Thursday 2 May 2024

Movie REVIEW: Kamen Rider The Winter Movie: Gotchard & Geats Strongest Chemy★Great Gotcha Operation

Kamen Rider The Winter Movie: Gotchard & Geats Strongest Chemy★Great Gotcha Operation

The annual Winter crossover movie has been such a staple of the Kamen Rider franchise over the last decade or so that it's now moving well beyond the usual Movie War tagline and incorporating it directly into the film's branding. The casts of Kamen Rider Geats and Kamen Rider Gotchard come together in the rather lengthily titled Kamen Rider The Winter Movie: Gotchard & Geats Strongest Chemy★Great Gotcha Operation - the 14th entry in this series of team-up films. Though written by Gotchard co-head writer Hiroki Uchida, this was with supervision from Geats head writer Yuya Takahashi so that the film would feel true to both series. Directed by Kyohei Yamaguchi (who has worked on nearly every Kamen Rider series since Gaim), it also features guest voice appearances from voice actress/singer Rie Takahashi as well as VTuber Shirakami Fubuki.

X WizardThe Ultimate Chemy Capture Game

Whilst investigating a Chemy sighting, Hotaro, Rinne, Sabimaru, Renge and Spanner are attacked by a group of Jyamato. After being saved by Keiwa, Neon, Michinaga and Ace, the groups are then approached by X Wizard - a powerful level 10 Chemy. After transforming Keiwa, Neon and Michinaga, X Wizard then invites them to play a game: successfully capture the other level 10 Chemies, and they'll be turned back into humans again.

Though they're able to successfully complete X Wizard's game with the help of a mysterious Geats Chemy, a more sinister force is also at play - as well as a grudge that goes back over 2000 years. As the powers of X Wizard are used for evil, the two groups team up to fight back whilst Rinne steps forward in order to protect her friends.

Transformed into Chemies!The Wizard Malgam

After briefly dipping its toes back into the multi-part format with Kamen Rider Geats x Revice: Movie Battle RoyaleStrongest Chemy★Great Gotcha Operation returns things to a slightly more flowing format with a single story that fully features both casts. Though in execution the film does still feel like a film of two halves (and of somewhat varying quality), it's a format that works well for both Geats and Gotchard as they are two shows that are able to blend together pretty well. This early into Gotchard's run the more serious elements of the story were yet to take proper shape, meanwhile Geats' story is over so it's able to lean back into some of the more sillier elements it had in its beginning. Similarly the flexibility of Geats' game setting lends itself perfectly to Gotchard's monster-catching format, giving the initial half of the film a really solid base plot that works to the strengths of both shows. A fairly low-stakes romp that has the opportunity to play about with the dynamics of the two casts and just have a lot of fun with the concept. If the fact the Geats Riders are turned into animal plushies for half the runtime hadn't already given it away, Strongest Chemy★Great Gotcha Operation is a film that takes a lot of pleasure in being silly.

At the heart of any crossover film is the dynamic between the two main casts, and thanks to the "Ultimate Chemy Capture Game" it wastes no time in making the most of it. Splitting them into smaller groups means everyone involved in the film gets to have a few good moments, but even better is the fact that the pairings aren't all necessarily the obvious ones. While pairing Spanner and Michinaga so that the two moodiest ones can butt heads is expected, putting Rinne alongside Ace so that Keiwa is with Hotaro (who make for a great comedy double act) is perhaps less so. Through this it's able to develop a nice little rivalry between the two lead Riders, with Ace's typically contentious personality riling up a particularly emotional Hotaro (so much so that it almost feels slightly out of character for him, even this early into Gotchard's run). But combining the two also makes for some interesting character moments, like Neon relating to the Chemies upon the realisation that they're artificially-created lifeforms. While not enough to be considered sub-plots (though could easily have been expanded too), they're nice little flourishes that show how well something in one series can relate to the other. Ace really shines in this film too - purposely trying to bring out the best in characters and/or showing them their strengths, but doing so in his trademark charismatic ways.

Gotchard and TycoonFacing Xeggdrasil

It also benefits greatly from X Wizard not being a straightforward villain as such. As though there was every potential for them to be, like any other Chemy is a case of mischief-making more than anything else. But with X Wizard having the ability to talk it for the first time (at least at the time of the movie's release) allows a Chemy to become a much more-rounded character with proper dialogue to convey their backstory. As the linchpin to the whole film X Wizard plays a big part throughout, and it's through this that Hotaro is able to show off the best elements of his character as well.

Unfortunately a lot of that energy that helps make the film so fun goes away in its second half, where it begins to feel like a far more by the numbers Kamen Rider film. There's a very clear bad guy, and overall the various plot threads take a back seat to what feels like one long fight scene. While it is very lucky in that both Geats and Gotchard have very good action sequences so there's plenty of flash to keep things entertaining, it's missing that element of substance to make it memorable. Moments like watching a new Rider make their debut or Gotchard getting that obligatory Winter movie power up aren't exactly bad, but as the film begins dragging its heels it makes the fun factor of that first half all the more apparent. 

