Appleseed: Ex Machina

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 03/15/08 21:00:00

"More action, less talk, but just as soulles as its predecessor."
3 stars (Just Average)

"Appleseed: Ex Machina" (“Ekusu makina”), the eagerly anticipated sequel to….wait, let’s stop the hyperbole right there. "Appleseed: Ex Machina" is, in fact, a sequel, a sequel to 2004’s "Appleseed," a computer-animated adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s ("Ghost in the Shell") manga series that ran from 1985-1989 and, unofficially at least, a remake of a 2D feature-length film released in Japan in 1988. "Appleseed" featured "Matrix"-style action sequences, an overly convoluted storyline, and an odd combination of 2D/cell animation (mostly for faces) with motion-capture technology. Bristling with techno-fetishism mixed with the usual fears and anxieties about science and scientific progress, "Appleseed" seems to have acquired enough admirers in Japan and outside the United States to guarantee that director Shinji Aramaki would return to the "Appleseed" universe, this time with a more streamlined, less convoluted storyline, but with just as many videogame cut-scene quality action scenes as its predecessor had.

Appleseed: Ex Machina picks up sometime after the end of Appleseed: a non-nuclear war has decimated more than half the world’s population. From the chaos, a new, technologically advanced city-state, Olympus, has become the preeminent world power. The surviving humans live alongside bioroids, genetically engineered clones that resemble humans in everything, minus their ability to feel or express negative emotions, and human/machine hybrids, cyborgs. While Gaia, a gigantic artificial intelligence, runs Olympus’ day-to-day functions, a Prime Minister Athena (voiced by Allison Sumrall), a bioroid, presides over the government. Olympus has its enemies, of course, as do the other, newly emergent city-states. ES.W.A.T., a group of highly trained, highly skilled men and women, safeguard Olympus’ hard-earned prosperity.

The two major holdover characters from Appleseed, Deunan Knute (Luci Christian), and Brialeos Hecatombcales (David Matranga), a cyborg, are both elite members of ES.W.A.T. They’re both partners and lovers, but Brialeos’s condition makes their relationship one fraught with emotional and physical difficulties. Brialeos almost dies as a result of a hostage rescue mission gone wrong, forcing Deunan to take on a new partner, Tereus (Illich Guardiola), a bioroid who closely resembles a pre-injury Brialeos. As it turns out, Tereus shares most of Brialeos’ DNA, but again, minus negative emotions. Not surprisingly, Tereus shows a romantic interest in Deunan, but the resolution of their romantic triangle takes a back seat to a techno-organic virus that infects cyborgs and humans connected to an ultra-advanced version of the Internet. Deunan, Tereus, and an infected Brialeos race to discover the identity and location of the mysterious enemy that’s openly attacked Olympus.

Story wise, Appleseed: Ex Machina is just as, if not more, derivative than its predecessor. Science fiction fans won’t have to look too hard to spot plot elements borrowed from Metropolis (massive cityscapes, class warfare), Blade Runner (cityscapes again, plus spinners and giant, floating billboards), the Matrix trilogy (super-advanced AI, drones, action scenes), Star Wars IV: A New Hope (infiltrating a massive ship, destroying the power core), Tron (the Master Control Program gets name checked, light-cycles), Aliens (a desperate mission into the bowels of an enemy ship/power plant, complete with a last second save via hovering transport ship), Star Trek: First Contact (the Borg Alien, the cube-like dimensions of the enemy ship), and even Close Encounters of the Third Kind (the mothership with its graceful, church-like spires).

With Appleseed: Ex Machina borrowing from so many science-fiction films, little room was left for original ideas. In fact, there aren’t any. Okay, that’s not quite right. The closest Appleseed: Ex Machina comes to an original storyline is in the romantic triangle between Deunan, Brialeos, and Tereus. Unfortunately, the romantic subplot feels like a feeble attempt to mark time between action scenes (because it is). Despite the possibility for something fresh or original, the romantic subplot doesn’t go anywhere interesting, ultimately resolving itself in the most banal and trite manner. Alas, the main storyline devolves into a shallow excuse for an extended action finale, most of it well executed (some of it not). Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, just that fans of Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell have to come to expect more from anime associated with Shirow’s name and his contributions to the manga and anime fields.

On the plus side, "Appleseed: Ex Machina" never gets bogged down in the longwinded navel gazing that fatally undermined "Appleseed." Where "Appleseed" devolved into a long series of dialogue scenes, each painfully explaining one of more aspects of Olympus’ society or history, sometimes with flashbacks, but often without, with, of course the occasional action sequence thrown in to keep us semi-interested, "Appleseed: Ex Machina" dispenses with lengthy dialogue scenes, focusing on action, action, and more action. Alas, there too, "Appleseed: Ex Machina" runs into problems: the now all-CG characters still move awkwardly, facial expressions are severely limited (budgetary reasons, presumably), and the action sequences start off strong only to end up weakly in a flurry of ultra-fast motion and quick cuts, none of which does the animation any favors. Sadly, "Appleseed: Ex Machina" is one project that could have used more time, both in the scripting phase and during production.

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