Starring (voices): Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina, Patrick Stewart, Kari Wahlgren, Oliver Cotton
Rated PG-13 for Action Violence
I love steampunk movies. I don’t know what it is, but seeing something like a car or a plane work not by microchips but by steam and gears lights up my imagination. So you can imagine that I really wanted to like “Steamboy,” but unfortunately, it’s just not very good. The plot has more holes than Swiss cheese, the characters are boring (and in one case, incredibly irritating), and the movie never wants to end. At least the action scenes are cool.
Ray Steam (Paquin) is living in London with his mother (Kim Thomson) and a few neighborhood children. His father, Dr. Eddie Steam (Molina) and grandfather, Dr. Lloyd Steam (Stewart), are in Alaska working on a top secret project. One day a package arrives for Ray: it’s a metal ball sent by Lloyd. Almost immediately thereafter, he’s running away from men who want it for their own nefarious means. He soon learns that this metal ball could revolutionize the world…or end it.
You gotta hand it to Katsuhiro Otomo: he’s ambitious. Like the earlier film “Metropolis” (for which he wrote the script), the film covers a lot of ground: morality, ethics, family ties, conspiracies, romance, and of course lots of action. All of which are combined into a unique vision of the future. Also like “Metropolis,” it doesn’t really work. “Steamboy” feels like a jumble of half-baked ideas cobbled together like a jigsaw puzzle, only Otomo doesn’t take the time or energy to make sure that they fit into a cohesive whole.
The voice cast, despite the talents of Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina, and Patrick Stewart, leaves a lot to be desired. This is due in part to the script, which is awful, but none of them are on their game. It is common practice in Japan for a preteen male character to be voiced by an actress, and the filmmakers have decided to do that here. It is a catastrophic miscalculation. I like Anna Paquin, but she is totally wrong for the part of Ray Steam, which makes it next to impossible to accept the character. Alfred Molina decides to deliver his lines in a monotone for some reason, while Patrick Stewart goes over-the-top (perhaps in the hopes that we won’t notice that his lines are awful). Kari Wahlgren plays Miss Scarlet, the obligatory love interest. To say that this character doesn’t work is to understate matters. If the film were solid in every other respect, she’d tank it all by herself. Not only is Wahlgren’s performance awful, the character is written as such a bitch that I was actively wishing for her to die. She’s a self-centered little shit who spends half the movie whining, and for comic relief, she punches her little dog (twice).
Watching this movie, I kept thinking of Hayao Miyazaki’s charming film “Castle in the Sky.” That movie had its flaws, sure, but the storylines are sort of similar (the casting of Anna Paquin enhances the connection further) and both take place in a similar world. “Castle in the Sky” was a good yarn. This is what would happen if Michael Bay tried anime.