Today I watched Shinji Hijuki’s Attack on Titan (2015)
The massive Attack on Titan franchise is all the proof one needs to see that giant monsters are still alive an well in the various Japanese media industries. Attack on Titan is an apocalyptic and dramatic tale of humanity on the edge of extinction as they do battle with a strange race of giants known as titans. Humanity lives behind a series of three giant walls and after a brief introduction to the main characters, the first of these walls is breached. From there we skip forward two years to when the many refugees from the areas near the outer wall have created a food shortage, it was mostly the farmland protected by the outer wall and this is now all lost. There is only one way for the humans to kill titans and it involves cutting out the nape of a titan’s neck, so a new force of soldiers are trained to use air pressure driven grappling guns (like Batman) mounted to each hip to grant them the mobility to exploit this weakness.
When looking at this live action adaptation, the differences in medium should be noted, of course many liberties will need to have been taken with the story to condense so much into such a short time frame. The film changes quite a lot, most notably he setting, which went from steampunk flavoured euro-fantasy to something closer to the Second World War in aesthetic. While the film maintains much of the source material’s brutality it lack time to build up emotional connections to make some of the emotional punches hurt. That being said it does manage to tap into the thematic underpinnings of the work, touching on ideas related to the loss of identity in social structures, horrors of war, individuality against group ideologies, and personal duty.
Despite the aforementioned lack of true emotional depth, the film is very violent and disturbing. The titans themselves seem to be drawn directly from some of Goya’s more disturbing works, especially Saturn Devouring his Son. While the effects work doesn’t compare favourably to modern Hollywood, it is really quite creative in how it approaches many of the issues inherent in bringing this series to live action film. The titans are a mix of practical and digital effects which captures the eerily human and illogical nature of them in a disturbing way. The other big image that everyone wants to see is maneuvering gear in action, which fares less well than the titans, though is still fairly fun to watch. The issue is that to really get the cool maneuvers in, the film has to become a little cartoonish in a way that does not mesh well with the more serious elements.
This feeds into the film’s larger issue, it is way too over the top with far too much frequency. The comic relief clashes with the horror and the actors are almost all delivering their lines with a little too much energy. It is all just a little too camp, especially those performances, and what serious themes are presented get washed away by B movie acting. The comic relief feels really forced and unnatural, often impossibly peppy for the grimness on display. While this all makes Attack on Titan a unique film, it tries to hard to blend some very disparate elements and is not wholly successful. That being said it does succeed at being quite a disturbing giant monster flick with plenty of creative effects and action. 3/5