Should I Watch..? Guyver
What's the big deal?
Guyver (released in Europe as "Mutronics") is a sci-fi horror film released in 1991 and is loosely based on the Japanese manga series of the same name. It was the first adaptation of a manga series produced in America, live-action or otherwise, and was directed by special effects artist Screaming Mad George and makeup artist Steve Wang. The film's eclectic cast features Mark Hamill, Michael Berryman, Jimmie Walker and Jack Armstrong in the lead role of Sean, a young man who stumbles into a conspiracy to rule the world by the shadowy Chronos company. The film was met with a mixed reaction when it was released but generated enough interest for a direct-to-video sequel Guyver: Dark Hero to be released in 1994. This second film was more violent, more serious and more positively received by critics and fans.
What's it about?
CIA Agent Max Reed is due to meet up with Chronos scientist Dr Tetsu Segawa but instead, witnesses his murder at the hands of Lisker and his assorted goons. Tetsu had encountered a mysterious alien device known as "the Guyver unit" which contains an alien suit of armour that enhances the abilities of the wearer to become a super soldier. Lisker retrieves the suitcase the Guyver unit was in and takes it back to his boss at Chronos, president Fulton Balcus, only to find the Guyver unit missing. Max, meanwhile, informs Tetsu's daughter Mizuki (known as Mizki to her friends) of her father's death alongside her friend Sean Barker.
Upset, Sean visits the crime scene and locates the Guyver unit hidden in a pile of trash. Without warning, it activates and envelopes Sean in a bio-boosted armour suit. But the Chronos Corporation are still looking for it, having determined the Guyver to be the only thing standing in their way. And Lisker and his men has secrets of their own, able to transform into huge alien beasts called Zoanoids...
Clip from "Guyver" - transformation scene
Sean Barker / The Guyver
Mizuki "Mizki" Segawa
Screaming Mad George & Steve Wang
Jon Purdy *
Release Date (USA)
18th March, 1991
Action, Sci-Fi, Horror
What's to like?
It isn't surprising to learn that the backgrounds of the two co-directors are in special effects and makeup. Guyver is actually far more convincing than it has any right to be and is even more incredible given the film's minute budget of $3 million. The numerous designs of the Zoanoid creatures are varied and look much better than I expected but the Guyver unit itself is the star of the show. It looks the absolute business and is almost good enough to distract you from the terrible performances around it.
As an attempt to retell the story in a Western setting, Guyver goes about its business in a clumsy but well-intentioned way like a village idiot with concussion. There are enough nods to the original manga series (and the twelve episode animation series I fell in love with as a teenager) to satisfy die-hard fans and it certainly doesn't look too much like an episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers - which is something everyone can be thankful of.
- The character Lisker is based on Ozwald A. Lisker, a character from the original manga series. The manga version actually uses a second Guyver unit in an attempt to retrieve the first whereas the movie version is a simple Zoanoid.
- The film's poster is often used as an example of deceptive advertising. It suggests that Hamill plays the Guyver instead of the supporting role he actually has.
- The manga series was originally published back in 1985 until 1997 when the magazine it appeared in was cancelled. It then reappeared in 1999 and remains in publication today.
What's not to like?
As good as the directors are with the creature effects, they are hopeless when it comes to actors and scripting. Armstrong is as charismatic as a dementia patient while Hamill reminds us why he struggled after the original Star Wars saga ended. The villains, every one of them as goofy and useless as you'd expect from this kind of tripe, provide about as much tension and terror as a box of puppies. Walker's appearance as a Zoanoid called Striker is the cherry on top, reducing the film to almost comedic nonsense.
The story is limp and offers little explanation to viewers new to the character on exactly what the hell is going on. There are other problem areas too - the Guyver itself is bristling with weapons like the blades protruding from the forearms, the laser mounted on the head and the gravity cannon, Mega Smasher particle cannon and Sonic Smasher (according to Wikipedia) yet the movie is content to let our hero scrap his way out of trouble instead. We don't get the sense that this strange alien symbiont is an indestructible killing machine but just another costumed hero fighting evil wherever he finds it. There's no effort in the picture, save for the creature effects, and Armstrong's pathetic performance prevents the film from ever getting out of first gear.
Should I watch it?
Newbies won't understand it while those familiar with the character will be utterly depressed by it. It may have been the first attempt at translating a manga series for Western audiences but Guyver outstays its welcome by being pathetically insulting and oddly like a more adult version of more kiddie-friendly fare like the aforementioned Power Rangers. Yes, the effects are well done and the film deserves to be commended on them. But any good will this film generates is completely undermined by its hopeless lead actor and distracting presence of a former A-lister paying the bills.
Great For: paying Mark Hamill's bills
Not So Great For: fans of the character or original manga, action fans, horror enthusiasts
What else should I watch?
If you're new to the character then stay away or try your luck with Guyver: Dark Hero which is a bit closer in style and tone to the original. Failing that, stick with the animated adaptations - the most recent version was released in 2006.
Hollywood has a long and proud tradition of cocking up live-action adaptations of manga series. Fist Of The North Star is a comically bad martial arts flick that pales in comparision to the animated version while more recent efforts like Speed Racer and Dragonball Evolution have done little to reverse this trend. Even Scarlett Johansson's presence in Ghost In The Shell couldn't save it from tanking, despite its funky visuals. Worryingly, none of these films appear to have put producers off with forthcoming live-action versions of Cowboy Bebop, Beyblade and the forever-delayed Akira all in the pipeline. I'd rather stick with the Japanese anime originals, thanks and so should you.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox