The Empire of Corpses Movie Review: Another Case of a Plot Getting Lost Amongst Literary Allusions and Sci-Fi Spectacle

Overview:

Watson, a student doctor, becomes obsessed with the idea of bringing back a human soul after his friend dies. Using his friend’s corpse, he begins experimentation using the work of Victor Frankenstein as a guide. When he is caught, he is sent on a mission to retrieve Frankenstein’s notes and then a whole bunch of other stuff happens.

Review:

I don’t watch anime movies very often but every now and then one comes out that I think I’d really appreciate watching. The Empire of Corpses caught my attention early on being set in the 19th Century and focussing on the idea of Frankenstein’s legacy having become a reality. Building the British Empire literally through the use of an army of corpses and corpse labourers is a fascinating idea and thinking about how that would change the world, and the sheer number of arguments it would cause in terms of morality,  is something that I thought I’d really like to explore. Unfortunately, this movie is interested in introducing those ideas but it isn’t interested in dealing with that reality. While the first half an hour or so sets up what looks like it will be an interesting moralistic tale about the subjective rights of the deceased and empire building, those ideas quickly get swept aside and make way for a convoluted and not entirely realised narrative that exclusively follows Watson’s obsession with death and scientific pursuits.

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Points therefore must be given to Watson’s characterisation. He really does follow the mould laid out in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein perfectly. Pursuit of answers and science at the expense of anything and then the horrible realisation of what his pursuit has wrought but still an attempt to justify the actions and to bring some good from what is in this case a steaming pile of corpses. If the movie was seeking only to bring the tale of Frankenstein to a new era through a story that could almost be seen as a very late entry sequel it may have even been successful as Watson’s links to Frankenstein are incredibly clear and his relationship with Friday, the corpse he has brought to life, is definitely the high light of this film.

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But why stop at just referencing Frankenstein? Why not reference any and every classic work and character from the era, even when it makes zero sense to do so? Also, why restrict the story to just one location and setting when we can trot around the entire globe? Let’s deal with a former American President visiting India, the Russians attacking various groups through the use of exploding corpses, a trek through Afghanistan, skip on over to Japan where we can get some cliché culture before exploring a lab, and then we’ll just jump across to America before getting back to the Tower of London. The whole movie is so incredibly cluttered with unrealised ideas and most of them end up being fairly pointless.

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The entire Russian influence is one of the most pointless aspects of the story. There are Russians attacking our main characters, but they meet with a Russian who is going to guide them to where the notes might be in Afghanistan. We’ll meet another Russian scientist who will point out the horror of the research (and in so doing will turn his actual living friend into a living corpse before having the corpse do the same to him) and then somehow this becomes the point that everyone will remind Watson about later on that they died for something. None of this ends up feeding in to the overall narrative where we end up with The One (Victor’s original creation that could talk), using Frankenstein’s notes to try to create a soul in an android and trying to transfer his own mind into the mind of Friday because apparently Friday’s corpse has been well taken care of. In case you got lost there, don’t worry, it doesn’t actually make any sense while watching it either.

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And this brings me to one of the most maddening points of the entire movie. The final half an hour. Let’s just ignore the fact that they were on a quest to retrieve the notes, which turned into destroy the notes, which turned into Watson’s obsession with copying the notes before destroying the notes, and then they had to retrieve the notes when they got stolen again. Let’s just ignore that. It isn’t relevant. And we’ll ignore that midway through the story we suddenly had characters who could influence corpses by sound, either voice or stamping their foot. Why and how this works is clearly unimportant to anyone writing the story so we’ll just let it go. I’ll even ignore the fact that somehow our main group of two guys, an automaton girl and a shuffling corpse managed to get through a heavily armed military installation in order to get to the final confrontation even if that doesn’t end particularly well for the corpse and the girl as they end up at the centre of the whole thing.

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What I won’t ignore is that until this final part there was an attempt to at least make corpse technology look like a technology. Out of place in the time period technology, but technology. This final sequence forgets all of that and instead we suddenly have green lights floating about and random blue crystals growing over things as organ music plays. It is all visually spectacular and all completely fantastical gobbledygook with no grounding in anything that could be considered reality even within the reality constructed by this movie. It is like they just ripped up their own rule book and went for broke. Including, after one of the character cuts the power, smashing some keys on an organ manages to repower up the device momentarily. I’m really willing to suspend disbelief during a film, particularly one about reanimating corpses in the 19th Century, but there is suspension of disbelief and then there is swallowing bull and this movie crosses the line far too much in the final sequence.

