“I prefer the second one because the first one I had no control over the content. I got into big fights with the producer because he wanted to make a kids film and I wanted to keep the tone of the original anime. In the end, the film turned out like crap in my opinion. I did GUYVER 2 on my own for less than 1/4 the budget of the first GUYVER, but in exchange, I had total control of the film.” –Steve Wang to Nerd Society, 2009
GUYVER: DARK HERO (a.k.a. THE GUYVER 2) not only improves on the Tokusatsu-inspired martial-arts-‘n-monsters fun of director Steve Wang’s earlier work, but does it with vastly improved cinematic storytelling and the confidence to take itself seriously. This is a legit sci-fi/martial arts movie that starts as a dark super hero vigilante story, veers into weird ancient alien alternate history, and builds to a bunch of monster battles that are kinda like Power Rangers except the monsters might get their eyeballs poked out or cough up a bunch of blood. I’m not saying an R-rated version of that is subversive, I’m just saying it’s fun to watch. (Note: stunt coordinator Koichi Sakamoto was and would continue to be a director, producer, writer and choreographer on Power Rangers shows for 20 years.)
Every problem I had with GUYVER is immediately improved upon in the sequel. Rather than overlong text explanation, it gets right to it with brief narration explaining the deal (see also BLADE II). There’s no Jimmie Walker style comic relief character, no awkward tonal shifts into juvenile humor. The cheesy keyboard score has become a better, more TERMINATORy one by Les Claypool III (KUNG FU RASCALS). Best of all, the poor bland guy from the first one has made way for a cooler, more broody guy who I was surprised to learn was David Hayter, who would go on to write X-MEN, THE SCORPION KING and WATCHMEN.
It’s a year later and Sean Barker, still bonded with the alien parasite that can wrap him in a biomechanical supersuit, has become a vigilante. But it’s less of a super power than a curse, like a werewolf or VENOM, because the Guyver pushes him to kill the criminals he fights, and he’s not into that.
The opening scene, where he interrupts criminals in a warehouse, reminds me both of BATMAN and DARKMAN. He’s introduced in iconic fashion when his distinctively shaped eyes light up in the dark behind some unsuspecting chump.
He drops the guy from high up, scaring the shit out of the gangsters. A motorized catwalk moves across and they see his shape dropping from it. When they shoot at him they hit some pipes and causing some steam to come out, giving him a cooler entrance.
The fights have much cooler camera moves and angles than in the first film, and he reveals cool new powers. He blocks one bullet with each palm, then more with his forearms. Before he leaves the scene a laser beam shines off his helmet and darts around, carving his logo into the wall as a calling card (and title sequence).
One goofy touch: his wall has a bunch of clippings about what happened in part 1. Why would he want to keep those around? And why did they change the spelling of the Chronos Corporation?
I’m not sure how the timeline makes sense, but his dark hero lifestyle has pushed him away from girlfriends including part 1’s Mizky (now played by Billi Lee). He has nightmares of Clive Barkery body horror and studies a tabloid TV show called eXpose for cryptozoological sightings that might actually be Zoanoids, the ancient alien race that The Guyver was designed to fight. He sees one report about a werewolf that also includes a cave drawing he recognizes from his dreams. So there’s a little more to it than just believing any old tabloid story, like in MEN IN BLACK. Which is too bad, because the anchor says, “Next up, Elvis sightings,” and that would be a cool subject for part 3.
It turns into kind of an Incredible Hulk style adventure where he hitchhikes to Utah and joins the archaeological dig that’s near the “werewolf” and turns out to be uncovering an ancient space ship connected to the Guyver and the aliens and what not. Of course he and archaeologist/possible love interest Cori (Kathy Christopherson, EXECUTIVE TARGET) happen to be nearby when a guy gets attacked by the monster out in the woods, and he figures out a way to pull a Clark Kent costume change.
