Sunday 10 December 2023

Movie REVIEW: Kamen Rider Geats the Movie: 4 Aces and the Black Fox

Kamen Rider Geats the Movie: 4 Aces and the Black Fox

The annual Kamen Rider summer movie is always an opportunity to get one last burst of a current Rider (in addition to the main series) before the switchover to a new series happens a few months later, but how about a film that gives your four times the amount of said Kamen Rider? Kamen Rider Geats the Movie: 4 Aces and the Black Fox was released in Japanese cinemas on the 28th July 2023, double-billed with Ohsama Sentai King-Ohger the Movie: Adventure Heaven. The film was written by series head writer Yuya Takashashi, and directed by Shojiro Nakazawa.

The world fracturedMelo and Mela

When a giant Jyamato tree appears, the current Desire Grand Prix entrants make their move to destroy it and win the game. But before they're able to do so, a mysterious new enemy from the future splits the world in four – and Ace along with it. Michinaga, Keiwa, Neon and Tsumuri each find themselves on a different world with a different Ace – each one representing a different aspect of his personality.

These new enemies are revealed as the "god destroyers" Mela and Melo, wanted criminals who travel back in time to destroy worlds and civilisations. Capturing three of the Aces, Mela is able to harness his divine abilities to become Kamen Rider XGeats. With the clock counting down in the pair's World Doomsday Game, can the other Riders save the world and Ace?

A fractioned AceKamen Rider XGeats

Ever since Kamen Rider W, Kamen Rider summer movies have been a little clearer about where they place in the overall series timeline. It isn't always perfect, but you can at least get a good sense of how they fit in. Kamen Rider Geats: 4 Aces and the Black Fox however is not so straightforward. By this point the story had moved far beyond the standard confines of the Desire Grand Prix, and the inclusion of characters long since departed from the show also brings things into question. The ever-resetting world of Kamen Rider Geats means there's plenty of debate to be had on whether or not it fits, but honestly the real answer is to not give it too much thought. When the film originally debuted in Japan Geats was already well into its endgame, so the one-off nature of the film acts as a nice bit of relief to counterbalance it.

With so many different variations of the Desire Grand Prix played over the course of Kamen Rider Geats, it’s only fitting that the movie should introduce one more right before the end. However truthfully there isn’t that much to say about the “World Doomsday Game” other than “beat the bad guys before the time runs out”. Even the film’s initial hook of Ace being split into four doesn’t carry that much of the story, with majority of them pushed to one side before the halfway mark. It’s a shame, because so much more mileage could have been gotten out of having Hideyoshi Kan play four different versions of the same character that all have to be recognisable yet different from one another. But again, simplicity isn’t a bad thing and in keeping things simple 4 Aces and the Black Fox is a satisfyingly self-contained story that doesn’t need anything more than its allotted hour of runtime. There's also a fair bit of fourth wall breaking courtesy of Ziin, giving a greater impression of something mainly intended as fun rather than something deeper.

ZiinTsumuri and another Ace

The simple storyline provides plenty of opportunity for some great action sequences though, and again while they might not be particularly grandiose it’s the novelty of them that really propels the film. Moments like Michinaga transforming into Buffa whilst punching a Jyamato and seen from the perspective of said Jyamato aren’t complex, but still the kind of shots the franchise doesn’t really play around with very often. Following multiple characters across multiple landscapes also helps keep the film visually interesting, with the setting also allowing the choreography to be a little wackier than usual. There aren’t many places you’ll see Geats running around with Buffa on his shoulders and it still somehow manage to be an action-packed fight scene. Even in the climax when Ace inevitably returns to dominate the fight in the way he usually does, it’s extremely satisfying because it’s pulled off with such swagger.

