Created by prolific manga mastermind Go Nagai, the man responsible for the likes of Grendizer and Violence Jack, Devilman was a popular 70's anime which, in 2004, saw itself get made into a full-blown live-action adventure.
On paper, this sounded like it could have gone either way: either the film was going to be ludicrous and cartoonish or a dark, Casshern-style epic. The result, strangely, was a bit of both. The film opens much like a typically emo high school drama where a couple of friends are dealing with clichéd groups of bullies, until we realise that demons exist and one of them inhabits our lead character Akira (Hisato Izaki). As it turns out, his weirdo friend Ryo (Yusuke Izaki) was already a demon himself and a demonic take-over is underway by all sorts of winged ghouls. Then, the film goes insane and turns into an apocalyptic disaster movie in which demons are invading and turning the Earth inside out. Obviously, the weight of all of this ends up resting on Akira (aka Devilman). A few things are flagrant right off the bat, when watching this live-action Devilman, there are many cool ideas at play and the film has a lot of potential concept-wise, unfortunately the acting and the script are completely all over the place. The over-ambitious nature of the film is in stark contrast with its underwhelming execution and the result is a disappointingly uneven piece of admittedly entertaining nonsense. Some have panned Devilman and called it one of the worst films out there but that's frankly an over-statement. This isn't even the worst live-action anime film ever made! Far from it. The main problem seems to be, quite simply, that Devilman's concept just works better and makes more sense as an animation.
If anything, the film makes you want to go and watch the anime!
Several things are distractingly uneven throughout, mainly the tone, the effects and the performances. The first half of the film is decidedly more light-hearted than the surprisingly dark third act, so much so, in fact, that it's like watching two very different movies in one. To give you an idea: at the end of the film, one character ends up decapitated, with their disembodied head propped-upon a sword. It's like the film turns into a more serious version of Battle Royale with demons. The idea that people have become so paranoid about the existence of demons that they just start killing each other mindlessly on the off-chance that they might be one of them in some kind of misguided witch hunt, is an interesting one and is handled relatively well here. It's just that the lacklustre performances, crossed with the silly bad-cosplay costumes and the video game-level CGI cheapen the whole thing and make it impossible to take all that seriously. Having said that, some of the practical effects and the odd visuals are actually pretty good, they just don't really gel with the crappier ones. It's an unhealthy mix of blandness and overblown cartoonish fluff and it, sadly, doesn't really work. Maybe the film needed to have a bit more of a sense of humour about itself and a more charismatic, emotive cast.
Overall, while I'd rather watch Devilman than the likes of Dragonball Evolution or even Speed Racer, it's still a bit of a missed opportunity. The film had potential and some decent ideas in there but it's much too altogether clunky to live up to Go Nagai's cool original premise.
Watch the anime.