Warner Bros. // 2007 // 104 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // March 11th, 2008
It Will Take a Human, a Cyborg, and a Bioroid...
...And guns, lots of guns!
Set following the events of Appleseed, Appleseed: Ex Machina once again has the city of Olympus under threat from terrorists out to destroy the utopian society. This time though, rather than a struggle between humans and bioroids, the threat is from a virus that is infecting cyborgs and causing them to go postal, the only clue being their mutterings about "Halcon." However, Olympus' natural order isn't the only thing in danger of collapsing. When hard-as-nails warrior-babe and ESWAT member Deunan is given a new partner named Tereus following her regular partner and lover Briareos's injury in battle, Briareos and Deunan's relationship is put under pressure. You see, Tereus is the first in a new line of bioroid warriors, and was created using Briareos's DNA. As an identical clone of Briareos, Tereus stirs feelings in Deunan that cause tensions between her and cyber-rabbit-man-thing Briareos.
Before our three leads can say ménage-a-trois the virus begins infecting humans. What could be behind this? Can Deunan, Briareos, and Tereus put their differences aside to save the day? And who the hell designed Briareos's helmet? Seriously, he's like a 7-foot Cyclops robo-bunny.
There are times when, rather than watch a movie that will provoke serious thought or stir deep emotions within me, I just want to watch a movie where cool people shoot each other and blow stuff up. Some people refer to this as "switching your brain off," which to me infers that to enjoy the movie you need to dumb down to its level to enjoy it. No, what I'm talking about is just being able to relax with a movie that sets out to entertain me without having to do anything myself other than rhythmically insert chocolate into my mouth. Movies like The Transporter, Planet Terror, and Hellboy, you can now add Appleseed: Ex Machina to that list.
A sequel that improves on nearly every aspect of its predecessor, Appleseed: Ex Machina is a must for fans of action movies, sci-fi, and anime. Disposing of the convoluted storyline that occasionally marred the 2004 Appleseed movie, Appleseed: Ex Machina is streamlined, trimmed of all but the most vital elements, resulting in a far more satisfying experience.
Upping the action stakes from its predecessor, Appleseed: Ex Machina gets a helping hand from none other than John Woo (The Killer) himself; from the opening shootout at a church, Woo's influence is stamped all over the film. Upon entering the church the members of ESWAT are confronted by a mysterious figure draped in a cowl. Without warning the cowl is thrown through the air, revealing an armor-suited terrorist holding a gun of such enormity it would suggest he has serious issues with size. Unleashing the full force of his BFG, the terrorist is soon countered by Deunan and Briareos who let loose with some unbelievably cool gunplay. Truly, if John Woo is the godfather of bullet ballet, then Appleseed: Ex Machina is his Swan Lake. From an aerial battle above the Olympus council, to the final "boss battle," Appleseed: Ex Machina is an action junkie's dream.
Of course, Woo's influence goes beyond the action scenes. His trademark white doves make an appearance, but in a wholly original way that is sure to bring a smile to the faces of his many fans. Similarly, the first meeting between Briareos and his clone Tereus recalls Face Off as Briareos's reflection in a door is slowly replaced by that of Tereus as the entrance slides open.
At this point in the review I know exactly what you're thinking, "Sure, this all sounds cool, but I like zombies. What can you offer me?" Well I'll tell you what I can offer you: techno-zombies, that's what! That's right, the film has freakin' techno-zombies, humans struck by a mysterious virus that infects their headsets and, Venom-style, overpowers them, turning them into drones acting en-masse for a force referred to only as "Halcon."
Of course, all that action is great, but is there anything underneath? Appleseed: Ex Machina is far more successful than its predecessor with regards to how best to deal with its characters. This time around the relationship between Deunan and Briareos is better realized. Though far from perfect, they at least feel like a real couple now, adding more weight when one of them is in danger and making the role of Tereus far more interesting. Indeed, the addition of Tereus ensures that Appleseed: Ex Machina doesn't just feel like a retread of the original movie, albeit with fancier visuals, his presence being the cause of tension between the films heroes. Secondary characters are also given more time, making the Appleseed universe just that little bit richer. Let me be clear though, these are still comic-book characters -- we're not talking a great character-driven piece here -- but the time spent fleshing these characters out just that little bit is noted and appreciated.
The disc contains a decent set of extras, all in glorious HD! The commentary track will be of great interest to fans of the series as it discusses the history of the project, along with the work that went into bringing it to the screen. The "Team-Up" featurette reveals how John Woo came to be involved in the project and the man himself even turns up to chat. Sadly at around 15 minutes it is a little too brief and doesn't really offer much detail on Woo's actual role in the proceedings. "The Appleseed Chronicles" is a 20-minute piece on the history of Appleseed, from its manga inception to the release of Appleseed: Ex Machina, and contains comments from series creator Shirow Masamune. As Shirow refused to appear on the disc himself or record his comments for us to hear, they are presented as text on screen and read out by a narrator. Last, but certainly not least, is the "East Meets West" feature, discussing anime's impact in Japan and America. The best part? Definitely the section on cosplay; getting to see people dress up as monsters and robots is always fun.
The 1.85:1 1080p widescreen presentation is excellent. Small details like the textures of clothing are evident and the picture is sharp with strong, vibrant colors throughout. This is definitely a disc you'll want to use to show off your high-def setup. Though movies like Beowulf are arguably more of a technical achievement, the combination of traditional 2D anime sensibilities mixed with modern 3D CGI is a stunning combination that, for me at least, is far more of an impressive feat. This isn't an attempt at producing photo-realistic images; instead we're witnessing the continuing evolution of anime and it's a joy to behold. The soundtrack is similarly impressive; battle sequences offering a sonic assault that demands you crank your sound system up to 11. My only problem with the soundtrack is the lack of the memorable tunes that were a highlight of the 2004 Appleseed.
To really enjoy Appleseed: Ex Machina there are a number of prerequisites you must allow for. First of all, Appleseed: Ex Machina is pretty much a straight-ahead action movie with plot developments that are signposted a mile off. Secondly, the dialogue is at times woeful and at best clichéd; this is more like comic-book characters talking than real people. Finally, though improvements have been made, it would have been nice to have seen more time taken to flesh the characters out a little more. There are times when the characters are as two-dimensional as the paper the manga that spawned them was printed on, with action-hero stereotypes that we've see a million times before.
Your ability to accept these shortcomings will determine your enjoyment of the movie.
Having upped the ante significantly, Appleseed: Ex Machina successfully moves the story forward, pleasing fans and non-fans alike. The final part of the trilogy will have to go some to top this.
Let's see, it's got John Woo, a main character who's a cross between RoboCop and a rabbit, and the best sexual tension between the main protagonists since Top Gun. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2008 Paul Pritchard; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Cantonese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Dutch)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (German)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Team-Up: John Woo and Shinji Aramaki
* Revolution: Animating Ex Machina
* Filmmaker Commentary
* The Appleseed Chronicles
* East Meets West
* Official Site