With Ace being largely out of the picture for the movie it also falls to other characters to carry it, which they’re able to pull off brilliantly. Keiwa, Michinaga and Neon’s names might not be part of the show’s title, but between their individual stories and the development they had over the course of the show they were almost as much the main characters as Ace himself. The same also goes for Tsumuri, who admittedly I didn’t touch on nearly enough in my series review as being a big player in the main cast. Scenes like seeing Tycoon and Buffa fighting together show how far they came over the course of the series, and it’s nice to have an adventure where (for the most part anyway) it’s up to them to save the day. It’s also a very pleasant surprise to see Sae/Lopo and Ittetsu/Keilow brought back for the film alongside Win/Punkjack - as these two shorter-lived characters from the series made a great impact and thus deserved another outing. Sae is a good partner to Neon both in and out of suit, and while Ittetsu’s age is mostly played up for laughs he’s a unique character that simply bringing him back is enough in itself.

A relatively straightforward plot also calls for relatively straightforward villains, however Mela and Melo are proof that going simple isn’t always a bad thing. Their backstory of being "god destroyers" and wanted criminals from the future isn't exactly deep, but it's more than enough to establish who they are and what they want with both Geats and the DGP. There's no need for additional web spin-offs here nor is there the sense that they needed further developments – they're bad people doing bad things and that's more than enough to carry them through the story. That said, there's also some interesting tidbits about the Jyamato hidden in their dialogue which make so much sense it's surprising they didn't make their way into the series proper. But what really makes them work is just how much fun the pair are. Shohei Osada and Haruka Kudo (better known for her role as Umika/Lupin Yellow in Lupinranger vs Patranger) are clearly having the best time playing the most colourful and wildly unhinged social media influencers you've ever seen. Their personalities also make Mela's transformation into Kamen Rider XGeats stand out all the more, because here you have this black repaint of the titular Rider acting like a sugar-high child rather than the usual clich├ęs of serious, silent and/or broody. His body language and fight choreography in the suit makes what is in essence a really boring archetype all the more interesting, and had it been played straight this film wouldn't have worked nearly as well as it does.

The DGP RidersKeilow meets Gotchard

Of course it wouldn't be a Kamen Rider summer movie without the next series Rider making a (not-so) surprise appearance, and in terms of getting the character down right from the get-go Gotchard seems pretty damn close. The mastery of his powers is perhaps a little more refined, but in terms of personality this is very much the Hotaru from the main series. It's a fun little scene that, though feeling somewhat detached from the main story as he doesn't meet any of the principle characters, shows off Gotchard's suit, gimmicks and abilities well. But what's more interesting about Gotchard's involvement in the film is less about the Rider himself, and rather the gimmick the series brings with it. Again in typical summer movie fashion 4 Aces and the Black Fox features a movie-exclusive form for the titular Rider, and while there is a new Raise Buckle to activate this form it's used in tandem with a Ride Chemy card. A fusion of two Riders' gimmicks isn't unheard of, but it is unusual for it to happen in a movie where the two Riders don't meet. Commercially it may just be a way to transition collectors from one set of toys to the other, but it works in the same way rather nicely from a fiction point of view as well.

And to that end, Kamen Rider Geats Oneness is a pretty nice way to cap off the movie. With both the Geats and the “real” Ace absent for most of its runtime having him take the spotlight for the finale makes sense, however the form works because of the unity it represents. The suit takes on elements of all seven Riders that appear in the film, however rather than trying to incorporate all of their powers into one clunky suit it goes for the more streamline approach - their individual emblems emblazoned onto his rainbow-coloured suit. Even detached from the main storyline it very much feels like the culmination of Kamen Rider Geats as a series - where all these players that were originally (mostly) in it for themselves have come together to fight for and be something greater.

Kamen Rider Geats OnenessGeats Oneness vs XGeats

Kamen Rider Geats the Movie: 4 Aces and the Black Fox ticks all the right boxes for a Kamen Rider summer movie. While it isn't particularly grandiose, with the series itself having a much more serious tone around this time it’s nice to see it be able to kick back and have some fun instead. Similarly what the story lacks in impact it makes up for with surprisingly fun villains, as well as an opportunity for Ace to take a bit of a backseat while the bulk of the story is led by the rest of the cast. Even if it doesn't rank among Kamen Rider Geats' finest moments, this is a fun little side story for anyone wanting further exploits from the Desire Grand Prix.

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