There are times when two things that look like they’d go together perfectly absolutely do. Strawberries and cream, for example. Football and the beach. Norio Wakamoto and cheese. Unfortunately, Super Hero Wars is not one of those things. On paper, the concept is a fanboy’s wet dream: a full-on feature film pitting the stars of Toei’s two oldest and most venerable live action franchises, Kamen Rider and Super Sentai, against each other in a no-holds-barred battle royale. Who or what could possibly screw this up? The answer is a lethal combination of bad writing, sloppy plotting and lackluster action that conspire to sap almost any fun from this endeavour.
The plot is simple on the surface, but slightly baffling in its detailing. It doesn’t help that we’re thrown straight into the action with little to no context given. Eventually, through a combination of expositionary dialogue and just figuring things out, some sort of premise emerges. In this film, all Riders and all Sentai apparently exist within the same world — which explicitly contradicts previously established continuity, but then if you hadn’t guessed already, this movie is non-canon as hell. Both sides have discovered that only one of the two can survive because reasons, and have thus declared war on each other, assembling armies comprised not of their own factions, but of their greatest enemies (some of whom have inexplicably been resurrected). If you’re asking why they’ve chosen to do this rather than assemble the various super powered warriors who make up their respective sides… then you’re not the only one.
In a neat little parallel, both sides are led by by representatives from anniversary series, both with the power to change into other warriors from their faction. Representing Super Sentai, we have Captain Marvelous/Gokai Red from Pirate Sentai Gokaiger, while the Riders are led by Tsukasa Kadoya aka Kamen Rider Decade… Or at least that’s who they claim to be, because while original actors Ryota Ozawa and Masahiro Inoue return, the characters they’re playing bear little to no resemblance to their previous incarnations. Instead, they’re just jerks, totally unlikeable and angry bastards who jettison all of the joyous dickishness that made us fall in love with them in exchange for just actual dickishness.
With Marvelous and Tsukasa, and apparently the vast majority of both sides, perfectly willing to play along with this farce and slaughter each other pointlessly on the flimsiest of pretexts, it falls to a select few to actually get something approaching a plot started. From the Sentai side, we have Don and Joe from the Gokaigers — except Don has none of the wonderful goofiness which made him a fan favourite, and Joe sinks to being a desperately emo whiner who pines after Marvelous like a slighted teenager. On the Kamen Rider side, we’ve got Hina from Kamen Rider OOO, whose role in the story is so minimal she may as well not exist, and Daiki Kaitou, aka Kamen Rider DiEnd. Oh Daiki, you were the single most entertaining thing about Kamen Rider Decade and you very nearly manage the same feat here… before being hit with the mother, father and second cousin of all character derailments.
There’s no surprise that when the inevitable twist is revealed, it’s pointless, clichéd and entirely predictable. This film is riddled with plotholes, inconsistencies and characters acting way outside of their previous personalities. The action isn’t particularly great either, sluggishly shot and largely boringly choreographed. The film is 90 minutes long, but feels much longer; its poor pacing and confusing narrative making it a real chore to watch.
So… are there any high points? Well, as hamfisted as it is, some of the excitement of the original idea does shine through, particularly in the final mass battle scene, which also features a pretty decent CGI giant monster battle, despite the plot hoops that have to be jumped through to reach it. There’s a genuinely amusing five minute cameo from the Kamen Rider Den-O team and a sweet crossover segment between OOO and the Gokaigers, but the fact I’m having to scrabble this hard for positives should tell you something.
When I watch tokusatsu, I’m not asking to be completely swept away into another world. I know that you require a pretty high suspension of disbelief to even watch this stuff without breaking down in giggles, but I still do need the show to give me some help, to have some story that functions on a basic level. Super Hero Wars fails at even that, and there’s no fun or even ironic value to be had in watching this. It takes a concept that should have been gold, and makes it garbage instead.