Armitage III: Dual Matrix
Several years after the events of "Polymatrix", the android Armitage and her husband Ross have relocated to Mars with the hope of being able to live a quiet life with their new daughter, Yoko. All seems well until the day that Armitage has a graphic vision of other androids being massacred at a research facility, which incites her to return to Earth and investigate the incident. Shortly after, Ross is sent to Earth for a summit on robot rights. Their peaceful life falls apart rapidly as they come under threat from politicians and corporations who seek to block the civil rights of robots and, at the same time, obtain the secrets of Armitage's advanced technology.
The most sobering fact of cinema may be that the vast majority of films just aren't all that original. It's not really a surprise, in truth: the principle is that certain, well-tested techniques create solidly entertaining movies and that directors will use these techniques if they want people to enjoy their work. But a film derived entirely from pre-packaged cuts isn't going to leave an impression. People won't remember the movie; rather, they'll remember the plot devices that made this film and countless others before it into an entertaining piece.
Thus, I think that the best movies are those that make one remember them, and them alone, for the things that make them unclassifiable. Barring that, however, the next best thing may be to have a film that outwardly appears unoriginal but which, upon closer inspection, manages to push the boundaries that its predecessors created without entirely throwing them out the window. Such is the case with the 2002 film Armitage III: Dual Matrix, which takes a heavily-trod tale of robots and robotic humans and transcends that tale by exploring questions that its peers have avoided or barely touched upon.
I have seen neither the original Armitage OAV nor the American film (known as Polymatrix) that was adapted from it. For the most part, however, this was not a problem for me. Dual Matrix is a sequel, but it's a sequel that strives to stand alone, and I admire it for that. Although the first part of the film (which sometimes moved too slowly for my tastes) lingers on plot details that relate to Polymatrix, and we meet one character from the first film (the android Julian) who has no real reason to appear, for the most part this is an entirely separate piece that depicts a correspondingly separate period in time, meaning that it will have as much appeal to first-time viewers as fans of the original work.
Dual Matrix can stand alone as a movie, and it certainly has solid plotting and writing, but can that make it anything more than competent? A competent film is not necessarily an interesting one, and on the surface, there is little to differentiate Armitage III from the various other cyberpunk films and stories that play with the depiction of robotic humans. Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep also feature a universe in which humans and their robot "servants" have colonized Mars, while in the anime world, Metropolis and Ghost in the Shell have already given us stories about androids that look, behave, and (in the case of Ghost's Major) shoot like regular human women. Heck, we've had the original Metropolis (Fritz Lang's film) for over 80 years now, so none of this is new in the slightest. Is there anything here that's actually worth examining?
In fact, the answer turns out to be yes, and that is because this film makes one move that entirely sets it apart from everything else. Specifically, it gives Armitage a family and feelings of love (or the android equivalent) for that family, and uses these elements to delve into questions that Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner barely touched upon. We are left to wonder whether robots can love and exist in normal relationships, whether they can have children, what those children would be, and what the psychological effects of having a robot for a mother are. It succeeds in making us question the line between android and human because it simultaneously depicts Armitage as being fundamentally different from other humans (which, in my opinion, Ghost struggled to do) and a fully loving and thinking being.
Armitage may seem to fit the "badass robot babe" archetype, and a good amount of unnecessary fan service enforces that mistaken impression well, but at heart, she is a caring woman and a loving mother. Her motives revolve around protecting and caring for Yoko: we see her explode into rage when her daughter is in danger, but at the same time we also see her and her husband celebrating Yoko's birthday like any loving parents would. The film does a fantastic job of balancing the sci-fi elements with a world that I can see people actually living in, and the three make a wonderfully believable family. We learn from the get-go that Ross and Armitage are intensely and violently loyal, and this, in my opinion, is the heart that holds the movie together. Although we never see quite as much of Ross as we see of Armitage (and the few scenes between them make me wish that the film had lingered on them for longer), he fulfills his role as a caring and loyal father wonderfully, and on top of everything, Yoko is one of the most unbelievably adorable girls I've ever seen in anime.
The only other characters who have much of a role are Demetrio, the vice-president of a robotics corporation, and Mouse, a black-market mechanic. Sometimes, a good villain can cause my opinion of a movie to skyrocket, and Demetrio, who is both utterly believable as a sophisticated CEO and utterly despicable for his revolting experiments, is the perfect antagonist for this film. It uses his scenes to explore some other disturbing concepts (including a form of Eugenics involving Armitage and her ability to give birth), and this, in my opinion, adds a great deal to it's philosophical musings. Mouse, on the other hand, irritates me to no end. With his fluctuating voice pitch and his pretty-boy mannerisms, he is blatantly a comic relief character, and his presence is ill-suited to the film's tone.
On a technical level, the film does miss the opportunity to be great, which is a shame. It's designed well and made appropriately gloomy and futuristic, and yet it's just not up to par with the spectacular cities of Metropolis and Akira, or even the pure artistry of Studio Ghibli's body of work. Armitage's character design is quite distinct, as is Mouse's (his sole redeeming quality), but neither the animation nor the other designs really stand out (besides Yoko's cuteness). Other reviewers have complained about the CGI being incompetent, but I never really noticed a problem, and I was happy that there were neither glitches nor disproportionate figures to be seen. My one real complaint is that the climax is colored way, way, way too darkly for the action that occurs, which made it impossible to see and threw me off an otherwise good storyline.
And perhaps it's in bad taste to commend a film for being watchable, but more often then not, I was impressed just by how well it worked as a movie. Dual Matrix does a good job of balancing serious dialogue with humor (even if some of that humor becomes over-the-top), and after the slow beginning, it flows at exactly the right gripping and entertaining pace. Ghost in the Shell, for all its beauty, just can't make that claim.
My favorite films possess both ambition and an excellent flow, and this film satisfied both of those desires enough that I was happy, and maybe even a tiny bit awed. I can complain about Mouse, the out-of-place fan service, and the red herring characters, but in the end, it's a movie that I had a great time with, and one that I would watch again. In truth, I just find it frustrating because it remains a bit of a missed opportunity. Armitage III already had strong filmmaking skills behind it and plenty of interesting ideas, so why didn't the creators try a tiny bit harder? It's just a little too similar to other works to ever become a classic. As it stands, it's an intelligent and worthy addition to the body of cyberpunk anime, and I'm grateful for the time I spent with it.
Remove a star or two if science fiction is not to your taste, and add one if you utterly hate Ghost in the Shell and Metropolis and find this to be a suitable alternative. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: Violent but not graphic, fan-servicey but devoid of actual sex, and dark without being overwhelmingly gloomy, I find it hard to imagine that anyone would find this too offensive, but it isn't really meant for kids.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Armitage III: Dual Matrix © 2002 AIC / Pioneer LDC
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