I should start by saying that I went into this movie after hearing all the negative reviews about it, so my expectations were pretty low. I immediately assumed that people were unfairly comparing Goro Miyazaki's debut film to his father's masterpieces, and I found this extremely unfair considering how much experience in animation Hayao Miyazaki had before he directed his first full length feature film. I chivalrously defended the underdog in my head and I turned on the movie having made up my mind that I was going to enjoy this story.
About halfway through the movie, I realized that Hayao Miyazaki was absolutely right in criticizing his son, having claimed that Goro didn't have the experience necessary to direct a feature film. It shows. it REALLY shows. All the mistakes made were incredibly basic storytelling mistakes for which I think there was no excuse. I've heard this movie as feeling superficial and skin-deep, and I think that's a really accurate description.
Throughout the story, stuff just kinda happens, which is because there is very little motivation (if any) for the characters' actions. They just do stuff and go places for no real reason for the entire first half of the movie. The characters all remind me of the ones in the Star Wars prequels in the way that there's this really thick sense of stoicism to most of the characters due to the fact that they don't have personalities at all. They're just walking, talking plot propellers that deliver really stilted dialogue, even taking the cultural differences into consideration.
Another ENORMOUS problem is that the protagonist is so dispassionately reactive to everything, it's really hard to give a damn about him. Things will happen to him, characters will do stuff, you really won't care about any of them and halfway through you still won't know what the hell the movie's even about.
Visually it's fantastic, with Ghibli's gorgeously painted backgrounds, and I even like the throwback character designs. They look more like the older Nausicaa style of design and less like Spirited Away/Ponyo stuff (which I still like). The animation is great compared to most other studios out there, but kinda weak when compared to other Ghibli animation. The main reason I say that is because there's very little in the animation that demonstrates the character's personality. The expressions and movements are kinda generic and it feels like you could swap one character's animation and put it on another and it wouldn't make much difference. What I always admired about Ghibli movies is Miyazaki's hyper attention to detail in the character animation, insisting that characters move based on how they're feeling and what their personalities are. This is kinda rare in anime and it's something this film unfortunately lacks, which isn't surprising given Goro's insistence on staying out of the family business.
There are some cool action sequences which will do a lot to maintain your attention, but otherwise the movie's a little disappointing. If Goro Miyazaki ends up writing/directing another movie, I hope father and son won't be at eachother's throats as much during production and Goro will actually work with his father and take his advice.
*EDIT* I also want to add that the English Dub casting was really good, and Timothy Dalton did an awesome job, especially given the limitations of the script.
Listening to: Mind Heist