I haven’t gotten the chance to really mention it, but I’m a very big fan of the Karen Rider franchise. It’s by far the Tokusatsu series I’m the most familiar with aside from Godzilla and learning more about it has always been a treat. I haven’t gotten the chance to watch any of the series’ offerings before the new millennium but there was one piece of media that always intrigued me, and that was Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue (I’m just going to be calling it Shin Kamen Rider). It always seemed like the Rider that never got the chance to shine; being overshadowed by his other movie brothers ZO and J, and only makes sporadic appearances in legacy material. The movie was intended to be a starting point for a new franchise and expand on the world it built but after receiving a negative reaction from fans it got shelved and only had an unfinished sequel novel published. Since its release, it has received somewhat of a cult following and the Rider is considered to be a fan favorite by many, myself included. I wanted to watch this movie because I absolute ADORE the design of Shin and I was expecting to enjoy it. I wanted to believe that the movie gained ill-will from fans due to its tone and not its quality, much like Kamen Rider Amazon from the 70s. Yeah that uh, that wasn’t the case.
It wasn’t badly received because of how different it was. It was badly received because it fucking stunk.
Shin Kamen Rider is the story of Shin Kazamatsuri, a racer who is helping his father with cell research for the sake of curing various human diseases. Shin has been having multiple nightmares about killing people in gruesome ways and after seeing a newspaper detailing the killings he realizes something is up. After talking to his fathers assistant, Onizuka, he finds out that he has been getting experimented on with grasshopper DNA and after several more revelations that are just..the most predictable and lame; is finally revealed to be next in a line of cyborg soldiers to be used for war and/or profit. He then goes after the government and his girlfriend has a funky looking baby and it’s just NOTHING. The plot is extremely predictable and uninteresting with very little surprising twists and plot points to keep it an interesting watch. None of the characters ever become fully developed and you hardly learn any of their true motivations until the very end because the writers decided to backload everything in the last 20 minutes instead of actually establishing important information early on. I honest to god couldn’t tell you a single thing about the main character outside of him riding a motorcycle because he never acts like a person. Nearly all of Shin’s dialogue consists of him being confused or asking questions. He never comes into his own and you never grow attached to him and for something apart of the Kamen Rider series, that’s a big problem.
Another problem with the movie is that it moves at a painfully slow pace. It takes a long time for anything of substance to actually occur and even when it does, it’s not much. You rarely see Shin’s Rider form or..anything really. The action takes a backseat to Shin’s horror and confusion about what he is and what’s going on but..they never really show anything to fully justify it. Two fight scenes before the big transformation reveal isn’t enough to properly convey his self-fear. The film also becomes an absolute mess near the end with revelation after revelation and it all culminates with a decent fight scene and a FUCKING TELEPATHIC BABY GRASSHOPPER HUMAN THING.
This is all a shame too because there was a lot of work that went into how this movie looked. ESPECIALLY with the creature designs.
The practical effects and action sequences, however infrequent they are, are a ton of fun to watch. Whenever Shin kills another human it looks extremely visceral and gory. I really liked the way this movie handled the fake blood, it just looks gross. The transformation into the Rider form is also PHENOMENAL. It uses a lot of rubber heads and animatronic pieces in the head but it’s so well shot and executed. It’s by far the best part of the movie. The final fight scene as well is wonderful and it’s exactly what I wanted out of an adult-focused take on Kamen Rider. My only real complaint is that you never get to see Shin’s Rider form that much and they didn’t do a great job at showing exactly what his strengths are outside of telepathy, super strength, and punching. I would have liked to see a more unique moveset from him like using his fucked up, “Predator-Esque” mouth to bite someone or use his arm claws to stab into one of his kills. Now even though I enjoyed these scenes a lot, does that mean this movie is worth watching? Not really, no.
For every cool scene and fun monster fight, there are minutes upon minutes of boring exposition and baffling story elements. By the end of the movie, I was laughing my ass off over how stupid it was getting. I know this is weird considering I recommended Gargoyles, but like I said in that review (link review here) that movie was boring in a fascinating way. Shin Kamen Rider is almost the polar opposite in that regard. It’s an absolute slog to get through and while there are some great practical effects and creature designs in here, it’s almost not worth the trouble to get to it. I would only recommend this movie if you’re a hardcore fan of Kamen Rider and Tokusatsu since it’s at least an interesting take on the franchise. Outside of that though? Stay away. It’s a mediocre B-movie at best. If you want a better take on a “Mature Kamen Rider”, check out Kamen Rider Amazons. It’s messy but it’s a lot better than this.