Monday, September 26, 2016

Metropolis


   I love anime, and Metropolis is hailed as one of the greats of the medium so I've no idea why it's taken me this long to get around to seeing it. With my expectations in neutral, I popped it on in a spur of the moment thing, and got right into it. I'd expect nothing less than stunning animation and an epic scope, and Metropolis delivered precisely that. Unfortunately, it's characters were rather one-note, and it's story was nothing I haven't seen a hundred times before. So what does that leave us with?

   The trailer for this movie showcases it's visuals, and the blurbs of praise they put on display again is entirely visual-centric. "Images from this movie will stay with you forever" so sayeth famous director James Cameron. Sure, okay, that's fair, but this story won't stay with me forever. Neither will any of these characters. The movie has a portly little private eye and his wide-eyed nephew coming to the big city of Metropolis to arrest a doctor who's been trafficking human body parts. Yikes. So far, these characters are pretty standard. Then there's the power hungry Duke Red, who wants to rule the world or something. Frankly, he's the character with the most potential.

   But, it's entirely unrealized potential as the movie spins him into a cookie-cutter megalomaniac villain by the final act. There's Duke Red's adopted son, Rock, and he's not bad. He's a pretty extreme villain as well, but his motivation is earnest. He simply wants to be loved, and his father isn't having any of that nonsense. Either one of these characters would've made interesting leads, but instead they're made out to be complete bad guys, while the private eye and his shrill (but cute) nephew, Kenichi, run around getting into trouble. The other major player here is the lifelike robot Tima who's at the center of the plot. Her childlike view of things could've made for some interesting drama, but it doesn't. Not really.

   I realize I sound harsh, maybe overly so, but Metropolis isn't without merit. It's characters might be rather two dimensional but the movie finds interesting ways to play their straightforward motivations off of each other. The nephew and Tima end up lost in the mechanical bowels of the city, making for a rather adorable duo- while the private eye is teamed up with a robot detective- they also make for a fun pairing. It's fortunate for the viewer that most of the movie is focused on these two sets of characters, because they are really entertaining. The movie balances dark themes and mature concepts with a lively and innocent sense of humor and fantasy, while maintaining a forward-moving energy that makes the movie very watchable.

   The big star of the movie is the eponymous city itself, big surprise. It's vividly brought to life here in painstaking detail. From the upper class levels, to the grimy, and bottomless maintenance levels. The amount of detail is staggering. The designs are mindblowing and the atmosphere is palpable. I want another ten movies set in this city or at least a long-running show. Some parts of this movie are practically visual poetry. I could stay in this world for ages. It feels like a grown-up and gritty version of the world from the classic Astro Boy cartoon. From the animation style, to the main driving themes in the story, I half expected Astro Boy himself to make an appearance.

   This is no surprise though, seeing as how the movie is losely based on a 1949 manga of the same name by Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astro Boy. Which in turn was also a retelling of the classic 1927 silent film, Metropolis, by Fritz Lang. The movie retains the visual language of silent films from the 20's and sci-fi/anime from the 60's. This makes the movie a delight to watch, even if it's story and it's characters aren't anything super special. Despite using recycled elements, the movie's pedigree behind the scenes promises, and subsequently delivers, a properly compelling tale about human nature and our relationship with machines. A dynamic that continues to become increasingly relevant as we push into the future.

   The visuals are impressive and stunning, easily placing it alongside genre titans like Blade Runner, Akira, The Fifth Element and Dark City. Moreover, the movie's place as a classic of animation and sci-fi is well deserved. If I thought otherwise, I'd be a hypocrite, considering my undying love for The Matrix. I wasn't wowed by the story or the characters, but I was sufficiently entertained for a couple hours, I found the movie engrossing and engaging despite it's overly familiar elements. I'd recommend this one to anyone who appreciates animation as a medium and science fiction as a genre. It would also make a decent gateway film for those inexperienced in both or either.

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