20th Century Boys 3: Redemption (2009)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (2.5/5)
May 21, 2010 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Feeling in the mood to watch some Japanese cinema in... well the cinemas, I attended the US DVD debut screening for Yukihiko Tsutsumi's final entry in the 20th Century Boys series. The total attendance, me and my girlfriend included, was scarcely even 20 people, as the theater was quite dead although we were impressed by someone who drove all the way from Seattle to San Francisco to attend. Circumstances aside, how does this film stack up? Not too well. It's not a bad movie, but is so tepid and loaded with problems at the character and story level that it could hardly be considered good cinema either.

In terms of plot, the film picks up two years after the events of 20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope (2009) following a virus secretly released by "Friend" that kills billions of people world wide. With the Earth in ruins, "Friend" is elected to the highest office as he constructs a new Tokyo and creates a Global Defense Army. Bored with his success, "Friend" plans to just destroy mankind via an even deadlier virus and an even more powerful bomb hidden in a giant robot. Kenji Endo, having survived the original blast on "Bloody New Years", emerges as he and his growing following of supporters attempt to stop the plan from succeeding.

The story concludes the overall theme of the trilogy, and also finally reveals the identity of "Friend" during the climax. The plot itself, though, is a little hard to review from a critical standpoint. Much like the other two movies, its not quite serious enough to be taken seriously, yet at the same time fails as a parody or at humor in general. Some films walk this fine line effectively, being slightly odd but work as a serious drama. Redemption does not, being too silly for its own good while lacking a sense of fun or popcorn level entertainment needed for its approach to work. The story does a lot of homage to Japanese entertainment, from name dropping Godzilla to featuring uniforms straight out of Ultraman (1967), but not to a degree to even give it a pass there from genre fans.

The true weakness of this film, though, are the characters. Simply put, there are too many of them. This was a problem with 20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope (2009), but is even worse here as the cast balloons from featuring almost everyone from the previous two films who didn't die (or miraculously survived from previously assumed deaths). Some films can pull off a huge cast, with a perfect example being the Lord of the Rings series that builds to a climax as it goes on, but this one fails miserably at it. To be fair, there are efforts to develop the characters, mostly Kenji, Kanna, and "Friend". Sadly, none of this development really resonates with the audience, although at least there is a genuine attempt done with the Kanna character but sadly she is mostly sidelined into doing a concert while the real action is going on. In the end, its hard to care about any of the cast.

The larger problem with the characters, though, is simply that there are so many that it gets hard to keep track of them. Clearly the filmmakers became aware of this problem as well, because there is a ton of recap footage to help jog the audience's memory as to who a character is, to the point where it becomes a little ludicrous. The best example of this is Number 13. Frankly speaking, this character never should have been brought back, being an assassin in the previous movie that was hardly seen. Yet he returns here, and Otcho seems well familiar with him while the audience does not. He then vanishes after being reintroduced, only to pull an all too cliché kamikaze run toward the end. Pointless, and he is just one of many characters that could have easily been cut from this film to help develop others and keep the audience focused on the characters they truly should be paying attention to. Speaking of, the final arc for the Yoshitsune character here is just horrible. Stop reading now if you want to avoid spoilers... stopped? Good, anyway the character is set up as a red herring for the true identity of "Friend". Out of the blue, the character starts sympathizing with "Friend" and starts acting strange, awkwardly vanishing to arouse audience suspicion after another character muses that it might be him. Its extremely out of character from what we know of him so far, and crazy that he would suddenly start to sympathize with him as he does. Even worse is that the audience more or less knows its not him because we see the back of "Friend" without his mask at the start of the movie and he has different hair than Yoshitsune. So its pointless on top of being poorly written.

Okay, so the character aspect is done poorly, but oddly enough the acting itself manages to be decent despite this. There are a couple of bad moments, in particular from "Friend" dissenters who suddenly turn on their ruler with over dramatic and frankly hammy acting. The main cast is mostly solid in what they have to work with, aside from Kenji's embarrassing "crying for three days" scene. Airi Taira, who plays Kanna, deserves particular praise as she really tries to give some emotional depth to her character... but sadly the writing fails to back that performance up.

So the film does a lot wrong, but what does it do right? Well two things, the first of which is the musical score by Ryomei Shirai. Shirai's work here is fairly commendable, giving energy to some scenes and overall heightening the mood. The theme for "Friend", which would likely make for a horrible stand alone experience due to its shrill nature, is fairly unnerving when it plays as the character is on screen.

The other positive aspect of the production are the amazing special effects. Suffice to say, this is probably one of the best looking Toho movies to date. The new Tokyo is jaw dropping, as are the sweeping shots across the landscape. The robot, whose impressive city destruction scenes are sure to please kaiju fans, along with the UFOs are also superb. Granted, there are a few uneven shots in the movie, but they are few and far between and mostly this film could pass for a bigger budgeted Hollywood production from a special effects standpoint.

Overall, science fiction fans might enjoy elements of this film, but as a whole package its lackluster. The movie does bring special effects to a level that they can compare with the international market, but the writing fails to the point where it's impossible to see the movie competing on that same level. So genre fans might enjoy it, but at best the film does little to warrant watching it more than once.