Guyver: Dark Hero

“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.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 24th, 2019 at 9:17 am and is filed under Action, Comic strips/Super heroes, Martial Arts, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

23 Responses to “Guyver: Dark Hero”

  1. This is why I told the director of Beyond Skyline to watch Guyver 2 but I don’t know if they’ll ever make that third one or not.

  2. Always loved this one. Takes itself just serious enough but not enough that it’s no longer any fun or just feels like a bunch of insecure nerds trying way too hard. The monster effects are cool and the action is legitimately good.

    I figured all my fellow nerds were onboard with this one and then I started to quickly learn that, as Vern believes, no one knew they made a sequel to the first one… Naturally, the first one isn’t too well liked so it was an uphill battle convincing genre-fans (both sci-fi and action and even Tokusatsu (maybe three of the least demanding audiences along with horror that exists) that this one was worth their time.

    Even when I was young and this randomly popped up on the local mom & pop’s new release shelf one, I could tell this one was much more low budget but even then I could see a filmmaker who just wanted to kick ass and on his own terms. Made me a fan of Steve Wang’s for life, even more so than DRIVE. When I lament that Wang kept getting raw deals, I’m mostly thinking of this crazy ambitious monster martial arts movie he made.

    That said, I WILL do the fake rebel bullshit and say this superhero movie is more to my liking than most of the ones (that I mostly like!) made today!

  3. Yeah, the fight scenes in this movie are legit great. They obliterate the reasoning for crappy action scenes in the big league cape flicks (can’t shoot a guy in a cape or costume kicking arse, won’t look right).

    I mean, if these guys with their obviously limited budget (and therefore, shooting schedule) were able to pull this stuff off with damn near the bulkiest suits possible than frigging Batman oughta be able to punch the Joker without all that crappy shakeycam baloney.

  4. Wow, this sounds like the one and only time that I could skip straight to the sequel without having seen the original. I am completely unfamiliar with Steve Wang, this week has been particularly enlightening. So, thanks, Vern! Maybe I will hit up Vulcan Video this weekend and check this out (so to speak).

  5. The past few movies point out one of the blind spots in my movie-watching career: 90s straight-to-video movies. To a guy like me, who grew up on 80s schlock, every single one of them looked like bland, overlit garbage with shitty special effects, horrible keyboard scores, and very uncool jeans, so I avoided them all like the plague. Movies from 1990 and maybe 1991 could get a pass, but after that, fuck no. I’d watch literally any Z-grade piece of shit from 1987 before I watched some Hollywood Video New Release section shit like this. So there are probably lots and lots of gems hidden in that decade that I never bothered to seek out. Since then, I’ve softened a bit on the aesthetics of the era (honestly, nothing could look worse than the shakycam/Avid Fart era, so if I learn to tolerate that, I could learn to tolerate anything) so I’m looking forward to checking these GUYVER movies out. Also, I really like DRIVE so I’m down to see what else Wang has to offer.

    Any other 90s straight-to-video treasures you guys feeling like recommending?

  6. Mr M, I highly recommend the 1997 sci-fi action film Retroactive. It stars James Belushi, Kylie Travis, Frank Whaley and Shannon Whirry. It’s clever, witty, suspenseful and absolutely chock-full of awesome (and superbly shot) action.

  7. I am a big fan of Retroactive as well!

  8. I second RETROACTIVE (although I wouldn’t praise it as much as DirkD13 does). Jim Belushi plays the bad guy in this one and while he has to deal with some awful “Look at me, I’m so evil boogabooga” dialogue, this movie is one of the reasons why I consider him an extremely underrated actor. It’s also the only watchable movie that Louis Morneau has ever directed.

  9. Further clarification: Belushi doesn’t give a deep, Oscar worthy performance that will make you re-evaluate his whole career, but he gives a solid scary asshole performance that makes you wish more people would cast him against type.

  10. This and Guyver one are like night and day. Huge fan of this, and I totally agree with you Vern, the bit where he jumps off the cliff is easily the coolest highlight. Considering the low low budget, some of the effects are really great (like him retracting the Guyver and the mentioned historical flashback).

    At a recent con I spoke with David Hayter and asked him if a sequel had ever been mooted. He said that a script had been written but never produced. A shame, because this is a legit badass film.

  11. Your comment about Louis Morneau is wrong because he also made the underrated Made Men which I think is best and legit funny.

  12. RE: Morneau, his most recent film (from 2012, dang) I actually quite liked. He made one of the unquestionable highlights of Universal Studio’s direct to video output with Werewolf: The Beast Among Us. It was a heckava lot more fun than the vast majority of Universal’s attempts to leverage their classic monsters as proper blockbusters. And yeah, Retroactive is pretty ace.

    Looking quite forward to Vern’s take on Drive. Now there’s a movie that really shoulda boosted some careers. Ah well, at least Brittany Murphy got to have a good run.

