Stephen reviews: Bayonetta: Bloody Fate (2013)

bayonetta_1Bayonetta: Bloody Fate [ベヨネッタ ブラッディフェイト] (2013)

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Daisuke Namikawa, Mie Sonozaki, Miyuki Sawashiro, Norio Wakamoto, Tessho Genda, Wataru Takagi

Directed by Fuminori Kizaki

Usually, I am rather dismissive of films based on video games (and vice versa), but Bayonetta somehow felt like a potentially good idea. I don’t think I had any actual reason for this uncharacteristic optimism other than the vague notion that the game was so absurd it would at least be interesting to see what they did with it in film. This seems to have been a mistake as the film mostly uses the least ridiculous aspects of the game.

As far as video game films go, Bayonetta: Bloody Fate isn’t bad, though. It retells the story functionally while maintaining the game’s style and tone. Bayonetta is a sexy witch with amnesia searching for clues about her past. All she knows is that she woke up in a coffin at the bottom of a lake and angels are out to kill her. She finds out about a church leader named Balder who might be involved somehow, and she tracks him down to find out more. Along the way, mass death and destruction ensue, along with a gallon of fan service.

bayonetta_2If you’ve played the game, the story won’t be anything new, but it does do things differently. Not better or worse than the game, really, just rearranged and altered to better suit the pacing of film rather than a game.  If I had to pick one over the other, I would stick with the game, but there are a few good things about the film, too.

All the core concepts are still there. There’s a man named Luka tracking Bayonetta down for murdering his father, and a little girl named Cereza tags along, calling Bayonetta her mother. A mysterious witch named Jean shows up to give cryptic and antagonistic hints about Bayonetta’s past. And Balder sends out angels to cause havoc in his mad plan to revive the creator Jubileus to destroy and remake the world.

bayonetta_3The characters don’t get as much time to interact and express their personalities as they do in the game, but that’s more or less unavoidable when adapting a much longer work into film. Something somewhere has to be cut. But I do think they spent a tad more time developing the mundane human world than the game did. I liked that stuff, but it didn’t go far enough to actually add any depth to the world of Bayonetta, which I was hoping it would do.

Since the game was all about slaughtering angels with extreme prejudice, it makes sense that Bloody Fate is an action film. But this is where the movie is actually at its worst. Not that it’s particularly bad, mind you, but it never really feels exciting or dramatic. If you play the game you know that there is some real risk going on, because you, the player, need to actually defeat a 30-foot-tall monstrosity wielding an axe the size of a truck, and that’s not necessarily easy to do. But in the film, Bayonetta dispatches her foes with ridiculous ease. The only fights with actual tension to them are the fights between Bayonetta and Jean, where Bayonetta actually has to struggle to keep up.

bayonetta_4Much of the game’s appeal is in the absurd ways Bayonetta can eviscerate her opponents, and in the equally absurd monster designs that she has to fight. Sadly, while the film does try to incorporate as much as it can, it leaves out the most entertaining ones and keeps the less interesting examples. Gone are the ice skates that freeze people when Bayonetta kicks them. She never breakdances with bazookas strapped to her feet. The demons she summons are quickly gone and forgotten, lacking the visceral punch they always had in the game. Most of the angels are only the generic ones that have little interesting about them. The only odd ones in the film are the car angels that chase her down the highway, but even then we only get one of them.

On the visual front, the animation is solid, though a little too CG heavy for my tastes. Everything looks good and there’s often cool camera angles and lighting effects that make the scenes pop. It’s rather odd that all the great looking moments seem to occur outside of battle, while the fights themselves always felt underwhelming.

bayonetta_5The voice acting was interesting since the game had no Japanese actors, so I had to adjust to the new ones. It works well enough, and I quickly accepted the changes without any mental hangups for most of the characters, but there are a couple that felt odd without their English voices.

In the English version, Cereza has a very distinct British accent, and obviously that doesn’t carry over into the Japanese acting. Enzo also has a very distinct mafia gangster accent pulled straight out of Goodfellas which also doesn’t carry over at all in Japanese. But aside from these two characters, everyone sounded just fine to me, especially Rodin, voiced by Tessho Genda, who is the deep-voiced tough guy in practically every anime ever made.

bayonetta_6I don’t usually watch dubs unless I have to, and I don’t usually talk much about them in my reviews. Neither did I watch the English dub of Bloody Fate. That said, the few snippets I did hear of the English dub sounded like it kept the same actors as the game. But the acting seemed a lot stiffer and weaker. That was from just a very small sampling so I’m not giving it a fair shake, but after hearing those bits of acting I got the feeling that watching it subtitled was the right choice, even though the English versions of the characters are the ones that are more familiar to me.

If you’ve never seen the game in all its insane glory, then you might be impressed by what’s on offer in Bayonetta: Bloody Fate. The action is a little bland, but the story works when taken on its own terms and the film looks pretty awesome from time to time. Even though the wildest parts of the game are left out, there’s still some cool and ridiculous shit flying around that’s worth seeing. As for fans of the game, there’s not nearly as much to recommend unless you’re just curious to see what they changed. It doesn’t add anything to the game experience, but it doesn’t do the game a disservice either. It sits comfortably between what I hoped it would be and what I feared it would be, ending up as an average movie that’s kinda entertaining.


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