Turns out that Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t the only seventies era sci-fi epic to get rebooted. In fact, this one beat it to the punch by about a year! For those of you unaware (like me before writing this review), Space Pirate Captain Harlock is a reboot of a seventies manga and anime about a moody pirate captain and his eclectic crew flying around in space. What sets this reboot apart from its original incarnations is a massive budget, as well as an ultra-realistic art style that contrasts with the more stylized look of the original. Does this reboot capture the glory of its forbearers for a new generation of viewers, or is it yet another unnecessary remake that misses the point of what made the original so great? Well, I probably won’t be able to answer that question because I don’t know much about the source material, but keep on reading anyway!
The movie begins with text exposition telling us the backstory. It turns out that humans went to outer space, bred to the point of consuming all the resources, and then all of them tried to go back to Earth. Huh. So am I supposed to root for the humans here? They don’t say it in the opening, but I’m going to guess that those planets humans began inhabiting weren’t without lifeforms when they got there. Anyway, a huge war broke out because EVERYONE wanted to relocate back onto Earth, but there isn’t enough room for all fifty BILLION of them. Instead a government is formed (out of the blue I guess) that comes up with the shitty idea of having NO ONE get back to Earth and to fuck off and die on their own crappy planet that they’ve ruined. Well gee; this movie is off to a great start. Humanity ate itself into oblivion, and no one has a clue on how to stop their slow inevitable extinction. We get some more text narration, but while this is going on, we get SEPARATE AUDIO NARRATION!! What!? The text is telling us about an immortal pirate, while the narrator is waxing philosophically about the duality of human nature. After that, we cut to a bar where a bunch of apocalypse stereotypes are drinking. Guys with beards, guys wearing random hats, everyone looks grimy, etc.
So while the members of this space town are drinking their sorrows away, a space ship flies overhead, and the prettiest one (which means he will be the main character) along with a few of the other people in the bar run out to see what’s up. We cut to the group climbing a fucking mountain bare handed trying to get to the spaceship that landed up there.
The lady’s narration picks back up and I think she’s trying to tell us that humanities greatest enemy is… ITSELF!!! BUM BUM BUM!!!!! They eventually make it to the top, and find that the ship is populated by big daddy looking knights who are fucking assholes.
They say they can only take one person with them, and ask them “why do we sail?” It’s obviously a trick question, but everyone who gets it wrong gets thrown off the god damn cliff to their death.
The cute one gets the right answer (“FOR FREEDOM!!!”) and gets recruited by the pirate dicks. One of them turns out to be a woman (who looks a lot like Samus) and she’s assigned to taking care of the newbie, which means she’ll become the love interest.
Turns out that this ship is that of the titular Captain Harlock, and the planet police (I guess) try to stop him from leaving. This doesn’t work out though because we’re only at the first action scene of the movie, and it would be pretty bad if our hero got killed right off the bat. The new guy (still doesn’t have a name) takes one of the turrets and proves that he can hold his own in a fight. After Harlock smashes his badass ship (skull and crossbones on the front) into the space police’s flagship, the pirates get in their battle suits and begin to commandeer their foe’s ship.
Newbie strays from the pack for some reason, and gets captured by one of the cops. Except he’s not! It turns out that Newbie is an undercover cop who’s there to take down Harlock, but will probably not follow through by the end of the movie. He gets some sort of eye implant that I guess allows him to send and receive info. How the hell did they plan this!? The guy who gives him the implant is another solider in a suit (he gets killed soon after, so he’s not an important character) and from what we saw earlier, the captain of the police ship didn’t even know Harlock was going to be in this neck of the woods. So either this one random dude in the ship set it up so that he would get everyone there killed in order to do this quick eye implant, or… actually I can’t think of how else this could have gone down.
After the police ship is stripped of all valuables, we cut to a space senate meeting (or something) where Newbie’s commanding officer is assuring the leaders that he’s totally reliable. We learn that the space government is called The Legion (the cops were Legion troops), Newbie’s name is Logan, and that the commanding officer (Ezra) is Logan’s brother. Ezra’s in a wheelchair, and they also have a sister who isn’t too happy about her brother going undercover. I guess she saw The Departed.
