Godzilla: Monster Planet Review (Minor Spoilers)

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Originally titled “Gojira: Kaiju Wakusei” in Japan, Godzilla: Monster Planet was first intended to be an anime TV series but plans were changed. Due to the deal with Legendary Pictures, (Who made the 2014 American film Godzilla), Toho Studios decided not to make a sequel to the award-wining Shin Godzilla (AKA Godzilla Resurgence) but still wanted Godzilla to have original cinematic material in Japan since the 65th anniversary of Gojira is coming up. Therefore, they turned their intended anime into a 90-minute film, which is meant to be the start of a trilogy. Does the film work? Yeah, mostly. There are problems, but it works.

The story: By 2048, Kaiju are overrunning the Earth and the deadliest of all is Godzilla. Humans flee the planet in a gigantic space ark provided by a benign and spiritual alien race known as the Exif. They intend to resettle on the planet Tau Ceti, but find it totally unsuitable for human life. After spending 20 years wandering space, unsuccessfully searching for a habitable world, all hope has faded and morale has disappeared. Supplies are almost gone and they find they have no choice but to return to Earth. Having spent 20 years travelling at light speed, they discover that 20,000 years have passed on Earth while they were gone. The planet has mutated into a savage forest, and flying beasts called Servum pick off the new arrivals. Everything is different except for one thing—Godzilla is still around! The last half of the film consists of an elaborate scheme and kinetic action sequences, as the returning Earth forces try to destroy Godzilla and reclaim their home.

As Toho told us in the promotional material, this is the biggest Godzilla ever, by a long margin. Godzilla has been getting bigger and bigger with each incarnation. He started out at 164 feet (50 meters) in 1954’s Gojira, and kept growing, until Shin Godzilla, where he was 390 feet (118 meters). The larger of the two Godzilla’s in this movie is 1,000 feet high (300 meters). He’s ridiculously big, because even Shin Godzilla is knee-high to this one.  He has a very muscular frame, and on ominous dark hue.

We’re told that this Godzilla is a hyper-evolved ancient hybrid based on plant life, rather than a mutated dinosaur. Over many thousands of years, he’s grown into a mountain-sized monstrosity. His powers have altered as well. Instead of his traditional nuclear heat ray, he has a particle beam generated by an energy bubble be produces. He also has a force field, generated from his dorsal spines. This is a massively overpowered and scary Godzilla.

The movie begins with a sort of Pacific Rim vibe, but soon changes into something like Battlestar Galactica, and finally into a classic Godzilla vs. the military scenario. The whole thing is inspired by some of the classic anime shows of the past, like Starblazers. The basic premise is a new and rather unique take on Godzilla. We’ve never seen the King of Monsters in this far future setting before. It makes for a nice change.

The flying Servum are similar to the little Gaos creatures from the beginning of the excellent Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. We’re told that the Servum, like much of the monster planet, were spawned from the larger Godzilla, known as “Earth Godzilla”. In fact, we discover that most of the plant life has grown from Earth Godzilla and spread.

Let’s look at the good and the bad of Godzilla: Monster Planet.

The Good: The animation and art design are excellent. The realistic looking cel-shaded style suits the mood of the film. The whole film has a consistent, foreboding tone from the start. The opening sequence is excellent and gets things started with a bang (literally), and helps establish the character of our main character Captain Haruo Sakaki.

Captain Sakaki is the hero of the story and he has a well-established motivation. His parents were killed by Godzilla before he left Earth, when he was a child. His grandfather is killed in space and he blames this on Godzilla, too. He absolutely hates Godzilla! Haruo has bonded with one of the aliens—named Metphies—who accompanied the humans to space. Metphies is supportive of Haruo, even when everyone else thinks his Captain Ahab-like obsession with Godzilla makes him reckless. Haruo is the one who comes up with the plan to kill Godzilla and leads the attack. The final battle is a fun, excellent action sequence, with great visuals.  And Godzilla looks truly intimidating.

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The Bad: The characters are too bland. Aside from Haruo, none of the characters have any real personalities. Even Metphies seems underdeveloped. There’s only one female character that I can recall, named Yuko Tani, and she also suffers from being rather forgettable. The whole focus is on Haruo. Everyone else is an afterthought.  The fact that they all wear identical uniforms and helmets makes them all seem very generic.  

There is also far too much exposition. A big chunk of the movie is mostly techno-babble and big information dumps. While the film has a strong opening and a cool, exciting ending, the whole middle section is just people monologuing. It gets a little tedious.

The film is also lacking in regard to establishing the future Earth. We know its covered in fog and forests, and there are Servum flying around, but don’t know much else. We don’t see the other monsters. Are there any others left? Did Godzilla kill them all? We don’t know. If there are no other monsters, why not settle on the opposite side of the planet from Godzilla? If there still are other monsters around, why do the humans think killing Godzilla will make Earth safe for them? It’s all unclear. They should have elaborated on this more. It’s very disappointing that we don’t get to see much of the other monsters. We get brief cameos at the beginning from Rodan, Hedorah, Kamacuras and Orga, but other than that, we only see the Godzillas. Considering the movie is called Monster Planet, it seems to be lacking monsters.

Most of the flaws in this movie probably come from the fact that this was originally written as an ongoing series but will now be condensed into three 90-minute movies. The lack of character development or proper world building can be explained by the fact that a season’s worth of storytelling is being squeezed into this movie. Even the excess of technobabble would be more palatable if it were spread over a course of weeks.

On the whole, though, despite these flaws, Godzilla: Planet of Monsters is entertaining. It’s not the best Godzilla movie ever but it’s far from the worst. The exciting final half-hour makes the weaker parts of the film worth it. I’d recommend this for any Godzilla fan, Kaiju fan or diehard anime fan.

The second part of the trilogy, which will feature Mecha-Godzilla (who has a mini-cameo here) comes out later this year. The third part will be out in early 2019, which is the 65th anniversary of Godzilla. This anime franchise will help fill in the gap for people who are waiting for the next live-action film Godzilla: King of the Monsters in the summer of 2019, and Godzilla vs. Kong which will come out in 2020.

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There is plenty of Godzilla coming up in the future, and that’s always a good thing.