Adaptations to the big screen do not sit well for many. Only a handful of chosen ones survive the transition from the original source material to the cinema, and that really takes a whole lot of luck, viewer-interest, and a good director to pull off. It often never ends well, and the latest head to roll down the platter is the recent "Attack on Titan" live film that was released weeks ago.
The most important thing to remember, while watching the live-action film of "Attack on Titan," or any other adaptation for that matter, is to detach yourself from the anime/manga/book. It is a standalone film that should be watched, enjoyed, or loathed in its own right without the shadow of the source material, because these two are really worlds apart.
In its own right, "Attack on Titan" sears with power. The "prologue" screams the loudest. It lets out a blood curdling scream as a desperate act of self-preservation. It is, at most, a zombie flick, where the zombies can run, regenerate torn limbs, stand as tall as buildings, and yet have some crazy ninja moves in picking off victims like chicken drumsticks. And how can one stand up against something truly enormous?
As the opening act plays out, we're introduced to the three main characters: Eren, Mikasa, and Armin, in a post-apocalyptic world, trying their best to survive and die from old age. This has the classic coming-of-age elements, where characters in their juvenile naivete learn that there is more to life than the walls that surrounds them, which were meant to keep the Titans at bay. The three gaze upon the walls standing high, with remnants from an old world, such as a decommissioned helicopter. The walls stand high like a towering beast, casting shadows on the city they were tasked to look after. They were built like a fortress, with a menacing architecture, designed to fight for its own survivability.
The wall guards are hostile to anyone who approaches those walls, as if they were actually meant to keep people in, than keep things out. And it's this hostility and restriction that gives this city a choking sensation. And which dumbass youth wouldn't want to rebel and scale that wall in search for freedom, such as setting sights on the ocean.
The ocean itself is a dream. The word alone is alien to the people locked here. The government has enforced some sort of martial law, in the same vein as Ray Bradbury's novel "Fahrenheit 451" where basically, books are banned to discourage free thinking and creativity. Because those two could, and most likely, lead to the disruption of the status quo. This is, it appears, to be a more political reason, than risking reckless behavior that might cause a genocide. There could be another reason, revealed in the future sequels, which has been released already.
And proof that books inherit free thinking, is when it was mentioned that Eren and Armin read about the "ocean" in a book that no eyes were meant to see. The idea of seeing water vaster than the greens their eyes could see, sounded impossible. It was intriguing, to confirm its existence, and feel the salt wash over them. The idea of the "ocean" plays a much deeper role here. When we talk about the ocean, it means possibilities. The ocean, unlike the sky, is full of mysteries, whether deep below, or the land beyond the ocean. At the same time, the ocean itself is a wall that keeps us within a land we are in. Later in the film, when the characters are allowed to go beyond the walls, they were met with possibilities and learned more crazier things beyond they could understand.
Predictively, Titans break in and cause mass hysteria. The Titans marched into the city, waving flags of hopelessness. Titans start eating people across the city, and this is where the film shines. From the chaos that ensues, from a great number of people running toward one direction, in between an alley, where they bathe in the blood of their neighbors as a Titan crunches on their bones beneath the crowd.
The Titans are the embodiment of hopelessness. Their voice is the pain they inflict to the hundreds or thousands of those they picked up with their large hands. Humans, feeble, and defenseless, bodies torn, ripped, and gnawed by things they could never understand. All they could do, is watch and do nothing while blood, guts, and viscera fall on them in a violent, grotesque downpour.
"Attack on Titan" is whirlpool of magical potential. And it is sad, that only the first fifteen minutes is actually worth watching. The second half of the film, sacrifices much of the tension and fear, for a few cheap action scenes and cheesy dialogues. We watch petty rivalries, humiliation, betrayals, and hypocrisy, and everything else mixed together without finesse. It's just a downward mess from here on out.
Character development falls flat on the face, replaced with teenage angst when these characters look like to be in their early twenties, at least. It's as if these characters are trapped in their own fantasies, trying to reclaim their own lost years. It sounds romantic, only if it were done well. Instead, we were given shallow characters that act goofy all throughout the film. We are given a glimpse of their back stories, which might have been a nice touch, but it's their own shallowness that cuts all emotion, we as the viewers, could have had with them.
The most developed characters, how I see it, were the couple, whose names escape me, as their interaction with one another, and their undying loyalty for one another carved quite the dramatic effects on screen. Even their micro-second sex scene gimmick, has a touch of a deeper unspoken story in it.
For the most part though, we are cast into the wild with a bunch of unruly and undisciplined strangers that can only insult each other or ingest large quantity of potatoes - it's supposed to be funny, but really, it's not. Anime version of Potato Girl didn't translate well into the film, and in this live version, she continuously labors herself devouring potatoes like a creature devoid of all its basic necessities. I didn't see the supposed interesting and funny character here. I saw a glutton, too obnoxious to consider if other teammates were hungry. The fact she later shows some serious archery skills that could make Katniss Everdeen blush barely holds any true value after what has been done to her as a character.
For a moment, I had to remind myself that this is one of those adaptations where a grotesque amount of creative liberties had been part of the filmmaking process. And honestly, after forgetting the source material, I actually started enjoying the film again. But it didn't get me too far. Soon, even after injecting so much objectivity into watching the film, there were just way too many frustrations occurring that it is just outright terrible. Even on its own two feet, "Attack on Titan" is crushed under its own weight. The expectations had been way too high, even for me, when I had it geared to the lowest.
Here come the spoilers - only because it's outright horrible - amid the bloody conflict, where allies bled to death or were eaten piece by piece, the supposed legend, Captain Shikishima, stood on a rooftop, eating an apple, praising Eren for his sudden development of superhuman skill in killing Titans. Eren himself, as he whips himself across buildings, looks at Shikishima with bright goo-goo eyes that seem to scream, "Hey senpai look at me! I'm doing it! I'm doing it!" And when things go wrong, "Senpai, help! Help me senpai!"
To which, Shikishima simply shrugs and disappears for the duration of the action. Is he off to kill a few Titans, at least? It doesn't seem so. And the source material really hits me for the first time. At least in the anime/manga, soldiers realized they cannot be brave if they do not know fear, and fear is something they understand too well. Fear was what forced them to work as a single unit, having each other's backs, setting aside petty squabble. The main characters were definitely Eren, Armin, and Mikasa. But all the rest of the characters proved themselves as heroes. Something the live film failed to achieve.
No, it won't be the epic blockbuster hit of the decade. It has its own merits, and had a lot of misgivings, but in the end, the film achieved its intention to entertain and reintroduce "Attack on Titan" to fans in a different angle, at the same time, hope that newcomers check out the anime and manga.
On a quick recap note. The first half displays power, and the horrors these people have to witness. They are afraid of the Titans, and no one blames each other if he abandoned his loved ones for his own safety. The power and oppression instilled into them with fear is an overwhelming one. While the second half shows hope for humanity, the film itself has let down the characters that made the show so much intriguing by watering them down, and spitting on their faces to become these petty little things.
Personally, I believe this film was only made to be one colossal ad for the manga, to raise a substantial profit to pave way for a more dynamic and dramatic animation quality for the second season "Attack on Titan" anime, which is said to come out in 2016.Â