Scale your gigantic expectations for the live action-version of Attack on Titan (2015) back to Zero Scale your gigantic expectations for the live action-version of Attack on Titan (2015) back to Zero
"Attack on Titan" (2015), the live-action adaptation of the eponymous Manga and Anime, is a middle-sized disappointment. Scale your gigantic expectations for the live action-version of Attack on Titan (2015) back to Zero

Recently, I was singing the praise (more or less) for the surprisingly good Parasyte, Part 1, noting that it was one of the best live-action adaptations of a Manga/Anime in some time, after we had been treated to questionable outputs like the shoddy Space Battleship Yamato (2010) and the inappropriately dour Lupin III (2014). And then an over-hyped stinker like Attack on Titan comes along and sets everything back that was achieved with the aforementioned movie.

Delusions of grandeur?

We find ourselves in a post-apocalyptic world. Humanity lives in constant fear of the “titans”, grotesque looking humanoid giants that come in different sizes, from high as houses to skyscraper dimensions.  The last remains of the human population spend their lives retreated in cities that are surrounded with three concentric walls which are so high that they become insurmountable for the titans.

The creatures are surrounded in mystery. Nobody knows where they come from, what drives them and why they solely diet on humans, nor is it explainable how they can recreate without any visible reproductive organs. Destroying them is almost impossible, as they possess spooky powers that let their bodies regenerate in a matter of minutes after they are wounded. Only if a small spot in their necks can be hit, they instantly die and dissolve into smoke. As no high-end weaponry is available anymore at this point, only members of a tough as nails special squad called the “Survey Corps” can take up the fight, using a battle gear suit equipped with a mechanism of cable reels and grappling hooks that would make Batman jealous to soar through the air and with some luck, hit the titans with swords at said vulnerable point. Needless to say, their life expectancy is not very high.

When one day a titan of hitherto unseen size is able to break down the outer wall of a city, the young, slightly impulsive lad Eren Jaeger (Haruma Miura)- yeah the names ain’t subtle- has to witness how helpless people are eaten and smashed before his very eyes and decides to join the force.

Attack on titan: Eating human

Too big to not fail?

Where to start? So many bad choices. Transferring a story from one medium to another inevitably comes with a lot of changes, but they should still make sense at least.

One of the first things that stick out is the change of setting. The original was set in a vaguely “Steam-punky” alt-history (?) world, partly reminiscent of the romanticized depiction of 18th century Germany of the illustrations that adorn many of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales books. A testament to that are the (sometimes pseudo-) German names of the protagonists. In the live-action adaptation on the other hand, any ambiguities about the setting and time are erased and we are confronted with a generic post-apocalyptic surrounding that could also serve as backdrop for an instalment of the Terminator– franchise. Wrecks of worn-out machinery are scattered over the place and the squad has now two trucks to move around. I guess everything has to be spelled out and devoid of mystery in movies nowadays.

With this change, we are not only denied a depiction of a world that lies beyond the usual SciFi- and Fantasy- movie cliches we are oversaturated with, but also a good chunk of the source material’s appeal gets annihilated. Omitting the quasi- alt-historical designs leads to a loss of the powerful fairy tale- or fable-like symbolism and the borderline surreal, almost Terry Gilliam-esque atmosphere the Anime exuded in its best moments. Just more of the well-known post-apocalyptic vistas in washed out colours, yawn.

Titan live-action

The constellation of the characters and their relations to each other have been altered immensely, but I won’t go into depth here, not only to avoid spoilers but also because it’s almost not worth the effort. Just let me say that Eren’s traumatic back story is now a different one which completely changes his character arc and only serves to justify a silly subplot.
None of the characters is well realized and they are less layered  than their two-dimensional counterparts, which should tell you something. I don’t blame the cast for the bad acting, because it is usually the fault of the material and the director when the thespian efforts on display are that uniformly bland without exception. The goofy overacting is very much in line with the jarring shift of tone into the realms of “traditional” comic-book movie- silliness though. Director Shinji Higachi has been an accomplished FX-expert for many years before he started directing, which ominously parallels the career of the US-director Mark A.Z. Dippé and while Attack on Titan is not quite a Spawn (1997) concerning infantilized adaptations of marvellous source material, it comes pretty close. Speaking of FX, they are, like in Parasyte, of course not on the same level as those of $200 Mio. Hollywood-productions, but they are solid for what budget the FX-masters presumably had to work with. The last third of Attack… is a little more entertaining than the preceding hour, sadly only because of an action overkill and moments of unintentional hilarity and not due to gripping human drama or directorial ingenuity. And of course it ends on a cliffhanger, with a sequel coming soon.

The Big come down

Attack on Titan barely works as a film on its own and is simply a travesty as an adaptation, watering down and infantilizing the original story.  It’s just another proof that you can edit a great trailer out of anything. Watch only if you are very, very curious.

Rewatch the animated series again instead or consider a trip to Japan to visit the Attack on Titan theme park.

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DetectiveDee

Detective Dee reviews movies and sometimes TV-series. He likes to indulge in the Asian cinema, exploitation flicks and the horror genre but is no stranger to Blockbuster culture either. He writes whatever he wants, but always aims to entertain.

