70. Appleseed Ex Machina

AppleseedXDeunan Knute is a badass. Her badassness has almost always been crippled in the direction of various pieces of the Appleseed story, but Ex Machina gets it right. This, and so many other things.

Compared to the original, the action scenes are much more absurd, with the opening one having all these flips and Matrix moves and nothing resembling SWAT tactics, which are always cool, and later there’s chainsaw swords and crap, it’s ridiculous. But there’s something about this movie I can’t shake. So let’s get into it and figure it out.

This post, like with Tremors 2: Aftershocks, will be a reproduction of the script used for an episode of the podcast. So it’s mostly plot summary, but if you like Ex Machina, read on. (Fair warning: There’s probably some lame jokes written in. Just ignore them and keep pretending I’m cool.)

There’s a hostage crisis at the church! How is there a church in the Olympus? Well, that’s because this movie was co-produced by John Woo himself, the absolute master of the action film lending a hand to his animated match. He’s kind of the perfect director to augment this movie, providing a strong action backbone to the robot flesh and blood. Robot flesh and blood? But his involvement seems to also mean guns in a church and doves.

After this admittedly very cool action scene, in which Deunan does a badass kickslide and the cyborgs are actually pretty damn cool-looking this time around, we’re quickly introduced to newcomer Tereus, who looks awfully familiar.

To Deunan, not to us. Nobody really imagined the hulking Briareos was a Japanese pretty boy back in his war days, but indeed, he was, and Tereus is, because he’s a clone. As we know, clone translates to bioroid in Appleseed land. Deunan wants none of Tereus, who as we discover is part of a new line of bioroids designed for combat to preserve law and order. It’s a new age in Olympus, but only so much, because Tereus’s emotions will never lead him. Anger and hatred won’t guide his use of violence. Sure, but violence doesn’t come from an emotionless place, unless bioroids are actually just sociopaths. They might be.

Tereus is a clone of Briareos because Briareos was the most qualified member of ESWAT. He is in fact, the only person to have adapted to a Hechatonciles body, and this is evidence of great physical development.

Meanwhile, Athena’s going around in the blimp from Blade Runner, looming over the metropolis in her best Mass Effect citadel voice advocating for a global network or whatever. Give it a rest, you first gen, who’s looking about twenty years younger. The visual update in this movie is remarkable. Appleseed could look a little rough. Alpha looks close to photorealistic. I think for the purest Appleseed style experience, you gotta go with Ex Machina. Especially for the story being told, which takes place on the streets of Olympus, often at night, or the artificial day, with the neon soaked streets and other clichés I continue to adore. It’s all colorful, unlike Alpha’s dusty desert adventure.

We meet up with Hitomi, who’s always introducing things to Deunan, this time the Connexis. You wonder what Deunan does with her time, but she doesn’t know about the iPhone 6. And this is like a double-bluetooth headset, whose purpose is not well drawn or determined. It sure can invite Deunan in a roundabout way to Hitomi’s birthday party, but if Deunan was as curt as Hitomi could be in the first movie, she’d probably be semantic and mention that Hitomi didn’t have a birthday…

Deunan visits Briareos in the hospital because, surprise, Briareos is in the hospital. We meet one Dr. Kestner, who’s a cyborg specialist and is also Aecus’s doctor, the guy whose half a face is robotic. Aecus is getting a suspicious amount of rushed characterization — it seems that between this and our last Appleseed adventure, the camaraderie among teammembers has really grown. He’s all buddy-buddy with Briareos and Deunan.

But this scene also makes me think that the episodic form would be perfect for Appleseed, it really should be a procedural like Stand Alone Complex, here as everything’s established, we get that kind of status quo in the air, but with the hint of electricity as ESWAT discusses that the cyborg terrorists at the church may have been mind-controlled. This scene is the scene that should happen in every episode, the continuing adventures of Appleseed which would mean several Ex Machinas, with cases and different threats to the already controversial Olympus.