Though it’s not jokey like the first one, here’s an example of a legitimately funny moment when he pretends to think the roar they heard was a bear:
The creature effects are even better than in the first one. The faces are more sophisticated and they’re designed to have more beastly proportions instead of just conforming to the human bodies inside the suits.
And the fights against them are more energetic and elaborate. He still has the cool poses, but with more cool maneuvers. In one fight he’s thrown through the air and he pirouettes and lands on his feet, runs back, jumps in the air and kicks the monster repeatedly like he’s running in place. When a monster tears a large tree out of the ground and tries to ram him with it, he leaps above it, flips, lands on it, runs across it, jumps and flips over the monster. In a later fight he throws a stick of dynamite at a frog monster who catches it in his mouth, then he detonates it with a laser, blowing its head off.
The monsters are allowed to do some cool moves:
But yeah, like I said, they take some hits too.
Sean can handle these things. I guess you could say he’s good at his job. But in his human form he’s tormented. At night the bumps on his neck bulge. He hears the space ship calling to him, goes in and talks to it, begging not to be the Guyver anymore. “I’m not a killer. I just want to be normal again. I want my life back!”
Eventually he discovers that the dig is funded by a rebranded Chronos Corporation, that Cori’s nice professor father (Stuart Weiss, SCHLOCK) turns into a silly looking bug, and that Cori’s boss Arlen Crane (Bruno Giannotta) is on this dig to find a Guyver unit of his own. The ship calls to him too, so he gets to make a classic “we’re alike” bad guy speech: “I’m like you. We’re the same. We’re the bastards of an uncaring parent. We’ve been violated. Our lives have been changed against our will.”
Very reasonably, it takes Cori a while to believe in all this shit. I like what she snaps at him after he tells her about Zoanoids: “I trusted you not to be crazy.”
This is still a low budget production, but they accomplish so much with it. They strike a good balance between allowing you to see a seam now and then and not overreaching to the point of embarrassment. Generally if the execution is a little cheap (like on the inside of the space ship) the idea is cool enough to make up for it. Definitely my favorite part is when there’s trouble so Sean steels himself, runs and jumps off a cliff, says “Guyver!”, the armor pops out of him in little pieces attached to tentacles and closes around him so he lands in full Guyver mode, and then he runs off leaving a trail of dust and burn marks where his feet hit. Awesome!
Arlen turns into a really great monster capable of lip synch and a little bit reminiscent of the Predator and the MONSTER SQUAD Creature From the Black Lagoon, both of which Wang worked on. (He later led the design of Abe Sapien in HELLBOY, so he knows his gill-men.) It’s just a great creature, and in the tradition of part 1 it’s kinda funny that he says normal human stuff.
And SPOILER but yes, this is inevitably headed toward a Zoanoid/Guyver hybrid for the climax, and it’s a cool monster. I wonder how many times Wang brought that up when they were doing the xenomorph/Predator hybrid on ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM? “Yeah, I sort of invented this.”
And in case you’re worried that’s the extent of the weird sci-fi shit they could fit in on this budget, let me assure you there are some flashbacks to prehistoric earth, with ancient space ships and eggs and primitive people dancing around a fire wearing animal skins and skulls, then turning into monsters.
I guess it makes sense that the Guyver, who has blades that pop out of his arms, would have plenty of elbow grease to go around.
As you may have noticed, I like or love many of the modern comic book movies. I’m not gonna try to pull some fake rebel bullshit where I tell you this old b-movie is better than your newfangled marvels. But I do really wish more of the new ones could have this kind of attitude toward fight scenes. I don’t think it would turn off mainstream audiences to follow the principles of legit martial arts movies and use clear movements and cool exaggerated super powered hits. They got some great shit going on and it could be even more thrilling if they took a few lessons from these guys in rubber suits.
I would say GUYVER: DARK HERO was a bit of a forgotten gem, but I don’t think most people ever knew about it in the first place. Check it out some time.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.