At times, Masamune Shirow's recent manga work raises the question "Why waste time with a plot? Doesn't it just eat up time that could be used on more close-ups of exaggerated, pneumatic female body parts?" By contrast, Appleseed, the new theatrical version of a previously adapted classic Shirow manga series (his others include Ghost In The Shell and Dominion Tank Police) focuses as much on robot anatomy as on computer-generated T&A, but there's plenty of bothand not much else.
The first half of Appleseed is evenly split between propulsive, Matrix-influenced combat, and immense waves of flatly delivered, indigestible exposition. Given that it's basically a large-scale shoot-'em-up, the film is far more unfocused and complicated than it needs to be. But at its essence, it comes down to a familiar anime conflict between humanity and technology. In a postapocalyptic future, crack super-soldier Deunan Knute (voiced by Jennifer Proud in the English dub) fights leftover killer robots in the ruins until she's retrieved by a SWAT team from the utopian city of Olympus. Half of Olympus' inhabitants are bioroids, artificial people created to "facilitate balance and peace"; their emotions and reproductive capabilities have been suppressed, and they don't last long without life-extension treatments. But after an attack by anti-bioroid terrorists threatens to wipe out Olympus' entire bioroid population, the city's bioroid prime minister decides to administer the Appleseed program, which will convert her people into their own fully self-sustaining race.
First, however, Deunan and her cyborgified former lover/commander Briareos (James Lyon) must fight terrorists and assassins, confront the Army general who wants to take over Olympus, have some weepy moments together, and actually find Appleseed, which was hidden by its creator for reasons that don't emerge until the film's anticlimactic, talky wrap-up. All this might seem more meaningful if it didn't emerge via laughably stilted, melodramatic dialogue, and if it wasn't acted out by characters that look stiff in the body and eerily liquid in the joints, like Barbie dolls on well-oiled gimbals. Appleseed's motion-capture technology and computer rendering of live actors was meant to make CGI look more realistic than ever, but the combination of flat, unexpressive painted exteriors and the limitations of real human bodies offers the worst of both worlds. When the characters leap into battle, the film looks like a video game; when they stand still, it looks poorly rotoscoped, like a '70s Ralph Bakshi movie gone high-budget and high-concept.
All of which would be forgivable if Appleseed had something unique going on upstairs. But its busy, stiff, artificial graphics are a perfect match for its busy, stiff, artificial plot. A simple Shirow pinup parade might almost be preferable.