Live-action movies are typically not my thing. I like animation so much that seeing real actors faff about on screen with CGI around them takes me out of a story too much. Still, when I found out there was a live-action Devilman movie… that got my attention. Could they actually fit the whole story of the manga in 1 movie? Will the gore live up to the series’ legacy? Does the actress for Sirene rock the nudist look? Only 1 of those questions is a resounding “yes” I’m afraid.
The movie opens up on a short segment where protagonists Ryo and Akira are children. They talk about how cool monsters are, when Ryo insists that he actually is a monster himself. Cut to some years later and both of them are in high school. Akira is a meek teenager who sucks at sports and gets bullied by his classmates. Meanwhile, Ryo grew up to be a total freak. Short-fused and extremely violent, people wonder when—not if—he’ll kill someone for real.
One day Ryo simply vanishes for a full week. When he finally returns, he tells Akira that his father has just died. And not of natural causes. Ryo’s father discovered that demons exist, leading to him and his crew all being possessed by them. Ryo too has become a demon and it’s not long before Akira follows suit. He turns into the demon warrior Amon. A secret identity that he’ll struggle to keep secret from his family, much less the demons that now prowl society.
While that setup matches the original story, many differences pile up over time. Changes that are made in the interest of time, taste, or seemingly at random. Combined, these alterations end up leading to a story that is different in context and feel.
Not all of this is for the worse, I should add. I like, for example, that the story now introduces Mikiko far earlier. She gets way more screen-time and that makes the eventual twists involving her much more impactful. Likewise, in the original manga, the demon Jinmen just kills a random girl that was introduced a minute earlier. Here his victim is much more fleshed out and interesting.
I was also fond of the Makimura family. They feel much warmer here than in any other incarnation of the story. The father is an affable man with a silly side to him, the mother adores her daughter and is very caring towards Akira. They have far more personality and interactions with the actual protagonists. In turn making the connections between them stronger and giving the audience a reason to care when they are in danger.
Most of the changes are pretty bad though. To the point that the story often doesn’t make sense because of them or you miss out on memorable moments. The fight with Sirene is put in out of obligation, but it’s cut down significantly. Kaim is not in the movie at all, so they snip his part out and Sirene just… leaves. Similarly, the big turning point where the demon invasion is revealed? That’s some guys having a fight in a bar now. The whole story is there, but it feels rushed, underwhelming, and super awkward.
The performances only make the awkwardness more pronounced. The acting is stiff and inconsistent, with different actors and scenes seemingly going for entirely different tones. Sometimes it’s grimdark and serious, sometimes it’s silly parody, sometimes it’s cheesy action movie. A scene that stands out is when Akira meets Ryo’s transformed father. It’s a CGI monster that fills the entire screen, with a man’s head just layered over it. It recites some cheesy lines and then does a comedy “urk!” sound to indicate he just died. The whole thing could only be made sillier if he stuck out his tongue as well.
Action scenes suffer the worst. The choreography is uninspired to the point that it feels like they try to hide it. The actors may be throwing the same jabs over and over again, but they put the camera behind them so you don’t actually see much. They also try to mask it by going absolutely wild on the special effects or by having the camera spin around so aggressively that the action is hard to follow. Both of which look cheap and—in the latter example—actually felt nauseating to watch.
Battles intended to be the story’s highlights are mainly CG, which does permit some fancier moves. Even so, none of it felt even slightly exciting. Like I was watching a bad video game cutscene. It made me wish I was watching Devilman: The Demon Bird or Apocalypse of Devilman instead. That line of thought got me wondering: who is this movie even for?
It lacks the intensity of both the source material and any faithful adaptation made thereof. Much of the scares, gore, and other controversial touches have been thoroughly neutered. Replaced with awkward acting and painfully bad action scenes. It is somewhat neat to have the whole story in a single movie, but the sacrifices it took to make that happen aren’t worth it. Old school fans are better served by earlier adaptations whereas modern audiences have those options + Devilman Crybaby or Grimoire to pick from.
The only answer I can imagine is that it was maybe ideal for an audience of edgy teens in the mid-2000s who didn’t otherwise know Devilman? Kids who could look past the terrible CGI, costumes, and action scenes because it had the appearance of something cool. Something you could set to Linkin Park music. Even that’s a stretch, probably. Just don’t watch it.