The reveal of a proper villain gives the film an opportunity to properly combine the worlds of both Geats and Gotchard in a single character, and while it does so it also manages to do so in rather unspectacular fashion. Despite an alchemist who's lived for thousands of years to seek revenge being a rather good basis for villain, there isn't anything else interesting about Licht Kugimiya because that's about as far as his character stretches. Though the film definitely deserves props for having a monster villain rather than yet another evil Rider, great suit designs can't cover for a wafer thin backstory and even thinner motivation. 

Rinne transformsKamen Rider Majade

The film's descent into one big fight scene wouldn't necessarily be such a bad thing if it didn't also have such a huge plot thread to carry as well - particularly as it's one that also has a huge impact on Gotchard as a whole. Strongest Chemy★Great Gotcha Operation is the official in-story debut of Kamen Rider Majade - Rinna's Rider form and the secondary Rider of Gotchard. Given that her debut in the main series is still linked to this appearance one might think that there's some key details included here, but in reality it's actually far from it. Prior to her debut there are some very quick character moments about Rinne not being strong enough to fight, but certainly not enough that it could be called a sub-plot as such. This very quickly spirals into everything happening simply out of plot convenience - from the appearance of the Unicon and The Sun Chemy cards to Rinne unlocking her abilities follow a brief conversation with father whilst in a dream state. Majade's debut even has the air of an early preview cameo appearance about it, arriving to easily hand-wave away a key part of the conflict with the kind of powers that won't ever be seen again. Rinne is a fantastic character and Majade being the franchise's first officially recognised secondary Rider is a big deal, so it's a shame such a momentous thing couldn't have had more weight behind it. Her debut is undoubtedly the film's biggest moment, yet still has to be secondary to whatever the titular Riders have going on.

However as previously mentioned, if there's one thing this film remains consistent with it's spectacle. Not only does Strongest Chemy★Great Gotcha Operation boast some great action sequences that make good use of the various forms from across both shows, but plenty of opportunity to lean into the zaniness that the various Chemies allow. One minute Valvarad and Buffa are fighting a fierce lightning-powered lion, the next Na-Go is getting blown away by a giant jet fighter or Geats is facing off against a giant tree. While there's a certainly a very strong Pokemon/Digimon element to their design, it's a colourful cheeriness that adds to Gotchard's fun factor. The same can be said for the new Chemies inspired by the Geats cast, with the use of physical plushies in addition to CGI adding an extra layer of comedy. That said the Geats Chemy itself is a far more impressive beast - a proper puppet with moving parts that's similarly cute but with more of the physicality that gives tokusatsu its unique flavour.

Geats KillerStar Gotchard

That said if you are looking for something with a little more edge you only have to look as far as some of the suit design in the film, with the villain boasting two great-looking Malgam designs. Whilst the first X Wizard-themed one would have been enough to carry the film, the second Geats-themed "Geats Killer" look definitely ups the spectacle for the climax. To counterbalance this we also have Gotchard's Star Gotchard form, combining the powers of the five other Level 10 Chemies in a way that's loud, colourful and completely what you'd expect from Gotchard's arsenal.

Though the quality of the film may somewhat decline in the second half, thankfully it is able to bring it back in its final scenes for a pretty emotional closing. While the mystery behind the Geats Chemy (as well as Ace's apparent aversion to pets) is only hinted at throughout the film, the revelations (as abundantly obvious as they are) that come at the very end will definitely resonate with all the animal lovers out there. It's a moment deliberately meant to tug at the heartstrings, but why it works so well is that it also serves to humanise Ace as well. Not only by this point is he a god, but even throughout Geats he was one to keep a cool head other than in the most extreme circumstances. This on the other hand is a quiet, personal scene which not only highlights Ace's previous lives in a different way.

Ace, Rinne and the Geats ChemyThe Geats Chemy

So despite being one continuous narrative Kamen Rider The Winter Movie: Gotchard & Geats Strongest Chemy★Great Gotcha Operation still proves to be a film of two halves - one that plays to the strengths of both shows in a fun and unique crossover scenario and another than feels more like a tick box exercise in what a Kamen Rider movie should be. Though still managing to be entertaining in its spectacle, it does this at the expense of some of its more crucial plot threads. Overall a fun little outing for both casts, and includes a good dog friend to boot. Sometimes that's all you really need.

1 comment:

Oar said...

I actually found myself liking Hotaro in this movie more than I have in the show lately. He's often such an upstanding kid who believes the best in everyone that it comes off a little generic, so him being a bit immature with his jealous streak towards Ace (sort of like he had with Spanner waaaay early on), while still being a hero when the Chemies were in trouble makes me all-around more likable to me.

Also something really inherently funny yet sweet about Neon feeling empathy towards a giant cartoon plane.

Not the greatest movie but I enjoyed it a lot more than the Geats X Revice one.