Hard to think that this project started as Godzilla 2, an entry in a contest to see who would pen the screenplay for the 1989 Godzilla film. Submitted by James Bannon, the concept went through an almost total overhaul, nixing Godzilla while changing to a futuristic, cyberpunk-like adventure involving a supercomputer and giant mechs. Unfortunately, the end product is a jumbled mess of lost potential. Gunhed proves to be inadequate in a number of fields including a nonsensical script, astonishingly poor character development, acting which is mediocre at best, and jarring editing techniques; however, the film does feature impressive special effects work by Koichi Kawakita, excellent sets by Kazo Suzuki and an interesting (if not repetitive) score by Toshiyuki Honda.

In the film’s defense, the plot of Gunhed is interesting in concept. The year is 2025; a super computer called Kryon 5, located on island 8J0, has claimed war on the world after considering humans to be obsolete. The World Federation send a battalion of Gunheds to 8J0 in an attempt to stop Kryon 5, but are destroyed by the island’s defenses, which include the giant mech Aerobot. Thirteen years later, a group of mercenaries aboard the Mary Ann stumble upon the island while looking for computer chips, which are now worth more than gold. After most of the mercenaries are quickly killed, the group encounters Nim, who was part of a previously failed raid on the island by the Texas Air Rangers. She reluctantly accompanies the group, although her goal is to secure a stolen energy source instead. After even more deaths, the surviving pair of mercenary Brooklyn and Nim stumble across two kids (Seven and Eleven) who have been living on the island. The new goal becomes to escape the island with the energy source through the help of Gunhed, before Kyron 5 wipes out the remaining survivors and enacts a doomsday-like protocol.

Unfortunately, the concept above is muddled in the actual film by the numerous plot holes and unexplained elements present in the script. The foremost of these are events surrounding the Biodroid, one of Kyron 5’s robotic creatures, and the child Eleven. The Biodroid follows an almost stereotypical ‘B’ movie monster role in the film: alarmingly efficient at killing supporting characters (mostly off screen) and annoyingly incompetent when it comes to handling the leads. The most annoying aspect of the character, though, is its involvement with the mercenary named Bebe. After Bebe falls in an unknown substance, the two somehow merge, despite being nowhere near each other during this incident. This changes the appearance of the Biodroid, although that’s hard to tell since audiences don’t get a good look until after merging, and places Bebe in a virtual-like world inside the robot. However, what really makes this whole idea just ludicrous is that Bebe is able fire her weapons from what appears to be inside the Biodroid, which causes the creature harm and eventually becomes its downfall.

Movie Review: Gunhed

Despite the inadequacies of the Biodroid, Eleven, one of the child protagonists, presents an even more overwhelming number of unanswered questions. Going by her introduction by Seven, the audience is lead to believe that she lacks the ability to talk; however, this is proven false by the film’s ending, as after Kyron 5 is destroyed Eleven starts talking with the leads like it was nothing. This leads the audience to believe that Kyron 5 was somehow responsible for her muted speech, but this is never elaborated or even questioned by the characters. Eleven also displays an abnormal resistance to being fired upon by Kyron 5’s defenses, making one assume that there is a lot more to this character than meets the eye, but, again, none of this is addressed in the movie. Eleven’s most confusing scene, though, occurs near the film’s climax in which she is discovered by Seven and Nim, almost choking with a odd glowing light emerging from her throat while Seven comments about how she shouldn’t have sneaked up on him. At this point the viewer almost wants to scream at the movie for an explanation, but is once again denied as this dilemma goes unexplained yet is somehow resolved with the destruction of Kyron 5.

