Saturday 17 May 2014

Movie REVIEW: Kamen Rider x Kamen Rider Gaim & Wizard: The Fateful Sengoku Movie Battle

Kamen Rider x Kamen Rider Gaim & Wizard: The Fated Sengoku Movie Battle

As one Kamen Rider series draws to a close and another begins, one thing is always for certain - the two will be meeting up in a few months time for an annual Movie War crossover film. Kamen Rider Wizard and Kamen Rider Gaim are of course no exception, even if Toei have decided to slightly mix things up when it comes to the naming. Gone is the tiresome "Movie Wars..." monicker, replaced with Kamen Rider x Kamen Rider Gaim & Wizard: The Fateful Sengoku Movie Battle - which is probably just in time as I'm not sure how many more random words could be added on the end of the "Movie Wars" titles.

Unlike the previous Movie Wars Ultimatum, this movie doesn't feature a prologue setting everything up (nor does it feature any rebooted tokusatsu veterans), instead jumping straight into Kamen Rider Wizard's grand finale (spoilers from here on out)...

Kamen Rider Wizard: The Promised Place

Koyomi can't pass up another movie opportunity
Shabadoobie back from the dead

Following the end of the series, Haruto is now travelling the world alone along with the Hope Ring left after Koyomi's death. During his journey he is attacked by the Ogre phantom, which seeks to become the ultimate Phantom by consuming all of the others and taking their power - and now Haruto's dragon is on the menu. After returning home and meeting up with Nitoh, Rinko and the others, the Ogre Phantom attempts to bring Haruto to despair by resurrecting Koyomi using the Hope Ring. Only this time the magically-infused Koyomi (taking her father's guise of the White Wizard) aims to help bring Haruto to despair by destroying everything around him.

Although the series suffered from more than a few problems, Wizard's ending (and by that I mean episode 51) was a fairly satisfying one - very much a "the story is over but the journey continues" kind of affair. So even though this epilogue to Wizard isn't entirely necessary, it does to a good job of wrapping everything up neatly. That being said, it does also create a number of issues that could have quite easily been avoided. Nitoh has suddenly captured Chimera again (and thus repaired the Beast Driver) without any real explanation, and then becomes Beast again only for his renewed "curse" to not really have a permanent resolution by the end of the film either. Undoubtedly it wouldn't have been right without Beast returning, but it certainly could have been handled in a different way. On an entirely separate note, the Orge Phantom gains the powers of the Phantoms he consumes - so how exactly does he have Gremlin's abilities?

Matoko Okunaka gives her strongest performance as Koyomi (Magic Land net movies notwithstanding), almost making up for the fact that in everything before it the character has amounted to a whole load of nothing. Her appearance here is more important than ever as helps bring out the emotional side of Haruto - proving there was more to the character than the show was often willing to admit and creating a final battle that delves into Haruto's underworld and his memories of the show itself.

The action isn't really all that special and the Ogre Phantom is an incredibly forgettable villain (especially since he isn't at all relevant to the crossover portion of the film), but Wizard's swan song hits all the right emotional notes and succeeds at being the Kamen Rider Wizard finale we didn't even know we wanted.

The journey into Haruto's underworld
The Ogre Phantom likes dinner and a show

Kamen Rider Gaim: Sengoku Battle Royale

Bujin Gaim makes his debut
Red is the new black

Moving into the Kamen Rider Gaim portion, the Armoured Riders (Gaim, Ryugen, Baron, Gridon and Kurokage) are in the midst of a battle royale tournament when a mysterious monster appears from a crack and attempts to capture Mai. When Gaim, Baron and Ryugen give chase they find themselves in a parallel universe where a warring states period is taking place - and the battles are between the previous 14 Kamen Riders. They soon learn that the balance of power has been shifted in favour of the mysterious Bujin Gaim, who has been consuming the Riders one by one. As Armoured Rider Zangetsu and Mai also join the group in this strange world, Kouta must not only help defeat his evil counterpart - he must also affirm what it is he's fighting for.

With so much going on in the world of Kamen Rider Gaim each week, it seems strange to step back an take a look a (canonically-debatable) side story when the characters were a lot less troubled. Sengoku Battle Royale takes the warring states motif of Gaim at its most literal, not only reimagining each Heisei-era Rider but also bringing back side characters as their reimagined versions of historical war lords. It's a very cool concept that could have easily made its own film, but here not only does it feel squished but also little more than filler. The older Riders are offed so quickly that they're barely noticeable, and Toei REALLY need stop hiring terrible voice actors to do Fourze in these sort of crossovers.

Bujin Gaim is a ridiculously cool villain, evoking a "Dark Rider" feel while at the same time doing enough to keep himself from being lumped in with the rest of them. But not nearly enough is revealed about him - we never find out who he is and his motivations are typical paper thin villain stuff. Meanwhile the struggles between the Gaim Riders don't make for bad viewing, but feel out of place when watching alongside with the series itself. Even though this was never going to feel like much more than a supplement to the overall Kamen Rider Gaim experience, it doesn't even feel all that memorable. 

A spin-off of Baron becoming a kickass warlord though? I'd totally watch it.

Terui reimagined as Hideyoshi
Don't ask questions!

The Fateful Sengoku Movie Battle

The Legendary Rider Arms
Crossovers gone crazy

Finally we come to the main event, which isn't as neatly placed in its own section like previous Movie Wars so just flows straight from the Gaim section (let's just say it begins as soon as the two stories have caught up with each other). As Bujin Gaim uses the powers of the 14 Bujin Riders to merge with the God Tree and gain the ultimate power, the six Kamen Riders - Wizard, Beast, Gaim, Baron, Ryugen and Zangetsu (who enters the alternate world later in the Gaim part) team up to defeat him, bring order to this alternate world and find a way to return home.

The conclusion of the Gaim section sets things up for a really explosive finale, but Sengoku Movie Battle never really delivers. It certainly has its moments and manages to impress while onscreen, but as the credits roll you soon realise there it actually had very little substance to it. Bujin Gaim's "Lotus Position" form is both dumb-looking and underwhelming, making the climactic fight into an all-CGI fare where lots of shots are fired, details are blurred and explosions happen. Just about the norm for a Movie War finale then.

Then of course there's the obligatory movie-exclusive power ups, which in Gaim's case are very exciting. After a rather out of place arrive by the blonde-haired not-Mai, the four Armoured Riders acquire lockseeds of the previous four Riders - unlocking the Legendary Rider Arms. As ridiculous as seeing giant Kamen Rider heads drop from the sky and become the accompanying armour may be, the Legend Rider Arms balance on the line between silly and cool so cautiously that it's hard not to love them. Little details like having the Armoured Riders use the past catchphrases (even Takatora manages Fourze's...sort of) are just the icing on the cake. The only duds are Gaim Wizard Arms (which does absolutely nothing) and Wizard's Gold Infinity Dragon style - the latter of which seems to come out of absolutely nowhere.

Wizard Arms meets Gold Infinity Dragon Style
Always believe in, because you are GOLD

Final thoughts

Although a slight improvement over Ultimatum (and a big one over the disastrous Core), The Fateful Sengoku Movie Battle falls short of the high standard set by the Fourze/OOO Movie Wars Megamax. In a bizarre twist of fate the Wizard section manages to be the best of the bunch, offering all of the emotion before the film declines in a lot of flash and a lot less substance. The concepts themselves are enough to make it at the very least an enjoyable film, but with the knowledge that Kamen Rider Gaim is capable of so much more it isn't an entry that tempts multiple viewings.

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