The fine visual quality of "Vexille" isn't enough to make up for a lack of originality and depth.
Stylish ‘Vexille’ is stunningly bad
Consider, for a moment, the summer movie season. It's the time when all the film studios roll out their biggest, flashiest material -- stuff that might not enter the conversation for the Academy Awards, but by golly, it looks great on the big screen. Everyone goes home happy, and it'll probably be a nice showcase for the surround-sound home theater system and big-screen high-definition television when it arrives later on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Screens 8:45 p.m. today and 9 p.m. tomorrow
"Vexille" matches the definition of a summer blockbuster film quite nicely. It's a nice way to turn off the ol' brain and spend close to two hours at the theater while eating popcorn and other assorted refreshments. Originality and depth -- well, that's another matter entirely.
What's apparent about "Vexille" right off the bat is that it's pretty. The lessons that director Fumihiko Sori and writer Haruka Handa learned with "Appleseed," the 2004 CGI feature that used the same animation technique used here, are applied with great visual effect. It gives off a sense of hyper-realism, like the characters and environments could exist in the real world if not for their distinctly anime-esque features.
But as anyone who watched either of the "Final Fantasy" films -- the theatrical feature "Spirits Within" and the direct-to-DVD "Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children" -- can testify, style means nothing when there's not enough substance to back it up.
The setup is certainly intriguing. It is the year 2077, and Japan has been throwing a virtual hissy fit for 10 years after the biotechnology and robotics advances that its scientists developed were rejected by the United Nations as too dangerous. In response, the nation cut off all communications and built an electromagnetic shield that prevented anyone from seeing what was going on there.
Now that mega-corporation Daiwa has started shipping robots to the rest of the world, though, the United States senses an opportunity to sneak in its special-force team SWORD on a reconnaissance mission. SWORD is led by commander Leon. Vexille is the gritty female co-leader. And everyone else is pretty much window dressing for the inevitable ambush and subsequent annihilation by Daiwa's forces when they enter Japan.
Indeed, the SWORD setup reveals the film's fundamental flaw: It seems like the creative team picked up "Mad Libs: Summer Blockbuster Action Movie Edition" and filled in the blanks of a skeletal plot with every action-movie clich known to man. One could almost imagine the bullet points popping up on the screen in large type like in the movie trailers of old:
» SEE the elite SWORD team kicking butt and taking names as explosions go off, gunfire rains everywhere and surrounding items shatter in slow motion to showcase the pretty animation!
» WITNESS how the blind reliance on technology has doomed mankind and turned Japan into a post-apocalyptic wasteland!
» SYMPATHIZE as the brooding commander responsible for SWORD grows more and more concerned as he sits in his war room with giant monitors and underlings typing away at computer terminals!
» THRILL as Vexille and her would-be rescuers run through the street by guys in black suits and dark glasses!
» REJOICE as a ragtag bunch prepares to launch an assault to stick it to the big, bad, corrupt corporate behemoth!
» CRY as one of the members of said resistance movement dies and the movement halts what was supposed to be urgent preparation work for the rebellion for a touching memorial!
By the time the obligatory egomaniacal scientist proclaimed himself "AS A GOD!" your humble reviewer could no longer contain himself and burst out laughing. (Thank goodness for advance screener copies that can be watched in the comfort of home.)
It's become a clich to talk about action movies as "a nonstop thrill ride from start to finish." Yet there's no better way to describe a film that is, in and of itself, a giant clich ... albeit a really pretty animated one.
Hawaii International Film Festival 11th Annual Spring Showcase
» On screen: Continues through tomorrow
» Place: Dole Cannery multiplex
» Tickets: $10; $9 military, students and seniors
» Call: 550-8457 or visit hiff.org