The opening film of last year's Tokyo International Film Festival, the reviews for Midnight Eagle has so far been less than stellar, and I was curious to find out why. I mean, a disaster-like movie with elements that threaten in epic proportions couldn't be all that bad, what with a nuclear bomb atop a snowy mountain, with the risk of a nuclear fallout causing death and environmental damage through all of East Asia, and a race against time to prevent it from happening, relying on the heavy shoulders of a few, seem like a stroll in the park right?
The Japanese are in familiar territory, given the experience learnt from the old days when Gozilla stomped Tokyo, right up to the recent Sinking of Japan remake, you'd come to think by now they can fuse the best practices from such movies, and put together something with enough thrills and spills to excite the action seeking audience. Wrong. In fact, nothing much really happens here, and I have to admit that Izuru Narushima is no Michael Bay, who can really pump the adrenaline in folks with just a clock on countdown. Here, although there's a need to wrap things up in 48 hours, everything proceeds with a severe lack of urgency.
Which really puts the damper for it to be a "race against time" thriller. In trying to tell a story in as large a scale as possible, it incorporated three fronts before converging them all in the finale (Transformers, anyone?), but does so in a very slow manner. You have the political front, led by Prime Minister Watarase (Tatsuya Fuji) who on one hand declines to reveal the incident to the public lest a panic occurs and he loses his job, and on the other pandering to the US request of maintaining confidentiality, because they had actually flown nuclear bomb carrying stealth bombers over the skies of Japan. Yes the USofA again conveniently becomes the blame victim just had how it was in Korea's The Host, which one wonders whether their allies are becoming tired of their military antics.
Then there's the "action" front with war photo-journalist Yuji Nishizaki (Takao Osawa), who on his frequent journeys to the Northern Alps, photographs the incident, and on the cajoling of his friend Shinichiro Ochiai (Hiroshi Tamaki), they decide to scale the mountain to investigate up close, only to have "agents" (North Korean spies actually, in lieu of the more politically correct subtitles) also on the same mission, but to finish off what was started. The duo need firepower to handle the adversary, and that comes from the Defense Forces' Major Akihiro Saeki (A-Saku Yoshida). Lastly, Nishizaki's sister in law, whom he isn't on good terms with, given the sexual tension between them (or so I read their body language), handling some events on the domestic front with some injured North Korean and his girlfriend, who holds the key to end the danger.
In some ways, it resembles Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs, which also has a battlefront created on the high mountains, while pencil pushing decision makers survey the action from the comfort of their warm, sparse bunker operations room. Since it's a drama more so than an action movie, a lot of extras are just sitting in the background, trying not to sleep while the actors emote, and looking prim and proper in their starched uniforms decorated with countless of medals. The Japanese seem to be unable to get rid of showing off technical superiority with long distance communications over huge television monitors that give unprecedented clarity in both video and audio, of course with plenty of loopholes abound too.
While there's a lack of urgency, the enemies are faceless too, with inanimate objects like "the bomb" and plenty of snow-camouflaged, masked soldiers armed with automatic machine guns and RPGs, so they don't really present themselves as menacing or life-threatening, just as another generic goon that gets dispatched easily. Midnight Eagle could have been a taut action thriller, but what we got was plenty of unnecessary drama that bloated the plot.