Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Film Review - '20th Century Boys, Part 3 - Redemption'

The third, and final, film of the 20th Century Boys trilogy wastes no time in pulling the audience back into its strange, and increasingly bleak, world. Like with the beginning of the second part of the trilogy, the immediate fall-out of the preceding climax is skipped as we jump a few more years further into the future. The setting, now, is a walled-off future Tokyo where a strange cult, under the leadership of a mysterious figure known only as Friend, has transformed itself into a totalitarian regime.

It is really well past time that our heroes started scoring a few victories in this series. So far, we have had two movies of struggle and ultimate defeat, as Friend has been able to grab more and more power for himself. First, there was the carefully orchestrated attack on New Year's Eve of the year 2000, which allowed Friend to both paint Kenji as a terrorist, and put himself forward as a legitimate figure of authority. Then, there was the combination of Friend's assassination, and apparent resurrection, and the devastating release of a virulent and deadly virus in cities all around the world. And, now, the cult leader turned political authority figure has managed to convince his followers that he is, in fact, a living god (which is probably what all cult leaders really want, anyway).

As the third and final movie in the trilogy begins, Tokyo is walled off and isolated, and Friend rules the city with an iron fist. But, it's not all entirely hopeless. Otcho, who was able to escape the city following the end of the second film, is now set on making his way back in - and, Kanna is just as determined to fight Friend as she ever was - though now, at least, she actually seems to have a plan, along with a small army of loyal followers prepared to carry it out. And, perhaps most importantly, a familiar figure armed only with a guitar is slowly making his way toward Tokyo.

It was, of course, the reveal that closed off the second film - so, you go into the third film knowing that Kenji will once more be stepping into the role of lead protagonist. It also makes a certain sort of sense, of course - a refusal to accept that Kenji was actually dead was a recurring element of the second film, after all. So, having Kenji (and a single song that he wrote years before) suddenly come forward as a rallying point for the heroes actually works rather well. The explanation of exactly how he could still be alive, and why it took him so long to come back (hint: it involves amnesia), doesn't work quite so well, of course. But, Kenji was always a likable hero, and his absence as a focal point for the second film was certainly felt - so, it's something that you can probably let pass. It's fair from the strangest thing that has happened in this series, after all.

But, once again, time is against our intrepid heroes. Friend has one final attack planned - one that, according to him, only those truly faithful to him have any chance of surviving.

With the final film it is, of course, also the point in the series where we need to start getting some clear answer. Who is Friend, for one? And, why is he doing all of this? Well, those answers do come - and, in keeping with the theme of the series so far, those answer may not be quite what you would expect. Whether they are satisfying answers, though, is probably a matter for debate. Even knowing who Friend actually is, there will still be questions about what he represents. Is Friend the classic style of super-villain, like the ones so popular in children's comics, who mistakenly believes that everything he has done is for some greater good? Or, is he an emotionally stunted man-child with sociopathic tendencies who can't let go of childhood trauma? Or, are they really the same thing? He may even come across as a victim, in his own way, thanks to the efforts made to finally humanise him - though, again, whether that is in any way successful (or, even, whether it was truly intended to be) is a matter for debate.

As interesting as this all is, though, there is one significant problem with the way that it all plays out on screen. Of course, like with the majority of film adaptations of longer material, there is a clear need to summarise, and to make cuts, in order to keep things manageable. The first two films of the series seemed to manage this rather well - there were, at least, no points that stood out as overly confusing. However, with the third, even if you go in with no idea of what transpire in the original, you will likely be able to guess at where the cuts have been made. Character's who seem to have been built up as being rather important in the previous films suddenly seem to be pushed into the background here - even Kanna herself, the lead protagonist of the second film, seems to have been relegated to a supporting role thanks to the return of Kenji. The greatest victim, though, would have to be Kiriko - Kenji's long-lost older sister, and Kanna's mother. The second film revealed that Kiriko actually had an important role to play in Friend's plans - she was, after all, instrumental in the development of Friend's first virus. It was also revealed that she feels a perfectly understandable amount of guilt at what had been done with her creation, and has devoted herself to working on a cure. Kiriko herself was absent from the second film, though - and the audience was clearly left to anticipate her eventual appearance in the third.

Well, she does appear - for a couple of scenes. Then, once she has played her part, it is almost like she is completely forgotten. Her role is important, but once she is done, she simply vanishes. Kiriko does not even get the privilege of an on-screen reunion with her daughter or her brother - something which I am sure must have been included in the original manga.

Kiriko is the clearest example of this problem, but it is really something that's evident in many ways, throughout the film. As the action picks up, things just begin to feel rushed - and, the closer you get to the end, the messier it all begins to seem. Putting the third film in it's place as the conclusion to a much longer story, I was left with the odd feeling of trying to solve a puzzle with pieces that I wasn't sure actually fit together. But, the film also manages to be genuinely exciting, and occasionally even touching, throughout - so, as frustrating as it occasionally was, it still felt, strangely enough, like the perfect conclusion to the series.

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