The Guyver (1991) — A classic manga brought to live action

“You can’t kill me. I’ve been rejected by death.”

Drew’s rating: Decidedly not dy-no-mite!

Drew’s review: I should explain from the get-go that I’m not a manga or anime enthusiast. I don’t know (or care, don’t email me) what Gundams are, I’m not interested in dudes who turn into chicks when they get wet, and I’m convinced Sailor Moon is a sting operation for To Catch A Predator. My knowledge of Japanese animation starts and ends with Voltron, and frankly I think most recent Castlevania heroes have been, well, a little fey. (D’you think Simon would be happy that his grandson spent half his time in Dracula’s castle decorating a room?)

So it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be reviewing The Guyver if it weren’t at the behest of the charming, contest-winning BlackCatWhiteCat from our forums (who, since the writing of this review, became Heather, one of our writers). Actually, it’s safe to say I wouldn’t even have heard of it, but that’s no indicator of quality, so here’s what I’ve been able to suss out: The Guyver is based on a manga called Bio-Booster Armor Guyver, which has also been the subject of two anime series and an animated movie. However, this is the first live action adaptation of the story. But does it live up to the manga on which it’s based? Hell, you got me, but here’s what it’s all about:

Many years ago, as the opening scrawl would have us believe, aliens called the Zoanoids (led, as these things tend to be, by the Zoalord) colonized Earth and created humanity as a sort of science experiment/weapons research/drunken bender. Then for millions of years, nothing happened. But now, operating out of the Chronos Corporation, the Zoanoids have created a secret device called the Guyver that can, you know, kill stuff extra dead.

To prevent the Zoalord from harnessing it, as he’s wont to do, researcher Dr. Segawa smuggles the Guyver out, but barely manages to stash it before being killed by fellow Zoanoids. (Is it obvious I just like typing the word “Zoanoid”?) Meanwhile, college student Sean Barker (Jack Armstrong) is more interested in playing Form Blazing Sword with Segawa’s daughter Mizky (Vivian Wu), but she in turn has been approached by CIA agent Max Reed (Mark Hamill), who was contacted by Segawa before his death and is now racing to find the Guyver before the Zoanoids (drink!) do. Fortunately for the good guys, Sean and his sweet moped stumble across the device and, of course, accidentally activate it, coating him in the finest of Japenese sci-fi armor and giving him mad fighting skills and an insatiable lust for sweet, sweet justice.

Oh, but then Max and Mizky get kidnapped by the Zoalord and Sean dies, so movie over. Or… is it?

(No.)

I don’t have much basis for comparison, but I can’t imagine the story breaks a lot of new ground in the genre: Evil aliens infiltrate mankind looking for a MacGyver (that’s MacGuffin + Guyver… see what I just did there?), unlikely hero stumbles across it instead, and then uses it to beat their asses. The main villain IS scary, but as a dirty old man, not an unstoppable conqueror. His most threatening gimmick is being able to make people play “Quit hittin’ yourself!” with his mind — not exactly the stuff of legends. The rest of the cast is similarly underwhelming; props for trying to appeal to sci-fi fans with Mark Hamill, and to… uh, the urban community(?) with Jimmie Walker, but the actors are mostly no names and I don’t think you’ll walk away feeling like anyone was robbed come Oscar night.

The special effects run the gamut from pretty impressive (a couple of transformations) to laughable (everything else), but I have to single out some of the costumes as just really, really hokey. I guess they blew their budget on Hamill and the one or two cool effects, because there’s plenty of stuff like the old “two normal guys walk into a pitch black room, and when they walk out again they’re monsters” cheat that make you think they just ran out of money.

Still, you have to give Hamill credit. The man will always, always be Luke Skywalker — you know it, he knows it, your unborn children know it. But unlike other sci-fi actors who famously rebelled against their characters, like Bill “Get a life” Shatner and Leonard “I am not Spock” Nimoy, you get the sense Hamill embraces it and is having the time of his life as part of the high royalty of geek culture. The guy voices animated characters, parodies himself on the Simpsons and Robot Chicken, and appears in random indie movies… some of which, as we’ve seen, are truly bizarre.

As for The Guyver? The best summation I can give is to say it plays out like an especially low budget episode of Power Rangers. Ergo, if you have a cheesy fondness for Rita Repulsa, Lord Zed, and the whole Angel Grove gang (or just a weird Good Times fetish… hey, no one is judging), maybe it would be worth your while to check out The Guyver. All others are advised to stay well clear at all costs. And watch out for the Zoanoids!

Didja notice?

  • Confusingly, the movie’s poster implies that Mark Hamill plays the Guyver, rather than Jack Armstrong.
  • There’s nothing cooler than villains standing around in a circle cheering with their arms in the air.
  • As henchmen go, Striker and Ramsey come in at right around the same level as Rocksteady and Bebop.
  • Actually, is it just me, or do two of the Zoanoids look like Tokka and Rahzar?
  • When you find something on the ground, do you ever actually say to yourself “What’s this?” I don’t.
  • Wait… the gang members had a gun the entire time, but they decided it’d be better to fight the weird space guy one-on-one first?
  • The individual Zoanoids look like escapees from Where The Wild Things Are Island.
  • Me: Why is he… speaking through a toilet seat? Lady Luck: ‘Cause he’s a badass? What, you don’t think that’s badass?
  • The way Mark Hamill lands directly under one of the Zoanoids and looks shocked makes it seem like he’s really impressed with the dude’s package. Hee.
  • The Guyver’s one weakness is getting punched in the ball? Amazingly, that’s my one weakness too.
  • When an elderly guy tells a cute young girl “Come with me, I want to show you a few things,” it’s usually not a good idea to take him up on that offer.
  • So the lesson is that even aliens are vulnerable to being kneed in the dusty old junk?
  • Okay, I’ll give credit for one clever moment: when the Guyver’s blade cuts through the one monster’s chest from the inside out, looking like a shark fin, the Jaws theme plays briefly.
  • When a monster gets hit in the head and falls over, they use the sound effect of a cartoon tree falling. Unbelievable.
  • Apparently the Guyver eats your clothes while it’s on? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure he had pants on when he went in there.

One comment

  1. I’ve only seen the 2005 television series, which ended as if they were expecting a second season, but never got it. Essentially, it’s a Lovecraftian deconstruction of tokusatsu shows like Ultra Man and Kamen Rider. As you can imagine, this movie diverges significantly from the source material. For one thing, the aliens (whose name is unknown) that created the Zoanoids and the Guyver armor don’t make any appearances. Instead, Chronos discovered one of their facilities in a mountain in Japan, where they found three Guyver suits and enough data to figure out how to activate the Zoanoid gene in humans. That aspect is highly reminiscent of At the Mountains of Madness.

    Speaking of Lovecraft, here’s a fun fact regarding this movie. Dr. East is portrayed by Jeffrey Combs, who was Dr. West in Reanimator.

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