A poor script might be easier to overlook if at least the characters found in the film were interesting, but that is far from the case with Gunhed. The worst offense the movie makes, in fact, is wasting a refreshingly diverse cast, at least for a Japanese production. In the film’s opening, the viewer is briefly introduced to the rugged crew of the Mary Ann. I hope the viewer wasn’t paying too much attention, though, as all of them, minus Brooklyn, are soon to be killed before the film even hits the 20 minute mark. While quickly killing off the characters does prove the strength of the Biodroid, which as mentioned will be wasted when it fails to even seem intimidating when facing the leads, it doesn’t mean anything to the viewer. The audience learns nothing about these characters and hardly became attached to them during the film’s opening, so their deaths are meaningless. What should have been a brutal introduction to island 8J0 ends up being an unmemorable detail. Ok, so at least with the cast of characters trimmed down the film can more easily develop the remaining Brooklyn and Nim… right? Unfortunately, this is not the case. We learn nothing about Nim other than she is a Texas Air Ranger, and seems to enjoy scrutinizing Brooklyn’s ideas. Brooklyn we learn is a mechanic, and a damn good one it would seem if he could repair a giant dismantled Gunhed in several hours. He also seems to have a fear of being in the driver’s seat of anything, a problem which he overcomes when he pilots Gunhed. I’m sure that this fear was well justified in the head of the writers. A shame, though, that they never let the viewer in on this justification, as it just comes across as whiney in the film.

Movie Review: Gunhed

To make matters worse, the acting doesn’t help to establish anyone in the film as likeable. Even the usually charismatic Masahiro Takashima, who to be fair is only a mediocre actor, fails to achieve even this because of the bossiness’ of his character. Brenda Bakke is intimidating at times as Sergeant Nim, but her acting in the film leaves a lot to be desired. In her defense, this might have been because of the language barrier between her and the crew, like other American actors before her in Toho films she spoke her lines in English. The two children, Seven and Eleven (oh thank heaven that joke was never elaborated on, pun intended), are none too memorable either. Furthermore, the director seems to have thought that it might have been cute if the two kids act out, like pretend they are pulling a rope when telling Gunhed to move, what they are saying. Part of that could also be to just give them more screen time, though, as it’s worth noting that Seven is played by Yujin Harada, the director’s son.

To top it all off, to add insult to injury, the film also displays poor editing by Yoshitami Kuroiwa, whose faults on the production are many. For starters, the fight with Bebe and Bombay vs. the Biodroid becomes impossible to follow as the movie cuts to scenes of the two mercenaries, who appear to be shooting at nothing, and inter-splices these with scenes of the Sound Activated Mine, leaving the audience confused by the time Bombay is killed as opposed to satisfied by the battle. Kuroiwa also allows the rebuilding of the Gunhed scene to drag, and one can only assume that his justification was to try and make it seem like Gunhed was repaired in far more time than actually passes in the film. Editing choices are also sometimes very confusing, with an isolated but notable example being when he makes a dramatic cut away from the mercenaries… only to cut back to them from a different angle. It’s jarring, and feels like if someone was editing for the first time and didn’t realize that this would confuse audiences, as these techniques are often reserved for changing to a different scene or at least to a later point in time. His last offense is a consistent one in the film, as Kuroiwa felt like undercutting the efforts of the special effects crew by including cheesy transitions, such as a “digitizing” fade and “opening slide” style scene changes, to cheapen the production.

In sharp contrast, special effects director Kawakita is at the top of his game here in Gunhed. Arguably a highlight of his career, Kawakita is given the rare opportunity to develop life-size models of the two fictional mechs in the story: Gunhed and the Aerobot. These models, like the mechs themselves, are huge in terms of scale, and allow for some very impressive scenes featuring them. What makes the special effects cohesive, though, is the even more impressive sets decorated by Suzuki. Having to craft numerous sets for the backdrop of the large futuristic island, Suzuki remains consistent in terms of attention to detail, allowing for each to be credible. His most impressive work in the film, when combined with the special effects of Kawakita, would be the gun sentry littered oil field that Gunhed must pass through.

Movie Review: Gunhed

In terms of the soundtrack, Honda’s more contemporary score for Gunhed, which now sounds rather dated, is pleasant to listen to in context with the film. It’s unfortunate though, that no moderation in terms of its use was made in the film, as the main theme is shamefully overused at every possible given moment, causing it to lose all impact once the closure of the film nears.

Overall, the premise has promise while the special effects can be truly impressive, even today. Despite glimmers of hope, though, nothing more can be said other than that Gunhed is a bad film that suffocates its large potential with a plot hole ridden script and a large cast of poorly developed characters.

1 Stars