A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 239 – Steamboy

Steamboy – October 25th, 2020

When I was in college I avoided most Victorian lit courses, but given that I was an English major and it was a small school well, eventually I had to grit my teeth and do it. I lucked out, though, and the year I had to take the class (it was that or something worse and I needed the upper level credit) the specific focus was on the culture of the time as shown in literature. Victorian Material Culture was the title of the class, and while there were some things I disliked about the class, I ended up getting a good deal out of it. Sure, I had to read Trollope and my classmates were scandalized by my lack of interest in Austen. But I also got an excuse to visit the Mütter Museum, and I got to read about the Crystal Palace, which is featured in this movie. It might not be related in depth to the movie, but I can’t help thinking about that class whenever I see something steampunk-ish.

Steampunk’s a lot bigger now than it was when I was in college and I’ve been mildly interested in it for a while now, but not so much that I know everything that’s out there. I like the concept of it though, and I like the concept of this movie. It’s pretty pure Victoriana steampunk action/adventure, with steam powered everything and a giant flying castle and arguments about whether mankind is ready for the moral issues advanced steam power will inevitably bring up. The main character is a boy named Ray Steam, whose father and grandfather have been researching a way to make steam power more compact and powerful. They manage it, but of course that’s where the moral issues come in, because much like nuclear power in our own timeline, this super steam power in the movie’s timeline will obviously be put to use powering weapons. I won’t go into too much detail trying to describe the various factions and how they shift and align, but suffice it to say that Ray is caught in the middle, trying to decide who’s telling the truth and what that truth really means. What’s one person’s “benefit to all mankind” is another person’s war machine.

Eventually it all comes to a head with a huge battle in the middle of the London Exposition, destroying the Crystal Palace (which was doomed in our timeline as well, alas). There’s a hell of a lot of wrangling between the various figures in power. And to be honest, the movie never really portrays any of them as completely and utterly evil. They’re all men who can see the potential in this new scientific discovery, and who then get wrapped up in how to harness it. It seems inevitable that they’d turn to weapons. But I’m not going to try and read any allegory into it. For one, it has a giant flying castle that freezes the Thames. If I was taking my Victorian class then perhaps I could have horrified my professor by attempting to write about this in relation to real Victorian literature and to the spreading use of electricity. But I’m not. I’m watching this for fun. And it is fun.

This is not a deep movie. The moral issues are spelled out quite plainly for all to see. The characters have sweeping arguments about scientific discovery and furthering mankind’s progress and all that. It’s nothing I haven’t heard before. The Iron Man movies touch on it as did Real Genius before them, and I’m sure there are more examples I’m not thinking of off the top of my head. It’s not revolutionary. But it is fun. It’s got lots of great animation, both hand drawn and computer generated. It’s got fun action scenes and flying machines and the castle itself. There are gears and pipes and gauges and levers. There’s humor, like when one of the steam-powered amphibious suits can’t climb steps. There’s a steampunk version of Asuka from Neon Genesis. And it’s all put together quite well. But, well, I’ve got a problem.

The closing credits are a series of minimally animated images that show some of what comes after the movie, and I found myself wishing that this hadn’t been a full feature film but a series instead. Perhaps with the events in this movie worked into the background as flashbacks and backstory for Ray’s superhero persona. It feels like an origin story without the hero it’s an origin for, which is too bad, really. I would have loved this as a feature film explaining the history behind a character I’d come to love in series. It feels like it’s leading up to something, and the credits hint that the creators of the movie wanted to show where it was leading to. So why don’t we get more than semi-stills and tantalizing tidbits? The movie was great fun, but there should have been more to it. It should have been part of something bigger in scope so those credits don’t feel like such a tease.

October 25, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , ,

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