Reviewby Jacob Chapman,
Attack on Titan: End of the World
Eren Jaeger is a Titan! This shocking revelation throws the remnants of the training regiment into chaos, as their hotheaded comrade is dragged off in chains to face an impromptu tribunal. Shock after shock hits our heroes full force when the secrets behind the walls, the Titans' origins, and the true purpose of the Survey Corps come to light.
Now torn between multiple forces in pursuit of their own agendas, Eren must decide not only his fate, but the fate of all mankind. Of course, he can't do it alone. The fate of the world now rests in the hands of the military's newest trainees and the trust of Eren's loved ones (and even enemies) to show him the true path forward.
Attack on Titan Part II begins with an unusually long, TV-style recap montage of the first film. On the one hand, it's been about a month since that first movie came out, so maybe the audience could use a refresher before heading straight into the conclusion. On the other hand, it might have been a mistake to remind audiences so thoroughly of what that first half was like, right before delivering a second half so completely different in style from top to bottom. For fans of the original manga/anime, this shift is not one of faithfulness. This second movie is just as faithful to the source material as the first, which is to say not one iota. Plot points and iconic shots from the source are borrowed from start to finish, but they have a completely different context, tone, and perspective all their own. Just like the first film, Part II has to be approached as a standalone movie to be worth your time. So for those who enjoyed Part I, what is the big difference? It seems director Shinji Higuchi has decided that first movie was our spoonful of sugar, so now it's time to chase it down with the real bitter medicine.
Where the first Attack on Titan movie was all gore and atmosphere, this second movie jumps straight to the big plot reveals and the bigger thematic ideas behind them. The difference in tone is immediately night and day. Part I is a movie with intense, horrifying action scenes punctuated by short conversations, and Part II is a movie with long conversations punctuated by bleak, melodramatic action scenes. The Titans, masterpieces of uncanny horror that carried the first movie, appear for only five minutes or so of this conclusion. Humans and Human-Titans carry all of the action, and while several of the fights are well-choreographed and many moments of the final battle are jaw-dropping, it's a far more Hollywood angle on the action and a completely different experience from the morbid novelty of the first movie. (The Colossal Titan is still the platonic ideal for the movie's kaiju-CG hybrids, but the other Human-Titans are more rubbery and less successful.) The rest of the film is taken up with heated conversations between heated combatants about everything from tactics to conspiracies to the meaning of life itself. It's probably not what you were expecting from Attack on Titan.
Fortunately, the characters are never just gabbing on for no reason. Every seemingly innocuous detail of the first movie is paid off in some way by this finale, either as a dialogue callback with new meaning or as a cathartic action to cap off all the little happenstances from before. If nothing else, these two films click together by sharing the bedrock of a cohesive and methodically thought-out script. At some points, the movie is almost too deliberately scripted, giving characters lines that make their true feelings painfully obvious, creating borderline goofy metaphors like an Apple of Freedom contrasting a Potato of Peace, or relying on a hokey old late-'60s love song (with on-the-nose lyrics) to carry the movie's biggest reveal.
Then again, subtlety has never been a strength for Attack on Titan in any form, and the politically charged concepts being juggled here are so loaded that it's probably better not to leave any room for error when translating them into a fantasy film for wide audiences. It's a little eye-rolling for Shikishima to explain his beliefs to Eren point-blank while he paces the room, but this blatant approach ultimately keeps the movie in comfortable popcorn entertainment territory where it belongs. It's just smart enough to say big things with confidence, but it's never too smug or arty for the room. Unfortunately, the story is almost too direct with its ideas and twists, broadcasting almost every reveal long before it happens and restating its message in hammer blows to the audience. This movie wants to make absolutely sure that you don't walk out of the theater with any confused thoughts about its ultimate goals. Its success rate with quelling confused feelings, however, is bound to be wobbly at best and massively disappointing at worst.
Stark as the tone switcheroo between these movies may be, it didn't happen without warning. The first movie started displaying more complicated ideas and overt symbolism in its second act with the arrival of Shikishima, and the first act wasn't exactly devoid of symbolic images (like a deactivated incendiary bomb and crashed fighter planes) before he showed up. It may have been horror spectacle above all else, but it was still 100% psychologically driven horror, with political concepts burning around its edges. Part II isn't jarring because it delves into heavy material. It does that with a surprising amount of grace, especially considering how badly it could have gone. No, the second movie is jarring because the first movie didn't lay the groundwork for any of these potentially powerful messages to mean anything for the audience on an emotional level. This movie's characters are simple stereotypes, tidy shadows of their original selves whittled down to function in the confines of a 90-minute horror movie. This simplification worked for what Part I was trying to do, but Part II puts too much weight on the cast's papery shoulders. They've had no time to grow past their symbolic roles between the simplicity of the first movie and the (relative) complexity of the second. All the legwork required to make their struggles hit us where it hurts was left undone by the gore-fueled first half. If we don't care about how these characters feel, we can't care about what they have to say about the world.
Eren's arc is obviously the most developed, but you could still probably predict it based solely on the events of the first movie. He starts out wrongheaded but righteous in spirit, makes mistakes along the way (which Mikasa pays the penalty for), changes his understanding of the world and his place in it, but ultimately pursues his heart's desires after growing up a little and redeeming himself (and therefore Mikasa.) Of course, this is all undercut by making Mikasa the tragic symbol for all his whoopsie-daisies, and Part II only doubles down on Part I's needless destruction of everything that made her unique or likable. Where the original material used Mikasa's role as a protector to positive effect, these movies only seem interested in punishing or rewarding her for who she is protecting (or more accurately serving) at any given time, playing her for pity in the most hackneyed "broken woman" way from the oldest of books. Every other character either exists as a mouthpiece for a worldview (Shikishima, Kubal), a team member filling a basic role (Armin, Sasha) or comic relief that gets to deliver a scheduled plot point (Sannagi, Hans/Hange).
In the abstract, the Attack on Titan live-action movies have some valuable and even surprisingly nuanced things to say about mankind's relationship with progress and power. It presents two clearly motivated sides rooted in real-world parallels, places the young trainees between them, and forces them all to make their own decisions, giving everyone just a little wiggle room for nuance without complicating the simple story. The meticulous care taken with the film-original story is easy to appreciate when you stand back and look at the full package, but up-close and in-the-moment, it all rings hollow. The film is so laser-focused in its desire to put a big satisfying The End on the live-action version of the Titan story that it forgets to inject the journey with enough humanity to make the audience want to give their hearts to its cause.
Just like Attack on Titan Part I, reactions to this movie will heavily depend on what each audience member expects going in. If you're looking for a faithful adaptation of the Attack on Titan manga, these movies were never geared toward that goal. Still, as a standalone movie, Part I had its own merits for open-minded fans and new audiences alike. Sadly, Part II doubles down on these barriers of expectation by betraying not only the expectations of prior fans, but even fans of the prior movie in this double feature. It is possible to get a fulfilling narrative experience out of both these films and appreciate what the artists behind it were trying to create, but it requires being very flexible, and the intensely divisive nature of the final product may just doom these movies to the doghouse for trying to accomplish too many things at once. Ideally, Part I and Part II would have just been one longer film instead, edited for tone consistency in the process to marry its extremes of horror spectacle and allegorical fantasy into one more consistent movie. As it is, TOHO has created a uniquely ambitious adaptation that is raw with passion and ambition...but raw meat is hard to stomach for good reason.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Script delivers on all the setup from the first film with solid payoffs, the film's heady themes are clearly stated and easy to follow, ending wraps everything up in a nice little standalone bow
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