Three years after the dismal joke of a movie "Guyver", we are greeted with a second attempt at bringing the mildly popular manga to into live action with the movie "Guyver: Dark Hero", a loose sequel of the first guyver movie.
For starters, I am really glad that the film rights to "Guyver" has passed into more competent hands. Gone is the campy feel and laughable story of the first film, replaced with a more competent script and a serious science fiction/action feel that still threads the line of B movie-ness but is careful to not fall headlong into the category of "silly".
Needless to say, Guyver: Dark Hero is a highly enjoyable and entertaining adaptation of the beloved manga series, and is easily one of the better live action adaptations of manga in existence today. I believe it was a good move on the part of the producers to leave out the convoluted intergalactic backstory elements like the 13 "Zoalords", the "Lost Numbers", Hyper-zoanoid teams, etc. All that would have just confused the heck out of the audience who already would have trouble following the single backstory of the Guyver units' origins in this movie. Instead they left this story as "down to earth" as possible, wile still keeping the more crucial elements of the guyver mythos. In Guyver Dark Hero, the plot sees Chronos organization dispatch a team of Zoanoids to infiltrate an archaeological dig and excavate an ancient alien space craft which contains technology related to the Guyver. On face value, the storyline may seem rather simplistic to some. But upon subsequent viewings, it is actually quite a well written tale.
The main character of Sean Barker is played very close to his manga counterpart "Sho Fukamachi" with only some Slight differences in his name, age and more realistic and mature approach in dealing with the responsibilities that come with possessing the violent power of the Guyver unit. Sean discovers that the Guyver seems to bring out the most violent side of him which leads to a tendency for uncontrolled, indiscriminate killing. That and his constant obsession with taking down the Chronos organization (which was thought to have been destroyed in the first Guyver movie, but Sean believes otherwise)has left Sean Barker without any friends, all alone in the world. He is afraid to get close to anyone since he is still a target for Chronos and he fears he may accidentally hurt those he cares about should the Guyver's violent side manifest. The second difference is that unlike Sho, who seems to fine with the violent tendencies and highly destructive powers of the Guyver, Sean Barker chooses to use the Guyver merely to augment his own fighting skills, only giving in to his savage violent side and using more destructive force when absolutely necessary. He is given ample character development in this movie and ends up coming across as a very likable character in the end. David Hayter turns in a strong performance as the main protagonist and masterfully portrays the part of a reluctant individual cursed with an alien power that he would rather have not have.
Sadly, the rest of the cast does not fare as well. Aside from David Hayter's role as Sean Barker, the rest of the characters are not much to write home about. They are boring, two dimensional stock characters which might turn off some but I can safely say that the manga itself was just as much laden with the usual teenager and villain stereotypes commonly seen in such genre of comics. Some may go so far as to call it corny, but this movie is no less corny than the manga and anime OVA that preceded it.
Steve Wang's credentials as a special effects and design supervisor are evident in the impressive amount of realistic detail given to the creature costumes. The zoanoid and guyver costumes are a huge step up from the previous movie. They look quite good for a 1994 production. Steve Wang does an adequate job as director here; nothing revolutionary to "wow" the audience but nothing painfully boring either. Despite the low budget of the film (I heard it was barely $900,000), he still manages to make the most of it and delivers one hell of a viewing experience (this show manages to look better than some other movies with more than 10 times the budget.)
The high point of this movie is definitely the fights. Violent, fast paced, brutal and in-your-face. Skulls are crushed, throats are slit, eyeballs are blasted out of their sockets, and bloodletting is at an all time high when compared to other "tokusatsu" genre shows like Kamen Rider, Power Rangers or Ultraman. The fights are beautifully choreographed with slick martial arts moves and intense wire stunts with minimal camera tricks or "gimmicks" like slow motion. It amazes me how the stunt people were able to pull off such acrobatic martial arts moves while wearing such intricately designed, and most likely, heavy suits.
Do not let the low budget of this movie put you off watching it; of Guyver: Dark Hero is proof that a low budget movie can still be a highly entertaining piece of work when left in competent hands with a little fanboy dedication thrown in(Steve Wang is a huge fan of tokusatsu movies like Ultraman ) . Though this film is by no means perfect and would not stand up to being compared to more recent big screen comic book adaptations, it is quite good considering its age, technology and budgetary constraints(and seriously deserves more than its current IMDb rating). It keeps very faithful to the look, feel and spirit of the original (something so many other live action adaptations lack) while presenting a fresh perspective on the Guyver mythos.