Directors: Kobun Shizuno & Hiroyuki Seshita
Writer: Gen Urobuchi
Composer: Takayuki Hattori
Starring: Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Tomokazu Sugita, Junichi Suwabe, Kenta Miyake, Kana Hanazawa
Genre: Science Fiction, Anime
As Legendary Pictures and Toho continue to work on their upcoming slate of Godzilla films, fans of the legendary monster can enjoy a quick digression into the world of anime with this first part in a trilogy of Godzilla films. Set in the far off distant future, we meet a group of colonists attempting to resettle the Earth long after its destruction at the hands of the King of the Monsters.
Violence Monsters attack humans in multiple scenes. They swallow them whole or cause them to fall to their deaths. A man is shot in the head. None of this is directly depicted however some blood is seen.
Language/Crude Humor: Occasional use of the s-word and b*****d.
Sexual content: None.
Drug/Alcohol Use: None.
Spiritual Content: An alien race is depicted as believers of a largely disregarded religious cult.
Other Negative Themes: The colonists are depicted living in a dystopian society where members are regularly killed by their leaders for political reasons and where starvation is rampant.
Positive Content: Strong depiction of righteous indignation and the desire to see justice.
The Godzilla franchise has been in a bizarre place since its 2014 revival. One would think that the return of the greatest monster in cinematic history (King Kong is debatable) would’ve meant more than it ultimately has but bizarrely there really hasn’t been the noticeable groundswell in regards to the people producing these pictures rushing to make more of them. The 2014 American remake of the classic 1954 original was in most senses of the word a respectable film. It marked Gareth Edward’s first major success in Hollywood before moving on to direct Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and did respectably well in the box office to warrant a pair of sequels to get ordered by Legendary Pictures: Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Godzilla vs Kong.
Unfortunately after booking Michael Dougherty (Trick R Treat, Krampus) and Adam Wingard (You’re Next, Blair Witch) to direct the two films respectively, significant delays pushed both of the sequels back from their planned 2017 initial release date for the first sequel and pushed them back to 2019 and 2020. That means there will be a five-year gap between a pretty good blockbuster film and its sequels. That’s a long time to keep an audience that may not be there waiting.
On the other side of the ocean in Japan, the franchise’s original studio subsequently decided to jump back into the fray with their own modern take on the franchise. Shin Godzilla/Godzilla Resurgence ultimately ended up being a critically acclaimed retelling of the first film, one of the few movies in the franchise that’s been able to go extremely dark and work and find something interesting and new to say about the franchise’s themes. Unfortunately for the film’s producers at Toho whatever traction the film had built for an immediate sequel were dashed by a very unfortunate reality. As of this year, Legendary pictures still holds exclusive rights to the Godzilla franchise and rights won’t revert back to Toho until 2020 at the earliest. We won’t be seeing a proper Japanese Godzilla film for at least another three years or more.
In the midst of the intense fray of all these potentially awesome movies getting pushed off into the distant future, Toho did manage to take the reigns on a strange side project to fill the edges of the long wait between movies. A three-part trilogy of anime films was announced by Toho to bridge the time between major film releases with major names in the anime industry attached like Kobun Shinzuno, Hiroyuki Seshita, and Gen Urobuchi attached to direct and writer.
Whatever can be said about this trilogy going forward, at least it can be said that there was someone at Toho with their head on straight long enough to keep movies coming out consistently. Still, the ridiculous pencil measuring contest currently ongoing between Toho, Legendary Pictures, and the other half of Toho in regards to who can make the largest iteration of Godzilla is a bit ridiculous. In the duration of three films, the titular monster has increased three times in size just to accommodate the multiple teams of the writers’ international raspberry blowing contest.
This attitude speaks to the main problem with the first film in the trilogy, Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters. It’s a uniquely animated anime film with some fascinating ideas boiling under the surface that ultimately succumbs to its inert story. As the plot begins we meet the last remnants of humanity aboard a cramped and starving colony ship in the far-flung distant future after a massive rampage by Godzilla and numerous other kaiju resulted in the destruction of Earth habitability. With limited resources and options, the crew decides to return to Earth to determine if their home planet is safe for recolonization only to come to the realization that the planet is highly infested with kaiju.
The film borrows heavily from the original 1968 Planet of the Apes in regards to plot and title but makes some noticeably huge mistakes along the way. The first being Planet of Monsters is an excessively emotionally detached film that’s trying to sell itself on its premise and themes at the expense of its characters. That isn’t to say that there aren’t several interesting side characters that show up in the proceedings but the lead is given almost nothing to do.
The fascinating opening scene of the film carries with it a great deal of emotional and thematic wait but much of what it introduces immediately becomes background material for the duration of the film’s plot. Additionally, it’s rather clear that Toho rather abruptly chopped the plot to the trilogy apart at the seams of a single story and thus the first part is ravenously incomplete as it means to go on and then subsequently ends in a different version of the same place it started. This could reasonably change over the course of the other two-thirds of the films but momentarily all we have is the first act of a three-act play.
The film was directed by Knights of Sidonia veterans Kobun Shinzuno and Hiroyuki Seshita and written by Madoka Magica and Psycho-Pass scribe Gen Urobuchi. This is not an untalented lot of animation specialists. Whatever can be said negatively about their past and current work they all showed up to this film with their best foot forward. Urobuchi’s script pours out a mournful sadness about the predicament of mankind that allows for a solid place of moral ambiguity and seething emotions to be built into the main characters. The central conflict of our characters needing to survive and wanting revenge against Godzilla is a fascinating moral dilemma on paper that unfortunately never gets played out to its full degree.
From a visual standpoint the film is approached in the same bizarre but unique style of 3D anime similar to their previous work on Knights of Sidonia but here it works fairly well. 3D animation in anime is a bit off-putting considering how rare it is and difficult to execute but Shinzuno and Seshita found an excellent middle ground to work with that allows for expressive character models, beautifully designed spaceships and environment designs, and a final design for Godzilla that justifies everything else in and of itself. Sadly in spite of the hard work of these professionals the final product comes across as a film less than the sum of its parts.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is an amusing distraction but does little to scratch the itch of long-term fans of Godzilla wanting the return of the bigger films. The story and dark themes offer some interesting lore and action for fans but the lack of strong characters and storytelling makes it a film that’s somewhat doomed to be forgotten as anything but an anomaly by die-hard kaiju fans. We won’t know for sure naturally until mid-summer of this year when the second part of the trilogy drops online. Until then, approach this if your itch for Godzilla needs to be scratched but consult any of the franchise’s thirty-one other films for a place to start.
The Bottom Line
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a fun distraction for the drowning Godzilla fans waiting for future films in the beloved franchise. While the first chapter offers potentially interesting stories in the two planned sequels the first chapter is a largely inert story.