Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the big deal?
Guyver: Dark Hero (also known as The Guyver 2) is an action sci-fi film released in 1994 and is based on the manga and anime Bio Boosted Armor Guyver created by manga artist Yoshiki Takaya. The film is both a sequel and reboot of the 1991 film Guyver and follows the adventures of Sean Barker, a young man mysteriously conjoined to an alien organism that turns him into an alien fighting machine as he is pursued by shape-shifting villains. The film recasts the central role with David Hayter stepping into the role of Barker alongside supporting cast members Kathy Christopherson, Bruno Patrick and Christopher Michael. Directed by Steve Wang, the film was released straight-to-video in most territories although it was generally considered an improvement over the first film. As such, it has developed a cult following in the years since and remains the last live-action version of the character seen so far.
Trailer... well, sort of...
What's it about?
One year after he first bonded with the Guyver unit and destroyed the megalomaniac Chronos Corporation and their monstrous Zoanoid creatures, Sean Barker has kept a low profile while using the Guyver suit as a tool to fight crime. But Barker tires of the suit's need to kill and is haunted in his dreams by strange shapes. One day, he learns of mysterious cave drawings in Utah that match the sketches Barker had made from the visions in his dreams and immediately sets off to investigate, hoping to find a way to rid himself of the Guyver forever.
Arriving at an archaeological dig, Barker is introduced to Dr Marcus Edwards (the lead scientist) and his daughter Cori as well as the representative of the dig's enigmatic funder, Arlen Crane. Quickly realising that the dig represents something important, Barker is attacked by another Zoanoid who escapes before it is captured. Barker soon learns that he only destroyed the Los Angeles branch of Chronos while another branch is still searching for a missing Guyver unit of their own...
Dr Marcus Edwards
Release Date (US)
19th October, 1994
What's to like?
The original Guyver film is one of those awful low budget exercises in camp monster mania, a Power Rangers-style action movie where the acting is actually scarier than the beasties involved. Thankfully, this sequel is a marked improvement but still struggles to escape its B-movie nature. Hayter is a vast improvement on the original's woeful leading man Jack Armstrong in the role of Sean Barker who now feels more in tune with the tortured hero of the manga, Sho Fukamachi. The creature makeup - the sole redeeming feature of the first film - has also improved slightly while the film uses crude CG to present us with people morphing into hideous monsters before our eyes. But best of all, this film is much more grown up than the first film. The violence now comes with gore as heads are crushed and limbs ripped off and it makes the film feel closer to the source material.
Sadly, there isn't much more to inspire here. The story makes an effort to tie the film in with the manga, hinting at the alien origins of the Guyver units, but it suffers from being an individual story instead of part of an over-reaching conspiracy such as found in the manga. In short, this feels like an over-written episode of The X Files with Mulder and Sculley hidden around the corner in their search for little green men. The film can't escape its straight-to-video budget but credit must go to Wang for stretching it as far as it can go. The makeup and effects belay the film's tight funding (I especially liked the Guyver transformation scenes, again making it similar to the original material) but that's as much help as the film receives.
- Unusually for most movies, this film moved away from a PG rating towards a more adult classification after the first film was heavily criticised for being overly comical and somewhat goofy.
- Hayter would go on to become a successful voice actor and screenwriter. His most popular performance was as video game icon Solid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid series of games while his screenplays include X-Men and Watchmen alongside Alex Tse.
- According to both Hayter and Wang, the rights to the Guyver character are currently in legal limbo but both have said that they would be happy to produce a third film based on the character. I, for one, would prefer a big-budget version.
What's not to like?
For all the (admittedly minor) improvements brought about by Guyver: Dark Hero, it cannot escape that this is still far from being an excellent picture. Hayter does OK in the lead role but his supporting cast are sadly dull and forgettable. Patrick's sneering villain is straight from the pages of Bad Guy Acting 101 while Christopherson's leggy archaeologist is tragically reminiscent of Denise Richard's nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough. The action, which comes in fits and starts, is also not likely to stay in the memory for too long and becomes almost impossible to follow when it's Zoanoid vs Zoanoid.
The story never really seems to go away and leaves way more questions than answers. And without the omnipresent Chronos Corporation to battle with, the film lacks any sort of interest for fans of the character. I found myself more intrigued by the opening segment which sees the Guyver take on a bunch of Italian-American stereotypes in an ill-lit dock somewhere beyond the city limits. The Guyver might make for a more adult crime-fighter, something akin to Marvel's The Punisher for the amount of death and destruction wrought. But maybe this might have worked better for the movie instead of a predictable scrap at the site of a long-forgotten alien vessel. I was desperate for a movie to do right by the character but this is another ultimate disappointment.
Should I watch it?
Saying that Guyver: Dark Hero is an improvement over the first Guyver movie is a bit like saying Afghanistan is a safer holiday destination than North Korea. It's a small step in the right direction but the film fails to excite or entertain much beyond laughing at its silly costumes and odd sound effects. It does have a better leading actor and the makeup effects are still impressive given how little was spent on the film but when you're starting in the basement, it's a long way to go before you get to the summit.
Great For: fans of the Power Rangers, bad movie nights, casual action fans
Not So Great For: fans wanting a decent Guyver movie, erasing the memories of the first film, Jack Armstrong's career
What else should I watch?
Despite hundreds of anime adaptations made in the Far East, Hollywood has a long and ignoble tradition of cocking it up completely. While we are still waiting for the forever-delayed Akira, we have a variety of films from the pretty-but-ultimately-shallow (Ghost In The Shell and Alita: Battle Angel) to the pretty terminal (Crying Freeman). A recent Netflix-distrubuted remake of Death Note also failed to find much success in the West and the less said about Dragonball Evolution, the better.
No, I shall normally prefer the anime itself even though it will have subtitles. Animation allows a filmmaker to be far more creative and few film-makers adopt this philosophy more than the revered Studio Ghibli, the creative powerhouse behind hits like Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. Very much the Pixar of Japan, Ghibli has continued to be at the forefront of Japanese animation since its founding in 1985 following the success of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. It's also the home of legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki who came out of retirement in 2016 to begin work on an as-yet unreleased title (at the time of writing) called How Do You Live? which is due for release in time for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox