Ok peeps, here’s the deal. Up until recently, I was still neck-deep in what any university student past or present will understand as “crunch time”, that magical, sanity-reducing time at the end of every semester when social lives and free time are distant dreams. As such, I’ve had little time to go out and watch something new, current or thought provoking for me to make off-color jokes about this week.
So what’s gonna happen is, I’m gonna review the incredibly nerdy Japanese superhero movie I watched to unwind last night after a night trapped in the library. I’ll do my best to keep y’all in the loop, but if and when I start using nonsense words and referring to characters you’ve never heard of, just assume it all means something or that I’ve gone completely and utterly mad. The reality is probably a combination of the two.
For the better part of half a century, the wonderful, often perplexing world of Japanese TV superheroes have been dominated by two franchises, reigning above all others in their ability to captivate audiences, put actors in increasingly elaborate spandex jump suits and sell toys to children. The first (and my personal favorite) is the Kamen Rider series, a legacy of men and occasional women transforming into motorcycle riding, karate kicking armored bug-men to protect the smiles of the people. One time one of them fought a starfish/Adolf Hitler monster, because hey it’s Japan why the fuck not?
The rival of the Kamen Riders for the wallets of impressionable youths is the Super Sentai series, which is…well, long story short it’s the show Power Rangers was technically a bastardization of. Buncha guys and gals in colored spandex fighting monsters, sometimes with the help of giant robots that you can buy a reproduction of for 9.99$, ask your parents now. But Japanese and sometimes a little weirder.
But aside from the occasional cross-over, these two giants of “Marketertainment” never met up….until now. Last year, the two franchises met up in an event that dominated the Japanese box office. And thanks to committed fan-based subtitling groups, us nerds here on North America can enjoy it to. Or, if you’re like me, be a tad let down by it.
The film opens with Captain Marvelous (yes that’s really his real name, it’s Japan) and leader of the Pirate-themed Sentai Gokaiger, and Tsukasa Kadoya, aka the dimension-hopping Kamen Rider Decade each having declared war against the Kamen Riders and Super Sentai respectively. Marvelous is now leading Dai-Zangyak, an organization made up of the resurrected greatest villains of Sentai history. Tsukasa, meanwhile has returned to his position as leader of Dai-Shocker, a collective of also suddenly not dead Kamen Rider villains. Each are howling for the blood of their rival franchise, with an army of rubber-suit monsters behind them.
If you watched the shows these respective characters starred in (which I did) you may be having one of two reactions. First you may be scratching your head in puzzlement, wondering what could have brought on such a change. Sure, Tsukasa’s turned to evil before, but Marvelous? Why would he team up with Zangyak? But if you’re like me, you’ll be crying bullshit on the whole thing from the word go and having big angry nerd-rants. Marvelous is teaming up with Zangyak? His sworn enemies? The guys who caused so much pain and hardship for him and his team? Is he eating babies in his spare time too? And speaking of which, where are the other Gokaigers? Oh, they’re hanging around feeling as confused and betrayed as we are? Well….that honestly makes sense!
And a lot of the plot of the movie is really just that, the supporting characters from various shows hanging around going “What the flying holy fuck is going on?!?” and unless this is Dark City, driving a movie with confusion just generally isn’t going to work, especially when it comes flavored with a healthy dose of character betrayal.
Does it all get wrapped up? Well, yes. Are the reasons for Marvelous and Tsukasa’s insane/asshole-ish behavior explained? You betcha. Is the explanation total nonsensical bullshit that’ll make you want to throw something at the screen? Ask the remote lodged in my television. Suffice to say it makes so little sense that one previously good character goes completely insane and hauls off in a giant robot from the sense of betrayal and confusion. See that, movie? Your own plot makes so little sense that it drove one of your characters insane. Good job.
So the plot is a big gloopy mess of out-of-character and moon-logic, but when we do finally get the big fight where every Kamen Rider and Super Sentai EVER team up (which isn’t a surprise, it was given away in the damn trailer) it is admittedly pretty damn cool if you’re into watching people in funny costumes throwing bad special effects at each other yelling “hai!”. We do also get a fair bit of the ol’ fanwank, with stuff like a magical team-up between the Magirangers and Kamen Rider Hibiki (though honestly Wizard would have made more sense. I know his series hadn’t started yet but he couldn’t have popped in for a cameo?) or the Goseigers, who use trading cards to activate their abilities (Japan!) lending out cards to the similarly card-based Riders Blade, Decade and Ryuki. Cameos from various old KR/Sentai actors are also bountiful, though more often than not they come in the form of voices only.
But at the same time, something feels off. For a big crazy brew-haha of spandex and special effects, things don’t feel as “epic” as they should, and that’s really the second of the film’s major flaws: it doesn’t feel like a movie. What this feels like is a two-hour tv show episode with maybe some more effects and crane shots. It doesn’t feel cinematic, it doesn’t feel -bigger-. Remember Ultra Galaxy Legend, the big Ultraman teamup movie from a few years ago? Remember how kinetic and fluidly filmed the action scenes were? Remember the scale, the scope of the big action set-pieces? I know there are traditions to uphold, but does every Super Sentai/Kamen Rider battle just have to be a buncha guys in a rock quarry?
End of the day, while Kamen Rider x Super Sentai: Super Hero Taisen does have some very cool fight scenes, cameos, and neat moments, it’s bogged down by a terrible story and overly TV-ish direction. Hardcore fans of this kinda weirdness will want to check it out, but don’t get your hopes up.