But anyway, things aren’t exactly status quo between Deunan and Briareos, because we’ve got the element of Tereus in the mix. He gives them both flashbacks to the days when Briareos was human — this is a science-fiction version of the ghost, the backstory made manifest in the present, an old flame returning to homewreck a marriage, but this time it’s the clone of the man you love, the image you lost when his body was put into a terrible machine man.

Hitomi’s birthday party sees Briareos in a tuxedo and bowtie, and Deunan rebuffing Tereus, who’s been assigned to be Deunan’s partner. Deunan makes a scene herself — twice, with her dress, to which we here in the present don’t quite understand, but the future kids seem to dig, so long as they stay off my lawn, and then by running from Tereus and tripping in her uncharacteristic high heels. She tells Tereus that she gets confused when she’s around him.

Yoshino arrives by plane and meets with Athena to explain the image rebuilding she’s been doing following the church incident. Gee, that church incident, the first big action scene, seems like a distant memory. But, see the terrorists’ mind control had been linked to Poseidon technology, and Yoshino is the Poseidon A #1. This vaguely bondage dominatrix chick chats Athena up on the Olympus head of state’s recent ambitions of controlling the international satellite systems. Yoshino asks her if she really believes she can protect the world without force? Sounds like a utopian dream.

This is the city of dreams, so Athena calls an international conference of world leaders to come to Olympus and have a futile discussion about merging each country’s satellite system. I have a feeling things are fated here, guys. Athena believes this vision of satellite domination will quell conflicts and terrorist threats before they happen. This is super-surveillance, and Olympus would be going global. Expanding the city allows us to examine it in a new way, extrapolating it out.

Soon, non-cyborg zombies, and cyborg zombies, are attacking just outside. Things are exploding for some reason because of it. Athena stresses twice that regardless the zombies, they need to continue these important talks. She says, TAKE A LOOK. PUT ON THE GLASSES. This is the world you live in. A.k.a the city I am responsible for. So we must agree on the satellite thing I proposed right now — RIGHT NOW. And they do!

But not before Aceus, who we learn has a daughter, is infected and goes crazy. Briareos is forced to take him out. No, Aceus. Tereus finds that the John Woo doves are robots. And they’re emitting some kind of frequency.

Briareos has a checkup with the doctor following the Aceus incident, who gets a proper burial. He was no criminal. And look at his conspicuously blonde young son, giving the salute, breaking his mother’s heart. The doctor, Kestler, asks Briareos if this is a utopia he should risk his life for. Briareos says that as long as there’s someone in this city he cares about, he’ll keep fighting. This Kestler is sinisterizing himself. Typically when a supporting character in Appleseed drops the word U-word, that’s the terrorist tip-off. Just take em out.

So again following the Aceus incident, there’s suspicion that ESWAT members’ cyborg virus protection program has been compromised, so cyborgs are taken off the squad for the time being. Some feel they’re being treated like criminals. It’s not like you guys are playing basketball and the coach puts you on the bench. You’re a police officer, if you’re really interested in public service, I think you should understand how this very logical protocol is stemming from a very logical situation. Cyborgs are too emotional.

Athena demonstrates what the satellites can really do, which is a big hologram light show, something very well-received. Just goes to show that these people are sheep, man. Man, sheep dawg. Sheepdog. Maremma sheepdog. Puppy.

Briareos and Deunan take Tereus out for a night on the town, I guess to make him feel better for being rejected by Deunan and beaten up by Briareos. But a car is determined to ruin their fun night, and Briareos takes over the carnival game to win Deunan the pink bear by jumping in front of the car and tossing it over. Somehow a virus is transferred to him, so he runs over to a terminal and jacks in. There’s a pretty cool shot where Deunan is trying to pry him off, yelling Briareos, Briareos, and when he jacks in it does a Matrix and her voice gets digitized on the Bri as we run through the network graphical representation, which in part takes the form of shooting through the neon city. This is the physical network. In how many ways are we connected? Is there equity between the digital and the physical?

