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"Trigun: Badlands Rumble": A Bulletstorm Of Fun

Trigun: Badlands Rumble is an enjoyable movie that will be best loved by an audience that has seen some or all of the excellent television series, although newcomers can get by and be taken in by its quirky humor and over-the-top gunplay. Once more we return the return to the space western setting of the planet Gunsmoke and the adventures of Vash the Stampede, a wanted outlaw with a reputation for peerless gunfighting skill and wanton destruction. In reality he’s a zealous altruist, making use of his prodigious talents to help others and protect human lives while concealing his actions beneath a cloak of obfuscating buffoonery.

One such case occurs when the nefarious criminal Gasback pulls off an ambitious bank heist, only for his trio of henchman to turn on him when they realize that their leader intends to keep using their money to attempt grander schemes rather than finally divide the high profits. Gasback nearly kills the lot of them only for Vash to intervene, leading to everyone surviving while Gasback gets away. Twenty years later word gets out that Gasback is returning to the scene of the crime, this time to exact revenge on his former compatriot Cain Kepler after wrecking the businesses of the other two former minions. Kepler used his share of the stolen money to repair the city’s damaged power plant and eventually became mayor, and so he makes use of his resources to hire every gun-toting mercenary that he can find to protect him and bring down Gasback. Rumors of all this bring Vash back to the city, setting the stage for a major showdown.

Badlands Rumble does accommodate the hopes of Trigun fans by bringing back all the series regulars. Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson return, having been deployed by their insurance agency to protect a grandiose statue of Kepler that Kepler believes Gasback intends to steal. But while they offer familiar comic relief–and Meryl has the obligatory moment where Vash’s behavior drives her completely crazy–the ladies are mostly spectators. Much more interesting is the return of the gun-toting, cross-bearing priest Nicholas D. Wolfwood, who makes a surprising appearance as Gasback’s bodyguard as payback for saving his life out in the desert. Though this is admittedly a convenient contrivance to stage a brief battle between Wolfwood and Vash, it’s a fun event and Wolfwood remains very much in character regarding the limits of how far he’s willing to go in his role as Gasback’s protector.

Vash also has to contend with Amelia, a new character who wants revenge on Gasback for certain things that happened after his escape twenty years ago. It’s not a stretch to say that this woman is the co-star of the film, and not just because Vash follows her around and won’t quit bothering her with his doomed flirting. She’s courageous, she’s got an attitude that doesn’t tolerate knaves and thugs, and she definitely proves her ability to hold her own in a fight. She’s also got a legitimate grievance, and the film’s otherwise simple story packs some extra weight through her realization that Vash is responsible for Gasback going free all those years ago. Yes, Vash did good that day, but Amelia challenges his commitment to preserving life no matter what. Is that really a moral way to look at the world when it means sparing a criminal that ends up going on to hurt other people? It’s a tough question, one that the film deserves credit for dealing with.

The action here is classic Trigun all the way: high-paced, exciting, characterized by a hilariously excessive use of bullets. For a change of pace, there’s even an all-out bar room brawl thrown in for good measure. As always, the comedy centers the veneer of goofiness shown by Vash; his overwrought overreactions never get old, although his way of defusing a situation by acting like an aloof imbecile may have been shown once or twice too often. The serious Vash is great too, and he would have been welcome sooner than the film’s final act. Studio Madhouse does a typically excellent job with the animation, and all things considered it’s almost surprising how faithful it looks compared the designs of the 1998 TV series.

The worst that can be said against Badlands Rumble is that it is never exceptional; it does not elevate its material to a grand and cinematic level in the manner of Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos and Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer. Those succeeded marvelously at being “event” films, while this feels like just one more adventure for Vash and the gang. Nonetheless, it’s a spirited and entertaining romp that successfully recaptured everything that made Trigun so much fun to watch.

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