Back in the late 1970s, the sci-fi film had enjoyed a massive resurgence. After “Star Wars” led the charge, movies about the greatness of the cosmos had come out left and right. By 1981, we had “The Black Hole”, “Alien”, “Space Battleship Yamato”, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”, and “The Empire Strikes Back”. Granted, a lot of these were duds, but they were representative of the greater movement into space as filmmaking material and paved the way for a lot more movies that would come out throughout the 80s to enhance the genre. And with both anime artists in Japan as well as American filmmakers constantly making the stuff that would be imitated and duplicated for years to come. So, naturally, one of the people to ride that trend was the group behind “Galaxy Express 999”, and ride it all the way to what you did with any sci-fi movie that did great…made a sequel.
“Adieu Galaxy Express 999”
“Adieu Galaxy Express 999” works as both as a sequel to the film version of the much larger 113 episode series as well as a “grand finale” to the original series as a whole, which is kind of obvious from the title. As you expect, it features all the favorite characters from the original series: Tetsuro, Captain Harlock, Queen Emeraldas, the Conductor, and, of course, the enigmatic Maetel.
The movie takes place no more than a couple years after the first one ended. As it turns out, what Tetsuro thought he had “ended” in the previous film, namely killing Queen Prometheum and destroying Planet Maetel to halt the conversion of humans into machines, has actually made things infinitely worse. The machines already prolific throughout the galaxy continue to rally to Prometheum’s name and are now launching a galaxy-wide campaign to annihilate all human life so only machines will remain. Tetsuro is now battling with the last few humans alive on the devastated Earth in a vain attempt at survival.
With his group being annihilated by overwhelming opponents, one of the human freedom fighters passes a message on to Tetsuro with his final breath: a recording from Maetel telling him to board the Galaxy Express 999 once again. At the price of the life of the last of his comrades, Tetsuro does so vowing to return to Earth one day, and soon finds that the war has spread galaxy-wide, as well as other unsettling facets. There is a larger, more powerful, and more mysterious train called the “Ghost Train” racing everywhere in the galaxy. A dark machine named Black Knight Faust is stalking him through his journey. But most of all…Maetel is more of a mystery than ever and is being heralded as the new “Queen Prometheum”…something she doesn’t seem to wish to deny. As the journey goes on, Tetsuro finds a horrifying secret behind the Ghost Train as well as Maetel’s behavior and must save humanity yet again.
Does any of this sound a little bit familiar? Well, it should. In many ways, this movie is the first movie all over again. Seriously, all the major plot turns and developments seem to parallel the original movie. Heck, a lot of the battle footage is the same as from the first movie. The animation has improved a little, yes, but…not too much to notice. Just like the first movie, it drags a lot on the animation rather than advancing the plot. Harlock and Emeraldas were mostly plot devices in the last movie and…nothing’s changed. If anything, they’re even more plot devices, appearing almost at random now.
As far as what is “new” in this film…like I said, by the year 1981 there were a lot more sci-fi movies out…and it clearly ripped from a lot of them. One character in particular that…well…you only need to see the movie to get who I’m talking about. I have a hard time thinking that Japan hadn’t been watching “The Empire Strikes Back” when creating him. Especially since they didn’t know how to “end him” since “Return of the Jedi” hadn’t come out yet.
So with all that in mind, is this a “bad movie”? A classic case of sequelitis?
…No, in my opinion.
I’m sure most of you are familiar with the movie “Shrek 2”. In many ways, “Shrek 2” was just an alternate way to tell the original “Shrek”. It once again was all about beauty vs. ugly, learning to appreciate someone for who they are on the inside rather than on outward appearance. And, in many ways, it ripped off of the same setup as the first movie with the same major plot epochs. And guess what? “Shrek 2” was great. One of the better sequels ever made, in my opinion. It’s unfortunate it did so well that Dreamworks thought they could make infinite sequels to it, but forget that. It was proof that while a “lazy sequel” that pretty much does the same thing as the first might be a big risk toward ending up being a poor movie overall, it doesn’t guarantee it or stop it from possibly being a good movie. And in my opinion…yeah, that works here.
The first movie was very much about the theme of what separates a machine from a man and what it means to have the chance to live forever. Pretty much every planet Tetsuro landed on made him ask a different question about just what that meant. Yet a theme that wasn’t really made explicit until the end was that it was about leaving behind your childhood and your dreams and fantasies and becoming an adult. It was a metaphor for how the fantastic and new experiences of youth remain in your heart to make you who you are today. And this movie really ramped that angle up. Whereas the first film dealt with life and death, this one got more into the characters individually. In the first movie, Maetel was a mysterious individual but ultimately she was, in fact, an individual. In this movie, Maetel is more of a metaphor or an idea. Sort of an “imaginary friend” who one day has to be put away but never forgotten. Tetsuro’s growth is kind of…well…rehashed from the first, but it still shows he’s left behind being a boy and is now a man. Kind of like Peter Pan growing up.
This alone probably wouldn’t have been enough for me to consider it on par with the first movie if not for one other new character: Metal Mina. For most of the film, she’s seen as an antagonist, a jerk, and an all-around bad character. But…damn, toward the end of the film, she has a couple big scenes that honestly are really, really sad. Claire’s death in the first one was pretty sad, but…but this. Wow. It got me right in the heart and put more emotion into it, even if it was meant to just capture what happened with Claire all over again.
So, is it a good sequel? I can’t really recommend it as a stand-alone, as it doesn’t have much value viewed in a vacuum. But as one who saw the first film? I’ll go ahead and say it’s worth a whirl for a couple scenes. I’ll rate it a bit lower than the first because a lot of it has the feel of “something you’ve seen before”, but other than that, I think you can’t go wrong with it.
Rating: 3 out of 5
The second ride on the tracks isn’t quite as good as it was when you were little, but it still brings back some tender memories.
What You Should Do With This DVD:
Mount it right next to your copy of “Galaxy Express 999” in your collection, of course. If you don’t have a copy, why were you watching this in the first place? You probably didn’t know what was going on.