Sunday 7 February 2016

Movie REVIEW: Kamen Rider Drive: Surprise Future

Kamen Rider Drive the Movie: Surprise Future

The Kamen Rider summer films have always been quite an interesting series. While most of the pre-Kamen Rider Decade films looked at their respective series in alternate universe scenarios, the arrival of Kamen Rider W brought along a closer connection between series and movie. More recently last two films, Kamen Rider Wizard in Magic Land and Kamen Rider Gaim: Great Soccer Battle! Golden Fruits Cup! have gelled the two together by taking the series' Rider and then throwing them into an alternate universe for most of the action. Kamen Rider Drive however decided to take a different route for its movie, drawing inspiration from a different beloved sci-fi trope - time travel! So strap yourselves in, because its time for Shinnosuke Tomari and co to find themselves with a Surprise Future.

Eiji & Shinnosuke
"It's your belt Shinnosuke, something has to be done about your belt!"

When Mr Belt has a sudden malfunction during battle, Shinnosuke is greeted by a man claiming to Eiji Tomari - his son from the year 2035. Eiji goes to explain that in the future Mr Belt's AI will turn evil, with Krim Steinbelt subjugating humanity under a Roidmude rule. However before Shinnosuke can properly process this he's attacked by another stranger from the future - Kamen Rider Dark Drive. Suddenly Shinnosuke finds himself not only on the run from Dark Drive but also the police as well, believing the "hero of the people" Kamen Rider to have suddenly gone rogue. Unable to transform and facing the possibility that he won't even have Mr Belt to turn to, its up to Shinnosuke to help save the future from the Roidmudes.

One thing that's always nice to see is a summer movie that has a strong connectivity with its respective series. But when it comes to Surprise Future, being up to date with Kamen Rider Drive is almost a necessity. Essential explanations such as where Mr Belt's inexplicable evil streak may come across as simple foreshadowing in the show, but are in fact the entire basis for the film and something Surprise Future chooses to omit altogether. It's tie-in media at both its very best and worst - offering fans something more than a simple side story but at the same making it hard to understand things on its own.

Kamen Rider Dark Drive
Da da, dum dum dum...

Kamen Rider Drive is a series with a pretty big cast. We certainly aren't talking Gaim or Ryuki standards here but with three Riders, a group of villains and a fairly extensive supporting cast it isn't a show short of faces. One might assume that as a result Surprise Future might feel rather overcrowded but in fact it is quite the opposite - the film focuses on a very small section of the cast in great detail, leaving the rest as mostly extras. If you're a Mach or Chase fan this might leave you a little disappointed (although both get their fair share of good fight sequences), but focusing primarily on the bond between Shinnosuke and Mr Belt was a marvellous decision. In its latter half Kamen Rider Drive wasn't a series that knew how to handle action and suspense, it was one that was really able to tug at the heartstrings when it wanted to. Surprise Future takes that same emotion and multiples it considerably, so if you haven't already wept over the bond between a man and his toy belt once then this might be the thing that breaks you. Even Shinnosuke's reactions towards his future son Eiji, a character whose introduction is rather undeveloped, are full of emotion. Kamen Rider Drive is the people's Rider, and this isn't just reflected in the way people feel towards him but also how he is towards others.

Shinnosuke destroys Mr Belt
The most you'll cry over a toy since Toy Story 3

While the characterisation and drama is where Surprise Future really hits top gear, that isn't to say it doesn't have its share of great action sequences too. From high speed car chases to flashy hand to hand combat, this film offers a variety of different high-octane shots that perfectly suit Drive's vehicle motif. Perhaps there is a little over-reliance on Toei's hit-or-miss brand of CGI, but in general its use thankfully adds to the action rather than detracts from it. It's nice to see Surprise Future remember that the Ride Crosser is a thing too - a interesting little concept that felt woefully underused in the series itself.

