To echo Perfect Answer’s opening recap, childhood friends Kei Kurono (Kazunari Ninomiya) and Masaru Kato (Kenichi Matsuyama) meet by chance, die in an accident and are resurrected by a mysterious black sphere known as Gantz to fight in a secret war against aliens hiding on Earth. Gantz awards its unwilling recruits points based on performance and those that survive to make 100 points can choose to be set free with their memories erased or to resurrect a deceased comrade. Thus when Kato dies in battle, Kurono vows to to bring him back.
Five months on and Kurono has become an alien killing machine close to reaching that 100 point score. He’s had to lie to both his girlfriend Tae Kojima (Yuriko Yoshitaka), and Kato’s younger brother Ayumu (Kensuke Chisaka), but that’s all going to change. For the worse. Former star Eriko Ayukawa (Ayumi Ito) is murdering human targets on the orders of a miniature Gantz ball, whilst a group of black-suited individuals are after that miniature ball as a means to get to Gantz itself. Meanwhile an unnamed detective (Yamada Takayuki) is investigating the scores of dead people whose bodies keep on vanishing and occasionally reappearing as if nothing had happened. All of these groups are on a collision course with Kurono and his buddies, with the fates of Kojima and Gantz hanging in the balance.
Perfect Answer is a prime example of the slow motion car crash that frequently occurs when a film attempts to adapt a manga that has either not yet concluded or one that is too complex to summarise easily. The filmmakers are forced to make things up to fill in the gap, often with appalling results. In this case, director Shinsuke Sato decides on a middle path that adds some new elements to the fray with a seemingly random mash-up of plot from the manga and the anime. What ensues can only be described as balls.
After a slow burn start that sets the principals in motion, the film peaks during an action set-piece in which all parties converge on an unsuspecting Kojima in a crowded subway train. The black-suited aliens gun down hapless civilian commuters before materialising swords from their hands and duelling with Kurono and company in the narrow confines of the train carriages. It’s a superbly handled scene that only serves to make the events that follow look weak by comparison.
The film’s one new contribution, the premise that Gantz is re-recruiting its most successful participants (those who reached 100 points and chose to be set free) by having them murdered is a sublime touch that is cast aside in favour of the black-suited alien revenge plot. Well, there’s also the sub-plot about Kato’s evil twin but that’s not worthy of discussion, since it’s painfully obvious to the audience that it’s not the real Kato and furthermore no attempt is made to explain why the alien leader takes his form nor why any of the other aliens don’t do the same. It’s as if the very thought of having a star of Matsuyama’s stature absent from the bulk of the film was inconceivable to its producers; casting taking precedence over story.
Perhaps the film’s greatest crime is that it lacks a suitable level of emotional depth. With the earlier film having done the dirty work of character building (it tried to at any rate), we come to care about Kurono and Kojima but everyone else gets short shrift, especially the new members of the team who are introduced briefly, thrown into the mix and then are killed off one by one. The intra-team disputes and self-sacrifices thus become meaningless in the face of banging out a protracted chase scene, a less well executed sword-fight and a senseless point-blank range shoot-out finale.
Scratch that. What is worse is that the film suffers from catastrophic imagination failure. Considering the first film ended with Kurono taking down a giant Buddha statue and the manga has featured everything from rampaging dinosaurs and a full-scale alien invasion to a character blacking up and going on a shooting spree in downtown Tokyo to rejoin the ranks of Gantz’s unwilling army, the lack of creativity in Perfect Answer is painful to behold.
There’s some dodgy CGI in the mix too, which is a shame when the first film did it so well, but by this point I was gaping more at how internal consistency goes flying out of the window leading up to and including the sickly sweet epilogue in which everyone but Kurono comes back to life, and Kurono’s reward is to wind up inside Gantz, leaving the stage open for further films.
In conclusion, both Gantz films have combined forces to form yet another manga adaptation that fails to pass muster. The source material may well be a sex-obsessed, long-winded (and as yet unfinished) gore-filled epic, but it’s still a damn sight better than both its anime and film versions.
In the 1940s, the Nazis attempt a last-ditch attempt to change the course of WW2 by releasing the Seven Gods of Chaos from their ancient prison. The ritual is thwarted but not before something slips through the opened portal, a red baby demon that is nicknamed Hellboy. Sixty years later, Hellboy is a six and a half foot tall, virtually indestructible giant who works as an agent in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. When an old enemy returns to bring about the Apocalypse, Hellboy and his fellow agents in the BPRD must defeat the demons of the past, and the demons within.
Another month, another comic book adaptation, but this is one that is a little out of the ordinary. The original Hellboy comic was the brainchild of one Mike Mignola, a distinctive artist who mixed Nazi occultism, the mythos of HP Lovecraft, and folk myths and legends into his stories of the paranormal investigator with the giant stone right hand. The big-screen version comes courtesy of long-time fan Guillermo Del Toro, and is a dream come true for him; Del Toro has wanted to direct a Hellboy film for years, and passed on both Blade: Trinity (probably a good move in hindsight) and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in order to do so.
Recent superhero films from the likes of Bryan Singer and Sam Raimi have reminded audiences that a superhero film doesn’t have to be of the completely brainless action variety, like the Joel Schumacher Batman films. Hellboy exists somewhere between the two, bereft of a big enough budget to effect any eye-popping action sequences, and lacking sufficiently developed characters to carry the film as a drama. The budgetary handicap was self-imposed by Del Toro, who had always wanted to cast Ron Perlman rather than an unknown and so made the necessary sacrifice. Mike Mignola had also advocated Perlman from the very start, and they made the right choice. Hellboy hinges on its central performance, and Perlman brings the character to life with a cocky attitude and irascible wit.
As is par for the course, character development elsewhere is rather patchy and only Hellboy and the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman are well-rounded enough to deserve any sympathy from the audience. The new boy, John Myers, is used as an effective means of introducing the various members of the BRPD, but Myers is a fairly limp character and does very little for the rest of the film other than to form part of an unconvincing love triangle between himself, Liz and Hellboy. Other notable contributions are those of David Hyde Pierce, who provides an excellent voice for (the mainly CG) Abe Sapien, and the perenially excellent John Hurt, who lends some gravitas to the affair as the head of the BRPD and Hellboy’s adoptive father, Professor Brumenholm. Sadly neither of them get as much screen-time as they deserved, and the film suffers as a result. On the side of evil, only the Nazi assassin Kroenen is worth mentioning, as both of his companions are as devoid of menace as the Seven Squids of Chaos.
So, on the Right Hand of Doom Hellboy has sharp dialogue, wry humour and an eclectic group of personalities. On the merely human left hand, it has a series of repetitive set-pieces, thin characters, a plot with a number of gaping holes, and an anti-climatic end. It’s probably just me, but the finale could have done with Hellboy taking on an army of Nazi zombies rather than another CG monster. Saying that, it beats its Resident Evil equivalent tentacles, ahem, hands down.
Though it doesn’t reach the heights of, say, Spiderman 2, Hellboy is a decent enough effort that entertains in a fairly mindless way. Hellboy 2 is already in pre-production, with Del Toro at the helm again, and with previously established characters and a bigger budget, the sequel has the potential to be the awesome film that Hellboy could have been.