  13. Mr. M, I’d recommend TRIGGER HAPPY (aka MAD DOG TIME). It’s more talky than shooty (tho there is shooting), but the cast is phenomenal and the dialogue they deliver is deliriously off-kilter. I also remember FAST MONEY being pretty good, but that may have been due to my immense crush on Yancy Butler in 1996. I always thought her and co-star Matt McCoy shoulda been bigger, so it was also cool to see them together in a movie. I dunno if that one ever even made it to dvd, tho. It’s got John Ashton and Buck Flower in it too, for extra cred.

  14. Amazon sez there is a Region 2 dvd of FAST MONEY for $6.27. Doesn’t work for me, but if it does for you let me know if it holds up.

    What I would not give for a dvd of Bill Pullman’s real-time comedy NERVOUS TICKS (1992). It’s a totally unique comedy with Peter Boyle, Julie Brown and James Le Gros. It has a great score AND soundtrack for an indie and it’s a great showcase for Pullman’s comedic chops, which were never really utilized after the ’80s. My Uncle John and I still quote it despite not having seen it for 20 years. “I will turn…left.” Vern, if you can track this one down I’d love to hear your take on it. It’s 90 minutes of inspired lunacy with a bunch of kooky, but well-sketched characters in my favorite ‘one average guy has a crazy night’ genre. You’re the only one I ‘know’ with a VCR these days, so help me Vern, you’re my only hope.

  15. Also loving this Steve Wang week. Vern I hope you are going to be reviewing the director’s cut of Drive not the shorter cut?

    Also I highly recommend Broken Path (aka Broken Fist). A 2008 film directed by Koichi Sakamoto starring a couple of Power Ranger alumnis. It’s a insane movie that’s basically one long fight scene.

    Extreme Heist (2003) is pretty enjoyable for its stunts which look extremely dangerous for such a low budget.

  16. I remember this series from SciFi channel afternoons when I was a kid. I was SO confused, because I saw this one first and then the original. I didn’t understand how they fucked up the *first* one, but not the second.

  17. RECOIL with Gary Daniels is a good DTV ’90s action one.

  18. As for 90s DTV suggestions, here’s a pretty good list.


  19. I can’t recommend the insane Recoil enough.

  20. RE: Morneau, I actually like some of the crap he made. I remember I found Soldier Boyz on VHS in the late ’90s and watch that a lot. Not only does it have Michael Dudikoff in the lead, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as a bad guy, it also has a lot of upcoming actors in supporting roles. It got Tyrin Turner from MENACE II SOCIETY, Jacqueline Obradors (SIX DAYS SEVEN NIGHTS and Channon Roe (the guy that beats up Mark Wahlberg in BOOGIE NIGHTS). The film even got a video game spin-off co-directed by Darren Aronofsky! Of course, I haven’t seen that film since the ’90s.

    I also have a soft spot for BATS. There are three films that actually scare me, or at least did it the first time I saw them. There is ALIEN and THE DESCENT, and then there are fucking BATS. I think bats are one of the ugliest creatures in the world, and they terrify me. Can I saw that BATS is a good film? No, but it did have an effect on me that only two other films have had, so that is something. I have also not seen it since the ’90s.

    Because I haven’t seen any of them since the late ’90s, there might be a very good chance I will hate these films today.

    On the topic, I do want to see GYVER DARK HERO. I always wondered where Steve Wang went. I guess he went back to his old job. I love DRIVE, I have always been disappointed that there was never more like that from him.

  21. I gotta give WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US credit for having most likely the best looking CGI werewolf on a DTV budget ever. Apart from that: Nah, sorry.

  22. RE: Ghost “I always wondered where Steve Wang went. I guess he went back to his old job.”

    Kinda yes. He did do more makeup and maquette and painting work but the CG revolution was slowing down the work. Post getting screwed over on the release of DRIVE, it looked like he’d maybe become a TV guy. He did an episode of POWER RANGERS (he was slated to direct the ’95 movie but left when it was looking it was going to be the first GUYVER all over again (no control of it) and has the record for being the ONLY episode to not use any stock footage from the Japanese show it was localizing. Tried to get a third Guyver made and failed. He became the showrunner for a localization of the tokusatsu show KAMEN RIDER: DRAGON KNIGHT. It was several leagues ahead in quality of what POWER RANGERS was doing at the time (at least in standards of action and monster effects) but it didn’t catch on and I don’t think they even aired the whole thing here. That killed plans for a DTV/TV Movie follow up to the show that was scripted. Now computer took most of his old jobs so he says he mostly makes statutes for people now, somewhat ironically most of his clients are video game developers. So if you ever visit a AAA game studio and see some giant statue/maquette in their lobby or wherever there is a good chance it was made by Wang.

    So yeah, kinda retired/quit (I’m sure he’d be willing to do something if offered and given control). Another great artist who the system beat down and we’re left wondering what could have been if this or DRIVE or even his KAMEN RIDER show took off if even a little bit.

  23. P.S. – His Kamen Rider had Mark Dacascos in it (only in the last third though and sadly those are the worst episodes because that’s when the story kinda falls apart but still, kinda cool to get a mini/minor-DRIVE reunion)!

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