Appleseed Ex Machina


I have a feeling that John Woo only joined the project so he could tell people, "You know, you can complain about my post-Face Off films all you want, but at least I haven't deteriorated to the level of the Woo wannabes!"

- Ningen

Appleseed Ex Machina (2007)

Director: Shinji Aramaki

Producer: John Woo

Running Time: 104 min.

Plot: See review below.


NINGEN'S REVIEW: If you're not familiar with the first film, or Masamune Shirow's manga in general, just imagine cops with gun fetishes fighting futuristic crime consisting of technological threats. Now, that normally doesn't seem like such a bad concept, but Shirow likes to pad his work with footnotes describing how to blow things up real good or just explain all the parts that go into making a screwed-in light bulb work. Needless to say, his obsession with tech porn makes his material an acquired taste, even in Japan. Appleseed tries to be different by focusing more on the setting than the technology. It tells the tale of two ex-mercs-turned-cops named Deunan and Briareos living in the only centralized city left (at least in the manga) after a prolonged global war. Deunan is a Dirty Harriet at heart, while her partner is a man with grafted metal replacing his charred skin. Together, they go after terrorists in Olympus, an automated city created after the war which basically makes most of the decisions for what's left of the world.

And, apparently in the sequel, the director decided to invite John Woo to participate. This is technically not the first time they were (involuntarily) merged together. Shinji Aramaki's ideas for the sci-fi anime, Megazone 23 (available in R1), and John Woo's unique form of gun-play, were both incorporated into the Wachowski film, The Matrix. So it only makes sense that the original directors get to make their own project. The problem is that, in spite of their experience with previous Asian productions, Appleseed EM ironically comes off more like a watered-down Hollywood film than The Matrix. Hell, even "The Returner" looks less "Hollywood" than Appleseed Deux-and the only Asian elements in that one were the stars! Now, considering Appleseed has a more Western style in general, going for the Hollywood look might not be such a bad idea. But, while Appleseed at least tries to elevate the typical cop drama into a contemporary sci-fi on the level of Blade Runner, Ex Machina just goes for the "100 Things I Learned from Watching [Insert Blank Here]" cliches, including the dreaded "new partner".

I have a feeling that John Woo only joined the project so he could tell people, "You know, you can complain about my post-Face Off films all you want, but at least I haven't deteriorated to the level of the Woo wannabes!" And that's true here, too, because even "Paycheck" is more entertaining than Ex Machina; and the latter movie looked like an overpriced UPN [Excuse me, CW.] production! For, if the original CG Appleseed production took the medium in a direction which didn't involve talking animals and cars, this one just pushed it back to the level of video game craptitude unseen since "The Spirits Within". To be fair, EX looks a lot more visually-polished than 'Spirits and even the Appleseed predecessor; but, in the end, all you're really getting is a bad hybrid of Tekken and Robocop.

In Ex Machina, Briareos gets put out of commission by a cyborg terrorist organization. So the police force chooses to clone his former human self and team up 'Tereus' with Deunan until Briareos recovers. But Briareos is reluctant to take on more high-risk missions, and to Deunan's disdain, opts for back-up. Unfortunately, this reluctant trio is forced to work together when it's found out that the cyborgs, and even the humans, are being turned into "cyber-zombies". Now, that idea could work, if it was done in a way which asked whether Briareos could be considered more less human than Tereus-and vice versa. Or they could go into the issue of cyber-surveillance and tracking, since a group of hackers take control of people and cyborgs through key circuits in certain electronic parts. But no, we get stuck with a futuristic B-movie where the characters talk about their personal lives. Even the action scenes seem more like a parody of Woo's style than an homage to it, with the gun-play being toned down in favor of hand-to-hand combat. And the camera lingers too long on generic backgrounds, while barely focusing on the action. It's clearly a misfire on all levels. Still, if you need a reason to be ripped off by Sony's overpriced-and occasionally malfunctioning-Blu Ray player, you can't go wrong with Appleseed Ex Machina.