Back on Harlock’s ship, Logan is getting a tour of it by the comic relief crewman where we learn that it’s almost invincible (repairs itself, fuels itself, etc) and that its version of Scotty is a space Elf with no pupils (I think).
After the tour, we get a shower scene with Samus (still don’t know her name) that’s… interesting. They skirt showing any nipple by mere centimeters, and at one point she jumps in the air and curls into a fetal position (still in midair). Okay…
Like all anime shower scenes, this has no bearing on anything else in the movie, because we cut right back to Logan who’s exploring the ship, presumably looking for evidence or weak points. He eventually circles back to the engine room where he sees Harlock doing… something. I think Logan’s about to shoot him when he gets spotted by the space elf (don’t know her name either) who gives him some cryptic messages about being prepared or something. After that, we cut to her and Harlock having dinner, where it seems that both of them are aware of the rat in their midst. They don’t say much of substance (such as why they’re allowing this kid to live), and we cut to the next ‘space’ day where the crew has a mission on a nearby planet. No one wants to do it, so Logan volunteers and heads for the planet’s surface with Samus. This mission they’re on doesn’t make any sense to me. Basically, Harlock wants to find a magic McGuffin called the Genesis Clock (insert Star Trek 2 joke here) that will… do something. At some point, it will allow them to go back to Earth. To find it, or use it, or something, he’s spent the last hundred years placing bombs on specific planets which I think he’s going to detonate all at once and it will… reset time.
Anyway, the mission goes to hell when the… thingy they’re on (I think it’s the detonator) starts collapsing and sinking into a pit of corrosive gas. Logan valiantly kicks Samus in the chest to knock her to safety before allowing himself to be sacrificed for a woman he was planning to throw in jail at some point.
All is not lost for our valiant snitch though, because Harlock base jumps straight towards the lava pit in an attempt to save Logan. While Harlock is falling at terminal velocity, Logan has a flashback where we find out he was a botanists before he did something stupid and broke his brother’s legs. Logan, Ezra, and their sister (no name yet either. Why the fuck doesn’t anyone have a name in this?) are in his greenhouse, which I believe he inherited from their mother. However, the plants have started to die, which causes Logan to turn a wheel that says DO NOT FUCKING TURN, and the greenhouse explodes leaving Ezra crippled.
Ezra then guilt trips Logan into become a solider for him, which seems like a shitty thing to do, even if they guy stuck you in a wheelchair. After the flashback, Harlock enters the picture (landing without breaking any bones) and rescues Logan off screen. Seriously!? You’re not going to show us Harlock jumping his way back to his spaceship!? Once back on the escape pod (heading back to the main ship called the Arcadia), Logan decides that now would be a great time to make his move, and points a gun at Harlock.
Logan naturally wusses out, and the two of them head back to the Arcadia. Once there, Harlock announces that they’re one last detonator away from ending their quest to blow shit up. Legion is aware that Harlock is close to finishing whatever the hell he’s doing, and the leaders are not pleased that Ezra’s agent (Logan) hasn’t solved everything by now. Apparently the council (or whatever these old dudes are) put all their faith into an ex-botanists who just so happens to be the brother of an opportunistic up and comer in the government, and are surprised when that doesn’t work out so well. Ezra reassures them that Harlock won’t complete his mission to… restart the Genesis Clock (I think), and gets permission to use something called the Photon Conversion Matrix.
Ezra also knows where Harlock is going, because he takes an entire fucking fleet to guard that point. I don’t know if this fleet is the Photon Conversion Matrix, but either way, Harlock has a big battle ahead of him. Speaking of Harlock, he’s currently in the belly of the ship talking to the engine.
Okay… well while this is going, they run into that fleet I was just talking about. Harlock isn’t about to let some dumb ships get in his way, so he orders the crew to smash their way through the barricade. Despite clearly saying to ram through them, they actually jump to the side, and almost lose the fleet. However, Ezra isn’t an idiot, and finds them pretty quickly. Harlock let’s Logan send a message to Ezra (Logan’s gone full native by this point) and it’s pretty much what you’d expect.
Ezra’s done with Logan, and proceeds to summon the Photon thingy which is just a big science canon. He fires it at the Arcadia (you know, the ship his brother is on), and it gets reduced to nothing. Except not really, because it was just a decoy! The REAL Arcadia comes out of an asteroid, and goes to town on these Legion fuckers!
