Godzilla: Planet Of The Monsters (Godzilla: Kaijuu Wakusei)
Japan (2017) Dirs. Hiroyuki Seshita & Kobun Shizuno
The Japanese version of the King Of Monsters is back already following his most recent big screen excursion Shin Godzilla but this time it is in animation form as part of a new trilogy of films, distributed via Netflix for global audiences.
Set in 2048, the human race has been forced to flee the Earth after failing to defend it from Godzilla and other monsters, their twenty-year journey taking them to another planet named Tau Ceti e. However, upon arrival they find the planet is uninhabitable and conditions on their ship the Aratrum are hardly any better, forcing the need to find a new solution.
On board the Aratrum is Haruo Sakaki, a teenager harbouring a deep-rooted hatred for Godzilla after witnessing his parents’ death at the hands of the great monster. Having vowed to get revenge, Haruo spearheads a movement to return to Earth and reclaim it from the monsters once and for all. Having successfully made the journey back to Earth, they find its eco system now revolves around Godzilla himself.
Anyone familiar with sci-fi anime will recognise any of the plot beats in the story of this latest entry into the seven-decade existence of this enduring franchise, having been the central concept driving many a series. If however, you are coming into this purely as a Godzilla fan for completion sake, this will assuredly read like an excitingly original and fertile premise to posit the legendary monster in.
In theory, it is and for a little while it does appear as though Godzilla has been brought into modernity by eschewing the usual destructive rampage through Tokyo scenario driving practically every other film outing. Unfortunately, prolific writer Gen Urobuchi has taken the trilogy idea a bit too seriously and decided to the use the bulk of the opening chapter to lay out its political, human drama agenda.
The result is an 88-minute films in which the final 30 minutes are full of great action, leaving the preceding 58 to be filled with prolix discussions, occasional exposition and uninspired conflicts between the poorly fleshed out characters. With the Aratrum being akin to Battlestar Galactica in containing passengers that are a mix of human and alien exiles Urobuchi is remiss in not finding a way to make this more interesting.
Similarly, no real effort has been made to distinguish the aliens from the humans; an Exif priest named Metphies adopting the role of covert catalyst for Haruo getting his way, has white skin and sports a white robe for his attire, otherwise he barely stands out as anything extra-terrestrial against the erstwhile Earth dwellers around him.
Haruo is akin to every teen protagonist of a mecha series, full of anger, angst and self-righteous motives. In the opening, we see Harou locked in a shuttle threatening to bomb Tau Ceti e if the emigration plan isn’t axed, suspecting the superiors are trying to reduce numbers on board the Aratrum by condemning the elderly to their death.
Despite being proven right when a shuttle of passengers explodes before reaching the surface, Haruo is imprisoned until Metphies’ malfeasance helps him convince the central committee that returning to Earth and fighting Godzilla is the only way forward. A recon-scouting mission to Earth reveals that not only has the eco-system realigned itself around Godzilla but also 20,000 years have passed as a result, though it’s only been 20 years for them.
It’s all high concept stuff with a relevant ecological theme to explore that at least shows Urobuchi is keen to take Godzilla into new directions, and he is usually competent and smart enough to make it work. Maybe it is the trilogy format that is the cause, giving Urobuchi a wider canvas to paint on, but making the first instalment so unspeakably dull is likely to prove detrimental to creating interest for the next chapters.
However there is redemption in the final act, where we get to see the Haruo led attack squadron make their first attempt to destroy the mighty Godzilla with a daring plan upon which the future of humanity precariously hinges. Being a CGI animation the film naturally comes alive at this point, a bombastic display of ground and aerial assaults against an invincible behemoth, the fluidity of the space ships aerial motions especially standing out.
The cell drawn renderings of the human characters is on a par with other productions employing the same technique like God Eater, blending a little better with the CG backgrounds than many of its predecessors. Sadly, Godzilla looks decidedly terrible. Moving in painful slow motion and with little definition, he resembles a giant lump of coal, the blackened veneer contrasting badly with everything on screen, his eyes almost imperceptible.
Polygon Pictures may have got the blessing from Toho to go their own way with their prized creation in terms of story and design, and directors Hiroyuki Seshita & Kobun Shizuno seem to think they have created something great with this look but I wasn’t feeling it at all, finding it hard to recognise this ponderous and near inert chunk of granite as Godzilla.
Aside from the soporific effect of the garrulous first hour and egregious abuse of the story’s potential, the main thing I took away from this film was how much better it would have been as a traditional 2D anime – specifically Godzilla himself. In trying too hard to make him appear realistic the reverse has happened; perhaps if animated under the traditional method it would have yielded a more visually and physically convincing monster.
In all honesty, Godzilla: Planet Of The Monsters does less to entice audiences to stick around for the sequels than it should, yet there is a tiny bit of niggling charity left within me to give Urobuchi the benefit of the doubt and wonder if the worst is out of the way in this underperforming film, and the best is yet to come. It can’t get any worse, surely?