Judge Adam Arseneau is an ex-machina. He did some things in college he is not so proud of.
Our review of Appleseed: Ex Machina (Blu-Ray), published March 11th, 2008, is also available.
It will take a human, a cyborg, and a bioroid…
The follow-up to the animated 2004 re-launching of the Appleseed anime and manga franchise, Appleseed: Ex Machina is a full-on assault on the visual senses, but lacks any substance to entice brain cells into activity.
Facts of the Case
After the devastating global conflict that annihilation most of the world's population, Olympus rose from the ashes of a destroyed society. The utopian city-state is policed by an elite group of soldiers, ES.W.A.T., and supervised by a vast artificial intelligence network run by bioroids, a genetically engineered variety of humans designed to be emotionless, staying calm and rational during crisis. With such cool-headed figures running the planet and such fierce warriors protecting the peace, peace soon returns to the world at large.
The two top soldiers of ES.W.A.T. are Deunan, a young hotshot female, and Briareos, a grizzled cyborg with metallic replacement parts throughout his body. The two have seen many battles and share more than the battlefield together, but their relationship is quickly challenged by his injury and the addition of her new partner: Tereus, a bioroid cloned from the DNA of Briareos, who looks and acts just like her lover/partner…before he was injured and replaced with robotic parts.
Worse, Olympus soon falls under threat by a mysterious group of cyborgs who stage attacks throughout the city. These mysterious figures seem to possess the ability to infect cyborgs with a disease that turns them into zombies and, even worse, the affliction seems to be spreading to human beings. Deunan, Briareos, and their new partner are left to sort out the mystery while the city and Gaia soon fall into chaos…
If you are new to the franchise, the first thing you will immediately notice about Appleseed: Ex Machina is the freaky animation style. A technically proficient and original blend of CGI, 2-D animation styling, and motion capture technology, the combination is immediately unique. It is too organic to be an-CGI animation style of a totally computer-driven product, like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, but too computer-driven to be hand-drawn. The end result is something falling in between bearing more than a passing resemblance to cut-sequences from a video game; a CGI-driven animation stylized to look like hand-drawn anime, but whose facial expressions and movement have been motion captured from live actors. The unique blend of organic clumsiness and sharp CGI lend Appleseed: Ex Machina a unique presentation style, to say the least.
In many ways, this is the same movie as the previous Appleseed adaptation, except dumber and louder. The most notable change in this sequel is the addition of action aficionado and Hong Kong filmmaker John Woo signing on as producer, taking the goofy action sequence knob and cranking it up to eleven. This is exactly why you hire a guy like Woo to come in and produce your film. Everyone dives, leaps, and dances gracefully in the air, akimbo machine guns firing at impossible angles, and every inanimate object is capable of exploding regardless of its inherent composition. Ever wanted to see cyborgs doing elaborate kung fu routines? You've come to the right place. This movie flings Woo like nobody's business.
What little story the film presents feels like a gigantic afterthought; a quick addition to the lush and elaborately crafted gun battles, kung fu sequences, and explosions to string one event to the next. Every element felt fresh and vibrant five years ago when it was the subject of a video game, but in a feature film, the story simply has nowhere to go. Even compared to the previous Appleseed adaptation a few years ago (which was no Nobel laureate of literary prowess), Appleseed: Ex Machina puts the brain on hold in favor of straightforward eye candy, removing all but the smallest of sequences where actual thinking would be required. This sequel strips its plot points down to the most barest of sci-fi and action clichés—a bit of Star Trek, a bit of Blade Runner, a bit of George Romero, and a lot of John Woo—and throws it at the viewer all wadded up into a ball. Stripped away any of the franchise's subtle contexts in favor of banging action sequences and gunfights, the weak and predictable story tethers the film down from achieving its lofty ambitions.
