English 2.0 Stereo
English 5.1 Surround
Japanese 2.0 Stereo
Japanese 5.1 Surround
French 2.0 Stereo
French 5.1 Surround
Spanish 2.0 Stereo
Spanish 5.1 Surround
Travelling by space shuttle on the way to a new job, Hathaway Noa is caught up in a terrorist group's attempt to hijack the plane with its passengers. Together with a Federation officer, Kenneth Sleg, and an enigmatic fellow passenger Gigi, Hathaway is able to defeat the terrorists. But the group, called MAFTY, have bigger plans and these will draw Hathaway, Kenneth and Gigi into a much bigger conflict. Trapped in the Philippine city of Davao, Hathaway has only a few ways out before both Gigi and Kenneth figure out who he really is.
To say I'm a bit behind in things Gundam is a bit of an understatement. I really do try to watch Gundam when I can but I find the compilation films, OVA, and specials easier to get through than the full length 52 episode shows. But I know who the character of Bright Noa is and I also know that his son Hathaway Noa is an integral part of the original series and its spinoff films. In any event, I arrived at 2021's Hathaway's Flash, hoping that I'll be able to get into the early, nebulous start of the franchise.
If you've seen the previous parts of the story leading up to this one, congratulations. You'll be well equipped to know Hathaway's connection with Gigi reflects his older one with Quess (a girl who was very special to Hathaway). You'll also know that the events of this film (and the future two entries in the story) connect the original Gundam series and films and Gundam F91 which is set 30 years later. I have read that this hampers the story and makes the film somewhat inaccessible to non-fans of the series. While I take the point, I think the film's weaknesses lie in its brevity, not its lack of explanations. In fact, when viewed a certain angle, the lack of explanation might be its salvation.
So if you look at the film as a part of a franchise, it is severely lacking. The characters are all part of sections of the population with wildly different expectations of what the world should be, reflecting the fracturing nature of the original story. So Kenneth is an honourable man but he works for dishonourable people and has no trouble using it to his advantage. This includes stealing Gigi's attentions from Hathaway. So far, so Earth Federation. Gigi is a Newtype, the offshoot of humanity with heightened senses and intelligence suited for living in space, and she uses it to help her in the complicated playing field that Earth is now after the events of Char's Counterattack. Hathaway bears the crushing weight of the life he had as a youngster in the original Zeon/Federation conflict plus the knowledge that he has to do something or the people being forced into space will just lash out at Earth and be snuffed out for it. So if you've never seen the previous stuff, Kenneth's drive to find MAFTY and discover whether he can trust Hathaway or not will not make sense. Same for Gigi and Hathaway. You have to know about all this to know why people can be cruel or kind in the film. But I have an alternative idea, one that might take a leap (no more than the leaps the film makes) but one that makes the film more palatable.
Daniel Craig's recent run as fictional super-spy James Bond has just come to an end and while I'm not spoiling the latest adventure's conclusion, the thing that marked Craig's run above previous entries was its reliance on interpersonal relationships and how they could cost Bond his life at any moment. His connections to Judi Dench's M character form the spine of the first three films (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall) while his connections with Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) and Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux) form the connections within Spectre and No Time to Die. These relationships drive the stories and their conclusions. The same is applicable to Hathaway's Flash. As the story starts, we don't know who these people are or what they want. They are disconnected and cagey with each other. But as the film starts into its run, some people open up and instead of a wonderful, cathartic moment it just causes them to shut down further as they compartmentalise their traumas to cope with the events of the film. Then the conspiracy at the heart of the film opens up and suddenly, we're in a genuine spy thriller. We have a target (the Federation and its officials), players (Hathaway and Kenneth), people with vested interested (Gigi), and a ticking plot bomb (MAFTY planning to escape from the Davao City forces). As a result of the hijacking, Hathaway and Gigi end up sharing an apartment in the city while the police sort things out. Gigi deduces that Hathaway's not telling the truth as to why he's on Earth and Kenneth gets too close to decide if Gigi and Hathaway are up to something. Hathaway has to change his plans in mid-operation to save Gigi from certain death during an attack by MAFTY that goes horribly wrong and results in the Davao forces reorganising under Kenneth into the Circe Unit (formed from Federation forces to hunt down MAFTY) that puts further pressure on Hathaway to deal with Kenneth directly. In the process, he gets too close to Gigi and this fractures his relationship with her. Kenneth sees an opportunity to get Gigi on his side and fills the void. Slowly, the vice turns and the trio are unwittingly about to be squeezed by MAFTY and the Federation's clash. While we'll never know exactly what's driving them at this point, there's enough to blow the city sky high if someone makes a wrong move.
The pacing of the film is more of a spy film than a space mecha adventure. While Gundam is known for its expansive (and somewhat long-winded) political power struggles, here the action is contained within Hathaway, his people, Kenneth and the Federation forces, Gigi, and MAFTY's overall agenda. While there are people looking on these events with interest, they play no part. Kenneth is driven to destroy MAFTY but finds himself in conflict with his needs as an honourable man and his willingness to hurt innocent people. I'm not saying he's conflicted because he wants to be decent, quite the opposite. Kenneth has become the very thing that Char and the Zeon forces of old and later the AEUG anti-Federation forces of Zeta Gundam opposed the most. But at some point, he will have to look in the mirror and realise no honour is reflected there anymore. The thing that keeps him from looking is Hathaway and his connection to the MAFTY hijacking and the attack on Davao later in the film. He sees that Hathaway IS the challenge of a lifetime. If he could just figure him out, he could find out what Hathaway's really made of. Gigi straddles a fine line, she knows that Hathaway's as dangerous for what he does as Kenneth is for the power he wields over the people of Davao and the conflict with MAFTY. But she will not be a pawn for someone and won't be someone's standard to fight for. She's got her own deal and selfishly pursues it. The setting of a paradise city while two massive forces plan annihilation of the other force makes the spy setting more concrete as we learn that the people of Davao are more on MAFTY's side than the Federation despite it being a haven for Federation officials. The best cold war stories were set in places like this.
The mecha combat of the film is very sparse but functions to drive the story, not set the agenda. When Hathaway finally climbs into a Gundam after spending the film downplaying his efforts in the One-Year War, it's great to see he really was being modest. The combat scenes are very well paced and offer a great sparing partner in the form of a Federation pilot, Lane Aim. The RX-105 Ξ Gundam that Hathaway pilots is very chunky-looking but moves gracefully while Aim's RX-104 Penelope is a similar design. Honestly, they resemble medieval jousting suits and they attack each other in such a fashion. The attacks on the plane and the ill-planned city attack are spectacular and well shot and animated. The fire and smoke as the city blocks collapse around Hathaway and Gigi are vivid and dynamic.
Hathaway's Flash is a perfect little techno-thriller with spies, double crosses, double agents, mecha battles, conversations that turn into interrogations, and people that have secrets from everyone about everything. It's a shame it's a Gundam title because it requires a lot of backstory that the viewer may not be engaged with but its tone and setting make it better suited for Cold War movie enthusiasts. How much you enjoy it will depend on what you want out of it. Maybe when the rest of the trilogy comes out will we be able to get a better handle on it.