Attack on Titan live action movie review (parts 1 and 2)

Directed by Shinji Higuchi
Starring Haruma Miura, Kiko Mizuhara, Kanata Hongo, Satomi Ishihara, Nanami Sakuraba, Takahiro Miura, Hiroki Hasegawa, Ayame Misaki, Pierre Taki, Jun Kunimura.

attack-on-titan-live-action-movie-poster

SYNOPSIS: Since the appearance of man-eating giants known as Titans more than 100 years ago, humanity has enclosed itself within the confines of three concentric walls, and a ban on all innovation is strictly enforced. When the Outer Wall is destroyed by a Titan larger than any ever seen before, the farmlands within (as well as countless lives) are lost to the mindless and indestructible Titans. Eren, a survivor of the attack, enlists in the army regiment tasked with re-claiming the fallen wall. Within him may lie humanity’s last hope for survival.

attack-on-titan-2

Based on the hugely successful animated series of the same title, Attack on Titan presents a new take on the story of Eren, Armin, and Mikasa. In fact, it is so new, that the story is hardly recognisable. Key elements remain, such as the first names of the central characters, the symbols of the army regiments, the omni-directional maneuver gear, and the existence of Titans and the Walls–but everything else, and I mean literally everything, is completely scrapped in favour of an entirely new story.

Part 1 follows the core trio as their lives are forever changed on the day their town is invaded by the giant human-eating monsters they once thought to be pure myth. Eren (Haruma Miura) and Armin (Kanata Hongo) join the army to avenge their town and the lands humanity forfeited when they retreated inside the Middle Wall. Their regiment is sent on a mission to plug the hole left in the Outer Wall and reclaim the farmlands. In the ensuing battles, it becomes clear that Eren hides a dangerous secret, one that could either be humanity’s salvation, or their destruction.

In Part 2, Eren faces the mistrust of his comrades and tries to persuade them that his power can be harnessed to lead humanity to safety forever. A considerable chunk of the film is spent trying to piece together a coherent new story, culminating in the revelation of the Titans’ true nature, and a great battle for the reclamation of Eren’s hometown. The story turns into a conventional dystopia at one point, but it’s all but forgotten as we approach the end.

There is a short post-credit sequence which may or may not be an implication of a sequel. I, for one, certainly hope they leave it alone. Three hours of this is agony enough.

There are many reasons a film adaptation will, and sometimes may have to, be different from its serialised counterpart. Shortage of time, for one, as well as feasibility of replicating difficult visuals which a manga or anime would have more freedom over, make viable and understandable reasons. Yet the VFX on Attack on Titan are nearly flawless, aided in part by the shift to a more modern setting that makes use of abandoned buildings and rubble easier to replicate than the classical, more European architecture seen in the anime. So that’s out. And the first half, Part 1, presented as a stand-alone film in many cinemas UK-wide, feels overly long in setting up an entirely new, pointlessly changed story. The two films together last about three hundred hours. So brevity is also out.

Yet someone, somewhere in a Japanese studio, thought this was a good idea, and then a lot of money was spent on creating this new vision, which not only adds nothing to what should have been a politically-charged, intrigue-filled story, but it simplifies and then overcomplicates it to a baffling degree, leaving behind a hot mess which cannot be explained.

While the Attack on Titan series is special because the stereotypes often found in Japanese animation are ingeniously subverted, the films take the exact opposite approach and reduce each of the main characters to one or two classic anime tropes. You’ve got the Shouty Main Character, the Aloof And Badass Female Character who is also a Love Interest to the main guy, the Supportive Sidekick, the Token Rival, the Flashy Prodigy who’s Too Cool For School. Been there, seen that—and no one gets to grow, change, or learn much from the events that transpire. They begin and end as one-dimensional caricatures, shadows of characters who might’ve at one point had personalities and flaws that made them real and likeable, that made the viewer care about whether they lived or died.

It’s interesting to see the modern-day twist on the setting; it actually works well, changing little of what was essential to the plot, and bringing the action forward to something we could see happening in the real world. Yet it becomes the background for some pretty OTT cliché moments, dripping with stereotypical Japanese sentimentalism and hilariously bad acting, the effect of which was an entire audience in a packed out screen laughing uproariously despite the apparent drama.

An extra layer of disappointment is found in the performance of Haruma Miura, whose Eren is a bumbling, screaming mess of twitchy facial expressions and flailing limbs. Miura’s acting chops have been proven time and again in numerous TV dramas and films, notably in his breakout role as the delinquent Hiro in the drama-romance Koizora, or as hacker prodigy Fujimaru Takagi in cyber-terror thriller Bloody Monday; it’s not like he can’t do this. He is repeatedly upstaged by the hilarious Satomi Ishihara as Hange, who is conspicuously the only character to be lifted straight out of the source material as the excitable and research-obsessed lieutenant of Eren’s squad.

