Oh man, is this my favorite Kamen Rider movie?

I honestly didn't think it was, before now. I remember it being solid. I remember thinking Foundation X was a weirdly inert overarching menace for several movies to come, and they got their dull start here. (Just, like, the boring pragmatism of funding a dozen different World Domination mad science schemes. I want a global terror initiative that commits!) I remember Eternal, of course, and his strangely theatrical group of zombie soldiers. But, like, that's it? Quality-wise, I didn't remember it being any better or worse than any other summer movie.

And, okay, maybe it's the intensely lowered standards of the Phase 1 films and their nebulous continuity and their frequent poorly deployed themes and their air of exhaustion and their inability to find time for the entire cast of the series they're spinning off from and their etc., but I thought this film was just about perfect? I honestly don't know what I could find fault with.

Thematically, it's doing some interesting stuff with the topic/keyword of Memory. Philip is the lead for the emotional part of the narrative, since his identity is wrapped up in his amnesia. His disconnection stems from his belief that his past holds the answers to his sense of self, so a story that forces him to set aside what his memories have to offer in favor of a present surrounded by people who care for him, that's going to be an excellent dilemma to base a W movie on. Like, this movie is about the value of Memories and memories, and how the lack thereof can't keep you from being a hero.

Structurally, the movie sort of hands off from Philip in the first half to Shotaro in the second half, which I really enjoyed. This isn't really Shotaro's story, so his involvement gains intensity from Philip's absence. With Philip captured, the movie pivots slightly to a more straightforward Assault On The Villains' Base plot, and it's here that I really dug the film.

It's... pacing these things is hard. Any number of these movies have bungled their story by coming out of the gate strong, padding out the middle, and then trying to land an emotional punch in the climax. It doesn't work great, since the audience (or maybe just me) has lost patience with the thinness of the narrative. Here, it's the Kamen Rider W team as a multi-act motion picture story. There's all of Philip's cerebral empathy – the puzzle-solving interest in human connection – and then Shotaro's two-fisted heart-on-his-sleeve problem-solving. Whenever you start to get tired of one, the other tags in. It makes for a viewing experience that never wears out its welcome.

Even the parts I might've found a little too deus ex machiny, I find them charming now? Stuff like Skull providing the crucial Lost Driver to Shotaro, or the town of Fuuto lifting Double up with a gust of wind; it all reads as Magical Realism to me now, not some hacky writing or regrettable plot hole. Skull's appearance is the theme of Memory, the power we imbue it with, and ways it can help us better protect our present. In a story freighted with the importance of Memories/memories, why shouldn't the memory of Skull be a weapon for our heroes to call on? And the town of Fuuto – maybe literally the town of Fuuto – protecting its hero long enough for its hero to protect the town, man, that's just an A+ ending. I can't even slightly get mad at an ending that corny. That's a refutation of Eternal's villainous philosophy of Inhumanity As Freedom, the separation from community as a pathway to power. Here, it's Double's commitment to the townspeople that provides a route to victory.

And Eternal as a villain! The trope of Evil Version Of The Hero, like, always works. Trope for a reason. The way Daidou needles at Philip's insecurity, and then laughs at Philip's connection to humanity, it gives the superhero side of this movie a lot to work with. Daidou's scheme is born out of the same outsider frustration Philip has, the same need to find a connection, but Daidou gleefully solves it with citywide terror and a giant laser. The premise of this one totally delivers, which is a very low bar that not every Kamen Rider film clears!

Eternal just looks awesome, too. The sideways E on his forehead to play off of Double's W antenna. The cape, the holsters, the knife; all boss as hell. The whole movie looks great, honestly. I love how they suspend the Hardboilder in the air for a couple shots, to make Shotaro and Double's attacks look insanely epic. All of the weird lieutenant villains feel distinct and have memorable fights with multiple heroes. AND THE FIGHTS ARE ALL SO GOOD. This thing just looks phenomenal. Absolutely everything you love about the action of Kamen Rider W, but bigger and faster and cooler.

Plus, like, everyone you love from the series (who's still alive at this point) gets at least a few minutes of screentime. Saeko! Saeko acts as a clearly-filmed-separately Greek Chorus! But there's also a half-dozen characters I smiled at remembering (that AKB48 gag!), a cool moment for Shotaro and Terui to acknowledge each other's commitment to justice in a manly way, and an entire subplot where Akiko is horny and Terui treats her like a little sister. (I have never loved their "romance", and that didn't change today.) Just, like, everyone's in this. Everyone.

Even a brand-new Kamen Rider! Yep, first OOO appearance, and the continuation of the Early-Bird guest appearance Double inaugurated in the Dai Shocker film. Pretty much the same thing here, but we get Actual Eiji instead of just the suit and some ADR. It's cute! It's OOO showing off his Henshin, a form change, and a finisher, which I think is the high water mark for this sort of thing.

I dig it, mostly because A NEW KAMEN RIDER DEBUTS is the icing on the cake, rather than the reward for putting up with nonsense. It's a bonus. The whole movie around it is so fun, so entertaining, that it almost felt greedy to me when Eiji showed up. I already loved this thing! You don't need to give me a gift when I'm neck-deep in gifts!

And what a gift this movie was. I didn't remember much from it before, but now I'll never forget it.

(I will 100% forget it. My brain's like a sieve for this franchise! I will have forgotten this movie by next week.)