Reviewing a two-part movie is an awkward business. For part one, I end up writing a midterm progress report, with no thumbs up or down for whole shebang. Part one may be bad, but prejudging part two would be wrong.
In writing about part two I can turn my thumb any way I want, but I can’t avoid spoilers for part one. So you if haven’t seen “Gantz,” in which former boyhood pals Kei Kurono (Kazunari Ninomiya) and Masaru Kato (Kenichi Matsuyama) play a bizarre kill-the-aliens game in an afterlife limbo, this review of the action-packed if disappointing followup, “Gantz: Perfect Answer,” may tell you more than you want to know.
Still with me? As part two begins, Kei, the once wishy-washy college boy, has become a stern warrior in the service of Gantz, a black sphere that brought him and Masaru inexplicably back to life after a fatal encounter with an oncoming subway train. He and others among the newly dead accumulate points by killing aliens on missions assigned to them by Gantz. With 100 points, they can either escape their limbo and lose all memory of their time there or return another person to life.
Kei aims to revive Masaru, who died first in the subway — and then again SPOILER ALERT in the world of Gantz. In the intervals between missions, however, Kei is still leading his old life, which includes his budding relationship with Tae (Yuriko Yoshitaka), an aspiring manga artist. Then he reaches his goal and Masaru returns — but the story is just getting started. Based on Hiroya Oku’s hit manga, “Gantz: Perfect Answer” is crowded with incident, not all of which this nonfan could quite sort out — or finally care about.
This is partly deliberate: We are not supposed to immediately get why a group of black-clad, human-looking aliens start implacably shooting everything in sight in pursuit of a terrified Tae. This, we are told, is a blatant violation of the Gantz game rules, which forbid using humans for targets. Is Gantz itself spinning out of control?
Then there is the mystery of Shigeta (Takayuki Yamada), a world-weary investigator of some sort trying to get to the bottom of Gantz-related violence, even venturing into the lair of the black-clad ones. Is he playing a double game?
There is also the strange case of Eriko Ayukawa (Ayumi Ito), an actress who wakes up one fine morning with a tiny Gantz ball in her bed. She can’t get rid of it — or ignore its instructions to seek and destroy. Even harder to parse is the bizarre existence of two Masarus — one basically decent, if tightly wound; the other the personification of evil.
Like many a sci-fi/fantasy comic adaptation, “Gantz: Perfect Answer” plays by complex rules whose logic is not always clear to outsiders. This puzzlement wouldn’t much matter if the plot deepened meaningfully, if mysteriously, as does the ultimate model for machines-gone-wild movies, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Instead the film devolves to that threadbare theme — a hero (Kei) saving his princess (Tae) from the dragon (the black-clads). Simple, really, but hardly interesting.
Also, the tension level deflates once it becomes clear that death is about as permanent in the Gantz world as in a computer game. Just hit reset and you’re good to go again — and again and again.
The low-budget (by Hollywood standards) effects add to this feeling of weightlessness, as the super-powered (in their Gantz guise) fighters leap up and down tall buildings as effortlessly as circus fleas. The “Spider-Man” films do this sort of thing more heart-in-throat believably.
So what began promisingly in “Gantz,” with its novel twists on the tired murder-game genre, ends conventionally and prosaically in “Gantz: Perfect Answer.” When that big black ball clicked shut for the last time, I was not chilled by an enigmatic metaphor but thinking what a money-spinning toy it would make. Which, in the inevitable Hollywood remake, I’m sure will be the entire point.