Written by Richard Brown
At the time of writing, rumours are rife of a Hollywood, live action, adaptation of Cowboy Bebop. With Keanu Reeves. This has prompted me to write this brief review of the original movie adaptation, known as “Stairway to Heaven” in Japan, but simply as “The Movie” here due to legal reasons. Is it any good? Read on to find out.
The Basic Plot
Its nearly Halloween on Mars, and the Bebop crew are in town, chasing some bounties. While Spike and Jet’s go reasonably well, Faye stumbles onto the biggest bounty in history, after witnessing a terrorist attack, and seeing the perpetrator’s face. However, the terrorists have made no demands, and the weapon used defies analysis, suggesting there’s more to the situation than it appears. Can Spike and co. succeed when the stakes are this high?
Getting Straight to the Point
Let’s get the obvious out of the way, and ask does the movie live up to the standard of the TV series? The answer is a definite “yes”, and fans of the series need not read further. To those of you, who have not seen the series, please bear with me as I make my case.
The original TV anime regularly appears in top 100 lists, and deservedly so. It did more or less everything it chose to do right, with a tight cast, a good mix of action and comedy, and music that made reputations. A concern you may have, as someone unfamiliar with the series, is whether the film will make much sense on its own. Matters are also complicated by the fact that it is not a serial sequel, taking place between episodes 22 and 23 of the series. Fortunately, the movie easily jumps this hurdle, and doesn’t require prior experience with the series for two reasons. First off, the TV series was episodic in the first place, so the baggage is minimal. The second, in a departure from the original, is that the movie is trying to tell a more conventional story, and one that’s actually very accessible. The way it does this is by shifting the focus of the movie slightly, towards two characters unique to the movie, Vincent the terrorist, and Electra, an agent trying to stop him. This pair makes the movie, driving the story forward, and providing a strong counter balance to the existing cast. By doing this, the film avoids the problems that plagued the Full Metal Alchemist movie, and while it tries to include every character and motif from the series it can, it does not do this at the cost of entertainment. And there is a lot of entertainment, as the movie compares favourably to any Hollywood blockbuster.
Yes, Cowboy Bebop the Movie is basically just an extended episode, but using that as a complaint is petty in the extreme. It’s like complaining that the gold bar someone just gave you is the wrong shape. The movie retains all that made the TV series good, and amps up the production values; its pretty, well written, legitimately funny, sometimes intense, and a joy to the ears. There are however more legitimate whinges to be made, nothing major, but its worth remembering that what works on TV, may not work on the sliver screen. For example, Radical Edward is not really an asset to the movie, (as brilliant as I personally find that character to be,) as she creates issues with tone, and prompts a number of questions from newbies that the movie doesn’t answer. It also feels drawn out in places, as if it’s marking time between set pieces. However, even then, it’s still a high quality product.
The Cowboy Bebop movie is something of a rarity, a spin off from a TV series that survives, and indeed thrives, in the transition from small to big screen. While it is not flawless, it functions effectively as both an introduction to the series, and a high quality action film in its own right.