Next to Ultraman, Godzilla and possibly Tetsuwan Atom, Kamen Rider is probably one of the most recognized of the Japanese heroes. Ever since his debut in 1971, Ishinomori Shoutaro's insect-themed, motorcycle riding, "bug-eyed" hero has become an almost iconic character to millions of fans not only in Japan but also across the world. The original Kaman Rider series ran for an amazing 98 episodes and spawned a long running franchise which lasts to this day. Nagaishi Takao's "Kamen Rider: The First" is the first attempt to revisit the original hero in nearly two decades (although several "new" Kamen Riders have appeared since). While "Kamen Rider: The First" does a good job at attempting to reinvent and update the original Kamen Rider character for a 21st Century audience, it also tries its hardest to appease fan boys of the original 1973 series (who are now probably now in their early 30s). The resultant movie is however an odd hybrid that doesn't quite know what it wants to be -' tribute, redo or reinterpretation? By looks alone it would seem that director Nagaishi wanted to go with a tribute to original TV story. The subtle changes to the Kamen Rider costumes for example are not striking and stay very true to the original costume designs of the hero characters. The global evil organization "Shocker" is back again as the main antagonist with even one of its original leaders, Shinegami Hakase portrayed by the late, great Amamoto Hideo making an appearance (interestingly Nagaishi's decision to use stock footage of Amamoto in character in the movie parallels Bryan Singer's similar decision to use stock footage of Marlon Brando in the upcoming "Superman Returns" film). There are also other casting winks at the franchise with several actors from other Kamen Rider TV series playing parts in this movie, the other most notable cameo being Miyauchi Hiroshi (who portrayed Kamen Rider V3) portraying Rider mentor Tachibana Tobei.
Yet as with Kitamura Ryuhei's recent "Godzilla: Final Wars", KRTF is also quite a bit different from the original (not all for the best). While the original Kamen Riders #1 and #2 were cyborgs, these new "Hoppers" are alluded to be biologically altered humans with no cybernetic enhancements (quite possibly to make them more akin to "Spider-Man"). In fact, much emphasis is placed on the fact that these Kamen Riders needed to undergo periodic "blood transfusions" in order to survive (although it quickly becomes forgotten towards the ending half of the movie).
While the opponents are updated variants of his past villains albeit with more modern touches, they are revealed to be just elaborately costumed humans with genetically enhanced bodies, unlike the TV series in which they were altered human fused with the DNA of animals and given cybernetic weaponry.
As with some recent Hollywood adaptations of superhero characters ("Daredevil", "Fantastic Four") a lot of the more fantastical elements that made the Kamen Rider TV series so endearing to viewers (the grand conquest schemes, the diabolical costumed monsters, the cheesy SFX, the tongue-in-cheek banter) all seem to be purposely suppressed in favor of more "adult drama" and realism. Unfortunately as was the case in "Fantastic Four", KRTF also suffered from the tweaking. The Shocker organization of the movie seemed more like a criminal cartel or mob than a global menace. I missed the likes of the Ex-Nazi reject Col. Zoru, and the flamboyant, whip wielding crazy Ambassador Hell and the sneering despot Black Shogun. As young and attractive as both Sada and ISSA are they made Shocker look more like the "Brat Pack" than a terrorist threat.
There were some missed opportunities with the story as well that I wish were explored further.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film was Shockers' exploitation of the characters of Haruhiko and Miyoko. Shocker used their terminal conditions as a meaning of recruiting them into their organization with the promise to ending their suffering. I wish this angle could have been expanded and elaborated further as it brought an interesting dimension to the story. What if Shocker had used the hospital as a front for its sinister recruitment and abduction plans? "Cobra" and "Snake" while not seen much in their "kaizou" (altered) forms are much more interesting if not ultimately tragic villains. In fact their stories made them even more sympathetic characters than the heroes. Nagaishi must have felt a connection with their plights as he devoted almost as much screen time to them as he did the main protagonists (which unfortunately made the heroes even more one-dimensional). It would have been interesting if similar back stories could have been applied to not only Hongo and Hayato but perhaps even to both "Bat" and "Spider", who unfortunately were just relegated to atypical shadowy movie ghouls.
The overall acting from all the principals was passable if not undistinguished and the action was serviceable but not extraordinary given other similar films like "Cutie Honey" and "Casshern". I was halfway expecting the almost titanic struggles that faced the original Kamen Riders in their Toei movies of the 70's but alas this newest movie left me somewhat under whelmed and disappointed with its somewhat low key approach.
Review by jmaruyama from the Internet Movie Database.