Bayonetta: Bloody Fate (Japan 2013)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 3/1/14
Cast: Atsuko Tanaka

A retelling of the "Bayonetta" (2009) video game that condenses thirteen hours of cutscenes into a single feature length film. As such, it's pretty lean and only hits the highlights. Legends tell that 500 years ago, a conflict between the Lumen Sages and Umbra Witches threw the world into chaos and they fought each other to extinction. The witch Bayonetta survived, but was imprisoned in a coffin at the bottom of a lake. Now that she's awake again, she's on a quest to regain her lost memories, while hunting and slaughtering angels for fun and profit. A pesky journalist named Luka keeps following her around, and a mysterious woman named Jeanne seems to know more about Bayonetta's past than she lets on.

Overall, the film strikes me as an oddity. Why does it exist? Is it mere fan service, and is there enough of an existing fan base to warrant a film of this scale? While some of the details and story points have been altered, it's pretty much a direct translation of the game. Perhaps it's meant to generate interest for the upcoming "Bayonetta 2" video game, which has alienated fans of the original because it's a Wii U exclusive title. The movie fills in the back story so that Wii U owners won't have the play the original Xbox/PS3 game. If that's the case, it's a pretty shrewd and clever marketing tool. Another curiosity is the decision to go with the traditional anime format instead of using CGI (like the "Heavenly Sword" and "Resident Evil" movies). It seems like that would have been easier to do, given the large amount of stylized action sequences and dynamic camera moves. But maybe that would have looked too much like the video game and invited criticism. Regardless, it's a decent looking production from Studio Gonzo and the simplified character designs do a good job of representing the original material. The action scenes are fluid, but lack the raw kinetic energy of the game. They're also a lot less bloody. Actress Atsuko Tanaka (Major Motoko Kusanagi from "Ghost In The Shell") provides the voice for Bayonetta and does a fantastic job. She embodies all the aspects of the character and comes across as strong, smart, and sexy. Excellent work. The music is a bit sparse, which affects the pacing and leaves a lot of dialog spoken in a vacuum. Several songs and themes from the game pop up in the film, which adds a nice sense of familiarity.

As a video game adaptation, I suspect it will have a hard time finding an audience and will probably only appeal to fans of the game. That said, it definitely has the fans in mind, and they will most likely find it an interesting and worthwhile interpretation while waiting for the next game to come out.