After laying waste to a fleet of Legion ships, the Arcadia shanghaies Ezra and his crew (along with their ship) and heads for the final place to set the detonator; Earth. Logan goes to see Ezra, which goes about as well as you’d expect. Logan is full of idealistic hope about his new lord and savior Harlock, while Ezra is still a tight ass about everything. We also learn that Logan got a heads up from his sister Nami (they FINALLY gave her a name) which seems to really piss off Ezra. The crew finally approaches the planet Earth, when they get a big surprise.
Yup. The home they
‘ve idolized for hundreds of years is nothing but a hollowed out husk of its former self surrounded by a hologram so that no one can tell from a distance. Samus is pretty upset about this revelation (her name is Kei, I looked it up) and demands Harlock to explain what the hell is going on. The space elf (Mimay, looked it up too) explains what happened. A hundred years ago, there was a war for who could stay on Earth. Something called the Gaia Communion came up with an idea to end the war, and Harlock (as well as Mimay) were a part of it. I don’t know what that idea was, but at some point Harlock got pissed at the Gaia Communion, and kamikazied the earth by unleashing “dark matter” upon it. This left the Earth the horrible wasteland it is now, and somehow transformed his ship into the Arcadia, as well as making Harlock immortal. So… to sum up. Humans are greedy assholes, Harlock realizes this and destroys the Earth in vengeance, and he becomes an immortal space pirate because of it. Sure. Whatever.
Oh, and he also had a friend who died during his emo fit and he somehow got sucked into the engine, so that’s who he was talking to in the engine room. While Mimay is telling this story to the crew on the bridge, Ezra is telling this to Logan (apparently Legion is well aware of Harlock’s past), and so Logan switches sides again and frees all the captured Legion soldiers. Ezra takes over the ship, locks up the crew, and puts Harlock in some kinky restraints.
Ezra also goes to see Nami to chew her out for helping Logan earlier. She’s in the same garden that she was in in earlier scenes, so I’m guessing she’s been on Ezra’s ship the whole time. We learn two things from this scene. First of all she is definitely NOT their sister. If she was, then the fact that she and Ezra used to sleep together would be pretty freaking weird. We also learn that the Nami we’ve been seeing this whole time is actually a hologram because the real Nami was severely injured in the greenhouse explosion and is now stuck in a medical tube.
In a jealous rage (she chose Logan over him) he unplugs her medical tube which seems to have killed her. After learning of Nami’s death (Ezra tries to feign innocent, but Logan isn’t buying it) Logan takes a small ship down to the Earth’s surface to walk around for a bit before dying. Okay…
Before passing out, Logan see’s something, but we cut back to Ezra before we find out what it is. Ezra has gone to taunt Harlock some more, but nothing much comes from it other than a dick measuring contest. Ezra’s plan (with the Legion’s council’s approval) is to publicly execute them (i.e. on TV) by imploding the Arcadia with the crew inside of it. Fortunately, Logan has switched sides AGAIN and sabotages the execution. He frees the crew, lets them know that the thing he saw on Earth is going to CHANGE EVERYTHING, and leads them to where Harlock and Mimay are being held. They free them both, but Harlock is all emo about something so Logan shows him what he found on Earth.
If it’s good enough for Wall-E, then I guess it’s good enough for this. So after Harlock’s heart grows three sizes, he suits up and proceeds to kick some serious, slo-mo, anime, ass! Unfortunately, it only lasts for about twenty seconds.
They take back the ship, and their mission now is to destroy the hologram projectors that make Earth look all nice and pretty, and then broadcast it to the world along with Logan’s discovery. This will apparently take down the government, so… go team pirates? Unsurprisingly, they succeed in their task (killing a lot of Legion soldiers along the way) and get their message out to the galaxy. Movie’s over then right? Nope. For some reason, this movie is almost two hours, which means we’ve gotta kill another thirty minutes. The council (I think they’re actually the remnants of the Gaia Communion) authorize some sort of weapon that can destroy whole planets, and even Ezra thinks they’re going too far. Ezra is ordered to leave, but instead sticks around and tries to get his soldiers to board the Arcadia. We get some more action scenes, including one where Kei kicks some ass before getting shot by a non-piercing bullet.
