Space Battleship Yamato: Resurrection

Everything's rebooting. Just this summer, we've had Man of Steel, The Wolverine, and The Lone Ranger. We've seen sequel after sequel. Movies are being remade so fast that the memory of the original hasn't left our heads before the new variant hits the theater. I don't know that the world needs two versions of Total Recall or Evil Dead, either. But Hollywood always likes the supposed "sure sell" over the new and different.

It's not just a Hollywood thing, either. In the anime world, we've seen two significantly versions of FullMetal Alchemist within a decade. We've seen the revival of Golgo 13, First of the North Star, Berserk, and Evangelion. It's no surprise, then, that the seminal anime classic Space Battleship Yamato was resuscitated in 2009. But could the soapiest and most melodramatic of space operas translate into the 21st century? With a complete artistic revamp, Space Battleship Yamato: Resurrection is sometimes stunning, and yet its pastiche of styles makes it sometimes uncertain of itself visually. But unlike the often cheesy graphics of the original series, Resurrection's occasionally jaw-dropping effects make it much easier to swallow today than the dated films of the 70s and 80s. But otherwise, it's pure Yamato, for good and for bad.

Resurrection begins with the "circle of life" narrator that starts virtually all these films, tying together life, the universe, and everything. We learn that there are living black holes out there, and one of them is on a collision course with Earth. Hundreds of millions of people are being moved off the planet in gigantic transports, but out in deep space, they suddenly find themselves under attack from an unknown alien threat. Decimated by the ambush, some of them make it to a remote outpost where the reclusive Kodai works.

Kodai, one of the original crew members of the Yamato and part of the team that saved the Earth time and again, is no longer the man he was. With the destruction of the Yamato years back, he's not certain of himself. What makes it worse is that Kodai's wife Yuki has gone missing; while her transport was severely damaged, no one is quite certain where she's gone. Kodai has been content with backwater duty, but the new threat needs an old hero...and an even older vessel. Like the phoenix, the Yamato has been rebuilt from the ground up, and a new crew awaits his command. As he searches for his wife and reconciles with his estranged daughter, Kodai must take his boat full of green recruits and save the Earth, as well as billions of its former inhabitants who are searching for a new home. Oh, and he has to deal with an evil bad guy who looks like the nasty love child of Spock, Frankenstein, and a blueberry Pop Tart.

While the uniforms immediately identify this as a Yamato joint, one could be forgiven for not recognizing it. Thirty years have passed since Yamato came on the scene, and the character designs were getting creaky by the release of Final Yamato in 1983. The new look for the characters is not what you'd expect, though. Because the film is heavily aided by CGI, the leads have a stiff, angular air. At times, especially in close up, they can look great; at others, they seem plain odd. (It's not quite as bad as the worst moments in the first Berserk movie, but it's the same problem.)

The CGI does make it possible for some of the space battles to look awesome, though. I still long for the days of incredibly detailed warships in space; CGI has a glossy, metallic look that doesn't look lived in. However, the sheer amount of exploding wonders makes up for most of it. The heads-up displays and space anomalies look incredible, and my boys (ages 10 and 5) were transfixed. I wouldn't recommend seeing Resurrection for the visuals alone; they are a mixed bag. But in comparison to what we've seen in previous Yamato entries, they're far more impressive.

The Yamato series has always specialized in impassioned speeches and ten-minute death scenes, but those are not the centerpiece here. The first seventy minutes or so are about the most exciting the films have ever been, in fact, and the new characters are not so numerous as to be interchangeable. While it's not the most impressive sci-fi, it works. Even the cheesier moments, like when the original theme song kicks in when the Yamato is launched, are great fun. For a long time, I thought this might be the best Yamato adventure yet.

Unfortunately, it gets bogged down around 85 minutes in, and it doesn't really find its footing again for nearly 25 minutes as we close in on the two-hour mark. I found myself taking a couple minute snooze by accident, but I really didn't miss anything. The film could have spent that elongated middle exploring its rookies' stories, but instead there's just more following orders and bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. When things pick up, we do get a good finale, but there's virtually no denouement, making what the characters have just gone through far less significant than it should be. It's also evident that they planned sequels; while some might consider it a spoiler, we have no resolution whatsoever to Yuki's disappearance. After two hours and ten minutes, it's not as if we need even more, but it would have been nice to have some sense of closure.

Ultimately, Resurrection didn't turn out to be the revival everyone expected, but it really doesn't matter for true fans. 2010 brought the well-received live-action Yamato film, and the remake of the original series Space Battleship Yamato 2199 is finishing up its run on Japanese TV even now in the summer of 2013. As such, the Resurrection timeline is likely to be ignored in the future. If you've always been enamored with the Yamato universe and want to see Kodai's future adventures, then this is an easy recommend. If you enjoy huge interstellar CGI battles like my sons do, then you might take a look. But the key love story from the original is all but gone, and there's not much of a personal touch that would make this a must-see.

Space Battleship Yamato: Resurrection -- violence -- B