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The year is 2077.

Japan has relinquished its membership with the United Nations so the mega-corporation Daiwa, leaders in industrial robotic technology, can continue research and development deemed to be violations of the council’s treaties. It has closed its borders, allowing nothing and no one to enter or leave. A sophisticated magnetic shield has been used to block communication and satellite surveillance. The country has been completely isolated for a decade.

A “human” limb composed of an advanced bio-metal has been recovered. S.W.O.R.D., an American Special Forces unit, is now set to infiltrate the country and uncover the secrets they have been keeping. Vexille is the team’s female commander. Teaming with a rebel group in Tokyo, the squad must avoid Jags – monstrous, reeling metallic cyclones reminiscent of the sandworms of Dune – and stop Daiwa’s annihilation of the land and population.

And it is animated.

The concept is intriguing but its execution is lacking. Director Fumihiko Sori focuses almost entirely on the action, allowing story development to fall to the wayside. Consequently, the film is an exhilarating experience with little or no emotional attachment.

Sori, the visual effects director of 2004’s Appleseed, has accomplished a new level of animated art. The graphics are crisp, the vistas stunning and the characters expressive. The action sequences are explosive and matched with equally explosive music, care of DJ Paul Oakenfold, the film’s soundtrack supervisor. The string of intense gunfights, high-octane chase sequences and to-the-second races against time are gratifyingly stylish and exciting.

But against all this engaging action, the dialogue scenes fall flat. The characters and their relationships are underdeveloped; and this weakness causes the audience to be disconnected and the characters’ motivations to be unclear. It is impossible to empathize with any of the characters, diminishing the effects of their deaths throughout the narrative.

After an industry screening of Vexille in a very small theatre at Cannes Film Festival, Colin Geddes, Midnight Madness programmer, said he needed to see it “bigger and louder.” It is easy to see why. In a small theatre, the action cannot compensate for the lack of story; but on a big screen, it is a very impressive, breath-taking spectacle.

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