Writer-Director: David Bowers
Starring: Freddie Highmore, Donald Sutherland, Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell, Nathan Lane
Review: 4 stars (of five)
How the new Astro Boy movie compares to the old manga by comics genius Osamu Tezuka and the subsequent cartoons that invented “anime” style—whether it’s better or worse, true to the source material—I dunno, having never seen a bit of it. Badmouth comes to the new movie as a clean slate, much like general American audiences, especially younger kids, will. From that perspective, writer-director David Bowers’ adaptation is lively and entertaining. It’s story about a lone hero finding his place in the world is inevitably a bit familiar, but adds plenty of entertaining twists.
True to (what Wikipedia says about) the character’s origins, Astro Boy is created by a top scientist to replace his dead son. Bowers starts the film with the live boy, Toby, who gets vaporized, off screen, in an accident very early in the picture. That, and the way the robot version is completely rejected by his “father,” Dr. Tenma, might be a little tough for the youngest audiences to take. After that, it’s cartoon violence and a blustering bad guy—smooth sailing for most kiddies.
Astro is cast out of his home, a futuristic floating city that’s paradise compared to the Wall-E-esque junkyard that is the Earth’s surface. Not just homeless, he’s wanted by a greedy, war-mongering politician hell-bent on reelection. He falls in with interesting characters, has some pretty high-voltage fights, and eventually puts it all on the line for what he believes in. Good stuff.
The voice cast is rock solid, with one notable high and a notable low. The father, Tenma, is played by Nicolas Cage, who these days rarely makes a character a believable human, and certainly doesn’t do so here. The high point is Donald Sutherland, magnificent as a vaguely Nixonian president who wants to start a war to shore up his political standing.
It’s a superhero movie, with action reminiscent of both Superman II and Iron Man. It tugs at the heart, provides comic relief, and manages to wreak tremendous urban damage while writing around any concept of, y’know, massive civilian casualties and such. It explores an interesting world and does a nice job of resolving its key story problems by the time the credits roll. I wouldn’t mind seeing another one of these some time.