escape yet during a lull where there some characters find the respite a means to engage in sex, the Titans attack once more further decimating the Survey Corps. Eren who earlier nearly had a nervous breakdown finds his verve and begins attacking the Titans with aplomb. His leg is eaten and he is thrown away. Seeing Armin close to being gobbled down by a Titan, he manages to save his friend but is swallowed for his efforts.

Just as all is bleak for the remainder of the corps, the Titan that ate Eren implodes as this new Titan emerges. This Titan is a amalgam of the old Titans and the colossal giant except that it is in a muscular body. This Titan begins bashing the heads and smashing the other Titans against the buildings.

The first part ends when the survivors of the Survey Corps discover that it is Eren who is “piloting” the Titan. That is of course, for the second part that is due this September.

For all the inroads made in technology, I felt like I was watching an upgrade of a B-movie. The effects used for the Survey Corps swinging around with their VMDs isn’t as good as I thought it would be.

When the colossal Titan appears, I felt that Higuchi lost a great opportunity for something really dramatic that scares the living daylights out of everyone. And the soundtrack score was terrible.

The characterization needs a lot of help and convincing. Here is supposed to be the elite force of humanity’s defenders yet they are an immature and poorly disciplined lot. The attempts at humor where Satomi Ishihara’s character of Zoe Hange mistakenly fires the VMDs. So much for garnering the recruits’ confidence.

I am disappointed because that is two successive comic book adaptations that have gone wrong with the previous being the Fox’s reboot of the Fantastic Four (it says a lot when the previous FF films are way better than the reboot).

“Attack on Titan” is a long manga/anime series yet the film version ends in a two-parter. The first part is lacking and wanting. Let’s see if they close this out with a bang this September. I don’t think Higuchi and company can survive another attack from angry fanboys.

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