First of all, let me state that the title of this film is actually The Guyver Dark Hero, not The Guyver 2 Dark Hero. I decided to call it The Guyver 2: Dark Hero so that everyone will understand this is indeed a direct sequel to The Guyver, the 1991 film I recently reviewed. In that review, I dissected my own memories of The Guyver a bit, and learned that not everything I enjoyed when I was younger holds up as well today. As luck would have it though, during my light research for The Guyver review, I stumbled upon its straight-to-video R-Rated sequel, and still being in the mood to see stuntmen in elaborate rubber suits and armor beat the shit out of each other, I jumped on it. This has turned out to be one of the best decisions of my weekend, and possibly my entire month!
To sum up the plot, I have to make a choice. Do I assume you have seen the first Guyver movie, or do I just start from the beginning? I’ll give you a brief summary of the initial live action installment, and then bleed it into the plot synopsis of the second entry.
*Spoiler Alert* (If you haven’t seen the first movie, this will ruin it for you.)
In the first Guyver, Sean Barker, a typical college aged white guy, stumbles upon the Guyver unit, which he then uses to save his girlfriend Mizky, who was the daughter of the doctor who stole the unit from the Chronos corporation, which is a company that is a front for shape shifting evil Zoanoids (Aliens). Phew, that was a mouthful. In the process he destroys the Chronos L.A. base, seemingly removing that threat. It is now some time down the road, and he (Sean Barker/The Guyver) is the resident anti-hero of L.A having mastered control over the activation of his parasitic armament. After the opening scene where e, in very graphic fashion, takes down a group of drug smugglers, his relationship with Mizky is ended, because she can’t stomach his murderous hero lifestyle. All the while he is having visionary dreams, jotting down the images that come to him during his slumber in a notebook. These images match those found at a archaelogical dig, a location also reported to be host to “werewolf attacks.” Sean Barker, knowing that the Zoanoids and their shape shifting ways have been responsible for the myths of vampires and werewolves throughout recorded history, goes to investigate. Ok, now that we are done with introduction…
For the sake of organization (and my own minor fits with obsessive compulsive disorder) I will break this review down into three main parts, the same way I did with The Guyver review. The first item up for examination will be the acting. David Hayter, famous for voicing Solid Snake in some of the titles of that popular video game series as well as writing the screenplay for the recent Watchmen movie as well as X-men and X-men 2, takes over the reigns as Sean Barker/The Guyver. He does an admirable job, much better than his predecessor Jack Armstrong, but still seems to be overdoing in spots, contorting his face into overly expressive shapes and not being subtle enough in his approach. I wasn’t expecting miracles here, but someone could have slipped a whisper into his ear and told him to turn it down a notch so when his character is upset, it doesn’t look like he is pumping out a sharp, painful, triangular poop. Besides Hayter, the only performance that is memorable is that of Kathy Christopherson, who plays the love interest to our lead, Cori. She does her best to summon the ghost of Vivian Wu’s fucking hideous performance in the first film, but even she can’t sink as low as Wu did. She has her moments where you can tell why she is an actress who would be hired, but she suffers from the say same “way too busy with facial expressions” syndrome that Hayter succumbs to. Everyone else in the movie is just kind of there, and to my limited knowledge, they are no one of note.
The directing in a major step up from the first movie beyond a shadow of a doubt. That isn’t to say it is without its faults, but the good far outweighs the bad. Steve Wang is credited as one half of the directing team of the original flick, but here he shows a much different, and much more appropriate visual style, especially during combat. Where I feel the ball is dropped is during the middle stanza, where Wang brings the movie to a crawl as he attempts to examine the psychological and cultural implications of the existence of the Zoanoids, as well as the cultural and scientific weight of the…”relic” that is found during the dig. I praise him for exposing more than just the tip of the iceberg of The Guyver mythos, but at the same time I loathe the fact that it makes the middle piece of what otherwise is a highly entertaining sci-fi action picture such a chore to sit through. There were times where I wondered if I should turn it off, or fast foward a bit to save myself some time, but in the end I was very glad I stuck with it. The reason for that is right around the 1 hour mark, right when the sluggish pace was really starting to test my patience, Wang put his stomps his foot down on the accelerator HARD. The last 45 minutes is a blissful orgy of well lit monster martial arts mayhem. The fighting is edited and shot masterfully, bringing the distinct oriental flavor that was criminally absent in the first film. Another key element is that there is limited use of music during these fights, meaning that all the impact and the “boosting” and “whooshing” sounds The Guyver makes as his suit propels his up from the ground or through the air are that much more clear and emphasized. Tag that along with the leeway that the R rating gives, and the violence transcends above what it looks like on screen, which is simply guys in suits doing flips and ninja stuff. I will post a video to show you how effective this is below. One last thing to mention would be the pleasurable nighttime cinmetography. You can see everything that goes on clearly, and it never hinders the images quality.
If you thought the effects were good in The Guyver (not only were they good, they were the driving force behind the whole damn thing) then you better hold onto your hat, because the sequel brings the rubber suits and thin, watery Japanese blood by the goddamn bucket full. The amount of on screen monsters and varying make-up and suits has doubled, and the addition of gore has helped to bring even the most immediately laughable creations to a more serious level. Sure, the guy who looks like a cross between a bumblebee and an ant looks funny at first, but wait until he gets his head cut off. And pictured above, that beast is a cross between a hedgehog, porcupine, and a iconic werewolf. Silly at first, but when you see the absolute devastation The Guyver lays down on it, which includes a double barrelled laser blast that implodes both the creatures eyeballs, you won’t be laughing. Instead you’ll be saying “OH SHIT! That was effin’ AMAZING.” I can’t give enough credit to whomever choreographed these fights, as well as the editor who picked and spliced just the right shots to make the combat and monster shenanigans less of a laughable affair, and more of a dead serious struggle for the preservation of Earth and the human race. The bright red, shiny blood flows pretty liberally too, showing that Sean Barker and his opposition are much more intent on getting the job done this time around. Killing is not just the last option, it is the only option. The only word I can summon to describe the entire special effects package on display here is superb. It is a major step forward, and my only regret is the days when audiences could marvel at the handiwork of artists with paint, latex, rubber, and plastic maybe be behind us.
In closing, Dark Hero is a few light years ahead of The Guyver. It suffers from an obviously low budget, which I’m sure was set low due to the less than favorable reception of the first film. But despite having no name actors, a mountain of bad reputation to try and repel, and a rare R Rating for these types of genre fare, Dark Hero succeeds in being, if nothing else, a satisfying guilty pleasure. The direction and acting are both adequate, and at times break free from the schlocky straight-to-video chains that bind them, but the martial arts, costume design, and unexpected grisly violence all elevate this just enough to be considered a hidden gem of the mid 90’s. It isn’t a must watch, but it is surely something that made my entire weekend, and filled the empty void left inside me after the dissapointment that was my rewatching of The Guyver 1.
P.S. A 2005 “re-edit” with new music and and enhanced digital effects is available in 13 parts for free on youtube, for those who aren’t download or amazon savvy. Here is a link to Part 1.