Chasing after a mysterious Golden Wizard, Haruto and Koyomi find themselves in a alternate world where everyone can use magic. Unfortunately, this world’s alternate-ness does not extend to making Wizard good.
No one wanted to revisit Kamen Rider Wizard, that much was made very apparent by the striking delay Over-Time’s subbed version of Haruto’s last cinematic hurrah was subject to. Left with the bitter aftertaste of the show’s mind-boggling final stretch and the rusty nail in its coffin that was the Kamen Rider Decade crossover — never has an episode of television come this close to properly encapsulating an alcohol-induced stupor — seeing what would happen to Haruto and the rag-tag troupe of cardboard cutouts he calls friends in the unbelievably originally named Magic Land was the last thing on any toku fan’s agenda once Kamen Rider Gaim got us all tangled up in its fascinating plot. Sadly enough, you have to finish what you started, so with Gaim taking a well-deserved break this week, Zigg and I dove into Kamen Rider Wizard in Magic Land, one final reminder of why Haruto Souma is by far and wide the worst Kamen Rider to have ever punched a monster so hard it explodes.
Kamen Rider Wizard in Magic Land starts off in medias res — or at least so we think — with Haruto chasing after a mysterious new Golden Wizard who has kidnapped the waifish accessory he cares about so much he left his friends at the end of the series to find a way to resurrect her, only to look like a massive creeper when it turns out the last thing keeping him from losing any and all emotion is talking to a little toy ring. Anyways, yelping Koyomi’s name like he’s a Pokémon bereft of any other words in his vocabulary, Haruto follows the mysterious recycled suit design and She-Who-Serves-As-The-Catalyst-For-At-Least-Three-Different-Apocalypses back to the mysterious wizard’s home world, which is about the point — less then five minutes in, mind you — where it will dawn on particularly attentive viewers that this film is full of shit. What we just saw was not a flash forward, it was the actual beginning of the film. No build-up. No reintroduction of the cast. No shenanigans before the plot kicks off. The movie literally begins with the villain halfway into a plot we can’t even begin to imagine how and why it got to this point. I’ve heard of films without an ending, but I’ve never seen one without a beginning.
Reunited with his female plot device, our perpetually bored hero soon finds out that the world he finds himself is as centred around magic as his character is around bad acting. In one of the very few exciting sights of this entire film, people zoom around on broomsticks and kick Phantom ass with their magic powers like it’s no big deal. In fact, mana is even used as a currency, by means of funky little ATM machines, as this world’s equivalent of Shunpei teaches Haruto, before transforming into Kamen Rider Mage to deal with some mooks. Haruto’s reaction to this utopia is, of course, wariness, because if Haruto Souma isn’t having fun, no one is. Why isn’t Haruto having fun, you ask? Well, in the laziest recycling of costumes imaginable, everyone in this world can transform into Kamen Rider Mage, making our hero rather obsolete, as evidenced by the battle that ensues when a Phantom assaults the flying donut shop. You’d think a true hero’d be relieved to see the weak being able to stand up for themselves, but as we’ve established before, Haruto is a complete sociopath with a Messiah complex, so he ain’t having any of this ‘everyone can use magic to make their lives better’ bullcrap. Being outsiders, Haruto and Waif-A-Tron are brought before Emperor Maya, the ruler of Magic Land, in that same chapel you see in every Kamen Rider show, whom they immediately suspect of being the mysterious Golden Wizard because Haruto has notoriously outstanding people skills that totally have never lead him to suspect the wrong people of being Phantoms before, no sir.
One release and some painfully humourless antics later, Haruto pays a visit to a few more alternate universe counterparts of everyone’s favourite characters — including a Kosuke stripped of everything that made his character interesting — and finds out that the Golden Wizard he’s chasing after has been systematically abducting magic users. That monster! After saving Shiina, our obligatory little kid hero for this movie, from certain despair at the hands of Phoenix, Medusa and Gremlin, Haruto concludes that the emperor has to be the culprit because Shiina saw the Golden Wizard attacking the Kamen Rider Girls (That monster!) and retreating to the castle. Faced with this incontestable logic, Haruto and Kosuke infiltrate the emperor’s dwelling, where they discover the second cool thing in this movie: a large tower, build out of the skeletons of the mages kidnapped by the Golden Wizard. Spooky. Before they can figure out what the thing is for, though, Emperor Maya walks in with his Prime Minister, Orma (who is totally not the Golden Wizard, no sir), loudly discussing their evil plan to kill all magic users. When Kosuke tells him the machine can be used to reverse the polarity
of the neutron flow of all the magic in the world, killing everyone who has it flowing through their veins, Haruto Holmes deduces that the machine has to be fueled by the mana drained from ordinary citizens who use the ATM machines to pay with magic. Yeah, that’s totally how economy works! If you pay with your credit card, that money goes straight to the government, not to the person you’re paying for their services, right? Seriously, how come not a single citizen checked their mana bank account and found out they’re not getting paid, because the emperor is committing fraud on a global scale? How does an economy centered around a currency that is unlimited and constantly regenerating even work in the first place? Why go through all this effort when you can just, I dunno, use a spell or a crazy death machine to drain all citizens of their mana?