So Briareos ends up — you guessed it — in the hospital, and they’re guessing it’s drugs so they’re running psych exams on him. This is kind of an issue with world-building. How science can be introduced and there’s no way for people to know what it is, because the plot doesn’t allow. Nobody can scan him and find there’s an infection? You can’t make the link to that zombie outbreak to this robot with the clean drug record? How would drugs even work? What is he on, nuke?

Well, Briareos, I know you’re not addicted to drugs, but you do seem to be addicted to the hospital, and with all your time there, you’re letting the love of your life slip away, sidling up closer to the side of your clone. It’s the classic third man story.

Later, Yoshitsune, I believe, who is probably the mechanic from last time who was in love with Hitomi but I don’t think is in the same scene with her in this movie — she is some kind of high-politician now and he’s a lowly ESWAT mechanic, he finds with the help of a labrat that the Connexus is the problem. Combined with the signal from the zombie incident, people and cyborgs and rats get super-aggressive.

Turns out Briareos’s doctor, Dr. Kestler, who’s got a penchant for Hitler cosplay, once worked for Poseidon. This is the Hitomi update, and she helps get Briareos out of the hospital. He uses a weird vibration thing to shatter the glass, and the hospital is evacuated. Tereus goes after them, though he’s momentarily halted by a real try-hard nurse, who the camera lingers on for some reason.

The way Briareos escapes from Hitomi’s car is pretty slick — I liked it. That sequence is also the rare case of Briareos and Hitomi by themselves, and I also like it when there are these uncommon relationship dynamics. Not too much explored, but Hitomi’s a cool chick, who offers her alleged hostel a gun before he goes. Tereus shows up to shoot at her flying car with extreme prejudice — kind of extreme move, and then he later tells her ominously that she’s just as guilt as he is.

Briareos drops in on Kestler, and discovers that the man added nanomachines to his body during one of Briareos’s legendary hospital visits. So everyone’s favorite Hechatonciles unit had actually unknowingly helped Kestler by hacking into that terminal and crashing the system. The good doc says that we all have individual differences, and that’s the heart of conflict. So the thematic seeds are being sown, I’ll remember this. Kestler is acting as part of some global cell, he’s not a rogue agent, and so the movie’s not over when he shoots himself in the head. His big dream is to integrate people through Connexus and the global satellite system, to eliminate conflict and war by making everyone the same. It’s an extreme version of Athena’s own dream. But it’s really the vision of Halcon. So amazingly, the attack on the peace summit, if we recall so convenient to her satellite deal, was not her doing. My apologies.

The police show up and Briareos has another nano-machine attack. He makes a messy jump out the window, and thus begins his life on the run. The virus pushes him into an animalistic mode, I think they said it was based on adrenaline — ultimately it puts the id first, I suppose, and so that’s real great because Tereus is the one who confronts him. Briareos is like why did they make a copy!! Is this what the human to human globalization looks like? And contradicting Halcon’s whole thing — is anger truth? Is this pure humanity? No, I think it’s the product of external and unnatural circumstances, like seeing your clone.

There’s a good moment here where Briareos is all berserker mode and Tereus is holding him so Deunan can stab the antidote Yoshi gave her into his neck. Briareos grabs her neck — the closer they get, the more dangerous. But she pushes forward anyway, because even when their closeness is dangerous, she has to save him. It’s the action movie translation of lovers who’ll do anything for each other, and this is the kind of characterizing moment that should’ve been laced throughout this and the prior film.

So the plot thickens, and the creation of a defense network designed for counterterrorism that smacks of PATRIOT Act, becomes a target for and facilitates terrorism. Not terrorism directly on the part of a government violating your civil rights, but honestly, if your dad gets shot for being a zombie trying to kill you, you wouldn’t care to make the distinction.

These zombies, the lumbering dead in the metropolis, are a visual metaphor if not a visual fit. They’re fine, though, just a slightly odd blending of cinematic language learned of subgenres.