Surprise Future also features an impressive amount of new Drive gear, boasting not only three new suits but also two new cars as well (the Proto-Tridoron is rather predictably a black and purple Tridoron but it still counts). First you have Dark Drive Type Next and the NEXTridoron, sporting very Tron-esque black and blue colour schemes that suitably give off a futuristic vibe. The same can be said for Kamen Rider Drive Type Special, adding in some of Drive's own design elements to create something similar but with much less of an evil Rider vibe. But before we come to that there's also Drive Chou Dead Heat - a beefy hybrid of Type Speed and Mashin Chaser. Odd naming aside (there's nothing Chou/Super about it - they even say it's a pretty weak form in the grand scheme of things) the suit is a great departure from the usually sleek Drive suits and puts a next twist on the old favourite of Mashin Chaser.

Kamen Rider Drive Chou Dead Heat
Feel the (Chou Dead) Heat

The only other real thing that lets the film down is its rather blasé attitude towards time travel and causality, which isn't the best thing to have when the entire thing is centred around altering the future. Admittedly different things always have their own set of rules to apply when it comes to time travel, but Surprise Future doesn't really layout any ground rules to justify it not adhering to the usual conventions one would assume. The whole situation around the destruction of Mr Belt makes no sense because the belt is destroyed in the past yet the future version still exists. Said belt is then reclaimed by Shinnosuke, presumably becoming the "present" version of the belt at the end of the film - however that version of the belt would have never come back into the past following Roidmude 108's destruction in the present day. Confused yet? You could perhaps argue that the paradox surrounding this event is so great that the timeline came full circle and fixed itself, but that's the film asking you to bring your own internal logic into play. It goes unexplained not only because none of the cast have a proper grasp on time travel but also because it feels like the writers didn't either. There's also the argument that Roidmude 108 travelling back into the past in the first place was ultimately his undoing, having essentially won in the future regardless of how much of what he told Shinnosuke at the beginning was true. On a pure enjoyment factor there's little to fault this film on, but for time travel nuts all the minor details glossed over add up to something far bigger that leave you pondering it over long after the credits have rolled.

Kamen Rider Drive Type Special
Drive Type TRON

Finally, as is often the case with these films Surprise Future also marks the first appearance of next year's Kamen Rider - in this case Kamen Rider Ghost. Ghost makes a very strong debut in this episode, not quite stealing the spotlight by taking out one of the big name villains but at the same time leaving an excellent impression in the few minutes he appears for. Unfortunately when it comes to these films its often then case that the new Rider's character hasn't been quite pinned down yet, leading to there being quite an obvious disconnect between them the movie cameo and their actual show. This is certainly the case here, but interestingly it turns out to be more a criticism of the show than Surprise Future. Ghost fights with almost ethereal quality here which is both fitting of his name and look, but has been completely absent from the show thus far. It's a huge disappointment to see this "interpretation" of the character not carried over, but I guess that's an argument for another time.

Kamen Rider Ghost's Debut
Where's all this in the actual show?!

If you aren't one to get too caught up in nonsensical time travel paradoxes, then Kamen Rider Drive the Movie: Surprise Future is everything you could want out of a Kamen Rider summer movie. It was nicely woven into the events of the series (even if that wasn't well signposted in the movie itself), has features brilliant action, wonderful new suit designs and most importantly pulls at the emotions in all the right ways. If the series itself didn't succeed in making you weep over a talking toy belt, then Surprise Future certainly may change that. However the clear disregard for time travel complexities can be a confusing and sometimes difficult pill for others to swallow, and could have easily been ironed with a few simple explanations. Regardless of what your take on time travel may be though Surprise Future is not a film to miss out, reminding us all just how great Kamen Rider Drive was once it hit its stride.


cassius335 said...

" The whole situation around the destruction of Mr Belt makes no sense because the belt is destroyed in the past yet the future version still exists."

Easy solution: the NEXT Driver was a different belt to Drive Driver. There's more than one Driver in the series, so no reason 108/TypeNext couldn't have made his own (or got a new one from the guy walking around the future looking like Krim)

Alex said...

I'll give you that it could be a different one (though I'd still question how a new could be made if the old one was destroyed - there were only multiple Mach Driver Honohs in the show as far as I remember), but the belt 108 had was Eiji's. It's unlikely he could have made his own when the whole "evil Krim" future thing was a lie.

(I guess there is the fact that Banno reverse engineered the belt when he took it so someone might have had access to the specs, but thats still a bit of a workaround.