  • Orcus

    Wow, this is disappointing news to Orcus since Orcus was looking forward to seeing this.

    When you mentioned changes in the movie, were you referring to the Manga or Anime series?

  • The Anime. I never read the Manga.

  • But I looked it up. It also differs from the Manga.

  • Orcus

    Orcus read the Manga but did not get around to the Anime as of yet. Besides, compressing that volume of material within a 2 hour(?) span never goes well, even with heavy revisions. This movie sounds like it should have been broken up into 3 movies (with cliffhanger) just for it to make sense

  • gorgarwilleatyou1

    Thanks for the review, dam i was looking forward to this it was the first anime in a while I enjoyed. These live action things never seem to work out I still need to finish Gatchaman and Harlock without falling asleep.

  • It does have a sequel, not sure about a 3rd part.

  • Orcus

    Let Orcus clarify. It would have made more sense to make it a trilogy. One movie for worldbuilding, one for conflict and cliffhanger and third for resolution. The way it sound now, it looks like they tried to cram 2 pounds of shit into a 1 pound bag. Substitute pounds for kilos where applicable.

  • Digging for Zissou

    It’s not the size of the expectations it’s what you do with it.

  • you so funny

  • Sagamanus

    The CGI Harlock is horrid. It’s not really different from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within either. None of the Harlock mythology just absurd militarism pretty typical of something trying to appeal to the west. Space Batteship Yamato I have yet to see but I don’t expect much. The Lupin film neither. You should take a look at Gantz. The first one started off well but descended into the one of the worst pieces of garbage I’ve ever seen.

  • CreepyThinMan

    The major problem that no one is addressing is that Eastern storytelling styles and techniques just don’t translate very well to North American audiences. I bought Space Batteship Yamato on a blind buy and it has all the problems you normally associate with Asian genre films; an interesting concept but not as fleshed out as it could have been. Kung Fu Hustle works because its structure is Western but its style is Eastern!!!FACT!!!

  • Stalkeye

    So far from what I have seen, it’s not as bad as you make it out to be. (The first appearance of the Titans as they devoured the populace accompanied by orchestral score was Jaw-dropping!) Yes the story may differ from the Highly acclaimed Anime series, but like many adaptations they are known to differ from their source material.
    (I have no problem with that just as long as it’s executed well unlike Transofrmers, Gatchaman, GIJoe Rise of Cobra, Fantastic Four, etc.)

    Japanese Movies may not be well fleshed out as Many films in the US, but there are still a variety of Gems that can be found. I give points to ambition from what they have to work with. I’ll watch the rest of this sometime tonight and give my further take on it.

    I was going to do a review myself, but ya beat me to it.

  • Stalkeye

    I purchased the SBY Blu-Ray as well and didn’t feel alienated by the Film’s overall execution whatsoever. It’s their way of doing things. The North American audience nowadays are either too fickle or love fast food franchise Films like F&F or Jurassic World. Japan is at their absolute best when handling Anime as opposed to live action films and although they are still not quite “there”, at the end of the day, I can take the good from what’s left of the bad.

  • Stalkeye

    I was overall pleased with Gantz, but calling the Perfect Answer “One of the worst pieces of Garbage I have ever seen”, is quite reaching, my Friend.
    Agreed, CGI Harlock could have been better but I rate it way over The Spirits within.
    Compared to Gatchaman and Devilman, Gantz was fucking Avengers.
    Should Disney take a look at filming Anime/Manga adaptations?

    Also I’ll take the Japanese Films over American Videogame based Movies any day! I’m looking at YOU Uwe Boll and Paul Wanker Stain Anderson!

  • Stalkeye

    NOOOOO, Avoid Gatchaman like a Hot Chick with an “Unexplained” Sore on her Lip!!

  • Stalkeye

  • I have no problem with differences between the adaptations, but they should make sense. If they strip away something that is an important part of the appeal, you have to ask why. And isn’t that exactly what everybody criticized about the latest FF4 movie? And I don’t think it’s a typical Japanese phenomenon at all, by the way. Those are mistakes that are actually also pretty common in US-adaptations.

  • I don’t know if that is an Asian phenomenon. These are the same misguided decisions that plague Hollywood-produced adaptations as well: Taking concepts, modelling them into high concepts without being able to handle them properly and then produce movies that feel unfinished. See The Lone Ranger, Cowboys vs. Aliens, etc. It’s a phenomenon of modern franchise cinema. Some of the older Manga-adaptations for example, like Watari and the first Lupin III, are pretty tight.

  • Sagamanus

    Oh it’s better than Spirits Within. I agree with you, that’s a given. But I’ve actually watched the whole Harlock series and can say what they put on screen is not even tapping into it at all. In fact I’ve forgotten most of what I saw. I love Harlock the character and the respective universe like Galactic Railroad and Space Battleship Yamato. I was really looking forward to it too. But my god what a disappointment.

    I guess we could have some good Manga adaptations here. But the more quirky stuff probably not unless they do a lot of hacking of material.

  • Stalkeye

    Fair enuff.

