From The Parallax Review Vaults: Metropolis (2001)

The following review originally was written for The Parallax Review, a film review site of which I was the co-founder and managing editor. I have decided to collect the writings I did for The Parallax Review and preserve them here. I will be posting a few of these older pieces every week. My review of Metropolis was for the “On Cable” section of The Parallax Review.

by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor

Now Playing on Movieplex

I have decided that it’s just me. I have watched nearly every anime considered essential viewing for American audiences by fans of the art form. I have watched Akira, Ninja Scroll, and most of the films of Hayao Miyazaki. And when each of these films has come to an end, I have the same reaction every time: very pretty to look at, but ultimately, they’re nothing but a boring exercise in style. Metropolis fits right in that category.

Metropolis tells the story of a sprawling city that is a powder keg of class resentment, political backstabbing, and science without ethics. Into the city comes Shinsaku (voiced by Tony Pope), a private detective searching for Dr. Laughton (voiced by Simon Prescott), a mad scientist wanted on international human rights violations. Shinsaku is accompanied by his nephew, Kenichi (voiced by Brianne Siddall), an inquisitive boy who is quickly separated from his uncle in the large city. While Shinsaku searches for Kenichi and Dr. Laughton with the help of a robotic policeman named Pero (voiced by Dave Mallow), Kenichi meets Tima (voiced by Rebecca Forstadt). Tima is a robot designed to look perfectly like the dead daughter of Duke Red (voiced by Jamieson Price), the egomaniacal power behind the city’s president. All of this is to say nothing of any number of plot threads involving a planned revolt by the city’s underclass, the giant super-computer that Tima has been programmed to run, or the prejudice that the robots of the city face on a daily basis.

Metropolis was based on a Japanese comic book. While I am not sure how faithful an adaptation it was, it feels as though the filmmakers felt obligated to include every last little bit of plot from the source material. This densely packed story quickly left me feeling as exhausted as if I had just run a marathon.

With nods to not only Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, but also 1984, Blade Runner, and Brazil, it’s clear that the filmmakers are trying to reach those levels of iconic despair and paranoia. To me, this is where the film truly fails. Despite the atmosphere of apocalyptic doom that hangs over the proceedings, I never felt connected enough with the story or characters to care if the city was destroyed or saved. Most of this is the fault of the impressive animation design of the city. It’s an incredibly detailed piece of work that utilizes a seamless integration of hand-drawn and computer animation. But this attention to the smallest details of the city left the characters to be hardly more than pieces on a game-board to be moved around to accommodate the plot. I quickly grew bored with their individual stories and concentrated on letting the impressive but cold visuals wash over me.

I realize that many people would say that in anime, the visuals should be more important than the story or characters, but I just cannot accept that argument. For me, a good film will always start with a good story or interesting characters that I want to follow. The style should come second. If you love anime, this film is right up your alley, but if you’re like me and have given anime numerous futile chances in the past, the experience is going to be frustratingly familiar.

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