Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Guyver

  No thanks to the cover art, some people might think Mark Hamill is The Guyver. He's not. Yeah, that disappointed 13-year-old me too. This 1991 cheese fest is based on a manga of the same name. Little can be said for the acting or the writing, or the editing... or the directing... but! The movie isn't all bad. The first time I saw it, I was 13 or 14. At that age, things like Power Rangers and Beetleborgs were fun, nostalgic, childhood memories, but the appeal of a kung-fu hero fighting alien monsters didn't die off. If only it were a bit more mature, a bit more big-budgeted. Well, the answer practically fell right into my lap when I happened upon an old VHS of The Guyver for sale at a local bookstore.

  It was impressive! ...Mostly. On one hand, it had some seriously neat practical effects. Suits of bio-armor, fantastic creature design, and cool animatronics. To a kid raised on movies like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) and Star Kid, The Guyver was nothing if not etching it's way into my list of guilty pleasures. It was really cool stuff. On the other hand... it was painfully silly. Half of it clearly wanted to be taken seriously, but... the villains have all the seriousness of the bumbling henchmen in your average Saturday morning cartoon. As inept and goofy as they are, the movie asks us to believe they could be a threat. See, the bad guys in this movie aren't exactly your regular bad guys...

  They can morph into these hideous super-strong monsters called Zoanoids. And with a few notable exceptions, the hideousness is ruined by the fact that the goofy inept henchmen... are still goofy and inept as Zoanoids. They cease being scary when they rap insults at the hero before trying to tackle him. If this was ever considered 'cool' you can shoot me now. A monster who literally raps and wears jewelry? Good lord. It's so silly and goofy it takes you out of the movie, which otherwise involves conspiracies, murder, and general all-around violence. Unlike my other childhood faves, The Guyver is a full PG-13, and not without it's fair share of disturbing images and graphic creature-on-creature bloodshed. So why did they ruin this tone with silliness only a little kid could smile at? Anyone over the age of 6 will probably just stare in disbelief or annoyance, and likely both.

  If you stick it out and persevere though, the payoff is rather worth it. There comes a point when the silliness tapers off, and the pace tightens up, leaving no time for anything but action and fighting. The climax of the movie manages to impress and surprise. Even as jaded as I was by 14, I was still honestly surprised. Even though the tropes and plot devices the movie uses are stuff we've all seen a hundred times, The  Guyver knows how to repackage them so they still feel new. Or... just about new at least. Anyways, the movie is about a young man, Sean Barker, who finds an alien device, called a 'Guyver' unit, that ends up infusing his body with a protective suit of bio-armor that looks like a cross between H.R. Giger's Xenomorph and RoboCop. Yeah. It's that cool. Anyways, some evil dudes from an evil mega-corporation have been hunting down this device, and that put Sean and the ones he loves... right in the crosshairs.

   As per usual, Sean has to use the Guyver to fight back and save the day. Yet it's still the weirdest superhero movie you're ever likely to see. All the Zoanoids are grotesque, well designed, and fearsome but despite this, they're still rubber suited monsters. They still have shades of the low budget Power Ranger monsters we all remember. The Guyver suit itself looks fantastic. Like... really fantastic. The kind of practical effects laden super-suit, stuffed with animatronic bells and whistles, that we just don't see anymore. The movie makes good use of all it's practical effects as it pits these two opposing forces against each other, and much blood is shed. I mean it too. The Guyver rips off a monster's arm at one point and snaps his neck so violently, blood sprays out. So clearly this movie isn't for kids, thus the humor is still a major point of contention. But the weirdness persists, and it's not a bad thing.

  Despite being a superhero movie, it's also kind of freaky. Like a body-horror movie. The villain's main plot to to mutate more people into Zoanoids. This process doesn't always go so well. We're treated to some fairly grotesque sights. Within the boundaries of a PG-13 rating of course. Then there's the Guyver unit itself. The way it melds with Sean looks downright disturbing, and rather violent. If it wasn't for the silly tone and the kung-fu fights, this movie could almost pass for a horror flick. Whatever you want to call it, it's a monster movie. All the monsters just happen to know how to fight. Even the battlegrounds for the Guyver and the Zoanoids are varied. From grimy urban alleyways, to big grim warehouses, and even a secret science laboratory.

  The sights in this movie are outrageous and insane. There's nothing grounded about this movie. Pervy mad scientists, bumbling henchmen, alien monsters, mutating people into creatures, Mark Hamill as an angry CIA agent with a mustache, and kung-fu fighting. Who knew these alien monsters could fight so well? Nevertheless, despite the stiff acting, shoddy dialog, and so on- when the movie cuts to the chase and gets serious, it's really fun. The lead monsters have their moments of being truly scary and when it really matters, they feel like a true threat to our hero. Anyways, the movie is indeed a mixed bag. The ridiculous slapstick humor pretty much sinks it, but there's some really neat stuff that's made it worth a few re-watches for me. Most of it is so bad it's just... bad, the rest is really cool and sleekly made.

  They simply don't make movies like this anymore. Either you're someone who's glad about that... or you're the kind that's already made up their mind they'd like to see this movie. In that case, I suggest you do as I did and follow up with the vastly superior sequel: Guyver 2: Dark Hero. Nevertheless, if you're in the mood for something a little dated, a little nostalgic, something wierd or just plain odd... you could do worse than The Guyver. It's stupid, odd, gizmo-filled and action packed. It's by no means good, but it's strange, and sometimes... that's enough.

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