Film Review: Bayonetta: Bloody Fate
Bayonetta was a series of video games I had only heard about as a series of games that have drawn the ire of feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian, despite being games with a female creator and a strong, independent female protagonist who kicks a lot of ass.
From watching this Bayonetta movie, I could see where she was coming from somewhat. The character is very sexual and flirtatious, and has an exaggerated appearance. She delivers a lot of sexy one-liners, and her fighting style involves a lot of flipping around and moving her legs, which just seem like excuses to flash the audience shots of leg, crotch, and butt.
But I think Anita was also failing to look past these superficial problems, and see that Bayonetta's sexuality is flaunted because that is part of her power, personality, and personal charm.
Much like Catwoman, it can be annoying when the "strong female" character is prancing around in lingerie for no real reason. But, also like Catwoman, Bayonetta showcasing her good stuff is not a sign that she is being subjugated or abused, but a sign, I believe at least, that she knows the power of her body, and sees the fun in flaunting that power.
Bayonetta: Bloody Fate is a story that primarily concerns a duel that happened 500 years ago between dark, female mages called witches and white, male ones called sages. Since the last resurrection of a certain god, there haven't been any witches or sages. Now that god is believed to be returning again for his next resurrection/dental checkup.
Enter Bayonetta. She fights monstrous "angels" and seems to have some connection to the past events 500 years ago. But, she doesn't remember much about her past.
She was incapacitated and resting in the bottom of a lake and just recently resurfaced and began to live again. When she runs into first a journalist who thinks she is responsible for his father's death, and an old pal named Jeanne who keeps trying to kill her, and a crybaby little girl resembling herself and calling her "mama", she begins to piece together what happened long ago.
Bayonetta regains her memories, and realizes the enemy she must fight is her father, a sage and head of a kooky religion.
She teams up with Jeanne to stop daddy and restore the balance of good and evil to the world.
Mostly what I liked about this movie had to do with the art. It's not just that I'm a big bisexual pervert and found the fanservice appealing. (But, I am, and I did.)
Distracting fanservice aside, every scene was beautiful to look at. The artists made good use of light and color to create drama and moods. The character designs were skilled, standing apart in quality from those run-of-the-mill moe kidsies you see in a lot of anime series. It reminded me of The Animatrix and Blood: The Last Vampire, which are some of my all-time favorite anime movies.
Besides the artwork, I found myself really enjoying the characters and their interactions. Bayonetta was a fierce, provocative, funny, and interestingly complex character. It was always fun to watch her onscreen, whether she was blasting angels right and left, or having a quiet conversation. I liked the interaction between her and other characters. I liked her confidence in battle, even when new and unexpected crap kept coming her way. She's one of those impossibly cool characters that only exist in video games, movies, and anime, and that's why we buy those things.
I also thought that her partnership with Jeanne at the end was pretty great. I respect the fact that Bayonetta is a female lead character whose role and position isn't tied to that of a man. She's a truly independent character, and a true female action hero, and it's fun to see her fight.
Like I've said, the fanservice. I thought it looked cool, but it did kind of take away from the seriousness of certain moments. Bayonetta is a beautiful main character, whose boldness of spirit is reflected by her sexual audacity, but this is a bit overdone, and sometimes makes the plot feel less serious than it should.
They even manage to get both a bathtub scene and a lingerie scene into an hour-and-a-half movie. It has nothing to do with the plot, and is quite distracting. Then there is Bayonetta's fighting style, which involves not just whooshing around in a skintight catsuit, but also shooting guns that are attached to her stilettos? It barely even makes sense. I also think I saw her use a bullet that, I swear I'm not making this up, was shaped like a lipstick. What? Just, seriously? It's not that I hate fanservice in a big feminist/SJW way, but if it ends up seeming like a pointless distraction and/or cynical marketing scheme, it makes me lose interest.
Other things I thought the movie did poorly were pacing and exposition. Not enough exposition to really feel like I understood the story fully, and the final fight was drawn out a bit too much for my tastes.
Another thing is that, while Bayonetta is cool, she's almost too cool, in that she never seemed like she was in real danger. Her aloof attitude made the serious moments in the movie seem less so. She never seemed to take anything seriously, her default expression being a smug little smile. Sometimes that worked well, but other times it was infuriating. Especially when she destroys a dude's car, and he accuses her of killing his father, and she has this bitch-queen attitude of "not my problem, get lost sucker". Even an anti-hero type of person, which I think they were going for with Bayonetta, shouldn't be completely emotionally defective.
Bayonetta: Bloody Fate is entertaining, beautiful, action-y, and thrilling. But to me, it all seemed a little too shiny and pretty and lacked a bit in terms of depth. While I found the characters charming, I didn't particularly find myself caring too much about the world they were placed in, which seemed like just a series of pretty backdrops for action sequences. It might be worth it to you to watch for a fun little thrill ride, but don't expect it to be as deep as say, Ghost in the Shell, or as artistic and psychologically impactful as Neon Genesis Evangelion. But as the Nostalgia Critic often says, for what it is, it's all right.