- Rated R
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Jason Thompson
ejoice, John Woo fans, as the action flick guru has produced this latest animated movie based on the popular manga by Masamune Shirow. Woo’s presence is strongly felt in each and every action sequence here, from the slow-motion cartwheels over a barrage of bullets, to the lightning fast acrobatic fighting moves and slick “camera work” (if such a term can appropriately be applied to an animated feature). Perhaps Woo should venture into animated features more often, as the genre suits him well. In the past, some of his regular features have come off a bit too cartoonish, but in that specific world itself, he excels almost flawlessly.
But give just as much credit to director Shinji Aramaki, who truly brought this work to life. To get to the crux of the matter, though, the basic story is thus: in the not so distant future, planet Earth has been ravaged by corruption and war, as it often is in these tales. However, a city-state known as Olympus has risen up from the destruction and attempted to become a utopia of sorts, trying to secure peace in the area. Along with the growth of Olympus has come the necessity of the E.S.W.A.T. team, a group of tactical officers and soldiers, whose numbers mix both human beings and “bioroids” – beings who have been developed to not know fear or anger during battle. This film, actually being the third in a sequel, features past developed characters Deunan Knute (female human) and Briareos (former human now cyborg) as business partners. The new wrench in the works is character Tereus who was built from samples of Briareos, and even has his old facial features, etc. Of course, much tension ensues.
And if there’s any problem with “Appleseed Ex Machina” it’s that the action movie cliches here are easily seen a mile away. As the story unfolds and the villains are revealed, along with their means of creating chaos, it should be a no-brainer to any viewer what is going to happen 20 minutes down the line. The only other nitpick is that sometimes the normally phenomenal CGI animation just looks a little clunky, especially when it comes to the characters’ mouths syncing up to what they’re saying. Yet those two things aren’t enough to seriously mar any enjoyment to be had when watching this film.
Indeed, most of the animation and movie sequences are simply stunning. It’s nice to see a CGI-based anime of this sort finally not look like something that belongs on a TV show for the kids. So many times during the film you may really think you’re looking at actual scenery from time to time, especially during an early battle in a cathedral. Thus, this work should appeal to action movie fans across the board, and not those just strictly into anime. “Appleseed Ex Machina” excels at the action, with enough of an engaging story that’s completely accessible. Sometimes non-fans of anime will shy away from these features because they feel (sometimes justifiably so) that some of the concepts and ideas in the stories can be a bit esoteric. Not so here. This is just a good old shoot-‘em-up, explosion-filled action flick that succeeds 95 percent of the time.
The triangle that is formed amongst Deunan, Briareos and Tereus is a bit corny, to be sure, but it does fit in with the typical action flick sort of fare that these movies often embrace. However, it’s really secondary to the main plot, which finds Olympus wanting to more or less create a “safe” police state for all nations of the world, while a sinister opposition does its best to take over the planet through bio manipulation and technological hacking. It’s a tried and true story of good versus evil, mixed with the darker overtones that the good side can create when it thinks it’s doing something that’s best for everyone. But it works well here with rarely a lagging moment during the film.
“Appleseed Ex Machina” could either usher in a new wave of casual anime fans, or it could simply be a one-off sort of thing that gets in, does its job, and leaves just as quickly. Either way, it’s a terrific film that embraces a lot of the best aspects of an action anime, with the thrills of over-the-top Hollywood dazzle. It’s the sort of thing that would be released in theatres during the summer months if it were a live action flick. The fact that it isn’t, though, makes it all the more compelling and enjoyable. Definitely worth a purchase for fans of the genre, and more than a solid rental for everyone else.