Tuesday 27 April 2021

Movie REVIEW: Kamen Rider Zero-One the Movie: REALxTIME

Kamen Rider Zero-One the Movie: REALxTIME

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the production and release of many films and television shows, and in the tokusatsu world one of the most obvious victims is Kamen Rider Zero-One. From a string of emergency clip episodes to a hastily condensed endgame that fit the adjusted episode count, it's impressive that the production staff were still able to provide a reasonably satisfying ending despite everything against them. However it wasn't just the series itself that was affected, but also what would have been it's "summer" movie - Kamen Rider Zero-One the Movie: REALxTIME. Postponed from its original July 2020 release, the movie was teased at the very end of the series and announced to be released in December instead. Because of this change, REALxTIME was released as a double bill alongside Kamen Rider Saber the Movie: The Phoenix Swordsman and the Book of Ruin as part of a "Kamen Rider Splendid Double Feature", rather than the traditional pairing with the Super Sentai summer film.

Kamen Rider EdenKamen Rider Abaddon

The mysterious man Es has appeared, announcing that he will destroy the world in 60 minutes and rebuilt it into his paradise! As Aruto Hiden becomes Kamen Rider Zero-One once more to battle against Es and his Kamen Rider Eden powers, his friends battle against Es followers which have begun simultaneous attacks around the globe.

Initially overwhelmed by Eden's strength, Aruto continues to fight and discover Es' identity and why he is doing this. To stop him Aruto chooses to take on the power of destruction in order to protect his friends, but this is a fight that will need to involve everyone - Metsuboujinrai.net, A.I.M.S., ZAIA...even Izu.

EsAruto's last stand

Zero-One may have neatly wrapped up the story as far as its main characters were concerned, but its ending still had plenty of loose story threads in desperate need of addressing. The main offender of course being Azu, an evil equivalent of Izu loyal to the Ark who continues to carry out its will. The show barely scratched the surface on her, and with it revealing that she would be behind Kamen Rider Eden there was some hope that the movie might shed some light on this. Unfortunately this isn’t really the case with REALxTIME. In fact while the film may act as an epilogue of sorts to the series, for the most part it follows the usual summer movie pattern of only being tangentially related at best. Given the delays it’s possible that the film was changed somewhat between production and release, but just how much is unclear. That said, Kamen Rider Ex-Aid the Movie: True Ending has previously set a precedent for epilogue movies that just tiptoe around the series itself. This isn’t to say REALxTIME doesn’t have value, but more that said value comes when it’s treated as its own thing.

Regardless, as an epilogue to the series one might expect the movie to begin with a quick check-in with the cast and see how they’re getting on in their new roles. There’s no time for that here though, as REALxTIME throws both the cast and the audience into the action right from there very beginning. The film opens with Aruto’s first showdown with Kamen Rider Eden, where Zero-Two is soundly defeated as the other Riders battle against Es’ disciples in their “Kamen Rider Abaddon” forms. There’s no introductions and very little context for the story, other than the revelation that Es will destroy the world in 60 minutes. The finer details start to come later, as Aruto makes his way back to challenge Es again whilst the other Riders continue their own investigation. It’s a bold way to start, and doubly so for a show with dangling plot threads. But for the most part, REALxTIME pulls it off well. The 60 minute countdown brings a sense of urgency to the film even if it isn’t “real time” in the literal sense, and while some expansion on certain characters and/or concepts might be nice the film doesn’t fall apart without it. Everything you need to know is presented in due course, and seeing all those puzzle pieces click together is part of the fun.

Hell Rising HopperAruto & Izu

There’s quite a lot going on in this film in a number of different places, but the at the core of REALxTIME is the clash between Aruto and Es. More than anything this is Es film, and despite this being a brand new character that the audience doesn’t really get a proper introduction to the film does a great job of both establishing him as this all-powerful threat and unravelling his tragic backstory. Even now the aftereffects of the Daybreak Town incident and the threat of the Ark cast a shadow over the world of Zero-One, and will likely to continue to for as long as the series has left in it. Ark clearly had contingencies, and it seems to no part of Zero-One’s technological utopia was safe from it. Here the focus shifts from AI humanoids to nanomachines, which in typical sci-fi fashion are able to quickly explain a lot of the feats pulled off in the film. The story is effectively about how power leads to tragedy and corruption, which has always been at the heart of Kamen Rider. What’s more important to it though is how these individuals overcome it, and this is what makes Es one of the more interesting and memorable movie villains of recent years.

