Tuesday 6 May 2014

Movie REVIEW: Kamen Rider Wizard in Magic Land

Kamen Rider Wizard in Magic Land

With Kamen Rider Gaim comfortably entering its second half and showing no signs of getting stale, Kamen Rider Wizard feels like a distant memory rather than a show that was still ongoing this time last year. However the show still had two last hurrahs outside of the televised series - those being the obligatory summer movie and it's epilogue in Gaim's crossover film. While both things have come and gone in Japanese cinemas, they may still seem like a recent thing for international fans who have had to wait for the DVD/BD release (and perhaps subtitles). As we wait for The Fateful Sengoku Movie Battle to say a proper goodbye to Wizard, summer movie Kamen Rider Wizard in Magic Land is here to provide a rather different side adventure.

Kamen Rider Sorcerer
*Obligatory "put on Wizard hat" comment

When Koyomi is kidnapped, Haruto tracks her kidnapper down to the roof of a tall building and faces off against a mysterious golden wizard. During the fight, Haruto fails to stop the ritual the magician needed Koyomi for and the two are sucked into a giant rainbow-coloured tornado. When they awake, Haruto and Koyomi find themselves in a parallel world quite different to their own - one where magic is a part of every day life and many of its citizens (including Rinko and Shunpei) are able to transform into Kamen Rider Mages to battle the threat of Phantoms.

When their story is ignored by this world's leader Emperor Maya, Haruto turns to Nitoh - who in this world is a magician specialising in ancient magic and does not need to constantly consume mana as Kamen Rider Beast. Taking an interest in their story, they try to unravel the mysteries behind Magic Land, Emperor Maya and the mysterious golden magician - Kamen Rider Sorcerer!

Since Kamen Rider Den-O back in 2007, Rider movies have abandoned their alternate world approach and started featuring the setting and cast of the show itself (even if there are usually minor continuity issues to make things work). Magic Land is notable in that it combines the best of both worlds - creating a brand new alternate world to keep things interesting but at the same time keeping the core cast the same and focusing on their reactions to it. The "original" cast in this case is just the twosome of Haruto and Koyomi - the latter of whom spent the majority of the series barely appearing/doing absolutely nothing but was in fact integral to the plot. Other than being part of what sets the chain of events off here its debatable Koyomi has any real importance here either, but I guess it's nice to see her actress had time for at least one aspect of the show.

Alternate world Rinko becomes Kamen Rider Mage
Hmm, this looks familiar...

With a running time of just over an hour, the movie doesn't have a whole lot of time to do very much at all - leading to the omission of things that it really could have benefited from. The film jumps right in at Koyomi's capture and Wizard's first encounter with Kamen Rider Sorcerer, leaving the audience scratching their heads over who this mysterious new villain is and how exactly he captured Koyomi (true that it REALLY wouldn't be that hard, but some context would be nice). Before there's even a chance to take this in Haruto and Koyomi have wound up in "Magic Land", gawking at their use of mana instead of currency and this world's Rinko and Shunpei (among others) possessing the ability to become a Kamen Rider. This goes on for about 20 minutes of so, leaving the film even less time to get it's actual plot underway. The story itself features some surprisingly dark moments, but feels so underdeveloped that its hard to care about any of the new characters that appear.

Haruto is chased by a platoon of Mages
A motorbike chase sequence worth watching

On the comedy side of things though, Magic Land is the perfect place to inject a bit of much needed fun into the show. While the series had its comical moments, the amount of time it dedicated to Haruto as some sort of 'stoic defender' led to a lot of these moments falling a bit flat. This alternate world gives the comedy a much more comfortable environment, getting incredibly silly but never really feeling like it's way too off-course with things. It also more than lives up to Wizard's flashy reputation, offering some excellent visual effects and choreographed fights to keep the eyes stimulated even when the brain isn't. Even when it was at its worst Wizard was a pretty beautiful series to watch, and a movie budget only helps to amplify that beauty.

The movie-exclusives Riders always prove to be a source of much interest, and in the lead-up to the film's release Kamen Rider Sorcerer was no exception. A much more traditional styled wizard complete with cape and pointed hat, Sorcerer is a beautiful design that sadly doesn't receive nearly as much attention as it should. The film lacks absolutely any background as to where this mysterious new Rider comes from and how he has this powers, while his identity and master plan reveal are nearly as grandiose as they'd like to be. Magic Land also features the appearance of multiple Kamen Rider Mages, which would perhaps be a bigger deal if variations of the Mage suit hadn't been featured on the show itself and handled in a much more interesting way.

Infinity All Dragon Style and its 15 second screen time
Such a forgettable power up it isn't even worth mentioning

The summer movies are rarely a thing of true excellence (admittedly Kamen Rider W has set the bar incredibly high), but Kamen Rider Wizard in Magic Land feels especially disappointing. It should certainly be praised for having great fun with its concept and characters, but it comes at the expense of the story. Whether its the cold opening, rushed plot or forgettable new characters - almost everything that is actually integral to the movie falls flat on it's face. The excellent visuals redeem it somewhat in not being a complete waste of an hour, but much like Kamen Rider Wizard the series - you can't help but feeling this could have been so much more.

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