The first part of the Attack on Titan film adaptation is a disappointing affair that doesn’t work on any level.
“Seid ihr das Essen? Nein, wir sind die Jaegar!”
These are the first lines to the show’s opening in the first half of the first season, and it translates to “You are the prey and we are the hunters.” It’s the primary theme that runs throughout the first season of Attack on Titan, and deals with the changing dynamics between the humans and their monstrous oppressors, and is a slow-burning theme that develops as the series grows. How does this relate to this review? It can be tough to adapt a TV show or a long book into a film. Anyone who’s seen any will know stories will have to be shortened, or outright removed, characters have to be merged, and generally everything needs to be sped up to be able to tell a proper story into 100 minutes. Historically, this can either be a triumph or a dismal failure. Sometimes, say with the final Harry Potter book, you can split it into two films so you can tell a more detailed story. Again, this can work out to the film’s favour, or it can drag an already tedious film into three or four hours. Unfortunately, Attack on Titan is the latter.
The movie centres around Eren Jaeger (Haruma Miura), a boy who lives in the Outer Ring of his town – a town protected by three walls built in concentric circles. 100 years prior, these three walls were built in circles to keep out Titans – giant, humanoid monsters with seemingly no origin, and an appetite for humans. However, one day, a giant Titan, one taller than even the walls, appears, kicks a hole in the outer wall, and all hell breaks loose upon the Agricultural zone, with Titans causing endless destruction and eating half the population. When a Titan seemingly eats their childhood friend Mikasa (Kiko Mizuhara), Eren and best friend Armin (Kanata Hongo) decide to join the Survey Corps, a group of soldiers trained to scout the surrounding areas and take out roaming Titans.
So, let’s ask how it holds up to source material scrutiny. By source material here, I mean the Attack on Titan anime, not the manga; not that it matters because the movie chooses to disregard both almost immediately. This film makes me think that the writer and director were handed a vague synopsis of the film, a couple of character sketches and then told to figure the rest out. Fans of the show will recognise some scenes – especially the last third – but the lack of work in making the characters like their animated counterparts is staggering. Even if this wasn’t an adaptation, and I believe it’s important to treat films in their own right, it still doesn’t hold up. We’re just not told a lot about any of the characters. Even Eren, who hogs every second of screen time doesn’t feel particularly fleshed out. We know he hates Titans, because they laid waste to his part of town, but everyone hates the Titans. Armin must hate the Titans also, for that same reason, but we’re barely treated to more than one or two minutes of him on screen at any one point. His friendship with Eren and the reason they stick together exist only because it’s part of the source material, not because of any believable moments of character.
There’s little to make us care for the people we see on screen, so when they inevitably get killed off one by one, there’s no punch to it. There aren’t as many Survey Corps members as they are in the show so when one of them dies, it should hold some emotional weight, but it doesn’t. The stakes never feel particularly high and so the film struggles to find any reason to exist.
Well, perhaps the action scenes can salvage the lack of character growth. After all, we’re expecting people zipping from building to building chopping chunks out of the necks of giants. It could take a whole heap of suck to make those scenes look bad. And they do! The effects are beyond terrible, and that’s taking into account the campy cheapness you expect from tokusatsu films. They make Godzilla Final Wars look like Pacific Rim. Every scene is shot in desaturated Zac Snyder Man Of Steel-vision, lacking any sort of visual excitement. It’s hard to tell if they degraded the film to make it fit with the effects, or if this was the intended look all along, but it’s not pleasant. Anime is famous for gorgeous backgrounds, vivid colours and complex, exciting action scenes and director Shinji Higuchi offers us none of this. It’s bleak and boring to watch even when the Survey Corps fly unconvincingly through the air chopping off plastic-looking pieces of flesh from Titans that clearly aren’t there.
To give it some credit, it has a couple of good moments of tension, and the later sequences take their time in telling a story instead of trying to cram as many episodes in as little time as possible. When the Corps go out to do some scouting, we’re treated to a few decent scares and some emotional moments, kind of. As much emotion as we can get from people who have had less than five minutes screen time, anyway.
It’s hard to figure out who exactly this film was made for. Fans of the show will hate it. People who want to experience the world of Attack on Titan without spending any time invested in it won’t be sold by what they see here. There are enough moments in this that are far detached from the source material, so it won’t offer up a tonne of spoilers (except maybe during the final fight). Sometimes they change around some characters, for example fan favourite character Levi Ackerman does not make an appearance and is instead replaced by the confusing and ultra creepy Captain Shikishima (Hiroki Hasegawa), and Mikasa disappears for the majority of the film, choosing to reappear near the three-quarter mark; sometimes they change even the lore – for example, female Titans seem commonplace in the film, whereas the origin of the lone Female Titan in the source material is the primary story of the second arc. These changes help distinguish it as its own film, but even then it’s not like that really makes any difference.
As it is, Attack on Titan isn’t a recommendable film, really. Unless the second film steps the game up dramatically, it is much easier to spend a few extra hours and watching the show- the characters are far more believable, the action is incredible and the story is much richer than anything you’ll find in these films.
Verdict: Pick up the manga, or catch the series on Netflix. It’s much more worthy your time.
Attack on Titan (2015)
Also known as: 進撃の巨人 (Shingeki no Kyojin)
Director: Shinji Higuchi
Writer: Yūsuke Watanabe, Tomohiro Machiyama
Eren Haruma Miura
Mikasa Kiko Mizuhara
Armin Kanata Hongo
Shikishima Hiroki Hasegawa
Jean Takahiro Miura
Sasha Nanami Sakuraba
Sannagi Satoru Matsuo
Fukushi Shu Watanabe
Hiana Ayame Misaki
Lil Rina Takeda
Hans Satomi Ishihara
Souda Pierre Taki
Kubal Jun Kunimura