So Deunan, Briareos, and Tereus go to the Poseidon ship, and confront Yoshino, who gives some backstory of Halcon, which saved wounded warriors with cybernetics and AI but developed a god complex and became obsessed with mind control. Soon the tragedy of Xander, the Halcon woman who died and effectively ended the era of that company. Poseidon continued on however, so Yoshino points them in the direction the ship was actually headed. Good thing these heavily armed police officers showed up. Arges leads them over the sea and to the Halcon floating zero-G super-fortress.

The super-base has these drones that fly in hordes precisely like the sentinels in The Matrix Revolutions. So it could’ve been a better fight, because that’s only so visually interesting and these drones are kind of lame and truly no sentinel, but it works, just not to the orgasmic level of the opening scene. It takes place in an environment that could have been ruinous, having little sense of place or scale, but it works, unlike the climax of Pacific Rim, which only worked because of momentum, monsters, and Idris Elba.

Briareos asks Tereus to take him out because he can’t take another anti-nanite shot. Hold onto it, and of course, Tereus needs to be the one to shoot him. Deunan probably won’t do it. She’ll die first.

Smash cut to random scene of a guy stabbing a woman to death and menacing a little girl in an alley. A police officer shoots him, and the little girl is like daddy no! Jesus. Talk about contrived and histrionic, but this is the height of the evil of terrorism in Appleseed. In case we forgot that terrorism is bad.

Deunan, Tereus, and Briareos, after being complimented at a distance by Arges, make it through a big squisher door and have a boss room encounter with a Borg Medusa Xander cyborg. She establishes the scenario, which is that Deunan can’t kill her lest the people connected to the network also die. What do we do? I don’t know. But then Briareos, who gets held by some tentacles, produces the last antidote, and it’s like Oh, that’s incredibly obvious — why did you make it sound like it was hopeless? Well, I guess the bad guy doesn’t want to tell her weakness.

Tereus distracts Xander with some philosophy, that even though they’re both clones, they can’t let anyone use them!!! Deunan jumps up and stabs down her in the neck! Kapow! The virus is gone or whatever, but it’s not over. The now free Xander says you gotta kill me, Deunan. Before, oh no, it’s happening. Tereus yells: Deunan! Deunan has a window to kill her, and does it in slow-motion. When that bullet goes through the back of her skull, that is some artistic shit. Like shattering glass. Dying, Xander says she’s finally free. Even though Kestler’s been dead for hours, women of the world know how powerful dead men can be. They live in their legacy.

They escape the base which is now for some reason collapsing like Mount Doom, and Tereus doesn’t look like he’s gonna make it, having been stabbed in his fleshy gut by robot tentacles. He tells the gang to leave him behind, he’s just a bioroid they can make another. Deunan says: No one can replace you! And she would know because in her conflicted experience, no one replaced Briareos. So they get him up as the late game hero Arges makes a belated rescue with a quip. Perhaps, Not bad for human. Turns out Poseidon isn’t so bad, although they were awfully shady. They’re really kind of an open mystery — I’d like to know more about how private and huge corporations, especially of the military-industrial complex variety, how they work in Olympus.

So the zombies all collapse and return to normal. The latent power of civilian masses is gone, but don’t forget that they’re all potential enemies, I guess is the takeaway. Nike observes that humanity is obsessed with its own destruction. Athena is like but their spirit pulls them through. Maybe they’re worth saving. I don’t know where you get off, Athena. You weren’t the cause of all this, but you were the beginning catalyst.

So to cap off, Deunan repeats the line from the flashback, which Briareos had told her back when he looked like Tereus. Oh, how positively backward is that. But it’s okay, because everyone’s cool. Deunan is with Briareos, and so Tereus has a new lease on life. He’s not a shadow anymore, so who knows where he’ll go.

Will we ever find out? Is there a future for this series beyond Alpha? I’m sure, but it’ll never look like Ex Machina again. It’s a fantastic looking film, and I highly recommend importing the art book, Analysis of Ex Machina, from Amazon Japan. The mecha designs are cool, the city is cool, and as always (but moreso here), Deunan is badass.

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