Tuesday 2 August 2016

Attack on Titan Part 2: End of the World

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for the first movie and the first season of the anime series. Don't say I didn't warn you! Because you'd be lying.

Directed by Shinji Higuchi and out now on DVD and blu ray, Attack on Titan part 2: End of the World was never going to be amazing. Trying to squeeze a 25-episode series into two 90 minute movies was always going to mean sacrifices, and the first film showed us that those changes were rarely for the better. It's not a bad film, but the anime and manga sit at heights that the films never come close to reaching.

To recap briefly for those unfamiliar with the story (and unafraid of spoilers), Attack on Titan is the tale of humanity in the future as devastated by a vaguely-remembered war. Naked giants suddenly appeared one day (just go with it), and proceeded to kill and eat humans all over the place. The remains of humanity hide in a huge walled community, living in peace for a century until those walls are breached by a titan attack. The humans fight back, but all looks close to being lost... until it is discovered that the young hero of this tale, Eren (Haruma Miura) can transform into a titan himself.

Speaking of recaps, the second film opens with a fairly lengthy summary of the first, further reinforcing the impression that this is actually a miniseries hastily disguised as a pair of films. When the movie proper starts, we find Eren chained and surrounded by the military. For the second time, his childhood friend Mikasa (Kiko Mizuhara) sees him in danger and makes a decision not to help, leaving it up to Eren's only reliable buddy Armin (Kanata Hongō) to argue the worth of keeping him alive. While the concept of this scene is lifted directly from the anime, the implementation serves as an immediate reminder of one of the most drastic (and unwelcome) changes that was made. In the source material, Eren and Mikasa have an unbreakable and complex bond borne of a moment of brutal humanity in their youth. In the films, she has been reduced to an ex-girlfriend thought dead who reappears looking permanently pissed off.

Nonetheless, this film is far from a total loss. Part 1 stuck to the original story by and large, though remixed certain parts heavily. Part 2 pretty much abandons the anime once Eren is free (come on, he's the main character, you know they're not going to kill him), yet still manages to tell a story that you'll follow to the end. Ironically, it's the film that deviates most from the series which sticks closest to the original determination to tell a human story.
The absence of important characters such as Levi and the female titan are felt keenly, but the team's decision to have the second film run for long periods without any sign of a titan is a brave and important one. It allows the script to concentrate on dialogue and human interaction, and what appears to be a combination of strong writing and careful translation fully justifies this approach. Part 1 successfully communicated the idea of shattered humanity through a consistently grimy aesthetic; part 2 does this through desperate acts and desperate words.

This is in no small part due to Levi's stand-in for the movies, Shikishima (Hiroki Hasegawa). Well written and well acted, he easily stands out in a pair of films that feature largely one-dimensional and distinctly unremarkable characters. Indeed, the acting here overall is again inconsistent, but fortunately never bad enough to dismantle the experience.

There are titans here of course, with the final encounter surely being the best of both films. The special effects at the end are excellent, making a scene that could so easily have come off as laughable being full-on impressive. The ending could have gone either way, but breathe a sigh of relief; it's actually quite good, serving both as a satisfying bookend and an unstrained hint at a third film. Although things could have been done a lot better with a live action AoT, they certainly could have been done a lot worse.

Armin two minds here; it's good, but should've been better. 3/5.


Luke Kemp

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