Ever since Godzilla made a triumphant return to the big screen in 2014 thanks to Legendary Pictures, the King of the Monsters has enjoyed a resurgence. TOHO released Shin Godzilla in 2016, crushing the Japanese box office. In 2019, Godzilla will once again return to American theaters, and in 2020, he will do battle with King Kong. In short, it’s a great time to be a fan. The latest film, Planet of the Monsters, marks a special achievement for the series: it is the first animated Godzilla film. Yes, there have been animated shows starring the king – namely the Hanna-Barbera show from the ’70s and the Animated Series two decades later – but this picture is the first film. Released January 17th on Netflix worldwide, Planet of the Monsters – Part 1 gives viewers new characters, new continuity, and most importantly, a new Godzilla. It’s a well made film, though suffers in some areas.
It begins in space where we meet our main character, Haruo Sakaki. He believes the elderly are getting sent off so there are fewer people to feed. It’s an effective sequence demonstrating the type of character Haruo is: passionate. After he’s arrested, we’re shown the title screen and then the most tension-filled part of the movie, the flashback. Here Haruo tells the viewer what happened at the end of the 20th century on Earth. Monsters rose up (including some familiar faces such as Orga and Kamacurus), and eventually Godzilla came. Two aliens species, the Exif and the Bilusaludo, also arrived. This was the prefect setup; it’s a shame it was told in this format instead of showing in detail the world getting taken over. Part 1 isn’t that long, so there was enough time in the beginning to further detail the flashback sequence. But, what we do get is still effective. Godzilla blows up a rocket that is trying to escape, which also kills Haruo’s parents. Soon, we’re back in the modern day.
This storyline of a human wanting to get revenge on Godzilla is nothing new. We’ve seen that in Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, and Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. For the many going into Planet of the Monsters having never seen those films, this plot point will seem original. But for longtime Godzilla fans, the thought, “Here we go again…” may cross. But, the plot point is handled well for the most part. This is thanks to the passionate nature of Haruo’s character. Everyone on the spaceship seems to be content with looking for a habitable planet to colonize. Not Haruo. He’s passionate about Earth and taking it back from Godzilla. One of the best scenes is him arguing with Leland over retreating. Leland is not wrong when he says retreat is realistically the only option. The flying monsters were unexpected, and lives were lost. One can’t help but admire the dedication from Haruo as he argues with Leland, whether or not Haruo is in the right for talking against retreat.
This being a shorter film (only 88 minutes), there is not a lot of time for character development. The heroine of the story is Yuko Tani. Her only real development is the line, “I want to get stronger!” Beyond that, she isn’t given much to do. She has the potential to be an interesting character (voiced by Cristina Vee of Shantae fame), so hopefully she does more in the sequel. The most interesting character aside from the protagonist is Metphies, an Exif. His smart and sometimes ominous dialogue is interesting, and by the end, the viewer does not know what to expect from this guy in Part 2.
It takes a bit before the characters return to Earth. Some of the scenes in the spaceship border on the boring side, but there’s nothing too dull. The exchange between Metphies and Mulu-Elu Galu-Gu was particularly interesting. There’s some exposition as Haruo explains his plan to get past Godzilla’s defenses and destroy the monster from within. It’s told in a sciencey, but understandable way. When the characters finally arrive on Earth, things start to get interesting. Before we talk about Godzilla himself, let us discuss the film’s original monster. Though not named in the film, the flying monsters mentioned earlier in the review are called Servum. Their first sequence was well executed; it went down like something out of a horror movie. But, after that, these vicious creatures aren’t given much to do. Honestly, it felt like they were just there to satisfy the “Planet of the Monsters” title. (Other than Godzilla and the Servum, no other monsters appear in the present day.)
Godzilla. The name is one of the most iconic in popular culture. This version of the king has a unique new look, but you can still tell it’s him. Though standard animation would have been preferable (imagine if Production I.G did the animation), one can’t deny how magnificent Godzilla looks thanks to the CGI. From the closeups to the distance shots of him firing his atomic ray, Godzilla looks great. Sadly, he isn’t given too much to do. He remains typically in an almost static position firing atomic blasts. He does get one nice scene of using his tail. But, there are no buildings to crush and no monsters to fight. This leads to a rather dull climax. The final battle features a bunch of air vehicles shooting Godzilla, and the latter retaliates with an atomic blast. Rinse and repeat.
The soundtrack is solid. The soldiers’ theme evokes the classic TOHO military march. Godzilla himself gets an epic theme, similar to what was heard in Shin Godzilla. There is an after-credits scene. Haruo wakes up, apparently rescued by the mysterious girl we saw briefly running around in the bushes earlier in the film. She makes a sound of surprise…and that’s it. We know nothing about this character, so the cliffhanger does little to build anticipation for Part 2. (How about showcasing a monster reveal in a film called Planet of the Monsters?)
Like with a lot of Godzilla movies, there is a running theme. In Ghidorah, it was about putting aside differences and utilizing teamwork against a larger threat. In Hedorah, it was about fighting pollution. In this movie, it’s about human pride. The pride to fight, to not give up when things look bleak, and to press on knowing you might not make it. The speech Haruo makes when he’s put in charge exemplifies this: “If we stand our ground, we don’t show fear and if we put our lives on the line, we’ve already won.” It’s still hard to root against Godzilla, but one can’t help but want to see the human characters succeed in their endeavor. It’s an interesting conundrum. Godzilla is Godzilla, it’s hard to root against him. But thanks to Haruo’s unwillingness to relent, the viewer can’t help but root for him as well.
Overall, Planet of the Monsters gives viewers an intriguing status quo, but a bit of an underwhelming film. It’s not bad by any stretch. The story is good. The idea of Godzilla driving away humanity and somehow living on Earth for 20,000 years is epically interesting. There are some exciting moments (make sure you have your surround sound speakers ready for Godzilla’s roar near the end), and an engaging main character. The problem is that it doesn’t feel much like an actual “planet of monsters.” The battle scenes against Godzilla are fun for a bit, but during the climax the thought, “I wish he were fighting another monster” will probably occur. The Servum sadly don’t contribute much. It’s understandable that Part 1 would focus as setup. It’s a good enough story to make the viewer anticipate the next part in Godzilla’s anime saga.