Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Movie REVIEW: Kamen Rider Ex-Aid the Movie: True Ending

Kamen Rider Ex-Aid the Movie: True Ending

Although Kamen Rider summer movies have been tying themselves into their respective series for some years now, when one comes along with a name like "True Ending" that immediately suggests that it isn't going to be another parallel universe tale like the pre-Decade Heisei years were known for. Kamen Rider Ex-Aid the Movie: True Ending serves as the final conclusion to the 27th Kamen Rider Series, though given that both a crossover film and numerous V-cinema releases from that the title has become somewhat moot since then. But as far as Ex-Aid's time in the spotlight goes this could indeed be considered the end, and what better place to do than on the big screen. Not only was the film released as part of double-bill with Uchu Sentai Kyuranger the Movie: The Geth Indaver’s Counterattack, it also received a special Playstation VR preview which allowed fans to check out some of its fight scenes in glorious 360° vision.

Kamen Rider FumaEmu enters the VR world

Following the defeat of Masamune Dan/Kamen Rider Cronus, a new strain of the Bugster virus begins to spread across the population - distributed by the mysterious ninja Kamen Rider Fuma (Kagenari Nagumo). With its victims trapped inside a VR world, Emu must journey into virtual reality to save both his patients and his friends. Meanwhile CR also learn these events are the machinations of Machina Vision CEO Johnny Maxima, and that the virtual world is built as a means to save Nagumo's own daughter Madoka from a potentially incurable disease.

Using the new Mighty Creator VRX Gashat, Kamen Rider Ex-Aid battles Fuma to both saved those that are trapped and convince his foe that there's still a chance for his daughter to be saved. However Maxima also has his own plans, harnessing the powers Madoka has manifested within the VR world to bring about the return of Kamen Rider Chronicle's final boss - Gamedeus.

Johnny MaximaMaxima Gamedeus

When True Ending was first announced there was a lot of speculation on just how it was going to tie into the conclusion of Kamen Rider Ex-Aid, and with very good reason. With the summer movies usually coming out a fair few months before the series themselves end the notion of one following on immediately from its conclusion was entirely unprecedented, so just what exactly was going to make this ending the "true" one when (at the time of release) the viewer would have no idea of how exactly the story was going to end? All of this makes True Ending sound particularly exciting, but unfortunately this speculation immediately puts the film at a disadvantage. The truth is that isn't really  anything that makes this the "true" ending other than the fact it takes place at the end of the series. As expected the plot carefully tiptoes around what goes down at the end of Ex-Aid, meaning that if the end of the show hadn't been so serialised it could fit in there and nothing would be any different. 

True Ending sees Kamen Rider Ex-Aid return to a patient-centric storyline similar to that of the show's early episodes, with the stakes naturally higher due to its status as a feature length production. This makes perfect sense given Ex-Aid's hospital setting, however the story itself feels so reminiscent of other recent Kamen Rider movies that it struggles to stand out. A father turned evil Rider to save their child was done as recently as Heisei Rider vs Showa Rider: Kamen Rider Taisen, while Ex-Aid itself had done a seriously ill child sucked into a game world back with Chou Super Hero Taisen. Neither of these films are particularly good, but both do a much better job of selling their characters than True Ending does here. Ex-Aid did some good things with its younger cast during the patient of the week arcs, but Madoka feels more like a plot device than an actual character. Meanwhile the appearance of Kamen Rider Fuma doesn't even sell itself beyond the franchise's necessity to have a movie-exclusive Rider, so much in that the name itself isn't even uttered onscreen. Given the wide breadth of genres video games cover Ex-Aid has never been too preoccupied with things always making thematic sense, but a ninja Rider just feels completely out of place with everything else going on here. His story itself does work, regardless of how tropey it is for Kamen Rider at this point, but had Nagumo not been a Rider in the first place it would almost be exactly the same. 

