Alex Garland's Men Is The Best Live-Action Version Of Attack On Titan

Live-action anime adaptations never really work. With incredibly few exceptions (like the Wachowski's excellent "Speed Racer"), there's too much that is difficult to translate from one medium to another, from the cultural specificity, to the medium itself. There is a specific tone that works in animation, but rarely does in live-action, a mix of silliness and seriousness that, combined with the suspension of disbelief inherent to animation, works when the characters don't exactly look real.

This is why every time Hollywood announces a new live-action remake, it is met with instant skepticism and preemptive disappointment. One franchise that is soon to become another cursed live-action production is "Attack on Titan," a show that is maybe going to finally end after a decade of bleak horror and badass action. Though the anime already had not one, but two, failed live-action adaptations made in Japan, we just got the best live-action version of "Attack on Titan" we could expect: Alex Garland's "Men."

In "Men," a woman named Harper (Jessie Buckley) escapes to the English countryside to relax after the death of her husband. Rather than picturesque landscapes and countryside quiet, she finds herself being harassed by the men in the village, all of whom are played by Rory Kinnear — through some clever use of prosthetics, wigs, and bad digital de-aging.

During the press tour for Men, Garland talked a lot about how his love for "Attack on Titan" inspired the ending of "Men," and it's easy to see why. The new A24 movie is the closest we've come to a piece of live-action media understanding to the unique blend of silliness and horror at the heart of early "Attack on Titan."

The silly horror of Attack on Titan

From the very first episode, when we first see the walls that protect the remnants of humanity be destroyed by the Colossal Titan, we saw wave after wave of Titans rush in, all naked and with morphed, exaggerated expressions. The more Titans we see, the more ridiculous they get. Just take the scene where protagonist Eren Yeager watches his mom get brutally devoured by a Titan. The moment is one of pure horror, grotesque and terrifying, but seeing the Titan's face, its huge Joker-like grin and flat, naked body is almost funny.

From there, we meet Titans who shoot finger guns to the sky, Titans who strike fabulous poses, some who run by crawling, some who like to lean into buildings and look suspicious, and overall tons of funny-looking Titans that also devour people in gory fashion. The show never fully explains why exactly the Titans look the way they do, why they have exaggerated features, or why they have no working organs or genitals. But as funny as they might seem at first, there is no laughing when your favorite character is slowly devoured by one of them, or when they become Titans themselves. 

The absurdity of nudity

As Alex Garland himself described it to Vulture, the show doesn't present nudity in a typical way. "Usually, when nudity is seen in film, statues, or art, there's been some consideration to it. It's been posed," Garland said. "The Titans are terrifying and strange but also the sort of awkward shapes that people make when they're not being observed."

The Titans work in animation because they are drawn, 2D characters, with their exaggerated features. They feel at home in a medium where the human characters already have big eyes, so the shift between silly and scary can be sudden without being jarring. In live-action, however, this is harder to do. For every Judge Doom, there is an Al-G Rhythm.

How Men gets it right

Though "Men" doesn't feature giant humanoid Titans, it does feature naked men that are funny-looking and also quite threatening. As we start meeting the other men in the countryside town that look like Rory Kinnear, they initially appear as funny and quirky, a bit uncomfortable to be around, sure, but not immediately threatening. Even Geoffrey, the stereotypical English countryside owner of the house Harper is renting is goofy at first. 

It isn't until much later when he starts coming after Harper, that the film goes fully into horror territory. By then, Rory Kinnear doing a fun Lucius Malfoy impression is not fun, but threatening. Especially once whatever entity is haunting Harper starts quite literally birthing itself in graphic detail, with one Rory Kinnear coming out from the entrails of the previous Rory Kinnear, that the laughs turn into screams (even as the film still recognizes that they do look a bit funny). 

Alex Garland may not want to credit "Attack on Titan" for inspiring any one specific scene or shot. However, watching "Men" dive into a specific kind of body horror that is equal parts disturbing and absurdly comic, it is quite clear Garland has achieved the impossible: he made a great live-action version of "Attack on Titan."