Comic book sequels going darker isn’t exactly what you’d call a revolutionary thing but if any movie needed an adjustment of tone it was 1991 anime adaptation The Guyver. Essentially a martial arts monster mash aimed at the Ninja Turtles crowd, the movie oddly contained a suprisingly violent streak that wasn’t afraid to have it’s title character bloodily slice and dice his way through a cast of stuntmen wearing cool, rubbery monster suits in among the goofy jokes, weird slapstick and the sight of Mark Hamill turning into a giant cockroach.
However, with the sequel that followed three years later, Guyver: Dark Hero even has a subtitle that states a more serious attempt at the story thanks to Guyver 1 co-director and special effects legend Steve Wang who directs the noticably reduced budget directly into the special effects and a shit-load of painkillers for the martial artists who are obviously hoping being encased in snarling latex will soften the blow every time they get kicked in the face.
Sean Barker, the unwilling recipient of an alien suit of bio-arnour that lives in the back of his neck, has hit some rough times. In the year since he thwarted a take-over of a villainous corporation staffed by shape-changing human/monster hybrids as the Guyver, he’s been a directionless wreck and has been filling up his nights filleting criminals as a somewhat ineffectual vigilante as his Guyver DNA is continually urging him to fight. However, taking a break from his usual past time of writhing in his sleep while coated in nightmare sweat, Sean notices a news report about an animal attack in Utah that sounds suspiciously like the work of the Zoanoids, the creatures of the vanquished Cronos Corporation and so our hero heads off to Mormon central to get some answers.
Hooking up with an archeological dig in the area and befriending head archeologist Cori Edwards, it becomes quickly obvious that the Zoanoid attacks are directly linked with the dig site which has uncovered an alien spacecraft that holds the secrets to the Guyver’s origin. After fending off an night time attack from a Zoanoid that looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger impregnated a Rhino, Sean eventually discovers that the benefactor to the dig, the seemingly benevolent Harlan Crane, is a Chronos man and has his eyes on a cracked Guyver unit found in the ship, hoping it will transform his inhuman, lizardy/fish form into an immensely powerful Guyver Zoanoid who will crush his human adversary once and for all…
If you were to take the darker tone of Guyver: Dark Hero and somehow graft it with the production values of the first film, I honestly feel that you would have a badass, low budget, sci-fi cult classic to be reckoned with. Instead, Wang has gifted us with a no-budget curiosity that contains some memorably hard hitting action that busts out some killer fight sequences that pre-date The Matrix, Blade and a lot of the ridiculously agile moves later used by Tony Jaa and Scott Adkins (he even uses that patented jump kick that misses but then catches them with the other foot that Adkins so favours..).
But before I use the rest of this review to geek out how many awesome ways the film in invents to kick a genetically modified beast in the face (a lot, it turns out) I guess I really should address the rampaging, elephant monster in the room – and that’s every moment in the movie not featuring someone kicking a genetically modified beast in the face.
While Wang can stage a fight with the best of them, he’s still too much of a novice director to avoid making all the other scenes in the film an agonising drag to wade through and a pancake-flat script certainly doesn’t help.
Also not helping matters is the cast which is comprised of the sort of actors who look like their IMDB page is littered with single episode appearances in shows you’ve never watched. With that in mind, the replacing of bland original lead, Jack Armstrong with the slightly less bland David Hayter (who went on to become a screenwriter of note with Watchman, X-Men and The Scorpion King to his credit) totally gives us a slightly less irritating lead to spend time with while we patient wait for the face kicking to commence.
And commence it does, as the film up-shifts a couple of gears once the Zoanoids show up to strut their stuff and the fight team start breaking out some impressive moves while the effects guys start preparing the fake blood. A fight in a forest sees the nimble Guyver square off against a larger opponent and then systematically (and literally) dismantling him after he gets tired of trading blows and gets down to the business of really fucking him up. You could argue that it’s totally unnecessary for our hero to break all of his opponents fingers after slashing at his midsection with his elbow blades; and it’s certainly overkill when he delivers the coup de grace of a pulped skull after he’s shot the poor bastard’s eyes out with his head lasers – but there’s something hugely satisfying about watching this Power Rangers style action end in a complete fucking blood bath.
A spirited climax involving the Guyver going one on one with a Guyvered up Zoanoid may be a bit small scale when compared to the giant monster shenanigans of the first film but the fight is fast, inventive and loaded with cool shit – the Liu Kang Mortal Kombat bicycle kick is ridiculous and sublime in equal measure – and is light years removed from the previous movie’s jokey scuffles.
So, superior action, smarter tone and a slightly less whiny lead versus a sluggish plot and uninteresting setting (Utah is hardly a mecca for blazing set pieces) brings this sequel in line with it’s predecessor and yet neither manages to gain the edge over the other but for different reasons – where one fails, the other prevails and vice versa – which makes Dark Hero an equal sequel.
Skip the clunky chat and Guyver: Dark Hero is a cracking sci-fi over achiever that can spin-kick with the best of them.
Shame someone couldn’t have bio-boosted the budget though…