Kagenari NagumoKagenari encounters Madoka

However Fuma's failings as a villain are minor compared to that of Johnny Maxima, who appeared in the series itself as part of the tie-in promotion for the film. The Machina Vision CEO is about as bland a villain as you can get, with a paper-thin motivation that barely justifies his role as the movie's main threat. Gamedeus was an underwhelming concept even within the series proper, but at least there it had both Masamune and the Kamen Rider Chronicle setup to help carry it through. Without those it's just another big CGI villain that's even duller than usual since it's just a recolour of something viewers have already seen in the series. Maxima is completely unremarkable in every way, his only notable trait being the "Westerner that loves Japanese" stereotype that was done to death long before Ex-Aid was even a concept. He has no real backstory, no real motive and no hook for the audience to be invested him as a character whatsoever. So actually when you think about it, maybe he was perfect for a faceless CGI monstrosity like Gamedeus.  

It's sad, because True Ending could have had a lot going for it. Taking Ex-Aid into the realms of virtual reality was the perfect next step for the film, and something that could have really worked for it if the story had dedicated more time to it. Instead Madoka's world is mainly an excuse to have Poppy reacting to Hiiro, Taiga and Nico in bizarre roles, which only really works as an introductory joke. Ex-Aid's Mighty Creator VRX form is the highlight of the entire movie, combining dazzling visuals with ingenious Scribblenauts-esque attacks to make it one of most imaginative and versatile forms in the character's arsenal. Yet the form appears for a grand total of three minutes in a mid-movie fight against Fuma, before the doors are closed on the VR world for good and Hyper Muteki is rolled out for the final battle instead. With gaming steadily making headway into the world of VR this could have easily been a timely and relevant crux to the film, but instead it's just a gimmick. A gimmick to move the plot into its second act, a gimmick to sell another Gashat and a gimmick to have Hiiro make some silly faces.

Mighty Creator VRXThe Ex-Aid Riders

Silly faces are better than nothing, as extended cast really don't get very much to do in this movie at all. Ex-Aid's strengths have always lied in its ensemble cast, who were continuing to drive the series even when the plot was severely running out of steam. Here it almost feels like the writers felt that had too many characters to play with, as most of the Riders are shunted off to either relay a piece of exposition or bridge parts together with some sort of fight scene. Even Kuroto, who at this point in the story is always good for a laugh, feels reigned in. True Ending also lacks any sort of stakes for the cast too, which is best emphasised by Kuroto and Parado's "sacrifice" just over halfway into the film. There's a big emotional moment with their Drivers dropping to the floor and Emu crying in the rain, but then the two are never mentioned again until they're spat out by Gamedeus later on – again with nobody really addressing it. Kudos for remembering that Poppy is actually a Rider though, even if she is immediately defeated right at the beginning and never transforms again. It's still more than the film does with Nico.

Rounding off the film in a post-credits scene is the obligatory appearance of Kamen Rider Build, which rather incredibly feels even poorly integrated than the usual routine of having the new Rider randomly show up to strut his stuff. That's because this little scene has absolutely no connection to True Ending whatsoever and is in fact set-up for the pair's encounter in Kamen Rider Heisei Generations FINAL, as well as shedding a little more light on Build's odd appearance in episode 44 of the show. Granted it works really well as a teaser for FINAL as it leaves the movie on a big cliffhanger, but just feels so disconnected that it leaves you wondering if its only purpose here is to make a further mockery of the name True Ending. Maybe a head-scratcher like this was the best note to end the movie on though, because as sudden as it is the scene is still a whole lot more memorable and engaging than the majority of the movie itself.

Emu cries in the rainThe world's most qualified doctors at it again

There's definitely an argument to be had that Kamen Rider Ex-Aid the Movie: True Ending's failings come from fandom hype (especially in the case of those outside Japan who had to wait for its physical release), but even so it's a pretty disappointing offering that doesn't live up to its name's connotations. The base plot feels far too reminiscent of other Kamen Rider movie offerings, the new characters fail to make any impact and the majority of the main Ex-Aid cast feel woefully underused. Between Ex-Aid's under-utilised VR form and a lot of ropey CGI, the action doesn't fair much better either. But amongst all this disappointment, the one upside to all this is that by now we all know that there's still plenty of Kamen Rider Ex-Aid action left to come, so what was once a "True Ending" isn't even an ending at all. After all, the game never ends...

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