Review: Gatchaman / Cert: TBC / Director: Tôya Satô / Screenplay: Yûsuke Watanabe / Starring: Tôri Matsuzaka, Ryôhei Suzuki, Gô Ayano, Ayame Gôriki, Tatsuomi Hamada / UK Release date: TBC
Gatchaman is NOT Battle of the Planets. In fact Gatchaman doesn't even seem to be Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, the Japanese cartoon that Sandy Frank Entertainment edited into Battle of the Planets for western audiences in the late 1970s.
There's no Mark, Jason, Princess, Key-op or Tiny here and especially no 7-Zark-7. Instead the Gatchaman team consists of leader Ken, dark and brooding Joe (incorrectly referred to as George in the subtitles), siblings Jun and Jinpei and the happy-go-lucky Ryu. In this reboot, the Gatchaman team must defend Tokyo and the International Science Organisation from attacks by the Galactors, humans infected with the X-virus, who have already conquered most of Europe and are each protected by a shield that renders them immune to conventional weapons. Only receptors, such as the team members, can use mysterious stones to harness the power of G-particles to defeat the faceless, armoured Galactors.
While the films starts with a sense of fun and some reasonable CGI, it soon shifts to weightier themes as Joe and Ken's reunion triggers a lot of agonising over their lost teammate and former love interest Naomi, who fell to the Galactors years earlier.
Rather than an upbeat, loving remake of the original, such as the Wachowskis' Speed Racer (for all its sins), Gatchaman falls squarely into the category of dark, gritty reimagining. Many elements of the original series are referenced but many more are left by the wayside. While the team's costumes retain facets of the designs from the cartoon, such as the style of the helmets and each member's signature weapons, they are no longer bird themed at all. Ken and Ryu's outfits might mirror their cartoon counterparts relatively closely but Jun no longer sports her iconic (if impractical) white dress, opting instead of a black and purple suit.
After an opening battle, the film turns quite sombre with Ken wrestling with a crisis in leadership and Joe obsessing over his lost love while handling a mission that involves the Galactor responsible for her death, with the other characters barely getting a look in. What little humour there is comes from squabbles between young Jinpei and Ryu, and Jun's mooning after Ken, but these will barely raise a grin. The team also come across as intensely annoying, bickering amongst each other at times while their supposed mentor Dr Nambu looks on dispassionately. Similarly, the film's effects are sub-par. The team flit about unconvincingly in the fight/flight scenes, lacking any real weight or heft.
While early scenes have a slight flavour of Power Rangers to them, this feeling becomes all too strong once three "super Galactors" turn up looking as if they walked straight out of an episode of the Tokusatsu show (one of them even has pigtails and is wearing a pink dress over her armour!).
As the film reaches its climax, more series stalwarts show up such as the god-phoenix plane and leader of the Galactors Berg Katze (aka Zoltar from Battle of the Planets) and the film even manages to homage his/her roots as a shape-shifting hermaphrodite, without having to go down that slightly more adult route. But by this point the effects work has degenerated to sub-PS2 level, the sets look plastic and any sense of fun or adventure has completely dissipated. Plot points may be laid out for future sequels but based upon the evidence here it's doubtful they'll be able to follow through on that promise or else they will be even smaller budget affairs than this one. A disappointment.
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10