Cool visuals, but even they get old fast with such a weak story.
If you're a fan of the steampunk genre, the visuals are going to be absolute heaven for you. There is no shortage of crazy machinery, gadgets, weaponry and vehicles that are sort of analogous to our electricity-based technology today but they're all designed in a way that makes them totally unique. There are long scenes where we get to see the characters moving through enormous machines, examining the different mechanisms, valves and pipes that feed steam to the pistons and turn the gears. No two devices are the same and with the second half of the film being almost entirely set inside a giant, steam-powered behemoth of a vehicle, there's a nice variety of locations too. With the animation department at work pulling in all the stops, it's really dazzling to see and there is never a single frame that isn't beautiful. The character models are crisp, the computer imagery is well blended with the hand-drawn stuff and if any shortcuts were taken, you'll be hard-pressed to spot them. On the visuals alone, it's worth checking out.
A big problem with the film is that there's just too much. This film feels like a miniseries that's been condensed into a film, with a prequel and a sequel already pre-planned (check out the ending credits to see what I mean) and no idea left on the drawing-room floor. The film is over two hours long, and that's the English dub, which has been cut by 15 minutes! It gets to a point where the action starts to become boring because the final sequence, the one where Ray gets his "jetpack" together and confronts the big threat of the film last for over thirty minutes. The sense of urgency just disappears when you're asked to be on the edge of your seat for that long. Eventually, you just want it to get to the point. The film also focuses on too many characters, some of which seem unnecessary. Ray is actually quite a bland hero, not nearly as interesting as his grandfather (voiced by Patrick Stewart). It felt like the movie had Ray involved solely because the studio in charge didn't feel like an idealistic old man who was hell-bent on preventing technology that was close to him from being used for military purposed was a bankable idea. As for Ray, he spends most of the movie following the orders of the grown-ups around him and doesn't really have a strong opinion on anything until he hears someone else tell him what he should be thinking. His grandfather Lloyd though, now this guy is great. The inclusion of Scarlet O'Hara (yes the character from "Gone with the Wind", seen here as a 14-year-old spoiled rich brat) is a big head-scratcher too. Her character contributes very little to the story and could have been cut entirely. It would have remove some weird crossover ideas too. Maybe in Japan they just thought the name was cool and put her in the film, but someone at the English dub department should have changed the name at the very least.
Overall, the movie is a disappointment coming from Katsuhiro Otomo, the director of the truly remarkable "Akira". It's not that the movie is bad, but it's not that amazing steampunk movie all of those cosplayers and inventors have been waiting for. It's pretty impressive visually, and entertaining overall, but just slightly above average when it comes to the overall movie. "Steamboy" misses a lot of potential, but it's entertaining enough to rent. (English Dub on Dvd, June 29, 2013)