- Insane Underling
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Now, if you've been spending a lot of time with me in chat and/or real life, you know that I'm a pretty big "Mega Man" fan. (Also the avatar is a bit of a giveaway.) So when I found out about this film, seeing it was pretty much a no-brainer.
The film follows the plot of the first "Mega Man" game pretty faithfully. In the year 20XX, kindly old roboticist Dr. Light (Edward X. Young) builds the Robot Masters, six self-aware and powerful industrial robots intended for the betterment of mankind. He also builds two more human-like robots, Rock (Jun Naito) and Roll (Jeanie Tse), to be his surrogate children/unpaid household workers. But Light's assistant, Dr. Willy (Dave Maulbeck), is jealous of Light hogging all the glory, and they have a spat, ending with Light firing him. Wily does the obvious thing, taking control of the Robot Masters so that he can... yeah, you guessed it. Rock won't sit still for this, and begs Light to upgrade him so that he can fight Wily. Light complies and rebuilds Rock into a Super Fighting Robot©, Mega Man, with the ability to copy the powers of his enemies.
That's pretty much it. Let's face it, "Dr. Wily is trying to take over the world with a bunch of evil robots" is right up there with "Bowser has kidnapped the Princess" on the list of plots that would never become the Great Japanese Novel. As it is, I find it slightly ballsy that the film is based on the first "Mega Man" game, since I'm given to understand that it was slightly overshadowed by its sequels. Also, it means they only had to make six Robot Masters rather than eight. The film adds a few more things to the story of the game. For example, a character from the later games makes an appearance, creating some mystery and an emotional centre. Mega Man's battle against the Robot Masters (his brothers, after all) is more morally complex than the guilt-free assimilation destruction of the games. All in all, there are a few twists and turns.
The film is 94 minutes long, and the fact that a non-profit indie studio managed to create a feature length science fiction/action film is pretty impressive. But only primary school students get points for effort. So how does it hold up?
For starters, when I heard about the existence of this film, I was pretty stoked. Then I read a few rather negative reviews, which made me a bit more guarded. All in all, I'd say that while I find some of the response to this film too negative, it's probably a good thing that I was prepared for it not being the best thing ever. I will definitely be judging this as a fan movie, not as a professional production, for better or for worse.
To start with the most superficial and flashy aspect of the film: the effects.
The CGI is cartoonish and colourful (which is admittedly appropriate for the franchise), but not awful. I quite liked the CGI robots. Some reviewers have criticised the film for having too brief fight scenes. I usually get bored with fight scenes, so I didn't personally find this a problem.
However, there are times when the lack of special effects budget becomes an issue. For example, Mega Man travels to Dr. Wily's flying battlefortress (I didn't mention that the bad guy has a flying battlefortress? I thought that was obvious from the context) on some sort of flying... thing. We never actually see it, we just see Mega's upper body outlined against the sky with the wind blowing in his face. Is it a hovering platform? Boots of Flight? A jet-propelled morphing robot dog? (naah, too unrealistic). The reason that conventional armed forces can't be called in against the threat is that Wily apparently commands an army of robots, which is never seen, apart from a graphic in Light's lab.
The brevity of some of the fight scenes lead to some unintentional comedy. For example, Dr. Wily boasts a lot about the power of ... then Mega Man one-shots the latter shortly afterwards.
Moreover, you never get the feeling that the Robot Masters cause much property damage in Fujiwara City (the presumably Nippo-American setting of the film; guess they decided not to go with "Monsteropolis"). They fire off some rays and throw a few bombs, and that's about it. There are also no paid extras to scream and run from them. I guess the citizens of Fujiwara keep a really stiff upper lip about robot invasions. Good for them, because they're going to have to deal with like nine more, and that's just in the Classic series.
CGI aside, the sets are good. Nothing spectacular, but authentic.
The film's weakness is two things that are hard to disentangle: acting and direction. The acting is, quite frankly, not very good. Nor is it terrible; it's just slightly too awkward to enjoy. You don't get a sense of real people talking. Dr. Light certainly looks the part; I'm particularly happy that they got a man of the right age to play him (fan films being what they are, I was half expecting a twenty-year-old in a fake beard), and his delivery isn't bad, but slightly bland. Unspontaneous. Roll (a teenager in this story, rather than the little girl of the games) comes off as a bit hyper and unnatural, but she's a robot, so it works for me. Incidentally, her acting seems to have got the most flak from reviewers. She has rather fake-looking blond hair, but again, robot.
