Review: Gantz I & II (2010 & 2011)

Gantz started life as a manga by Hiroya Oku in 2000, then it morphed into an anime series in 2006.  Finally, it became a series of two live action films, the first of which debuted in 2010.  I’ve never read the books or seen the series, so this review is just of the movies themselves, not a comparison to the other versions.  I’m sure there are many differences, but I wanted to evaluate the movies on their own terms.

While these are two separate films, they really tell one story so I felt it was fitting to review them together.  Unfortunately, my reactions to the two films couldn’t have been more different.

Gantz I is a fun combination of The Matrix, Cube, and any number of kaiju (giant monster) and superhero movies.  What makes it work for me is its sense of humor and its self-awareness of the video game nature of its primary plot line.

The first movie introduces us to the world of Gantz through two childhood friends, Kei and Masaru.  They encounter one another as young adults in a subway station and end up getting hit by a train.  When they awaken, they’re in a sparse apartment containing only a giant black sphere and a group of equally addled people.  They soon learn that they’re now expected to find and kill aliens who are targeted by the big sphere.  It doles out commands by projecting words and 8-bit images on it’s surface before it opens to reveal high-tech weaponry and safety gear for the combatants.  Much like in a video game, their combat is scored and if they reach a certain number of points they’re allowed to resume their old lives or resurrect a doomed teammate.

It sounds somewhat antiseptic, but it’s not.  Like I said, there’s a lot of humor in the presentation and that helps gloss over the plot holes.  And, oh, are there plot holes.  The guns the team is given fire when the triggers are pulled, but their ordinance doesn’t impact the target for a good 3-5 seconds.  That provides some tension and an interesting sense of timing if the shots are to be effective, but apparently even that delay wasn’t enough for director Kenichi Matsuyama.  For some inane reason, the team doesn’t shoot their targets when they obviously should.  Maybe they’re freaked out or maybe the plot requires it, but whatever the reason, it becomes very frustrating to watch.  For most people, the experience of watching a movie includes a good bit of “what would I do?” thinking.  In this case, what I would do is scream at the screen.  “SHOOT!”

That’s not to say the movie is bad.  It isn’t.  It’s extremely entertaining.  In fact, I’d say it’s among the best superhero films out there.  The plot is inventive, the visuals are super cool, and Daimajin Kanon hottie, Natsuna, looks pretty great in black latex.  There’s also some good fight scenes including one with a multi-armed Buddhist statue.  All in all, it’s a fun popcorn movie with just enough gore and Japanese weirdness to break it out of the Hollywood mold.  Sadly, the second movie doesn’t enhance the experience one iota.

Gantz II is a bloated mess that doesn’t answer any of the questions that are presented by Gantz I.  All we get is more of the same action but without the sense of discovery that’s present in the first film.  A throwaway character from G1 becomes the female lead out of the blue and we’re off on a journey that’s extremely similar too that of the first movie, only with less variety.  The only real standout is the train battle in much the same way that the second Matrix movie has its freeway chase.

It’s as if the Japanese followed the Hollywood model too precisely, creating a soulless sequel that cashes in without paying off.  I expect that a lot of the problems stem from the original story as told in the manga and series, but at a certain point the filmmakers have to make their own choices in order to make a film that will work.  This one doesn’t and it’s shocking when you consider that it was made by the very same people who made the first one.

I’m considering taking a look at the anime series.  I’ve read that it’s slow as molasses but that’s not always a bad thing.  As to the films, I recommend you take a look at Gantz I and stop there.

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