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You're gonna need a bigger earth
GODZILLA: PLANET OF THE MONSTERS (12)
Review: David Stephens
After years away and nearly being killed off by the dodgy US reboot in 1998, Godzilla seems to be back for good on several fronts. The successful Gareth Edwards film in 2014 has gone on to spawn the Legendary Pictures Monsterverse, and will see various Kaiju (and Kong) go up against the King of Monsters in the next couple of years. Meanwhile, the recent “Shin Godzilla” has reinvigorated the bestial nature of the beast for the Toho home-grown Japanese market, although sequels to that version are still some way off. But here we have a brand new interpretation of the Big G that’s being released globally on VOD. Originally marketed as a standalone animation, this feature length outing is actually the first in a trilogy (hence the full official title “Godzilla Part 1: Planet of the Monsters”) and was released theatrically in Japan last November. Now streaming on most regions of Netflix, YGROY decides to take a look at the biggest ever (seriously, he’s bloody massive here) form of the big lizard and see how he fares…
A huge spaceship is orbiting a stormy planet and holds the remnants of human civilisation, as plans are afoot to send (suspiciously elderly) colonists to the surface. Angry military captain Haruo Sakaki attempts to stop the shuttle leaving, as he believes that it’s a suicide mission and a none-too subtle way to reduce the population. He fails in his attempt and sees the shuttle explode, even as he’s stripped of his title and thrown into jail. Cue the flashback which explains the reason for the human’s nomadic existence. At the end of the 20th Century, assorted Kaiju appeared and started to tear the cities apart, until Godzilla himself arose and kicked everyone’s ass. He was so destructive that humankind waved the white flag, teamed up with two species of humanoid aliens who had contacted them, and struck out to the stars to find a new home with their extraterrestrial chums in a mega space-ship. 22 years later they’ve drifted 11.9 light years from Earth with their new society and ruling committee on the verge of collapse. They have no option but to return to Earth and see what state it’s now in. Unfortunately due to light-speed travel, 20,000 years have passed and the planet has changed immeasurably. Not only that, but Godzilla himself is still apparently wandering around… and he doesn’t take kindly to the return of the humans. Newly restored Captain Sakaki thinks he knows a way to finally defeat the super-evolved monster though…
For much of the running time of “Godzilla: POTM”, there are some nagging issues that have plagued several other previous ‘zilla movies in the past. Namely that the human characters spend plenty of time arguing about how to deal with the gargantuan pest, rather than actually doing anything or letting the viewer have a sniff at that sweet, sweet Kaiju fighting. Here, more than half of the film resembles a standard intergalactic anime space adventure, with giant starships and futuristic technology. You could cut the film down the middle, exorcise the references about Godzilla, and the first half would just be a straight sci-fi tale about a fractured society returning to their home after a planet-affecting event.
Despite this, there are some details and backstories that are rushed over and can almost be totally missed in the plot. Humankind has mixed with two new alien races (the Exif and the Bilusaludo) that have differing reasons for aligning with the Earth refugees, but you’ll be mostly hard-placed to spot them or understand their motives amongst the despondent humans. The apparently corrupt human committee is left in the background, as are all of the character’s histories apart from Sakaki and Metphies (an Exif priest with shifty motives). Although to be fair, there are probably plenty of incidental details that may be more accessible to the Japanese audience rather than Western viewers. A slight tut-tut as well for titling the movie “Planet of The Monsters”, raising everyone’s hope and then just showing two brief skirmishes with flying mini-zillas. That’s it?
Onto the real reason for attention here though, namely the big guy himself. As shown in promos and suchlike, this is the biggest interpretation of the monster so far. And he does impress to an extent. Represented as a pure mountain-sized mass of sinew and knotted muscle, the grumpy-faced behemoth won’t win any land-speed records but is pretty awesome in his appearance. Like “Shin Godzilla”, this is a merciless killing machine with a chip on his shoulder for homo-sapiens. In fact, the central basis of the film is a “Death Star”-like objective where he’s pummelled with distracting decoys, enabling the characters to exploit a hoped-for tiny weakness. The effects for Godzilla are a little variable to be honest, at certain points it’s a little jerky in movement, but then in some scenes the animation and physicality is silky-smooth and pretty impressive, almost becoming photo-realistic. It’s a nice contrast with the standard anime images.
In fact, some of the visuals involved in the film can be pretty stunning. There’s a great use of light and shading on the characters, which makes it look different to the usual brightly-coloured anime that’s out there. And whilst it takes a while getting there and fulfilling its promise, the climactic confrontation is pretty stirring stuff. There are long sequences of jet bikes zipping around the giant monster, whilst exo-suited soldiers and futuristic tanks bombard the antagonist, not to mention explosions and all matter of carnage. That alone makes it worth a viewing. Along with frequent serious-faced dialogue like; “Watch out for the Atomic Breath!!”
There are unexplored elements dropped in there that are intentionally left hanging for sequels. Godzilla is teased to be the tool of some kind of Supreme Being designed to punish the unworthy, humans are apparently being indoctrinated into the Exif religion, and there’s an ending and post-credits sequence that shamelessly sets up the next movie. And what was that thing a character referred to earlier? A “Mechagodzilla”, you say? So in some ways, it’s a little unsatisfying for those that want unbridled monster-mashing, but it does throw some intriguing sci-fi ideas at the wall, creating a whole new dimension for the title character that is way different to what you may expect. It’s probably more likely to work for fans of anime, rather than those who are Godzilla completists, but it’s still an intriguing take on the monster.
The second film in the trilogy will be titled “Gojira: Kessen Kidō Zōshoku Toshi”, which bewilderingly translates as “Godzilla: Battle Mobile Breeding City” or “Godzilla: The City Mechanized for the Final Battle” and will be released in Japan in May 2018. Hopefully with the “origin” story out of the way now, the more interesting themes can be explored and (more importantly) there’ll be a greater emphasis on some terrific 3D/CG monster battles (possibly with a certain mechanised colossus). Certainly worth catching on VOD, but be prepared for plenty of sci-fi rather than cry-&-fry.
An occasionally gorgeous and sometimes spectacular anime, “Godzilla: POTM” builds some good groundwork for a new dimension of the iconic Kaiju. As a standalone feature though it’s a little bit wanting, and has a bundle of techno-babble and rushed backstory, rather than the anticipated monster-bashing. The merging of traditional animation and (variable) CG is mostly eye-catching though, and bodes well for the next “episode” of this interpretation.
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