Before getting shot by REAL bullets, she gets saved by the comic relief crewman, and then we cut to Logan who’s finally confronting Ezra. It’s a pretty cool action scene that switches between normal gravity and zero-g, but like most of the none ship to ship action scenes, it’s way too short. Logan has Ezra on the ropes, but Ezra gets a pot shot in and shoots Logan in the face. It must be another one of those none piercing bullets, because it hits him right in the face, and yet deflects off of it.
Before shooting Logan again, Ezra gets shot by something that actually causes damage, and the guy who pulled the trigger turns out to be Harlock who fires the bullet from the tip of his sword. Before Ezra can give a death speech, the Legion fires their super weapon and misses completely. Apparently they’re pretty bad aims. So the next ten minutes of this are pretty predictable, but still confusing. Basically, they’ve got a few minutes to keep the next blast from hitting Earth. This means we get a few more short actions scenes, and we also get a Wrath of Khan moment where Mimay sacrifices herself so that Harlock can release the dark matter again. Okay…
For some reason, the Legion’s super weapon is aiming at the Arcadia (despite wanting to hit the Earth), which means they have to fly away from Earth. ALSO for some reason, the dark matter allows them to survive a direct hit from the planet destroying laser blast. After the blast, the ship is damaged and crashes on Earth. Ezra finally dies, and Harlock… still thinks he might blow up the detonators. Harlock and Logan have a pointless standoff that ends with Harlock basically making Logan the successor of the Arcadia. He gets an eye patch for his injury from Ezra, and the bullet even left a scar that looks like’s Harlock’s. FOR SOME REASON, the Legion doesn’t fire the super weapon again, and just surrounds the Earth waiting for the Arcadia to surface again. Logan takes the wheel, Mimay comes back to life (for some reason) and Logan flies the ship right into the Legion army before the film ends and we cut to credits. Oh, and Kei along with the rest of the crew are fine. You know, in case anyone was wondering.
So this movie is certainly a mixed bag. Right up front I want to say that sheer quality of the CG animation is absolutely stunning. Considering how little this movie costs compared to other CG animated films, it’s amazing how good this looks. The only weak spot is that the facial animations (especially the mouth) can look weird and unrealistic at times. The action as well is top notch and extremely well-choreographed, but outside of the spaceship battles, it only comes in quick and short bursts and always ends right when you’re ready for it to kick into high gear. I like Harlock as a character, and they use him well as an imposing force throughout the film rather than the focus, but the rest of the crew (who should have been the focus of the film) get pushed to the side in favor of the newcomer. Speaking of which, Logan and his brother are really obnoxiously shoved into this film. The movie ends up being a family feud with this badass crew somehow stuck in the middle. The fact that the whiny and uncommitted new guy becomes the captain of the Arcadia at the end of this just detracts from how awesome Harlock and his crew are supposed to come across as. I don’t know if Logan is part of the original story, but his presence here feels way too forced and I’m never convinced that he should have been the focus of the film. The story is confusing and full of bullshit science like Dark Matter, but if you can go along with the various McGuffins and the numerous organizations in play, you won’t have a hard time following what’s going on, even if you don’t know the specifics of everything that happens. Also, the movie is way too long. That last gasp of conflict in the third act (Legion has ANOTHER super weapon!) just felt unnecessary and dragged the movie down significantly. You could have cut the last two conflicts in the third act (reveal the truth and keep the Earth from exploding) into one section of the film and had something that wouldn’t feel as drawn out as this one does. The last thing is that the movie is way too serious. The color pallet is pretty muted when inside the ships (which is most of the film) and the overly dramatic way the story plays out only magnifies the silliness of things like Dark Mater and engines with the souls of dead friends. If Guardians of the Galaxy taught us anything, it’s that mixing action and comedy can turn simplistic stories into memorable films, and this movie just isn’t all that memorable. Honesty, the movie this reminds me most of is Advent Children. A confusing story line, good action scenes, and an overly serious tone that doesn’t jive with the source material.
My recommendation for Space Pirate Captain Harlock is the same for Advent Children. It’s okay, and definitely worth checking out if you like anime, but it’s nowhere near a classic. Give it a chance, but I’d recommend you have something to keep you busy whenever the movie slows down or starts to focus too much of the simplistic story line, or overwrought drama.
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