Reviewby Michael Toole,
Mobile Suit Gundam 00 the Movie: Awakening of the Trailblazer
Sweet Christmas, what a mess!
That's really all I could think as the closing credits of Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer crawled past. A sequel to the recently concluded TV series, this film has a lot to live up to; Gundam 00 is by no means the best of Gundam, but it's a reliably clever and fun series throughout, if a bit overcomplicated, and Sunrise also boldly points to the fact that this is the first 100% new Gundam feature film in 19 years. That's right, we haven't had a new Gundam movie since Gundam F91, unless you count G-Saviour (I do!). I distinctly recall that my first thought after seeing Gundam F91 was “Sweet Christmas, what a mess!” so maybe director Seiji Mizushima and his team were just living up to past expectations.
I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but you might want to back off if you haven't seen Gundam 00 to its completion just yet. The series wraps up with the triumph of Celestial Being, the platoon of super-science powered Gundam pilots and support staff, over the A-Laws, in a war for control over Earth. Things have calmed down considerably, with Celestial Being having gone dark – the film actually opens with one of its best moments, a cleverly framed in-movie propaganda film that exaggerates the deeds of its heroes to super robot-levels.
In a lot of ways, it just starts to go downhill straight from that moment. We are re-introduced to the entire surviving cast in rapid-fire, from General Kati Mannequin and her smitten XO, Patrick Colasour, to Gundam pilots like Setsuna Seiei and Allelujah Haptism, along with at least a dozen other old heroes, villains, and supporting characters. Some characters barely interact with the story; others, like middle eastern princess Marina, appear frequently but don't seem to have anything to do. One thing that doesn't emerge right away is an antagonist; with the bad guys well beaten, the earth has fallen into a lasting peace. However, as God Emperor of Dune has taught us, a peace enforced by guns and bombs isn't really peace at all. Fortunately, the bad guys show up soon enough, and they are aliens.
This is another selling point of this Gundam 00 movie – it includes aliens as antagonists for the first time in the franchise's history. A central element of the series throughout its long history has been its focus on the evils of human-to-human warfare, so bringing space invaders into the fold certainly changes the dynamic of things. Unfortunately, the aliens are blank, featureless chunks of metal. No, that's literally what they are, an alien consciousness that hijacks an old Earth research spaceship and comes by to see what we're up to. It's kind of like Star Trek: The Motion Picture, another plotless yawner of a film, only it doesn't end with the explorer ship eating Stephen Collins. Instead, the alien consciousness (which is quite formidable, able to assimilate and control other objects through tactile contact) shoots up a signal flare, and soon Celestial Being has an alien mothership the size of the moon bearing down on mother earth.
This movie has problems. The most obvious problem is its enormous, convoluted cast of characters. I counted at least two or three main Gundam pilots, another five or six secondary pilots, a few ship commanders, a bunch of scientists, and a sick girlfriend. Despite hours of research, I still haven't quite figured out who all of these people are, and I've actually watched the majority of Gundam 00. Another problem is the movie's pacing – the bits between action scenes drag horribly, and there's one hilarious part where the good guys draw up a long-term battle plan and then we cut to the next scene, with attendant “SEVERAL DAYS LATER…” caption. Wow!
Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer has two great joys to it. One of them is the film's mecha battles, which are detailed and executed with head-spinning speed and precision – fleets of ships swarm and pulsate, and the iconic Gundam mobile suits themselves seem simultaneously overpowered and vulnerable. The ships utilize a huge variety of weapons, from beam rifles and sabers to conventional ordinance, particle weapons, fin-funnel-esque semi-autonomous shield and rifle bits, and a reality-defying enhancement called, I kid you not, TRANS-AM. One thing about this film that pretty much never disappoints is its mecha battles – they are always candy for the eye, lots of fun to watch.
The film's other best aspect is in its small moments – little details like Graham Aker's insistence on referring to the battle-hardened Setsuna as "young man," and especially in the relationships of its characters. There's love in the air between a few sets of characters – one of the central elements of the film is helmswoman Feldt's unspoken affection for Setsuna. These scenes of ooey-gooey romantic crap unfailingly drew a huge response from the packed audience I watched Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer, and there's far too few of them.
Aside from the tangled mess of the plot, the weird and unsatisfying (albeit final) ending, and bizarre title (there's no “trailblazer” mentioned in the film, nor does any character really awaken, in the spiritual sense), there's one other thing about this film that bugs me. Right at the end, Gundam 00 spells out its final message in giant letters, a message that is very common in films about war and conflict. And yet it cannot communicate this message as effectively as, say, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Gundam 00: Rise of the Trailblazer certainly cements Seiji Mizushima's proficiency as a good technical director, but the movie's confused story and lack of emotional weight keep it off the top shelf. Still, I have to admit that it was really great to watch a completely new big-budget Gundam movie, particularly in a room with 900 people deliriously chanting “GUN-DAM! GUN-DAM! GUN-DAM!” as the curtain opens. If another Gundam movie is in the works, it needs to be better.
Overall : C
Story : D
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Mouth-watering mecha battles, and a few really nicely tender moments for fans of the show's characters
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