Monday, February 1, 2016

Natural City

   Natural City had the budget behind it to produce stunning visuals and massive sets. It's not a low budget outdated charmer like Webmaster, nor is it a low budget guilty pleasure like The Gene Generation. The people behind Natural City had a lot of money and talent on their hands. So why isn't it better? I think this movie gets tripped up in it's ambition of trying to be the next Blade Runner. They draw so much inspiration from Blade Runner that it gets kind of ridiculous. In Blade Runner, you have replicants. They live only four years. In Natural City, you have cyborgs. They live only three years. The whole plot of the movie is about an MP (I guess that still stands for Military Police) named R, who falls in love with a cyborg named Ria, and her lifespan is almost up.

  It's not terribly original, and it's not terribly engaging. There's also a subplot about transferring bodies that goes ultimately nowhere, and there's another subplot about a renegade cyborg which ends in explosions and slo-mo kung fu. Natural City clearly had it's heart in the right place, and if you're not expecting much, the movie is a decent bit of entertainment. But, I'm being hard on it because they should've and could've done more. I've seen crappy low budget movies with more originality in them Natural City has in it's entire runtime. It doesn't show me any technology that isn't genre-standard, and it's characters are boring as well- though thankfully not annoying. At times, I saw glimpses of greatness in the movie, when it was somber and meditative. I feel like it should've stuck to that tone.

  Unfortunately, it's during those moments when it's emulating Blade Runner the most- and one wonders why would I be watching this when I could just be watching Blade Runner instead? Well, for every ADHD moviegoer who ever complained that Blade Runner was too "boring", Natural City has tons of frenetic action scenes that buzz along at that fast-fast slow pace, hurling indecipherable amounts of visual information at you right before snapping into slow motion so you can appreciate exactly which person is getting shot in the head, or precisely what it looks like when a combat cyborg literally punches someone's leg off. There's explosions, gore, guns, and while none of this is constant or even frequent- there's a solid few of these action scenes throughout the movie.

   I realize I sound rather critical of them, and I kind of am- but I also enjoyed them. It's like John Woo stepped in every so often and started taking over for five minutes at a time. Sure, the action elements are kind of at odds with the tone of the movie overall, but I can't complain. They're well done. Better well done action at odds with the overall tone, than stupid looking action still at odds with the overall tone. Natural City excels when it's focused on the futuristic cityscape it's created. Flying cars zip by, massive holograms advertise products, it's very... very... Blade Runner. But, at times that's not a bad thing in the slightest. Especially when it comes to the visuals, Natural City uses other genre juggernauts as inspiration- and it works. Works well, even. I loved the visuals in this movie.

  There's plenty of stunning shots and gorgeous cinematography to look at. I can't complain there. This movie really took me to this place. It was rainy and atmospheric and full of life. The visuals and the sets were almost their own character, affecting the story the whole way. As you all know, stunning visuals and rich atmosphere score major brownie points with me. Natural City is a movie I could easily watch again just for that stuff. It's unfortunate then that the characters feel in the way of the movie itself. R is a burn out who seems to be having some sort of breakdown as Ria's expiration date nears- and speaking of Ria, she's only sympathetic by default. Never once does she show enough personality for us to actually feel sad about her dying. We feel the loss because of R, he does a good job of being distraught if nothing else.

  Then there's a local prostitute girl named Cyon, who R actually kidnaps at one point to try and use her body as a host for Ria's consciousness. This was a fascinating moral and ethical dilemma that could've taken up a whole movie, but here it's merely a sub plot that is abandoned all too quickly- taking the choice away from our protagonist, and sending the story careening down another path. Cyon had potential to be an interesting character, but was ultimately wasted on an underwhelming story. The last act of the movie involves a cyborg rebellion as they take over a lab which contains all kinds of DNA stuff they hope can prolong their lives.

  It's at this point the movie is ultimately done with all it's emotional stuff, and becomes a straight-forward action flick- complete with a ticking clock countdown leading up to a climactic self-destruct sequence. Of course, in this time, our heroes will have to fight the main bad guy, with guns and slow motion kung fu stuff before the building explodes. All this is fine and dandy, but it says a lot about the emotional heft of your movie when instead of feeling sorry or depressed about all the dead characters the story leaves in it's wake... I'm wondering why 'self-destruct' still means explosions in this day and age. I can do enough irreprable damage to my computer without exploding it. Why, in the future, have they not figured out EMP pulses, or computer viruses to reset all the chips and cyborgs? These are the questions Natural City left me with...

   I wanted to love the movie, but instead I only like it. It's fun if you don't pay too much mind to it. I found the visuals to be completely engrossing, and on their own merit- the action scenes were a lot of fun too. Everything else is just over-the-top melodrama that failed to make me care. I recommend it if you're going on a cyberpunk binge. It's worth watching for the visuals and the atmosphere, just don't expect any emotional payoffs. This is little more than watchable cinematic junk food, which is enjoyable of course, but also sad because this had the potential to be some seriously fine dining.

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