Not to mention, even after it is all done and we get an aftermath, the story only deals with Watson and Friday. We do not get to see how the world has changed after the night the corpses that were relied upon as labourers went crazy and the sheer mass murder of civilians. You would think that there should be some significant social reform going on but why bother letting the audience know about any of that. It’s clearly just background noise.

Anyway, I bought this film on sale and I’m glad of that because full price would have been asking too much. I’m also glad I watched it with someone because the two hours would have felt really long if I didn’t have someone to help me make fun of the sillier moments in the narrative. Not to mention it was nice to know it wasn’t just me losing track of what was going on at the end. It just does not make sense.

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So do I recommend this?

That’s tough because I know I’ll probably rewatch this next year at some point. It is bad, terrible in fact in terms of story, but there’s enough ideas and the like here that I wouldn’t mind another watch. It also looks really good with some great atmosphere. Not to mention, its a zombie anime and I like bad horror stories. So, no, I probably wouldn’t recommend it but it isn’t a completely unwatchable, fling the disc out the window kind of movie. That’s not exactly high praise but its the best I can manage for this one at the moment.


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Thanks,

Karandi James.

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17 thoughts on “The Empire of Corpses Movie Review: Another Case of a Plot Getting Lost Amongst Literary Allusions and Sci-Fi Spectacle

  1. That’s a shame cause when I saw the ad for that movie I was excited and thought it would be an awesome tour de force. Sounds kinda pointless though unless you wanna watch for the corpses and Victorian feel. Whats worse though is now though is that I am questioning whether or not I should even put my money, time, or effort into any of the other Project Itou films either. The trailers for those looked really good too, but if this is the kind of story telling then it is not worth it. But then again maybe it was a fluke and the other 2 are good. I dunno. Lol, help me Karandi. XD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry if I put you off. There are plenty of postive reviews of these films so clearly they work for some people. Might be worth trying one first rather than going for the set just to see if it strikes your fancy. For me, I still think the idea presented at the start of the film was better than anything the film actually ended up presenting.

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  2. Hmm, that is a real shame honestly. I think I saw this one reviewed a couple of months back, and I know the one that reviewed it at the time gave it some high praise, despite pointing out the flaws it also had. I kind of forgotten about it since then, but this review was a great reminder. I certainly think the premise and the way the animation looks, are enough reasons for me to watch it anyway at some point, but I will lower my expectations for it 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I was really looking forward to this based on the premise and reviews I’d read of it. And it isn’t a total disaster because it does look awesom and the main character’s story works fairly well. It’s just all the other characters and the main plot that kind of fall apart.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I saw this in theaters with my husband and a friend and we all walked out afterwards unable to say anything because we were all so confused by it. My friend just said, “Well, that was a thing….I don’t get it, but it was fun to watch.” I think that sums up my view about it. It does start off really well, but gets way too big for its britches by the end. So it was fun to watch – even if I didn’t get it by the end. It was a roller coaster ride that you just sat and held on to, amazed at what might happen but confused where it’ll end.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I quite enjoyed this film myself. You REALLY have to pay attention to it or you will get completely lost. The points/ideas they had in this film are really intriguing and make you question whether or not humans in fact do have souls. It is an interesting prose to think can we really be brought back from the dead? And if we can, can we ever fully regain our former selves/consciousness? Have you checked out the other film Project Itoh ? Harmony also dives into some very interesting concepts of life and how humans should behave, think, feel etc. in a controlled environment. I like watching anime films like these because they make me feel a bit more intelligent. It really gets the mind going! Now I just need to watch Genocidal Organ since all three of these films were a “set” so to speak.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t watched any others, as I said at the start I’m just not into anime films. I mostly find they don’t have enough time to develop the ideas they seem to want to express and Empire of Corpses definitely falls victim to that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re watching the wrong anime films then my friend! Some of the best anime I have seen have been movies lol I feel like movies sometimes convey what anime series can’t. Harmony is better at getting the point across than the Empire of Corpses. Don’t get me wrong, both are hard to follow if you don’t pay enough attention but they do get the mind thinking. I always like to say keep an open mind when it comes to certain things! You never know what you may find 😉

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  5. I saw this around somewhere but wasn’t terribly interested. After reading this, I’m really very conflicted because it sounds like a very cool idea that got turned into a hot mess.

    (For some reason, my email notifications of your posts are redirecting to weird WP support pages…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is kind of weird. Hot mess is probably a good description. I’m a bit torn because I do enjoy bad horror and sci-fi and this one certainly fits the bill. The problem was, when I viewed it I actually wanted it to get into some of the deeper ideas it presented and then I felt cheated. I think if it had just presented as a crazy fantasy horror with a few scientific trappings from the opening I’d have had a lot more fun from the start with this.

      Liked by 1 person

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