Saturday 13 June 2015

Movie REVIEW: Kamen Rider x Kamen Rider Drive & Gaim: Movie Wars Full Throttle

Kamen Rider x Kamen Rider Drive & Gaim: Movie Wars Full Throttle

The ending of a Kamen Rider series is often a sad thing, and although the following is usually enough to soften its passing there's always at least one thing to look forward to - the annual Movie Wars team up. This time Kamen Rider Gaim returns for its last hurrah alongside the currently airing Kamen Rider Drive for the predictably long-winded title Kamen Rider x Kamen Rider Drive & Gaim: Movie Wars Full Throttle. As usual the film is split up into three sections - individual Gaim and Drive components before the two come together for a crossover that incorporates elements from both's individual stories.

Kamen Rider Gaim: Advance to the Last Stage
Kamen Rider Gaim: Advance to the Last Stage

Kouta Kazuraba and Mai Takatsukasa are now living peacefully on the thriving planet they created using the powers of the Golden Fruit. However things are soon thrown into chaos by the arrival of the Megahex - an mechanical alien lifeform whose goal is to assimilate the universe into one collective entity. After kidnapping Mai, Megahex scans Kouta's memories and turns its attentions towards the Earth. Kouta attempts to stop the entity from landing at the rebuilding Zawame City, but is seemingly killed in the process as his friends look on in horror. The Megahex quickly takes to assimilating the technology of Earth - creating new Sengoku Drivers for its mechanised Kurokage troopers and even resurrecting Ryoma Sengoku in a new cybernetic body.

The only thing left defending Zawame City are the Kureshima brothers. Using the last Sengoku Driver Mitchy is able to steal one of the newly created Megahex ones, and together with a new Helheim fruit left by Mai Takatora is able to resume the guise of Kamen Rider Zangetsu. As the last two Armoured Riders left, Ryugen and Zangetsu battle against Megahex and Mecha Ryoma with the aim to save Mai and prevent the alien from gaining the power of the Golden Fruit.

Mecha Ryoma
Not the first time Ryoma's been a robot.

Although this segment has the name Kamen Rider Gaim in the title, Kouta himself actually appears very little through the course at the main story. At the very beginning we see his apparent demise at the hands of Megahex, and from there the story carries on following the Kureshima brothers alongside the few surviving Riders from the show (Oren, Hideyasu and Zack). This benefits the story not only because it immediately throws the all-powerful space god Kouta out of the way for a while (not that he fared that well against Megahex anyway), but it also allows for a much richer epilogue for the show. Kouta and Mai simply left the planet so they have no involvement with what's left of Zawame City. It may be brief, but we get to see the people of Zawame slowly rebuilding their lives with Takatora leading a restoration project - until all his hard work kinda goes down with the arrival of Megahex anyway. It really builds the Kureshima brothers as the new protectors of the city, supported by friends who still play an important role even if they don't have Drivers anymore. With Mitchy's past sins forgiven, Kamen Rider Gaim has transformed from a show where various parties were battling for the same prize into one with a very strong team ethic. And while this most definitely serves as a close to Gaim's story, it provides the sense that the story never ends and that Zangetsu and Ryugen now stand as Zawame's armoured defenders.

The return of Ryoma Sengoku is also a very welcome addition to the story, even if his presence is mostly for shock and awe rather than anything weightier. While the threat of Megahex is all well and good, Mecha Ryoma provides a much more tangible threat for the Kureshima brothers and is able to match them in terms of dialogue as well as fighting prowess. The Dragonfruit Energy Arms is a nice addition to Gaim's continually growing fruit salad, providing Ryoma with something to make his resurrection a little more groundbreaking AND Bandai a few new (exclusive) toys to sell.

Kamen Rider Duke Dragonfruit Energy Arms
Wearing it better than Kamen Rider Tyrant did

The slightly tacked-on nature of Kamen Rider Gaim's final episode might have left some people a little cold, but what it sets up blossoms into a wonderful finale in the form of Advance to the Last Stage. Emotional moments and amazing fight choreography abound, this is a finale which provides the series with the perfect note to end on as well as having you miss it all over again.

Kamen Rider Drive: The Challenge from Lupin
Kamen Rider Drive: The Challenge from Lupin

Set prior to Kamen Mach's arrival on the show, The Challenge from Lupin sees Shinnosuke Tomari and the Special Crimes Unit face off against the Ultimate Lupin, a master thief who keeps eluding capture. However the secret behind Lupin's skill is that he is Cyberoid ZZZ - a Roidmude housing the consciousness of an ageing criminal. Using his own device to become Kamen Rider Lupin, he challenges Drive for the title of "Kamen Rider". After facing defeat and losing the guidance of Mr. Belt, Shinnosuke needs to get his brain back into top gear in order to defeat Lupin before he pulls off his next big heist.

While Kamen Rider Gaim's segment had a whole year's worth of episodes to build upon, at the time of Movie Wars Full Throttle's release there had only been about ten episodes of Kamen Rider Drive. As such if like me you've been watching the show weekly by the time you'll have seen this a whole lot more will have gone down in the show, but surprisingly it doesn't take much to adjust back to this early period in Drive's story. In fact if it weren't for the certain characters not being introduced yet and others being in very different places in later episodes, The Challenge from Lupin feels like it could have slotted into any point of Drive's story. So while an obvious side story it may be, the theme and pacing suits Kamen Rider Drive perfectly and suitably makes it feel like a grander version of the show's more episodic outings.

