Tetsujin 28, known as Gigantor in the West, is quite possibly the most iconic giant robot story ever told. It was a comic created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama in 1956 which made the jump to television screens in 1963. Since then there have been a few animated tv shows, statues, and even some real robots, but this movie is a rare live-action version.
I won’t bother going into plot details because all you need to know is on the DVD cover. That’s a problem, because the film spends the majority of its two hours telling a story so engrained in popular culture that it goes beyond being predictable to feeling interminably drawn out. The scene introducing the villain’s robot, which subsequently tears Tokyo a new one, is easily the highlight of the film. Effects-wise the robots have perfectly smooth exoskeletons with an uncanny sheen, giving them a hyper-real look which I enjoyed. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t let the mystery of who is controlling Black Ox simmer for very long, and his primary motivation for attacking the city leaves much to be desired. And that’s not all.
Like the first Short Circuit, the film has an identity crisis. The film makers can’t seem to decide if this is a movie for little kids or something darker for the adult fans. Despite the ridiculous plot and hammy acting it takes itself too seriously, with few attempts at comic relief. The result is a joyless film with none of the quaint charm of the black and white cartoon. It never strikes the right balance of drama, action, and comedy. The animated mini-series based on Giant Robo (another of Yokoyama’s creations) does a much better job of developing the boy’s relationship with his father in a single fever dream sequence.
What’s worse is that the fights between the robots – which ought to be spectacular – are rather boring. In the past 50 years, audiences have grown accustomed to increasingly frenetic, even acrobatic battle scenes as the genre has evolved. Having two robots stand nose to nose, slowly wind up their punches, and occasionally knock each other into the surrounding buildings just isn’t all that exciting.
Although I’m glad this film stuck to the original robot designs, I have to admit that it is actually less entertaining than the live-action version of Transformers. My advice: if you want to get your Tetsujin 28 fix, check out the original black and white cartoon series.
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