Bayonetta: Bloody Fate may be difficult for mainstream audiences to grasp. The concept originated in 2009 with a video game published by SEGA that received accolades for its insane sights, sounds, and over-the-top action. At its center is Bayonetta, a sexy, bespectacled heroine with guns strapped to her feet and magical hair that tears her enemies to shreds.
The game’s plot is easily forgotten as the player jumps from one action sequence to the next, each designed to top the last with unpredictable and nonsensical scene changes. In between blasting monsters, the player gleans that Bayonetta is the product of a forbidden union between a human Lumen Sage and an Umbra witch. Treated as an abomination by both factions, she finds herself caught in the middle of a war. Following the events of the game, its film counterpart Bloody Fate has the opportunity to shed some light on the plot, but a stronger narrative focus is accompanied by a significant problem: strip away the ridiculous combat arenas, Sonic the Hedgehog references, and rapid-fire events, and all that remains is a bland story of good versus evil.
Exiled by the Umbra witches, Bayonetta has been forced into an enchanted sleep for 500 years. When she is released from her prison beneath a lake, Bayonetta enters the world with no memory of her past. She now spends her days battling ferocious angels as a mercenary, even as she tries to put the pieces of her past life together. The familiar “amnesiac hero” trope is put to use here, but unfortunately, the story isn’t particularly interesting. The film merely uses major levels and set pieces from the game and underscores them with a sprinkling of exposition.
The real draw is seeing the titular heroine in action. There is no subtlety to Bayonetta, a larger-than-life character who commands attention. Bayonetta’s trademark asset is her incredibly long hair, and through sheer force of will, she uses it to form skintight clothing. While battling giant monsters, Bayonetta calls upon her magic to transform her hair into a giant dragon and a pair of fists to wallop her foes. Such transformations leave her body nearly nude, with a few strands covering her lady parts as she strikes a sexy pose. In one sense, Bayonetta is portrayed as a fiercely independent woman and a master of her sexuality, offering the audience a non-stop dance of seduction as she bends and twists her way through battle. Simultaneously, she can be seen as the product of male fantasy, deliberately sexualized in battle sequences and beyond. Further examples include an obligatory shower scene, the witch’s flirtatious banter with Luka—a journalist who blames Bayonetta for the death of his father—and a late night rendezvous in which she wears see-through lingerie. However, it is important to consider the character within the context of her environment; after all, she is but a cog in a well-oiled lunacy machine.
Much like its source material, Bloody Fate is filled to the brim with over-the-top craziness, and the audience must be willing to strap themselves in for the ride. However, the video game contained a great deal of nuance and self-referential moments that don’t translate to the animated feature. Absent are the endearing homages to past SEGA games like Space Harrier and Super Hang-On, segments that could only be done in a video game. When the player sees Bayonetta use her middle finger to turn her motorcycle into a jet plane, blasting angels to the beat of remixed Space Harrier music, her outlandish characterization doesn’t seem so egregious. As the film lacks such material, it’s easier to focus on its negative aspects. In my opinion, though the film captures the qualities that made Bayonetta one of my favorite video game characters, I find that the film rings hollow compared to its digital counterpart.
Bayonetta: Bloody Fate is a curiosity. Only a small number of people will get the most of what this adaptation has to offer, and even then, they’ll find that it lacks the allure and substance that made the game so popular. At the end of the day, watching Bayonetta fight monsters isn’t nearly as fun as doing it yourself.
Bayonetta: Bloody Fate
directed by Fuminori Kizaki
90 minutes, Number of Discs: 2, DVD/Blu-ray Combo Set
Company Age Rating: TV-MA