Now then, what is Haruto’s brilliant solution to this little problem? Domestic terrorism, of course! While Kosuke distracts the Golden Wizard by, errm, seemingly dying, Haruto zooms around town on his motorbike blowing up every magic ATM machine he finds… and everything in its near vicinity. What a hero. One admittedly pretty cool bike chase later, the forces of order surround our hero while Emperor Maya issues a public broadcast rightfully accusing Haruto of being a terrorist… which he, by all means, is. What a great superhero movie you’ve written when viewers start to root for the bad guy, eh? While the public throws rocks at Haruto, Shunpei and Rinko arrive to fight the royal guard in the most delicious clusterfuck imaginable. You’d think that in all the laziness put on display by giving everyone the same Rider suit, you’d think Toei would at least have the decency to make sure all these Kamen Rider Mages don’t start fighting each other, but of course that is exactly what happens. It’s not like they have differently coloured suits lying around to differentiate the different Mages from one another or anything… Oh wait.
After this time-consuming mess and a big damn heroic rescue from the now-not-dead-anymore Kosuke, Haruto is brought before the emperor again while the movie decides to shed any semblance to an actual plot. Asking Maya why he would want to kill all magic users when he himself is a wizard just as well, the Emperor reveals that Haruto has been wrong all along (gasp!), and that he, in fact, is the only one in the entire world who cannot use magic. Petty jealousy is his motive, in other words. What a guy. However, as soon as the mass genocide machine is activated, Haruto finds out the hard way that it doesn’t kill magic users like Maya planned, but turns them into Phantoms instead. What a twist! Sure, it doesn’t make a lick of sense because in Wizard‘s universe, magic users are people who have already resisted becoming Phantoms, but who even cares anymore? Prime Minister Orma reveals himself to be the true culprit, the Drake Phantom as well as the Golden Wizard (dun dun duuun!), who created Magic Land and placed muggle Maya at its head, somehow knowing this would obviously lead to the man committing mass genocide out of sheer spite, so he could take over this death machine and turn it into a Phant-O-Ray instead. That’s… pretty misanthropic of you, Wizard. As usual, a CGI-spam fight scene ensues, resulting in a victory for Haruto who manages to beat Orma with his brand-spanking new Infinity Dragon from, which he apparently has for some reason and never uses in the actual show. Who even cares about the symbolism of sweet power-ups anymore, huh?
Anyways, with the Drake Phantom dead, Magic Land starts to crumble while Haruto tells Maya they’ll meet again in the real world. Yes, you read that correctly, our hero willingly destroys a beautiful utopia just to appease one dude whose petty jealousy lead him to attempting mass genocide. And that makes him supposed to a be a tragic figure. Don’t worry, kids, if you’re jealous, just try to kill everyone and Kamen Rider will be your friend! In fact, when Haruto wakes up in the real world and sees his new best buddy with his own happy family, he declares, ad verbatim, that “this was worth destroying a world for”. Yeah, that totally happened, kids. Our great hero destroyed a beautiful utopia to help a latent mass murderer escape the law. Did you think I was joking when I said Haruto is a complete psychopath when he lied to a woman about her best friend’s death, because it would be too much of a hassle? Or when he assisted a man suspected of arson in escaping the law when the guy could have easily proven his innocence? Or when he ditched all of his friends to go sulk on abandoned beaches and talk sweet nothings to a ring? What a hero, guys. Haruto Souma truly is an example for us all. Holy Gaim, this movie sucks.
Aqua has elegantly encapsulated much of what makes this movie so cringeworthy, so I’ll simply offer some salient general observations. Perhaps the most frustrating part of the whole exercise is how little the ‘parallel world’ aspect is truly utilised. The whole point of the exercise is that it allows you to tell interesting stories by having your characters break out of their traditional roles. But we don’t really get that here – instead everyone just sort of falls into their standard position in the character map. Sure Shunpei and Rinko can use magic now, but otherwise they’re not meaningfully changed from their regular selves. Most importantly, they’re still agonisingly satellite, robbed of any sort of agency beyond sticking to Haruto and basically being his meatshields. One of the things that makes Gaim so compelling is that characters can and do act completely independently of Kouta, meaning there can actually be more than one plot happening at once. Seeing this reminded me how bad Wizard really was at this. Nothing can happen without Haruto and his decisions are automatically right, which is of course a major issue with the actual plot.
The idea that the ruler of this world is actually the only one who can’t use magic is not an original idea, but it’s a mighty effective one and could have provided keen story fodder if it had been handled correctly. That Wizard fumbles it shouldn’t really be a surprise, but the extent of the incompetence on show is truly remarkable. The major issue here is simply the sheer unlikability of Maya. He has a generic loner outcast backstory, which again is not too bad and could be worked with. The problem is, that only gives you a certain amount of sympathy to work with and planning to wipe out maybe 99% of the human race sort of drains that well dry and then some. Forgiving the villain is a noble goal and one that’s been used many times in Kamen Rider before, but this is such a ludicrous example that it throws the entire moral axis of the film off.
More generally there are issues which just pepper the entire film. Did the writers not understand how economics work? Why are the fights so sloppily shot and edited? What’s with the irritating kid side story that basically goes nowhere? Why squander the talents of the Phantoms (the three best actors on the show) on an extremely brief cameo? Where the hell did that Infinity All Dragon ring come from? It feels lacklustre and careless, thrown together with scant regard for character, plot coherence or any sort of message beyond a relentless drive to produce an hour of slop for undemanding kids. The very best Kamen Rider shows transcend their toy-selling roots to provide interesting and unique stories in their own right. Now only does this Wizard film fail to do that, it fails at even the most basic building blocks of good fiction – likable characters, interesting conflicts and engaging storytelling. It’s fodder, nothing more.