I am something of a late comer to the Kamen Rider franchise. There have been many series using the motif, Kamen Rider Kiva being the current (as of this review) and ninth, and a handful of movies. Summing up the Masked Rider as a concept is not 100% easy, given the large number of characters and themes, but the usual idea is that a protaganist has the power to transform into the Masked Rider which enhances his or her powers and enables them to fight whatever evil minions need a whupping. It seems that several of the series have used characters switching between good and evil or between evil and good as a plotpoint.
As does this one. The First's main character, Misaya Kikawada's Takeshi Hongo, is first gifted the power of Hopper, an Inhumanoid with a insect like appearance designed to do the evil whims of the Shockers. After he breaks free of the control, too late to save the fiancee of the woman he has a crush on, he is blamed by said crush object as the killer. Much of the rest of the movie involves him following her around and protecting her, because she is the final witness to the Shocker's machinations.
The movie follows the general arc of the original Kamen Rider series, though in a vastly abbreviated form and with a focus on the love interest in Hongo's heart. There are a handful of bad guys, most using some horror-animal theme motif: bat, insects, snakes, spiders. They show up regularly, and there are some good fights, but with the exception of the climatic fight between the Riders and the three Shockers near the end, most of the good fighting is between Kamen Rider 1 and the more generic enemies. Too many of the bigger fight maneuvers are a bit over the top wire-fu, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your tastes.
The overall quality of production would be about that of a made for TV movie. Audio and video get the job done, and there are some excellent shots mixed in, but a lot of it is no more impressive than an average Kamen Rider episode. And, while the suits and various costumes are interesting, the transformations seem to be a failed attempt to add some logic to the franchise (apparently the carry their suit around with them, or maybe they summon it to them).
Maybe the biggest flaw is the inclusion of a side story about a couple of terminally ill hospital children. While this is eventually resolved, and intersects with the main story in a few places, it ends up being several minutes of footage that needed another twenty minutes to breathe or needed to have about twenty minutes cut out. Without it, the movie would have been cut down to barely over an hour, and so it works as a time stretch, but leaves the overall mood of the story a bit more conflicted than it needs to leave it.
Despite some writing and production flaws, the movie is interesting and held my attention. I quite enjoyed the overall vibe and the overall flow. I'm also hoping this hints of more Kamen Rider media being brought over to America, being a somewhat more well-rounded version of the tokusatsu genre than the Power Rangered Super Sentain line. I give the movie a Good and look forward to the sequel.
Written by W Doug Bolden
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