For Aruto it’s a more simple case of stopping him to protect the planet, but it’s the measures he takes to do so that seed his growth here. Clearly still scarred by the death of Izu, Aruto takes the burden of stopping Es upon himself and refuses help from those closest to him in order to protect them. Throughout everything Aruto has always been the positive one, ready to see the best in everyone and champion the gift of life whenever he can. He’s already fallen to the darkness once because of tragedy, and is tormented by the fact that protecting what he loves may require him to do so again. Izu’s sacrifice was arguably one of the more controversial elements of Zero-One, particularly with how Aruto’s decision to simply create another one in her image was somewhat at odds with the show’s message of artificial intelligence being treated the same way as human life. The film’s handling on this as far is Izu is concerned is unsurprisingly a bit rocky, firmly establishing her as not the same to begin with but making vague steps to backtrack the fact as time passes. It’s a little disappointing, but not unsurprisingly given how the relationship between Aruto and Izu has always been the heart of Zero-One. Even if writer Yuya Takahashi doesn’t want to fully advocate a human/robot relationship with the pair, there’s certainly enough symbolism going on to see it’s how he views them. Izu’s role in the film itself isn’t huge but her position as Aruto’s emotional anchor far outweighs everything else, and every time she’s on screen you’re reminded of how she captured fans hearts to become one of the show’s most popular characters.

Riders unitedKamen Rider Lucifer

Though the fight between Es and Aruto might seem fairly concentrated, outside of that REALxTIME is operating on a pretty big scale. Es’ nanomachines and Kamen Rider-powered disciples are attacking all over the world, with footage from both London and Sydney thrown in to give it that world-ending feel. Of course there was no way the real action was ever going to move outside of Japan (especially during a pandemic), so this is where the rest of the Zero-One cast step in. While Aruto is tackling the problem at its source, A.I.M.S., ZAIA, Metsuboujinrai.net and the newly freelance Fuwa are all tackling the chaos on the streets. After a series of seeing all these various factions at odds with each other, seeing them teamed up against a common threat without a hint of malice toward each other is extremely cathartic. Even Gai, whose abrupt redemption was one of the show’s more contentious points, plays off the others extremely well. Jin and Horobi’s evolution into vigilante-esque protectors is wonderful, and the little snippets we see of them give great promise to their spotlight turn in the Metsouboujinrai movie. There’s even some cameo appearances from past Humagears in the film, further cementing how the film is a “last hurrah” of sorts for Zero-One before the usual deluge of supplementary Blu-Ray material.

Despite all these characters getting their moment, naturally someone ends up falling short when you’re dealing with a limited runtime. And although Es’ storyline is played out well, unfortunately the same cannot be said for his disciples. This is the only area where the movie could have really benefitted from some added context, since a lot of these characters appear as if they’re going to be important but are ultimately just mooks from the heroes to defeat. While their position as villainous sidekicks isn’t bad in itself, it’s the fact that the story completely switches up to put them in the spotlight at the very end. All of sudden these characters, whose costumes have been clearly designed to make them stand out from the rest of the Abaddon Riders, are the threat and we know next to nothing about them. Kamen Rider Lucifer, the final enemy of the film, is a whole load of nothing. Thankfully by this point REALxTIME has delivered the majority of its story and has just geared up for an action-packed climax, so the sudden switch isn’t too jarring nor does it dampen anything that came before. Perhaps more frustrating though is the all-too-brief appearance of Azu, who remains just as enigmatic as she was in the series. The final scene of the series teased her involvement in the rise of Eden, but her presence in the film barely registers. There’s still plenty of time for prominence in Zero-One’s truly supplementary material, but given how much of a persuading force she’s been in the latter side of Zero-One it would have been nice to see her do more than just hand out Drivers to people.

AzuEs' disciples

But even through all its flaws, REALxTIME stands out as one of the most visually impressive Kamen Rider movies with had in recent years. There’s no getting around the obvious COVID-ness of the production, with characters conveniently wearing masks to fight sequences taking place in large open areas, but director Teruaki Sugihara has taken these potential limitations and turned them into a very distinct aesthetic for the film. Right from the very beginning we see Kamen Riders Eden and Zero-Two battling in near darkness, the main source of lighting coming from their armours’ neon reflections. It’s a look that that series didn’t take advantage of nearly enough, but it’s used in full force here. The huge open areas give the fight sequences an enormous sense of scale, again befitting the apocalyptic vibe the film is aiming for. Even the CGI sequences, one of which include Kamen Riders Vulcan and Jin taking on a nanomachine-controlled fighter jet, look especially impressive. The film is also rich in visual symbolism, and given the villain’s name is Kamen Rider Eden it’s no surprise that it’s of the biblical sort. From Aruto confronting Es in a church to them being transported to hellish landscape upon the transformation of Zero-One Hell Rising Hopper, there is plenty going on here to dazzle and dissect. Every core Kamen Rider in the show (sorry Naki/Ikazuchi fans) gets at least one memorable moment, with Valkyrie even getting the kind of kickass motorcycle sequence the franchise desperately even needs more of. Even in the odd moment where the plot might be waning, there’s plenty going on visually to keep you entertained.