  • KilliK

    why, did it have a slapstick comedy scene, followed by the rape and murder of a woman and then an awesome kung fu action sequence? asian storytelling is weird.

    and you’re right about Hustle, it’s not a coincidence that many great asian filmmakers come from a western cinematic background.

  • KilliK

    what about Rapeman? I hear the live action adaptations are great.

  • KilliK
  • Stalkeye

    I think Iv’e seen a bit of it and thought it was too tasteless even for Japan.
    The Anime is just as Silly.

  • Stalkeye

    Hah! You’re not the only one who is a fan of Harlock. 😛

    Besides 009 and a few others, Harlock was one of my first exposures to Anime as a Kid during the 80’s. He was a badass Anti-hero with a well defined purpose-Freedom! I was a bit letdown by the CGI adaptation as plenty of the story focused on Yama. Don’t get me started on the “passing the Torch” Bullshit!

    There was potential for a great Movie there but it was serviceable still.

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    That’s about right coming from you. Figured you would like that

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    Your an idiot. Do you make this shiite up?

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    That’s what I told her!

  • Stalkeye
  • He is not incorrect. Such movies exist, especially in Hong Kong cinema.

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    He made a stupid generalization, and in return, I gave my opinion. Trust me, I know there are films like that in Hong Kong cinema, have watched them along with many others, but when an idiot speaks, I will reapond.

  • Well then. You guys duke that out, I am out!

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    Yippee Ki Yay………..Giddy Up!

  • gorgarwilleatyou1

    Have to agree love Harlock/Herlock, at first i hated those weird character designs but now i love it gives it some style.

  • Stalkeye

    Lieji Matsumoto is truly one of Anime’s most influential creators.
    Even Lucas mimicked some of his material for Star Wars.

  • Toruk_Makto

    I’ve been meaning to watch the Anime because of the good word of mouth. From the sound of it, it looks like they botched the live action. I would love to sit down with someone who screws up an adaptation and give them an in-depth interview…

    “Toruk: So, you took a property that was very popular and decided to make a movie out of it?
    Fuckup: Yep.
    Toruk: Then you proceeded to remove most of the bits that made the property popular in the first place?
    Fuckup: Uh, yeah.
    Toruk: Hmm, How’d that work out for ya?
    Fuckup: fuck you, asshole.”

  • Stalkeye

    Ah, it’s not as bad as some would think. But nothing beats the Anime, oh and that excellent intro-

    One of the best if not the best openings ever!!!

  • Toruk_Makto

    Looks good. Is this is a series? For some reason I assumed it was a one-off.

  • Stalkeye

    It’s a 24 episode series (12 episodes per Season ) and i’m not including the OVAs! Many anime fans who i know personally, was hooked into the series and needless to say, it’s one of the more refreshing concepts from the medium as of late. I can see why this was made into a live action film.
    despite it’s flaws, I came away entertained by the Film and will purchase the BluRay Disc. It’s worthy of Cult status at least.

  • Toruk_Makto

    Holy shit. Okay, going to start checking these out tonight.

  • Dr. Geiszler, Kaijuologist

    It’s best to have a different perspective on the same thing!

  • Dr. Geiszler, Kaijuologist

    Upvote despite the fact that I love Spirits Within.

  • Sagamanus

    Really dude? That’s not really FF. I mean I have no problem with people changing things around in different mediums. No one has to remain faithful to the material wholly. But that just seems too western for me.

  • Dr. Geiszler, Kaijuologist

    Western how?

  • Sagamanus

    Well it’s hard to explain, and I haven’t seen the film for a long time so I’m going out on a limb here. But I do recall it has a straight up military adventure minus all the fantasy elements of the series. Most of which is not palatable for an introduction anyway to western audiences. Nevertheless, the film was expensive and bombed as it doesn’t really resemble anything in the FF uni.

  • Dr. Geiszler, Kaijuologist

    I think the core of the story is still there. I don’t know about military adventure as the military seems to get a not so positive depiction in it. It seems to have more in common with the FFVII kind of universe than FFII or FFVI so I can see how most would write it off. That and I think it feels like somebody just cut out the first two acts and left the third act in there, extending it a bit, as the story almost seems done by the time we’re introduced to the characters.

  • Sagamanus

    Agreed. What I meant about the military thing is that for every conversion from something Japanese there, all they do is paste in powersuits and mechs here. As if that’s all the rest of the world can tolerate. I think those are present in Spirits: Within. In any case it’s got something to do like it’s a cross between Appleseed, some Ghost in the Shell and a just a touch of FF, but not really. As one could have labeled this something all together else.

    I played FF X that’s it and it had something we called ‘Shattered world syndrome’ that made us stop playing it. Everytime you went near something you were pulled into a fight. That kind of game is frustrating as hell. I began to hate RPG’s by barely even playing them. The new FF on PS4 looks great though.

  • Dr. Geiszler, Kaijuologist

    We’ll pick this up later.

  • Stalkeye

    Advent Children gets my Vote!

  • Stalkeye

    You two should take this to a debate Podcast that’s if SN is still entertaining the concept. (0;’