A couple years ago I reviewed Appleseed, the movie incarnation of the mech manga. I liked it. So then I saw that NetFlix Instant had a sequel, Appleseed: Ex Machina, that fans raved about, and I thought it would be fun.
My God, how much has changed about computer animation, and yet how much has stayed the same.
The imitation of the physical world has gotten phenomenally good. Computers can make water, smoke, rain, reflections, sunlight and sound effects are unspeakably real. The imitation of human beings, however, remains tantalizingly stalled in the "eerie chasm" – simulations that are almost-but-not-quite human are more disturbing to look at than simpler animation. There are moments in the movie when Briareos or Deunan moved with startling naturalness, and my human-detectors scream, "That's it! That's a human being moving!" But then, just as quickly, it's gone, replaced by that floaty, gliding movement you see in video games. (There's something about big, tough he-man characters walking with the light evenness of a ballet dancer that's so -- and I must say this -- gay.)
Appleseed: Ex Machina was good. It would have been great, except that it borrowed so shamelessly from every other major sci-fi action film that it was mildly pathetic. It became a game of spot-the-ripped-off-scene:
"Yup, there's the falling backwards through broken glass, guns ablazing -- pure Matrix."
"There's the endless swarm of drones being vaporized by non-stop machine gun fire -- Matrix 3."
"There's the creepy tentacled cyborg queen -- exactly like the Star Trek Borg movie."
"There's the slow-mo rain of spent shells -- Matrix again.
"There's bullet-time -- Matrix again."
"There's the flying leap off the exploding building into a waiting airship -- Matrix a-gain."
"Hero's spaceship hurtling out of exploding enemy space station, chased by gouts of fire: Star Wars I and III"
"Flying ships landing on night-time, rainy landing pad: Clone Wars. "(I almost hate to admit I recognize that one.)
"Synthetic human with existential angst: Blade Runner"
"Please kill me before I lose control again and destroy the world: X-Men 3
"Evil mark floating in the sky: Harry Potter."
"Sparring match between Briareos and Tereus: Jesus H. Christ, not the Matrix again?"
It was all well done, but by the end I felt like no good action sequence had gone unrecycled . . . Including sequences from the original Appleseed, which also opens with a fast-paced fire-fight in an empty cathedral against ruthless cyborgs. To its credit, while the movie might pillage all it can from the Wachowskis, it also avoids their sins: repetitive fight scenes, talky philosophic tirades, and confusing plot-lines. This is straight action with just a little philosophy for flavor.
There was one part of the plot that I found surprisingly, startlingly true. I won't spoil anything by telling you about it, because it's so freaking obvious. The bad guys do some mind-control on an unwitting population through a popular PDA-like device called a Connexus. Anyone wearing the Bluetoothy earpiece gets turned into a zombie when the evil signal is broadcast. That part wasn't surprising. What was surprising -- and true -- was that even after the good guys figure it out and tell the world it's dangerous, you still have lots of users saying, "What?!? I can't live without this thing." If word got out that Steve Jobs was controlling people's minds through their iPods and iPhones, you would still see people wearing them. Kinda gives new meaning to the term, "killer app."