The Guyver was one of my first introductions to B grade sci-fi when I was a little tyke. Back in the days of HBO and its kind, weird and out of the way movies were often played either late at night or early in the morning, and it was there where I first laid eyes upon this manga derived creature feature.
For those unfamiliar with the basics of The Guyver universe, the story is primarily centered around a bio-mechanical suit of armor, The Guyver, that has the ability to fuse with and be stored inside it’s heroic host when not in use. The cyborg like suit gives its user all the standard bonuses we sci-fi fans are used to, including increased speed, strength, and jumping ability as well as some nifty blades that protrude from the elbow of the suit and are retractable. The suits origin is alien, as is the entire human race. We were put here by aliens in order to create the ultimate organic weapon, Mankind. There are also some Zoanoids, which are the bad aliens who are after The Guyver unit in order to use its power to do evil stuff. That is about as deep as I’m willing to go as there really isn’t much more to the plot than that.
The acting in the Guyver is on the level of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon episode. Michael Berryman, of the original The Hills Have Eyes fame, does his best to bring all his natural spookiness to his character, and right behind him is David Gale, whose claim to fame within the horror genre would be his mostly bodiless work in Re-Animator. Speaking of the Re-Animator connection, Jeffrey Combs also gets a bit part towards the finale of The Guyver, playing Dr. East, undoubtedly a inside joke and reference to his breakthrough role as Dr. Herbert West. Brian Yuzna is producer here, as he was on Re-Animator, so it’s no surprise he got his old pals to come along for the ride. Mark Hamill is also in this, although his role is much smaller than the box art indicates. He is the cop/investigator guy who gets wrapped up in this whole space armor deal, and seems confused as to what kind of film he is actually in. At certain points he seem relatively playful in his approach, suiting the mood of the movie, and at other times he is visibilty trying too hard to act the shit out of his role. His uneven performance can’t match the pure suffering and terror that is Vivian Wu however. She is so annoying and useless that I had to fast forward through some of the scenes where she got more than 2 full sentences to say in succession. Jack Armstrong as The Guyver/Sean Barker is tolerable, but ultimately insignificant considering the second half of the movie it’s just his voice we hear while a stuntman kicks ass in the armor. Linnea Quigley also shows up for about 2 seconds, she screams and looks good in tight clothing, which is actually a great way to sum up her career as a Scream Queen.
So the acting really doesn’t do the film any favors, as it is more fun to see who pops up in this film, than it is to actually watch any of them act. Sadly, the directing doesn’t quite make up for it. Screaming Mad George is behind the lens for this one, someone who is best known for being the mastermind behind some of the effects for the sci-fi mega hit Predator. But while every monster and special effect I have seen from him I have absolutely loved (he is big into robotics, stop-motion animation, practical and prosthetic effects, and even some clay work) his directing leaves much to be desired. George doesn’t try to do anything special or fancy, with the exception being the comic book like screen slices where the next scene cuts the previous seen in half diagonally like a sword for a transition. Instead, his direction feels very pedestrian, going beyond simply observing what is going on, to the point where the camera just feels kind of boring. Usually, I favor this approach to the shaky cam of today, or the overuse of filters and screen effects that can all to often destroy a scene, but The Guyver, and its history of stylized, edgey mangas, seemed to beg for a more interesting visual take. Maybe the budget had something to do with it, or maybe Yuzna got his hands in there too much, but for wahetver reason, The Guyver falls flat a few times too many to be constantly and thoroughly exciting. And just for arguments sake, if this ever gets remade or rebooted, I place my vote for either Takeshi Miike or Ryûhei Kitamura to get the job as director.
By now, you may be wondering why you should waste any of your precious time watching this flick. And I gotta say, if it were not for the special effects, this may have been a complete wash. Screaming Mad George makes up for his directing sins by putting together some of the best rubber suits and robotics I have seen. The Guyver armor itself is emaculate, full of moving parts while still being form fitting to whomever was in it at the time. It has that “you can almost feel it and you could reach out and touch it” quality to it that modern movies just can’t muster as long as they hobble along with the crutch that is computer graphics. Besides the amazing job on our hero, the bad guys get it just as good, with each Zoanoid getting a personalized and very distinct look in their monster form. There are even furry monster boobs. Ever creature design also feels original, and personal to each character, meaning their monster form matches, to an extent, what they look like in human form, along with their personality. The afforementioned directing gets it right on this one aspect, showing the monsters in full view and allowing them to be very active when fighting, showing the suits are not just for show but actually made to be flexible enough to fight in and move around in fluidly. The creature design is so good, it validates the whole picture.
The Guyver is certainly a case of personal nostalgia shining down its radiant glow on a movie memory of mine and making it seem brighter. The Guyver isn’t a worthless film, it just isn’t a terrifically good one. There is an incredible amount of depth to be explored in its universe, and this film barely scratches the surface of the psycholigcal and biological relationships that a regular human would have with such unprecedented alien equipment. Not to mention, the untapped potential of the human race finding out it was created by aliens in an attempt to create the ultimate organic warmachine. I don’t expect some deep thinking mans sci-fi tale, but The Guyver I remembered from when I was young was better than this. For cheesy sci-fi completists and Yuzna and company fans, this is a must just to see the special effects and cult actors as work. Outside of those camps, it is a tough sell.