Dr. Wily's actor seems to have got most praise from commenters. I'm not sure I can share it. Wily is a funny villain in the games, so also here. The actor is a bit young, but not ludicrously so. (His mustache is obviously fake, though.) However, he hams it up like you wouldn't believe. In the lab scenes at the start, he might as well be wearing a name tag saying: "Hi, I'm going to betray you and try to take over the world." He even hunches his back like he's playing Richard III.
"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by a Fire Man"
Also, his accent is not of this world. You know the cheesy German accent Wily had in the cartoon? It sounds authentic in comparison.
So what about our star attraction, Mega Man himself? Firstly, his actor is rather too old, and doesn't look a lot like how I picture Mega Man (where's the luxuriant animé hair?). His acting is pretty bland, but not actually that bad. Rewatching some scenes to refresh my memory for this review, I realise that he's actually acting pretty boyish and generally like how you'd expect Mega Man to act... which looks odd, coming from a 20+ years old man. I found him rather more convincing once suited-up as Mega Man, for whatever reason. None of the other actors really stood out in my memory.
The awkwardness is compounded by the directing. Now, I'm not a film critic by any means, and am not normally qualified to point out problems in directing, but here even I can see them. Scenes drag towards the end; only by seconds, but it gets noticeable. The more quiet scenes (for example, the ones where Rock feels insecure with his purpose in life) feel comatose.
There are a few awkward camera angles, but I don't personally mind that. It's cinéma vérité, about power-stealing robots.
The script doesn't have any lines that really grabbed my attention, but nor is it embarrassingly bad. It has some nice touches, such as the reporter (Dara Centonze, known from the Captain SNES web series) asking "Can I touch you?" as soon as she finds out that Roll is an android rather than a human girl - a nice and quick way to show how being a robot is just different.
From a plot perspective, the writers have made some good decisions to make the story work as a film. For example, the film opens with the aforementioned reporter interviewing Light about his work, a tried-and-tested way to slip in a lot of plot information in a natural fashion. Likewise, Wily is given a snarky AI computer, Olga 5000 (Elizabeth Lee), whom he can bounce his sinister schemes off.
One idea I liked about the film is that while Light and Wily are Caucasian, all the robots are played by Asians, presumably in an homage to the games' Japanese origin. You'd never see that in a Hollywood movie, even one based on a Far Eastern franchise, on account of there being no Asian actors in Hollywood. (??) There's an in-universe reason for this, too.
Most of the Robot Masters get their own personality, which makes them far less of faceless mooks and brings some moral ambiguity to Mega Man's struggle. I particularly liked Fire Man (Hugo Salazar Jr.), who is determined that he's fighting on the side of right, and Ice Man (Wayne Chang), who occasionally tries to break free of Wily's reprogramming. Now, these personalities weren't invented by the filmmakers; they were in the game "Mega Man Powered Up" (which I haven't played). But since this is as official a film version as a fan film could be, it makes sense that it would follow the game canon in this case.
Not all the writing choices are brilliant. Light's angsty backstory isn't bad, but not very original. Also, in a less than surprising plot twist
There is also a tense moment when
Generally, the plot doesn't seem very well built. While this isn't a long film, the fact that the main plot is more or less a number of fight scenes means that the plot arc flags once past the centre point.
I could have wanted a more interesting motivation for Wily. I guess his being motivated by jealousy is canon, but I always like it when the antagonist has a more sympathetic reason for their actions. For example, the fan song "Look What You've Done" by the Megas and Entertainment System actually made Wily somewhat understandable, turning him into an idealist who sees himself as liberating the robots.
The film doesn't take itself too seriously, which would probably have been a bad idea for a story about a warrior robot fighting a mad scientist. It has a nice undercurrent of humour. Yes, Cut Man gets to make a pun about cutting. Not all the jokes are great: some are well-worn, and the film sometimes comes close to the purely silly: for example, the monitor Light uses to track the Robot Masters is the level select screen from "Mega Man 1". You might like it, or you might not.
The soundtrack has some orchestral scores, which are pretty generic, but not bad. Some tunes from the games make a timely appearance. Also, my fellow nerdcore fans might be happy to hear that the soundtrack contains two songs by The Megas.
In short, a decent work with pretty solid special effects for a fan film and some exciting moments, though the acting could be better. If you're a "Mega Man" fan, at least, you will probably enjoy it. I'd still rather watch it than "Battleship".
Also, you might be interested to know that Lebron's next project is a "Sonic" fan film.
Into jungles, into Hell,
Let us ride,
Let us ride home again with a story to tell!
Into darkness, into danger
Into storms that rip the night,
Don't give in, don't give up
But give thanks for the glorious fight!
-- "Into the Fire", The Scarlet Pimpernel: The Musical
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