The underlying premise for Gantz is so delicious, so ripe with possibilities, it's strange how the various adaptations from its source manga have been one brand of flat tire after another. Consider: You die and come back to life in a room with a black sphere that provides you with a protective bodysuit, high-tech weapons, and a mission to kill some savagely dangerous monster somewhere out there in the city. Time runs out before you kill it, you're all dead. Anyone still alive, in whatever form, by the time the mission is cleared is restored to perfect health. Kill, die, repeat. How do you mess this up? Forget to include an actual story, for one.
Given how luscious Gantz:O is to look at, and how primal material like this is best served up as an action spectacle, it's tempting to say they didn't blow it yet again this time. But the whole thing still feels like pressboard: great veneer, while on the inside it's all floor sweepings and glue.
Dead men fighting
In the case of the animated TV series that appeared in the early 2000s, that Gantz only adapted a portion of the original manga, capping it off so cynically that even the material's inherent nihilism was overshadowed (no mean feat, that). A two-part live-action movie got the looks about right, but it made the mistake of trying to add an upbeat and life-affirming flavor to make the material appealing to general audiences. Protip: when there's a diamond of nihilism at the core of a piece of work, you don't pry it out thinking it's a tumor.
Now comes Gantz: O, a sort of Greatest Hits And Twelve Inch Remixes version of this story, with several spectacular highlights crammed into around an hour and a half of runtime. It is essentially an excuse to show some familiar faces from the series, put them into a variety of action set-pieces, and run through an A-to-B plotline that has a single admittedly clever twist at the end. The film does all these things adequately, but the one thing it excels at is melting the eyes right out of the sockets, over and over. We've all got to be good at something, I guess.
The setup involves one of the main characters from the original story, a somewhat thuggish youth named Kurono who's been the sole guardian of his younger brother since they lost their parents. One night on a train platform he's stabbed to death in one of those random acts of modern violence that makes headline news. But he doesn't stay dead. He wakes up in that room with the black sphere and several other existing players of the game — a shampoo-commercial model, a middle-aged man who admits he isn't much help, a snotty punk who looks down his nose at all the other players and poaches everyone else's kills.
Kurono has no time to learn the ropes; it's all he can do to hug them. He's teleported along with his new comrades into the streets of Osaka (I guess that's what the "O" stands for), where they're immediately attacked by a smorgasbörd of monsters straight out of the Hyakki Yagyō. Amusing as they look, they're deadly. He could hang back, save his own inexperienced hide, and let the far more experienced Osaka team — another group of players with some truly wicked weaponry — clean house. Or he could stick his own neck out and do something the Osaka team doesn't seem all that interested in: save the lives of bystanders. But as the monster team's power level ramps up and they develop immunities to the weaponry thrown at them, Kurono realizes he might be the only thing standing between them and obliteration.
Good looks can go a long way. I could not help but give Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV positive marks for being so stupefyingly gorgeous to look at from one end to the other. Gantz: O is at least as good-looking, as the Turing test for what's a CGI generated scene and what's not was passed a long time ago. What's still not totally convincing are the people, and in this case that's partly a deliberate design decision. The characters' faces have been prototyped in such a way that they are meant to echo their manga sources — in other words, they don't look so much like actors chosen for their close resemblance to those roles as they do Kepwie-doll models of them.
The other problem with Gantz: O ought to be predictable by now — the movie doesn't provide us with strong story construction to go with its amazing imagery. Because there's no real development of the material — Kurono wants to get home alive and take care of his brother, and that's about it — the action has little context. It doesn't feel like the kind of heedless, primal thrills you get from movies like Ong-Bak or The Raid, where story and character would only get in the way anyway. Instead, it just feels like the movie has no second act — it sets things up, then then plunges immediately into the kind of slow-burning action climax that most every overstuffed Hollywood tentpole movie has used as of late to shoehorn another thirty minutes into its runtime. Only in this case, the movie's only ninety minutes end the end, and the "climax" is the entire latter four-fifths of the film.
How could this have been improved? Better pacing, for one, and maybe also some study of how short, compact, succinct films can still be full-blooded storytelling machines, whether they're shoot-em-ups or snappy comedies. There is, however, a sly twist ending that is worth sticking around for — and that hints at how things could have been expanded ever so slightly to provide the kind of meat this sandwich needed. What if what we ultimately learn about Kurono (it's a doozy) had been shifted back slightly so that it wasn't a twist ending? What if instead it had been used to devise an actual third act for the film? Or even an actual second one? Just wondering.