GODZILLA: PLANET OF THE MONSTERS (2017)
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a movie I’d been intending to write about since I first saw it arrive on Netflix. I actually sat down and watched it in its first month or two with a friend of mine. I remember that I enjoyed it, for the most part, so I wanted to review the spectacle to give viewers the final word on whether or not it was worth watching before Godzilla: King Of The Monsters movie came out.
In the summer of 1999, giant monsters attack Earth. Humanity is brought to the brink of extinction. One monster destroys all others: Godzilla. At the same time, two alien races come to Earth, each race with its own agenda. The religious Exif want to spread their Christianity-like religion to all. The technologically superior Bilusaludo race offer humans help in the fight against Godzilla. But the Bilusaludo had previously constructed a machine of their own making, a Mechagodzilla. This weapon failed to activate, and both of the alien races and humans were forced to abandon Earth. They hoped to immigrate to Tau Ceti e, or Tau-e, via their combined spaceship, Aratrum, which holds all three races. Cold, hungry, and tired, the three races, humanity included, are fighting for survival aboard the Aratrum. Tau-e is their last hope.
Haruo Sakaki (Mamoru Miyano, Soul Eater, Death Note), a military Captain, is a man with a troubled past. He holds a great vendetta toward Godzilla when he watched his parents die in the slaughter as humanity tried to escape Godzilla’s clutches. He believes that Tau-e will not support any life at all. In a last-ditch effort, he barricades himself inside a shuttle that has bombs installed on it. He threatens to blow everything up unless the committee responsible for putting together Tau-e’s scout team stands down and rescinds their order to send an elderly scout mission to Tau-e’s surface. Haruo’s last remaining family, his grandfather, is among them. The committee refuses, and Haruo is handcuffed and left to rot in a cell. Through a window in his cell, he sees the scout team proceed. The scout team’s shuttle immediately explodes upon entering Tau-e’s atmosphere.
Anguished, but undeterred, Haruo anonymously writes and publishes a scientific paper illustrating all of Godzilla’s weak points. Metphies (Takahiro Sakurai, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children), a priest of the Exif, is a friend of Haruo and feeds him data so that he can write his project. Upon completion, Metphies manipulates the committee into arranging Haruo’s bail so that Haruo can become part of the team to take down Godzilla. The committee, comprised of all three races, the Exif, the Bilosaludo, and the humans, agrees to release Haruo. But only once they run the numbers and determine that humanity doesn’t have a hope in hell of finding another habitable planet. Their only recourse is to turn back to Earth and face down Godzilla.
The struggle then becomes who is for fighting Godzilla, a colossal beast who “cannot be killed”. Or, those who are willing to risk everything to destroy Godzilla, or die trying. The team assembled is a group of military types, like Haruo and his nemesis Eliott Leland (Daisuke Ono, Attack On Titan), engineers, and scientists like the environmental biologist Martin Lazzari (Tomokazu Sugita, Gintama) all engaged in the mission to bring down the beast.
To begin with, Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bit of a tough watch. A huge story exposition dump and a lot of alienating technobabble frontload this film. In the beginning, what the film suffers a lot from is just poor writing. If the script had been cleaned up a bit, they would have been able to expedite the details without labouring over each scene.
One criticism of Godzilla: Planet Of The Monsters I noticed when I was reading about it is that the characters are all a bit flat and do not really have any character development to differentiate themselves from one another. I would say that I had no trouble telling the characters (and the professions they were defined by) apart. But I struggled in knowing their motivations if they had any. What was Leland’s motivation in stopping the mission, and why did it change? What was Yuko’s motivation for being part of the mission, other than her adoration of Haruo? I wish that they’d had a couple more scenes to flesh these concepts out, it would have completed the package.
Haruo seems the most well-realized character, given that Godzilla: Planet Of The Monsters spends the most time on him. He’s been driven to do terrible things to try to save his people, and at the back of his mind, he never forgets who is really responsible for Earth’s refugees: Godzilla. Like Packard in Kong: Skull Island, his madness and intensity go a long way to giving him that “Ahab”-like focus on hunting the monster. I like rooting for the underdog as well, and the fact that only Metphies and Yuko stand with him in his hunt for Godzilla makes that interesting as well. I’m curious what the story writers will do with him in the next chapter.
Finally, what really sells Godzilla: Planet Of The Monsters for me is the animation. The action sequences and the great shots of Godzilla feel fresh and new. That 3D animation that Polygon Pictures does is amazing. Having watched a bit of anime, I can see the substantial difference between regular anime and this. I have to say, I’m surprised, but also pleased, that they were able to pull off a Japan-animated film about Godzilla. For all that the movie is dry when the fighting’s not happening, it is fearless and exciting when the fighting is.
And with that animation, and a beautiful array of colours, the gritty sci-fi world of Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters comes to life. The screen time that the monster Godzilla actually gets is about half the amount that, say, Kong would get in Kong: Skull Island, only about a solid half-hour in a movie that’s about an hour and twenty. But the creators didn’t skimp on the monster’s animation, either, making Godzilla the biggest and beefiest we’ve seen him yet. And despite his colossal bulk and initial sedentary battle tactics, this monster can move. And move the monster does. Godzilla’s damage in this film is pretty devastating.
Bottom line is, I know there are three installments of this Japanese Godzilla story on Netflix, and the first chapter, Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is serviceable. It’s enough to make me want to watch the next two films. But probably not enough that I would rush out and buy the movie to own on DVD. It would also be hard to recommend to other friends who are fans of Godzilla, since the info dump at the beginning makes the film hard to get into. Once it gets past the exposition, though, the film picks up speed. Though, it would be easier to recommend if the movie is consumed in English. I watched it with subtitles.
Overall, I’m grateful that Netflix is able to provide movies like this to the public. Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters was streamed on Netflix in over 190 countries. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can watch it with Japanese subtitles. If you have any interest at all in Godzilla and monster movies, check out Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters. Satisfying your curiosity may be worth jumping the hurdles.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is currently stomping around on Netflix.