Have you ever been invited to a friend’s house to play video games, only to find out your friend meant watch him play a single World of Warcraft quest that he already started and had no desire to finish, so you watched for a bit and then left? Come on, I’m sure that’s happened plenty of times. If it hasn’t, you can simulate the feeling by watching Assault Girls, an unfinished and meandering film that lures us in with cute girls, guns, and a video game world, only to then bore us by doing nothing with any of it before wrapping up on a non-ending.
The film is set almost exclusively in a fictional world called Avalon, which some people might recognize from 2001’s Avalon. Apparently there have been new developments, and sub-branches of the main world have been created. The one in which Assault Girls is set contains nothing but post-apocalyptic wasteland and giant sand worms. Apparently there are also only four players. There’s Jäger (Yoshikatsu Fujiki), Colonel (Hinako Saeki), Gray (Meisa Kuroki), and Lucifer (Rinko Kikuchi). Their goal is to kill the game’s final boss so that they can level up and move on to another part of the game.
Each one has a personality and skill set. One has a huge gun. One’s a sniper. One dances a bunch and sometimes transforms into a crow. Another gets a mecha. They barely talk, but when they do it’s in English, because the game doesn’t permit “native languages.” I wonder with what English speakers have to communicate. They spend great lengths of time wandering the wasteland, and it feels like we stay with them for every painful minute.
Assault Girls has pretensions of being an artistic film, but it mostly just feels like a context-free cutscene cut with brief action scenes that would function as gameplay if we were doing any of them instead of just watching. Lenthy stretches of absolutely nothing happen frequently. And given the relatively brief running time of 85 minutes, that can’t happen. There isn’t enough here to hold an audience’s attention. Video games can get away with it because we’re promised something for sitting through them; the movies can’t do that.
This one, in particular, doesn’t provide us anything for our suffering. The four eventually team up and fight the giant boss monster. The film then moves on, promising at least one more action scene, before fading to black. It’s not complete. Did the filmmakers run out of money? This final scenes would have shown us what we wanted from the beginning — a four-way battle to the death between the protagonists — but just as it gets underway we get a couple of freeze frames and then credits. What?
The two or so big action scenes that we get are good and well worth seeing on their own. Perhaps see if you can borrow the DVD from someone and skip around. You aren’t missing any sort of plot. The opening scene, which lasts about five minutes, details the world and says something about things that should matter or be profound but aren’t. After that, I’ve laid it all out for you. There’s some good here but there’s far more bad.
Characters are defined by their personalities but that’s all there is to them. The sole male is grumpy and wants to do things on his own. Lucifer is eccentric and dances a lot. Oh, and she uses her magic powers a single time, which means her character was pointless. There isn’t anything to any of them. That means we have no reason to care. I suppose that’s kind of like playing a real online video game, isn’t it? Maybe that makes it more realistic but it doesn’t make for a better film.
I won’t lie to you: there are several very beautiful shots scattered throughout Assault Girls, and this is a stylistic movie. The problem comes from those shots lasting for several minutes instead of seconds, and that they don’t contribute anything but eye candy. The same goes for its style. It looks good but it doesn’t do anything but that. It’s the “style over substance” argument, except there isn’t any substance for the style to be over. There’s nothing to this movie but its visuals.
If you do decide to watch Assault Girls, I recommend you watch it with subtitles turned on. All of the actors are Japanese, and while they are primarily speaking English, it’s a bit difficult to understand them. I think that’s also by design — the characters are being forced to speak English, which if you did that to real people would result in some comprehension issues — but it works against being able to get the most out of the film.
Assault Girls is an unfortunate waste of premise and talent. You can tell that the director wanted to do something unique, but it becomes a mess of what should have been a great project. It comes to an abrupt, unfinished, conclusion, it has no depth or development when it comes to the characters, it spends too much time endlessly staring at the scenery — adding nothing in the process — and it’s surprisingly dull. It does look great, and there are some stunning shots that show up every now and then, but for the most part there isn’t much to it and there’s even less reason to watch.