Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
(Japanese with English subtitles)
Directed by: Shinji Higuchi
Written by: Yusuke Watanabe & Tomohiro Machiyama
(based on the manga ATTACK ON TITAN by Hajime Isayama)
Starring: Haruma Miura, Kiko Mizuhara, Kanata Hongo, Hiroki Hasegawa, Takahiro Miura & Nanami Sakuraba
It should be stated right out of the gate that I’m not exactly a fan of ATTACK ON TITAN. It’s not that I have anything against the source material, but I’ve just never gotten around to watching the anime or reading the graphic novels. When it was announced that a live-action adaptation of this manga was being produced, visions of DEATH NOTE danced through my head. I hoped that the film would eventually receive a good distribution deal in the US, because the premise sounded pretty awesome and original. Just over a month ago, it was announced that ATTACK ON TITAN had been split into two parts (sort like the first two DEATH NOTE movies) and was hitting select theaters on a handful of days. I scrambled to get tickets for both installments and waited. I finally ventured to the lone showing of the first film and found myself sitting in the middle of an auditorium full of people who were clearly hardcore fans of this material, while I was a mere noob. This fan-based atmosphere probably helped me enjoy the film more than I would have under different circumstances.
The story begins in a post-apocalyptic future. Legends tell of giant man-eating creatures called Titans who, with the help of nukes, led to the ruin of civilization. In an effort to stay alive, a group of survivors built a series of gigantic walls to keep Titans out of the last remaining city. This system worked for a century, but Titans have now returned to devour poor unsuspecting citizens. Eren is a young rebel in an army of makeshift warriors assigned to rebuild the walls and kill Titans. Our hero soon finds himself venturing into a hellscape populated by bloodthirsty giants and darker secrets at work involving a possible revolution, a lost face from the past, and the secret origin of Titans (who lack sexual organs, which makes one wonder how they reproduce).
One of the first qualities to immediately stick out in ATTACK ON TITAN: Part 1 are the visuals. Seeing as this is a Japanese blockbuster (as opposed to a 200 million budgeted Hollywood flick), I wasn’t exactly expecting top-notch effects or masterful cinematography. There are parts of the film that look stunning and I appreciated the apocalyptic atmosphere that this movie brought to life. The crumbling buildings and smoke-laden landscapes add to the bleak world of the story. The Titans are far more of a mixed bag. Using Playstation 2 level CGI and random fat people, these monsters range from somewhat freaky-looking to unintentionally hilarious. The latter of which definitely come in an all-CGI colossal Titan and a prosthetic-looking monstrosity during the last act. The Syfy quality effects were getting big guffaws from people sitting around me and I found myself enjoying the film on a sheer ridiculous factor. In a not so positive way, I was reminded of the mind-boggling experience of watching 2007’s DRAGON WARS on a big screen. ATTACK ON TITAN: Part 1 is better than that film, but I can admit that it’s not exactly good.
There are cool sequences in ATTACK ON TITAN, mainly involving characters zipping around on grapple-line devices to kill titans, but also a lot of forced exposition as well. The many scenes of set-up might not have come off as dull if the characters weren’t bland. Eren is your stereotypical rebel in a post-apocalyptic world. In other words, he’s nothing special. You’ve seen this character before in Katniss or Tris or any number of young adult sci-fi material as of late. Even though these characters are wooden, their deaths are definitely fun to watch. I was surprised at how gory this film really was. We see people being bitten in half, ripped apart, and crushed into buildings. It’s all very silly-looking, but cool nonetheless.
The biggest problem with ATTACK ON TITAN: Part 1 doesn’t come from wooden performances, a mixed bag script or iffy effects. Instead, the main flaw is the decision to split this film into two parts. While that may have worked out far better than expected for DEATH NOTE (the total running time of which exceeded four hours), ATTACK ON TITAN was purely split for the money and it shows. The pacing of this film felt like the opening half of a movie. Thus, we don’t receive a proper climax. Instead, we get a final revelation that just feels like the cliffhanger ending to a TV episode rather than an actual movie. Judging from comments made by people during the end credits and outside of the theater, ATTACK ON TITAN: Part 1 will most likely disappoint fans of the anime and manga. Speaking for this purely as a film taken on its own merits, I found Part 1 to be one of the more surreal theater going experiences I’ve had. This is essentially a gonzo bonkers B-movie and I slightly enjoyed it on that silly level. I’m still planning on seeing and reviewing Part 2. I mean, I want to see where things are going…and I already have a ticket, so might as well.