Phantom Thief Ultimate Lupin
Tuxedo Kamen (Rider)

As far as one-shot movie Riders go Kamen Rider Lupin does pretty well, even if a lot of his impact comes from the visuals rather than backstory. His place as a "Kamen Rider" feels a little shoehorned in (as does his motives for wanting to take the title away from Drive) but Kamen Rider Wizard's Kamen Rider Sorcerer should consider himself dethroned in terms of being the Rider with the most swag. A top hat, a cape and even helmet markings that resemble a moustache - such things would probably feel completely out of place in any other Kamen Rider show, but Drive certainly manages to make them work.

Like the Gaim segment teamwork and partners are very prominent themes, with the film strengthening the bonds between both Shinnosuke and Steinbelt and Shinnosuke and Kiriko. While none of it is particularly groundbreaking stuff that's going to bleed into the show, it still manages to add that little bit extra to what are already (in my eyes anyway) three pretty great characters. As usual the rest of the Special Crimes Unit are mostly onboard just to provide some quick laughs, but in a production with something as flamboyant as Kamen Rider Lupin this is one piece of Drive's story where their over-the-top humour isn't threatening to bring the whole thing crashing down.

Kamen Rider Lupin
Kamen Rider Swag

While Kamen Rider Drive will get an opportunity for a big heartfelt finale in the next Kamen Rider Movie Wars instalment, for now The Challenge from Lupin is a great little side story that adds its own unique little bit to Drive's overall mythos while at the same time not taking it too far off track. It may not reach the emotional heights of Advance to the Last Stage, but it provides the same level of flash and awe - making it the perfect companion piece and enough to keep you watching on until the final segment.

Movie Wars Full Throttle
The Movie Wars Exclusive forms

With the Megahex emissaries swarming across the planet, it isn't long before one of them assimilates the power of Cyberoid ZZZ. Kamen Rider Drive chases it back to Zawame City, where he meets up with Kouta and the other Armoured Riders. Receiving help from a number of unexpected allies, Drive and Gaim team up to defeat the Megahex once and for all - a battle which will not only see them share each others powers but also travel to the Megahex planet itself.

Resistance is futile etc.

The main thing these final crossover sections usually hinge on is just how well the two main Riders play off each other and without any other returning Riders or rebooted toku heroes this time around, getting it right in Full Throttle was crucial. The pairing of Kouta and Shinnosuke couldn't have been pulled off much better, their relationship providing a lot of brilliant buddy cop moments as Kouta's persona as an all-powerful space god momentarily goes out the window to bring back the loveable goofball Kouta from Gaim's early episodes. Gaim might have got more and more serious as it went on but it really knew how to pull off a joke, and moments like Kouta's shock at a talking belt and a lesson in how to put a seatbelt provide plenty of laughs. Similarly this year's two movie exclusive forms (Gaim Drive Arms and Drive Type Fruits) embrace both show's abilities to take something that can look totally absurd and turn it into something great. While neither are the most memorable of movie exclusive forms in terms of power, they provide a better sense of unity between the two characters and the cross of aesthetics is something that makes them both feel special in their own way.

The Full Throttle segment also has a few surprises left up it's sleeve for Kamen Rider Gaim fans, most notably the return of Kaito Kumon. Like Ryoma before him Baron's return isn't quite in the way you might expect, but it's great to see the character again and offers another good send-off for one of the show's most pivotal characters. At the very least Movie Wars Full Throttle did more for both Baron and Zangetsu than Gaim Gaiden could have ever hoped to achieve.

The finale car chase
Where we're going, we don't need roads...

And of course as per the course for a Movie Wars film the final battle ultimately turns in an ambitious CGI-fest, but while many previous entries in the series have failed miserably at the this Full Throttle does a remarkably good job of it. Rather than a having things descend into an explosive fight scene that looks like a dated video game, this movie instead takes things in a different directly with a high speed Death Star trench style chase scene with the Tridoron zooming across the Megahex planet. It's different, fun and exactly what a film titled Movie Wars Full Throttle should end on.

Final Thoughts
After a few forgettable Movie Wars crossovers the Kamen Rider franchise was due another winner, and Movie Wars Full Throttle is most certainly an entry that lives up to its name. Even without Gen Urobuchi at the helm the Kamen Rider Gaim segment is the perfect epilogue to the show (and make Gaim Gaiden look like even more of a blatant cash-in) while the Kamen Rider Drive segment is a fun side adventure that doesn't stray too far away from the series in terms of tone and characters. Together the two Riders prove to have a fantastic rapport, and are able to wonderfully convey both the serious and comedic sides of their respective shows. While the film doesn't quite reach the heights of OOO and Fourze crossover Movie Wars Megamax, it is still an unmissable adventure for fans of either series and proof that even when crossovers are an annual thing they necessarily end up getting stale.

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