Monday, October 26, 2009

Review: Astro Boy

For what it's worth, I know next to nothing about the Astro Boy franchise. I've never read the manga, I've never seen the anime. I am, for all intents and purposes, an Astro Greenhorn. I wandered into this movie expecting very little. Imagi Studios' previous film, TMNT, was one of the most fun film experience I've had in recent years, and so I at least expected this film to be somewhat entertaining.  And for the most part, I got what I asked for. Astro Boy is a film that really doesn't have too much to offer, but what it lacks in diversity, it more than makes up for in good vibes and sheer spectacle.

The film begins with a nicely-stylized vision of the future, Metro City an island of technology floating high above the junkyard known as Earth.  The city's president (Donald Sutherland) initiates a test of his newest weapon, the Peacekeeper. In a first-act twist that can only be described as completely depressing, the head scientist's son Toby (Freddie Highmore) gets caught in the Peacekeeper's path and is promptly vaporized. Out of despair, the scientist (Nicolas Cage) builds a robotic replica of his son out of dud missles and hair folicles. Powered by a mysterious blue energy called Positive Energy (Negative energy is red, make of that what you will), the robot (henceforth known as Astro) awakens with no memory of his recent, gruesome death.

The bulk of the film follows Astro as he casts himself out of Metro City and into the wilderness. Out there, he meets a series of strange characters, including a comically inept band of communist robots (seriously, they have posters of Lenin and Trotsky in their hideout).  Astro also meets a group of kids who took a wrong turn on their way to Neverland and Geppeto's maniacal little brother.  Here, he learns the value of family and compassion and all the things that they usually try to teach kids in films like this.

The film borrows themes and plot points from Frankenstein, the writings of Immanuel Kant and RenĂ© Descartes, Iron Man, The Matrix, and several other sources that I'm almost positive I missed. I appreciate that the filmmakers didn't shove references to any of the above down my throat, instead allowing me to identify them at my own leisure. What's more, I like that they introduced philosophical ideas like "I think, therefore I am" in a kids movie like this.  With the film's underlying message that knowledge and learning is a virtue, it's at least sending kids the right message about learning.

While the film is relatively by-the-numbers, I nevertheless had a fun time watching some above-average animation of robots fighting robots. That's really all I asked for anyway.  Chances are slim that this film will garner a sequel (given it's paltry $7 mil box office take), but I'd like to see more of this universe.

***1/2 (3.5 out of 5)

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