And of course it wouldn’t be a Kamen Rider movie without some brand new suits to show off, and REALxTIME has plenty of them. Eden may be the start in all its neon red and purple glory, but the cyber-militant Abaddon suits are an impressive addition to the franchise’s list of troop Riders. Zero-One gets a new berserker look with the hellish Hell Rising Hopper, and finally Kamen Rider Lucifer is an interesting visual parallel to Eden even the story doesn’t do nearly enough with it. But as far the Riders go, the biggest joy of REALxTIME is seeing Izu finally upgraded to Rider status as she transforms into Zero-Two alongside Aruto’s Zero-One. With the trailers revealing this key moment right from the get-go Toei clearly knew how much it would mean to fans, and even if you’re on the fence about how Izu was treated towards the end of the show is doesn’t disappoint. Both the character and actress Noa Tsurushima have earned this, and it works as a great end cap for both Izu and the film itself. 

Vulcan vs Fighter JetsZero-One & Zero-Two

Despite seemingly having everything against it going in, Kamen Rider Zero-One the Movie: REALxTIME is an incredibly entertaining film that sits comfortably with the of the franchise’s best summer movie offerings. While it may fall a bit short in the epilogue sense, as a self-contained story it’s both engaging and plays well to both the show and its characters’ strengths. More importantly, as a visual experience it’s exactly what a Kamen Rider movie should be - loud, colourful and with a distinct look that goes above and beyond what its TV series counterpart can provide. Kamen Rider Zero-One may have been troubled by the pandemic, but REALxTIME shows that it certainly didn’t stop it.


Neko-Nyan said...

I absolutely adore this film. While not the best KR film ever, it's pretty damn high, and holy shit is it a spectacle. Between Horobi and what HAS to be the biggest flex henshin in the entire goddamn franchise, the fact that the villain is not really evil (thank goodness for a bit of nuance!) and the action being on point...

And, speaking of action: not only is the choreography so good, it makes Mortal Kombat looks amateurish for the most part (well, where Taslim is involved, it's hard to be negative), but I love how it respects some little points that were established, subtly, during the series, namely that while Fuwa, Yaiba and Horobi are, for different reasons, trained and skilled fighters, Gai definitely isn't, and NEEDS his suit to perform. If you look at them fight untransformed, while Yua and Horobi (and in other appearances you can count Fuwa too) are very technical and, dare I say, tactical in their approach, Gai just swings his weapon. It works, but I find these little attentions to detail to be quite pleasing. It shows how much care is put into it.

M said...

This is easily the best Kamen Rider Epilogue Movie that Yuya Takahashi wrote (Ex-Aid True Ending, Amazons Last Judgment).

Anonymous said...

You could say that Lucifer came to be because of the transition of hands with the Eden Driver. Esu had pure intentions for the most part, but like any other villain with that detail, his execution was catastrophic for the rest of the world. He even wanted to have people who were effected by the nanomachines in the digital hell as well. But with Lucifer's user, his desires came about due to a desire for power and that alone. A paradise was still the goal for him, but he did it selfishly for him and his followers, as opposed to Esu. This would explain the drop from an ideal paradise for everyone (Eden), to a motif of Hell and even the name of Hell's ruler (Lucifer). This is just speculation, however.

Alex said...

That sounds like a pretty spot on theory to me! I think there’s a lot that can be gauged from the visual difference between the two suits, the naming and just the general biblical metaphors going on in the movie. The story didn’t need to spell it out, but a bit more that a sudden switch of villain would have been great. Behru was barely a character before taking that Driver.

Jinga said...

This Movie Absolutely Amazing. Story was great. Characters were better. The story of Aruto and Izu was touching. The villain was good, but could have been better. Lucifer was okay, but they could have made him stronger and a little more challenging. Fuwa,Yua,Horobi,Jin, and Amatsu they had a great time to shine in the film. Azu was kind of just there. Eden was a good character that has been misjudged. The fight scenes were fast and excellent. i feel like they kind of rushed it due to the covid, but its still a great film. I rate this movie 5 out of 5.