Friday, 15 September 2017

Movie REVIEW: Ultraman Orb the Movie: Lend Me the Power of Bonds!

Ultraman Orb the Movie: Lend Me the Power of Bonds!

Since the debut of Ultraman X in 2015 and the introduction of Crunchyroll’s worldwide simulcasting the Ultra Series has gone from strength to strength, and the popularity of last year’s Ultraman Orb only further solidified this new generation of Ultraman as a franchise to be reckoned with once more. Not content with just returning in the form of Amazon Prime prequel series Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga, the cast also returned for one last hurrah in this feature-length film, entitled Ultraman Orb the Movie: Lend Me the Power of Bonds! As well as crossing over with other new generation Ultras X, Ginga and Victory, Lend Me the Power of Bonds! also celebrates the 50th anniversary of Ultraseven – much like how X movie Here It Comes! Our Ultraman celebrated the same milestone for the original Ultraman the year before.

Ultraman Orb meets Ultraman ZeroGai Kurenai returns

Sometime after the events of the series, Gai Kurenai is travelling Hawaii when he is attacked by a revived Galactron that can turn everything in its path into crystals. Warned by Ultraman Zero of a new threat as well as the disappearance of Ginga and Victory, Gai returns to the SSP where he finds they have come into the possession of Ultraman X’s X Devizer. X explains not only was he separated from Daichi during an enemy attack, but his partner has now also gone missing.

Their mission to find Daichi leads the group to the evil space witch thief Mulnau, who plans to use Jugglus Juggler’s Dark Ring to reshape the world. Together with the SSP, his Ultraman comrades and the ever rivalrous Juggler, a new fight begins for Ultraman Orb as he unlocks the power of the Trinity Fusion.

Ultraman X needs helpThe evil space witch thief Mulnau

One of the big advantages to Ultraman series only running for 25 episodes now is that it allows the storytelling to be relatively tight-knit. Sure there’s not as much room for experiment or comedy filler anymore, but in terms of serialisation the franchise has definitely benefitted from it. Ultraman Orb however felt like a single piece of a much bigger plan, and it has since emerged that the show is actually part six of a ten-part plan for the character – beginning of course with The Origin Saga. Lend Me the Power of Bonds! is part seven, which is then followed on by miniseries Ultra Fight Orb and the rest either charted through prose or very brief summaries. It’s a very ambitious plan to say the least, but gives the complex relationship between Gai and Juggler plenty of opportunity for development as well as the sense of a never-ending adventure – something legacy characters like Ultramen should arguably have.

With that and how much more of Orb’s story is currently left untold, it’s quite disappointing to see how inconsequential Lend Me the Power of Bonds! feels to the bigger picture. The plot is pretty basic and predictable, while other than feeling like a nice Showa-era throwback Mulnau is a really forgettable villain. The narrative seems to suggest her as a figure from Gai’s past or at least have some sort of notoriety, but without that context she just falls flat. Her final scenes in the film seem like they’re supposed to draw some sort of empathy from the viewer, but just feel hollow without any context. Meanwhile the suits and miniatures look just as fantastic as ever (those are elements Tsuburaya can rarely be faulted on), but the action itself feels off. The Hawaiian landscape of the film’s initial fight sequence is nice, but there’s nothing that ever feels like a big movie spectacle. The Ultraman X movie sometimes felt like a tacked-on finale, but this just feels like filler. Enjoyable filler, but nothing that ever as any real bite to it.

Jugglus and the SSPUltraman Orb Trinity Fusion

Another curious feature of the movie is just how sidelined the crossover element of it feels. With the Ultra Series far more continuity heavy than other big tokusatsu properties naturally crossovers feel far more routine, but the fact that both Daichi and X are main cast members should suggest a little more weight to their appearance. Instead the pair go from one incapacitation to another, and other than a few moments the film holds no real nostalgia for their return. Even less can be said of Ginga and Victory’s appearances, who other than adding a few more Ultras to the final battle are mainly there to contribute towards Orb’s new movie form. The gimmicks of the previous shows feel forgotten (likely since there’s no toys to sell anymore), with X only getting in a quick appearance of the Cyber Gomora armour and no sign of his Exceed form. Crossovers like this might now be standard fare for the shows themselves, but this movie doesn’t really pull out any stops to make this particular one feel special. Oh, and Zero also puts in an appearance too – which is not exactly unwelcome but only really feels like it’s there to further emphasise that Zero has to gatecrash everything modern Ultra-related at some point.

It isn’t all bad though, as any opportunity to reunite with the Ultraman Orb cast is well worth taking. Gai is always an absolute pleasure to see on-screen and blends seriousness and humour well, particularly when he rolls up from Hawaii playing his trademark song on the ukulele rather than harmonica. But it’s the SSP who really get to shine in the film – moving beyond their role of bystanders and getting to be part of the main action. At its core the film is all about Gai learning to accept help from others/the SSP and it does a great job of selling that message, proving that even without the manpower and gadgets the SSP are just as valuable a “science patrol” as all the other various versions in the Ultraman universe. But stealing the show is of course Jugglus Juggler, and it’s great to see things haven’t changed all that much since his change of heart at the end of the series. Broody and standoffish as ever, Jugglus rather appropriately juggles his motivations as Gai’s frenemy brilliantly as you’re never quite sure whether he’s about to help our heroes or stab them in the back.

Dan MoroboshiThe kaiju Deavorick

Another saving grace of the movie is the appearance of Ultraseven, complete with Kohji Moritsugu briefly reprising his role as Dan Moroboshi. While Ultraseven’s appearance in the film isn’t heralded in any way by the story, there’s a similar feel of both pride and nostalgia to that of Ultraman’s appearance in the Ultraman X movie (though that was handled with far more reverance). In addition to all the fun little homages to Ultraseven as a show, Seven’s appearance kicks the action up a notch as he proceeds to show all the young ones exactly how he got things done in his day.

Ultraman Orb the Movie: Lend Me the Power of Bonds! is a certainly an enjoyable 70 minutes full of laughs and retro charm, but lacks the energy or gravitas Tsuburaya previously achieved with the Ultraman X movie. Despite Orb’s ten part plan the story ultimately feels rather inconsequential, with the crossover element between the four new generation Ultras not used to its full potential. However as always the Ultraman Orb cast are on top form, with Gai, Juggler and the SSP all putting in commendably strong appearances. If the Ultra Series wasn’t currently maintaining such a high standard then the film might fare better, but as it stands this feels like one of the more forgettable pieces of Ultraman fiction in recent years.

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