Monday 10 December 2018

Movie REVIEW: Uchu Sentai Kyuranger vs. Space Squad

Uchu Sentai Kyuranger vs Space Squad

Despite being a tentpole piece of Toei's tokusatsu line up during the 80s and 90s, the Metal Heroes franchise doesn’t quite have the presence it once did in comparison to the likes of Super Sentai or Kamen Rider. That began to change a few years ago following a few movies and cameo appearances from Space Sheriffs, and then last year Gavan rose to the occasion once again as he teamed up with the Dekarangers in Space Squad: Gavan vs. Dekaranger. The end of that film's tease about recruiting further heroes to the team didn't turn out to be an empty promise either, and the story now continues into a second film – Uchu Sentai Kyuranger vs Space Squad. As well as seeing the 41st Super Sentai team into the fold, this film also prominently brings back the new generation Space Sheriff Shaider as well as characters from the seventh Metal Heroes series Sekai Ninja Sen Jiraiya.

Continuing his investigation of the revived Genmakuu and its mysterious leader Fumein, Space Sheriff Gavan has recruited even more members to his specialist "Space Squad" force. When Space Sheriff Shaider and the ninja master Jiraiya track down the Genmakuu Agent Demost, the evil space ninja flees into a portal to another universe – with Shaider giving chase. Hearing this news, Geki looks forward to meet an old friend that he battled alongside once before.

Four years have passed since the defeat of Don Amage, and the eleven Kyurangers have all gone their separate ways. But when the experimental Neo Kyutama are stolen by an unknown ninja, the legendary heroes are shocked to find out the assailant is none other than Hammie, who has seemingly allied herself with Demost. As tension over what to do about former comrade leads to a divide in the Kyurangers, it's up to the Space Sheriffs to unite the team and bring Demost to justice.

When the first Space Squad film was released director Koichi Sakamoto proudly referred to as being the first step in creating something akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Well if Space Squad was the equivalent of The Avengers, then Uchu Sentai Kyuranger vs. Super Sentai is definitely Toei's answer to Captain America: Civil War. Sentai teams fighting against each other has been the standard for decades (there's a whole series of films based around it after all), but in-fighting to this extent between one team feels pretty fresh. You could feasibly choose any team and it have real emotional stakes to it, but the Kyurangers were undoubtedly the right choice – not just because of the size of the team, but also because their fight and the struggles they went through are still fresh in everyone's minds. Though their story ended at a satisfying point it's one where an epilogue chapter has plenty to offer, so seeing things like Tsurugi in his role as President, Stinger take up Shou Ronpo's role as commander or even Garu have a wife and (plushie) child feel like they could continue on into something new.

The biggest success in bringing back the Kyurangers though is that the story centres around Hammie, arguably one of (if not the) most underdeveloped members of the team in the series itself. Making it even better is the fact that Hammie's actions in the film are not through brainwashing or any other means that would instantly void her of guilt, but rather decisions that she herself makes that don't completely go without repercussion. Truthfully the reasons behind her "betrayal" are fairly simple and perhaps could have easily been avoided through better communication, but that's a pretty common theme for these things. It's far more interesting development than you'd ever expect Hammie to get, and to see the Kyurangers tearing themselves apart over this is as gut-wrenching as it is action-packed.

The Kyurangers may undoubtedly be the emotional crux of this film, but that isn't to say the Space Sheriffs don't play an important part as well. Geki's role may be far more limited here but that doesn’t mean his development hasn’t continued. Far from the hot-headed rookie he was back in the Gavan reboot movie, Geki is now fits quite comfortably into a pseudo-leader role - still silly every now and again but also able to come in and talk some sense into the Kyuranger factions. Joining him for this film is the new Shaider Shu Karasuma, a character whose regularly played for laughs but also works in some fairly effective (if unorthodox) ways.

The Space Sheriff trilogy isn’t the only part of Metal Heroes getting represented here though, with the film also prominently featuring characters from Jiraiya. It’s a shame this sequel didn’t bring back Benikiba given that she survived the last one, but in her place we have not only Jiraiya himself but also the Space Ninja Demost - sporting a great redesign which keeps the spirit of the original intact while also making it feel suitably modern. Even if you aren’t familiar with Jiraiya as a series Demost brings a lot of presence to the screen, which makes him rather effective main villain.

Metal Heroes isn't the only thing getting in on the returning cameos side either, as the film also brings back a number of past Super Sentai villains as Demost's underlings – namely Gekiranger's Mele, Shinkenger's Juzo, Gokaiger's Basco and Go-Buster's Escape. Without their respective heroes involved in the film the emotional stakes for most of these appearances is fairly low, so the characters are mostly reduced to bit-part henchmen with only a handful of lines between them. That said, this doesn't make their involvement in the story any less fun and it's fantastic to see all four actors come back to the franchise and slip back into their roles so comfortably. The one outlier in all of this however is Mele, who not only contributes to the story in a big way but also continues on her development from the end of Gekiranger rather nicely. Though her inclusion likely just stemmed from the fact both she and Hammie are chameleon-themed martial artists, the story also ties in both her devotion to Rio and reformation of sorts – prompting some fairly strong conversations with Hammie that strengthen the film's emotional undercurrent. The prospect of Mele returning to Super Sentai without Rio in tow may seem strange and even a little bit wrong, but Kyuranger vs. Space Squad proved just how well it can work.

But perhaps the best thing of all about Kyuranger vs. Space Squad, as well as the Space Squad series as a whole, is that they're just straight up movies. There's nothing that needs to be specifically promoted, no toys that need to be advertised – just a film that can be told with the characters needed to tell it right. You can tell this just from the fact it heavily involves Super Sentai and doesn’t once involve some sort of mecha fight. The fact they're free to roam outside of the currently airing shows is maybe what makes them so damn good, and something that Toei definitely should consider more often in their releases.

Proving that the first movie wasn't just a lucky fluke, Uchu Sentai Kyuranger vs. Space Squad is pretty much everything you could ever want from a crossover film. It combines tight plotting, brings back beloved classic characters as well as newer popular ones, breathes new life in obscurer villains and most importantly delivers interactions between the characters from all these different shows in a way that feels completely natural. While the focus may be squarely on the Kyurangers this time around that strong Metal Heroes presence is never lost, and that ongoing element that's keeping these films so interesting. A new fully-fledged Metal Heroes series might still seem like a pipedream, but what does it matter when Gavan is leading the charge in what's undoubtedly the best and most ambitious thing Toei have going on with these franchises right now.

1 comment:

Oar said...

Mele alone raised this movie from a 6 to an 8 for me. On top of that, Super Sentai: Civil War is just a really fun ride from beginning to end.