But I digress. For the non-fans and those looking for a verdict, here’s the gist of it: the two films, which last over 3 hours put together, offer plenty of OTT Japanese fantasy-action, featuring giants fighting other giants set to hardcore heavy metal music, with a strong dose of conventional scifi/dystopia, occasional sentimental overtones, and cliché moments which will definitely serve to amuse. Best-watched if you’re not seriously looking for a good film, or better yet, with a group of friends and a good drinking game.

…which is really depressing, because the story upon which these films are based is actually, genuinely good. Watch the series if the concept sounds appealing to you. It’s no accident that it’s one of the most popular shows in recent years.

For those not afraid of spoilers, read on to find out exactly what went wrong.

FUNimation Entertainment Attack on Titan

And on that day, SNK fans received a grim reminder…

Alright, if you’re here then you’re one of us—you know the source material, you’re curious to find out what they changed and why it doesn’t work. SPOILERS AHEAD, obviously.

Buckle down guys, because it ain’t pretty. Let’s start with the characters:

  • None of the main characters have surnames. Eren isn’t Eren Jaeger, he’s just Eren. Same with Mikasa, Armin, Sasha, Jean, Hange. It’s likely that the filmmakers thought the names were too complicated and Western for the films’ adjusted Japanese setting, but even so, not cool.
  • Eren has no parents. From the get go, they’ve been dead “since before he could remember”.
  • Armin’s motivation to see the outside world is given to Eren, who has a long monologue about this life not being enough for him and wanting to see the sea, just before the first attack begins.
  • This leaves Armin with nothing really, apart from being a Generic Sidekick. His main trait of being self-reliant and determined is taken away too, and his superior intelligence is transferred from strategy and academics to engineering small time-keeping devices, which in the end don’t even work. Another example of the wasted potential of a very skilled young actor, Kanata Hongo, who has been in the business for at least a decade.
  • Mikasa starts off as a carefree and shy sidekick, and an obvious love interest to Eren. She takes the role of Eren’s mother as The One Who Gets Eaten, which makes Eren lose his shit and join the army while torturing himself with guilt because he left her out there to die while he got shelter.
  • She later on resurfaces as a Cool Badass Chick who inexplicably survived being eaten by a Titan, and is now super adept at killing them because she hates them fiercely. She doesn’t seem to care about Eren or Armin at all, refusing to even talk to them for absolute ages.
  • Levi’s been replaced with a flashy Cool Guy (Shikishima, one of very few people in the film with a surname), a Titan-slaying prodigy who enjoys showing off. He is implied to be Mikasa’s lover, and also possibly Eren’s older brother—the latter is never really resolved but an older brother is mentioned twice in Part 2, once in the context of Eren’s father experimenting on his children. This guy turns out to be the Armoured Titan, and ultimately a villain. (More on that in a sec.)
  • There is, of course, no Irwin either.
  • The roles of Colossal Titan and Armoured Titan are passed on to newly created characters, which completely changes the context and reasons for the attacks. All the Abnormal Titans, including the Shifters who infiltrate the Survey Corps, simply do not exist in the context of the films.
  • Sasha is implied to be a love interest for Armin, though she also seems to admire Mikasa quite a lot.

Next, the background:

  • The different orders of the army are never mentioned by name, though we do see individuals with the insignia on their jackets. Still, their roles are never differentiated, and it feels like the symbols are just there to retain whatever flimsy connection these films have with the source material.
  • Initially conceived as genetic experiments, Titans were created by scientists who sought to pursue alternative methods of warfare. Then something “went terribly wrong”, and Titans began appearing all over the world, in random and uncontrollable bursts. In trying to destroy them with conventional weapons, humanity destroyed itself. All research and innovation is banned as the source of all conflict, and a new regime rose to power which keeps all citizens firmly under governmental control, including things like residence, marriage, and childbirth rates.
  • The attack on “Monzen”, Eren’s hometown on the edge of the “Outer Wall” (at this point they can’t even be bothered to keep the original names) is a deliberate attack organised by the government to keep the civilians within the regime’s control.
  • The Survey Corps does not, strictly speaking, exist. The attack on Monzen was meant to kill those few who planned to venture outside the wall in search of lands outside the government’s strict controls, but they resurface in Part 2 as rebels who plan to dismantle the status quo with sheer firepower—and Titans. The rebels even wear different colour “wings of freedom” – sporting red and white instead of blue and white. (Subtle.)
  • Shikishima’s plan is to allow the Titans to enter the Inner Wall and devour the Elite–though it doesn’t seem to occur to him that they’ll also devour everyone else. He explains it all to Eren using a montage of news footage played on an Apple TV, in a room full of “relics” (like an ominous jukebox) which the government has kept as a reminder of the dangers of technology. Go figure.
It should be noted here that none of these changes seem to make any improvement on the original story. They may have been intended as a simplification of what is quite a detailed and perhaps convoluted sum of storylines, but the effect is in fact the exact opposite, with the added bonus of getting exactly none of the characters right. Good job, team. Think I’ll go re-watch the show now…
Got any ideas for a drinking game? Thoughts on the new adaptation? Let me know your thoughts in the comments – but leave a spoiler warning if you are discussing events included in the second part of the review. Thanks!

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