If you enjoyed the first Appleseed CGI affair, odds are you will feel right at home here, although the plot has been watered down to the point where previous experience with the 2004 adaptation is not required (to say nothing of the original anime and/or the manga). Character development is nonexistent save for the three-way dance between Briareos, Deunan, and Tereus, and here is where the only saving grace of the narrative emerges. Though it spends relatively little energy on the subject, Appleseed: Ex Machina does explore the relationship between a woman, the cyborg she loves, and the genetically cloned human who confuses them both, to amusing effect. For Briareos, Tereus is a glimpse into the man he used to be, the man he would have been, were it not for the accident that disfigured his body and forced him into cybernetic replacements. For Deunan, Tereus is a forbidden taste of the past, of her lover Briareos back when he still had flesh and bone, not gleaming metal. (Hey, how does that whole situation even work, between a cyborg in a relationship with a human? Now that would be a movie. Oh well.) No less significant is Tereus, who did not asked to be a cloned person stepping into the shoes of a living person, but nevertheless obeys his orders like a good soldier. When Briareos and Tereus finally confront one another to work out their anxiety about each being a copy of the other—in the sparring ring—the movie hits its full stride. Alas, it is over before it starts; before long, we get back to the crappy videogame story about a computer virus-thing taking over the world, or something. Yawn.
From a technical standpoint, standard-definition DVD rarely looks better. Colors are lush and vibrant, black levels are deep and rich, and detail is nothing short of perfection. The all-digital image is virtually perfect, crisp and sharp and immaculate. While the animation style may not appeal to everyone, it is undeniably impressive on the senses, and a high-end rig only heightens the enjoyment. Well, mid-range rigs. Anyone with money to blow will no doubt opt for Appleseed: Ex Machina (Blu-Ray), which has much more Blu for your buck. In addition to the magnificent visuals, Appleseed: Ex Machina offers up unprecedented audio selection for a single-disc release, with full-blown 5.1 surround tracks for English and Japanese, and 2.0 surround tracks for French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Cantonese. Between this and the six different subtitle tracks, this disc has your language covered. The 5.1 tracks are the front runners here, with thumping bass, aggressive environmental response, clear dialogue, and perfect articulation of sonic space. Bullets rain, helicopters whir, and things get the bajeezus blown out of them, all in glorious surround sound. It is always appreciate to see native and dubbed tracks get similar treatment, and here the two are virtually indistinguishable. In terms of dub quality, the English dub is a bit on the over dramatic side, but hey, what English-dubbed anime isn't? It does the job.
Extras are slim, but given the radical technical presentation and myriad of amount of sound options, one can rest assured that every bit has been accounted for on this single-disc release. A 16-minute featurette, "Team Up: John Woo and Shinji Aramaki," interviews cast and crew discussing the creative collaboration between producer John Woo and director Shinji Aramaki, and an 18-minute featurette, "Revolution: Animating Ex Machina," discusses the technical tricks that went into animating the film. Both are decent enough for those interested in the material. In addition, we get a commentary track with the "filmmakers," which is a totally misleading thing to be advertising. Instead of Woo or Aramaki, we get animation expert Jerry Beck interviewing producer Joseph Chu. It may be disappointing on paper, but it gets the job done well enough. Chu speaks fluent English and his insight into the film is detailed and forthright.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It is unfortunate that with every new film in the Appleseed series, we get further and further away from the subtle context and social commentary of the original anime by Masamune Shirow (Ghost In The Shell), as if there is some unspoken requisite for every animated adaptation to get dumber and dumber. There is a lot to like in this franchise in the abstract, but these elements have almost intentionally been ironed flat to make room for more explosions. A shame, because there is potential here in this futuristic city-state of utopian pleasure and cybernetic perfection that could have rivaled Shirow's Ghost In The Shell in examining the human condition by way of technology. Unfortunately, we get the Japanese anime equivalent of a Schwarzenegger movie instead.
A glorious presentation and an achievement in animation style to be sure, but it sure is hard to get too excited about Appleseed: Ex Machina. The sequel delivers the requisite explosions, impossible stunts and bullet time leaping in sizable amounts as one would expect from a "style over substance" sensory overload, but at the terrible cost of your upper-brain function. The story is just so painfully clichéd to make any dramatic headway.
Probably not worth more than a rental, but as time wasters go, this one is awfully pretty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "Team Up: John Woo and Shinji Aramaki"
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