Based on the incredibly popular manga and anime of the same name, Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) is a bit of a strange beast. Set in post-apocalyptic Earth, the remainder of humanity resides in a gigantic walled off city hiding from the monstrous Titans that roam the world outside. It’s been a hundred years since the walls went up and anybody has seem them, but with the appearance of a much larger “Colossal” Titan, they’ve found a way inside and reignited the war.
To lay all of my cards out on the table right at the start, I’ve watched and enjoyed the anime, but I’ve never read the manga. I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan, but I do very much enjoy the world and the characters. I was pretty late to the party on this one, but because of that it’s all still very fresh in my mind. The moments where they kept close to the source material were apparent, and the parts where they deviated stuck out like a sore thumb. Given some of the directions that the movie takes it will be nearly impossible not to address the changes, so if you’re not familiar with the show just bear with me as I nerd out and rant a bit.
The cast does a fine job, given what they had to work with. Unfortunately, some of the changes in this department are just baffling. The film stars Haruma Miura as Eren Jaeger, a boy who is not particularly content with humanity’s confines, stuck behind the walls. He dreams of leaving the city and doesn’t even believe that the Titans exist until one comes knocking. This is a major departure from his character in the source material to the point where other characters quote dialogue that he said in the anime when speaking to him in the film. He’s even robbed of the moment in the anime that is his major motivation throughout the entirety of the series.
His two friends Armin and Mikasa fare slightly better yet also slightly worse. Kanata Hongō’s Armin is pretty close to his anime counterpart, though he doesn’t really get a whole lot of screen time. He’s still overly emotional and brainy. He’s still the nerd of the group, tinkering with inventions. Mikasa is almost the opposite of her anime version to start. While she’s a total badass that’s extremely protective of Eren in the series, she’s timid and he ends up trying to protect her in the film. After certain events she becomes much closer to her anime version, but also gets tangled up in this creepy and unnecessary love triangle. This is where we meet Shikishima, who is the film’s version of the character Levi. At first I was quite annoyed that they took the best character in the show and replaced him with a weird doppelganger, but as time moved on and he became creepier and less likable, I was okay with the name change. Oddly, the two characters that translate the most directly are some of the most out of place (yet highly enjoyable) performances. Both “Potato Girl” Sasha and Hans (Hange in the anime) appear for comedic effect and offer some of the best moments in the film.
As far as the plot itself, it starts off fairly close to the show, with the Colossal Titan breaking a hole in the outer wall and the smaller (but still humongous) regular Titans getting in and going on a rampage of cannibalistic gore. The survivors retreat further into the city and inside of the next wall. Jump ahead two years and Eren and Armin have now enlisted to help fight back against the Titans and are sent on a mission to try and close the hole in the wall using explosives. This is a gross oversimplification of many of the events from the show, and this whole middle section is basically uncharted territory. The weird love triangle mentioned before, the animosity growing between Eren and his rival as well as Mikasa, and everyone slowly losing it just leads to a lot of melodramatic speeches that fall flat and turn out much funnier than they were intended to be.
Changes aside, the thing that the movie excels at is the same thing that I found most engaging from the series, which is seeing a group of people going up against an enemy that they have little to no hope of defeating, and the absolute horrors that come along with that. The Titans are huge naked humanoid creatures with no sexual organs. They stomp around the cities plucking up and eating people in increasingly gory fashions, and this is some of the best stuff in the film. They do not shy away from the bloodshed or gore here and these sequences are incredibly gruesome. The Titans are mostly achieved using what looks like practical makeup effects and green screen and they’re impressive to watch. There is definitely extensive CGI as well, but it’s used in smart ways and overall the look of the film is well-done. The setting is changed a bit from the German medieval look of the anime to a more post-industrial Japan, but it works well-enough, if not becoming a bit more generic.
When the humans do fight back, they do so with the Omnidirectional Mobility Gear and a pair of kick-ass swords. The only way to kill a Titan is to chop off the back of its neck, so they swing around like some kind of steampunk Spider-Men to get close enough to attack. This is iconic from the show and it’s reproduced beautifully in live action. Unfortunately, with some of the changes that have been made it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. In the show they’ve had scouting groups going out beyond the walls and fighting the Titans for years, so they’ve had a hundred years to figure out how to kill them and develop the weaponry to do so. In the film, they haven’t stepped foot outside since the walls went up, meaning they had to figure all of this out in just two years, which is much harder to swallow.
Attack on Titan has a weird dissonance to it. There are moments that are recreated almost directly from the show, but with other details having been changed they don’t make any goddamned sense any more. The ending especially comes out of absolutely nowhere and I can only imagine that anyone going in without any prior knowledge of the brand will be very confused. This movie deviates so hard from the source material that it gives you whiplash when it snaps back to being a dead on recreation. Oddly enough…this is where it starts to work. The film goes so far off the rails that it enters ridiculous territory and combined with the shocking and gruesome Titan attacks, it’s a lot of fun.
Attack on Titan is a hell of an entertaining movie, but that’s entirely in spite of itself. The Titan attacks are gory and shocking and handled beautifully and seeing the characters zipping around the city fighting them with the Omnidirectional Mobility Gear is awesome. The characters are often unrecognizable when compared to their anime counterparts and much of the plot is removed and replaced with a bizarre love triangle and lots of melodrama. None of that stuff is good, but at its worst it’s absolutely hilarious. Combined with the intentional humor that Sasha and Hans bring, this is a pretty funny movie. I don’t think that’s what they were going for, though. Overall, I would recommend this movie, but not to its intended audience. Fans of the anime should probably steer clear, because this movie is not actually that good. However, if you’re a fan of cheesy B-rated monster movies with lots of gore and terrible characters, this one’s for you.
Wicked Rating: 4/10
Director(s): Shinji Higuchi
Writer(s): Hajime Isayama (manga), Yûsuke Watanabe (screenplay), and Tomohiro Machiyama (screenplay)
Stars: Haruma Miura, Kiko Mizuhara, Kanata Hongō
Studio/ Production Co: Toho Company
Length: 90 minutes