Before we do anything else, though – what’s this? Two Godzilla movies in as many years after a decade-long dry spell, relieved only by the mediocrity of Gareth Edwards? My cup runneth over…especially since this one’s an anime. Granted, Shin Gojira felt like an anime. But, in a first for the series, Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters…or Monster Planet, I’ve seen both translations so I’m just going to put both in the tags…is an actual, no shit, “everyone on this side of the Pacific is going to dismiss it as ‘a cartoon,’” anime.
Directed by the guy who did Knights of Sidonia – another 3D CGI animation from Polygon Pictures, localized by Netflix – and written by one of the most bankable and notorious dudes in the business: Gen Urobutchi – affectionately known to those of us who watched more than two of his shows as “The Urobutcher.” And you don’t have to get very far into this to see why. Within five minutes, we’re watching our protagonist helplessly watch his grandfather die in an entirely predictable shuttle accident. Then, right after the titles, we flash back to our protagonist’s parent’s death at the hands…claws…well, technically “nuclear fire”…of Godzilla. The Urobutcher strikes hard and fast when he’s only got 90 minutes to spare.
Said protagonist is Haruo Sakaki, a young captain aboard the arc ship Aratrum. In this wacky parallel dimension, giant monsters began attacking cities in “the last summer of the 20th century.” (I’ll let all the pedants argue about whether that means the summer 1999 or the summer 2000 – both were equally horrible for their own reasons.) Godzilla was the worst of them, as usual, and all attempts to stop him – even those aided by apparently-helpful visiting aliens, the Exif – failed. As usual. Eventually, abandoning Earth became humanities only good option…but 20 years of searching for another habitable planet of have turned up precisely dick. Food and water are running low, and Aratrum’s last 4000-or-so souls are starting to give up hope.
Our story proper opens with Captain Sakaki (I think they mean Army Captain as opposed to Navy Captain – he’s not very high up the ship’s pecking order) thrown into the brig for pushing a conspiracy theory about how the ship’s Central Committee wants to kill the elderly. Haruo’s wrong about that…maybe…but ship’s priest Metphies thinks he might be right about something else: that they should turn this whole shit-show around, return to Earth, and kill Godzilla. Haruo’s even come up with a plan that Metphies is happy to publish on the ship’s internet, annoying the hell out of the Committee and forcing them to actually turn on the warp drive.
When they get back to Earth, though, the magic of time-dilation means 20,000 years have passed…and not only is Godzilla still alive, but the Earth’s biosphere has begun adapting to him. Electromagnetic fog clouds the air, the flora is turning into something closer to metal than chlorophyl…and within minutes, flying dragon-looking monsters attack the landing party. Will Haruo’s plan still succeed, even with their equipment wrecked, Godzilla bearing down on them, and the fact Haruo’s a known trouble-maker only Metphies seems to like? And will some horrific twist occur at the last minute, ruthlessly crushing everyone’s hopes and dreams?
Well, since this is a Gen Urobuchi script, that last one’s a pretty foregone conclusion. Monster Planet is a…decent enough introduction to his body of work…though I’m obliged to recommend Psycho-Pass. It’s like if Minority Report and Equilibrium had a baby. Better characters, too…though that might be a factor of the amount of time I’ve spent with them, and the fact that series is complete. At least Harou gets to display a human emotion from the start, even if its only anger. He’s proactive, even when he’s in the brig, and his world is fascinating enough that I was left wanting to see more of it. That’s supposed to be a good thing…right?
Maybe it’s because I just watched Blade Runner, but I swear there are some serious Philip K. Dick influences creeping around the edges here. This is Godzilla as, if not Hard Sci-fi, than certainly Harder-Than-Usual. We get warp drives and mech suits and holograms and plenty of technobable. The Exifs even have their own religion…that may or may not be part of a plot to brainwash humanity. That’s brought up as a joke…but then again, Metphies mentions Mecha-Godzilla (say that three times fast) and that’s not a joke, it’s a sequel hook.
It’s too bad this setting necessitates devoting the whole first act to exposition, mostly getting us up to speed with this universe’s history and the Aratrum’s internal politics. A lot of time’s spent oogling the technology of this not-too-distant-oh-wait-actually-really-distant future, and I don’t know if that’s our director’s fault or the fault of our corporate overlords, who see anime as an Overpriced Toy Delivery System before they see it as anythign else. I’m not up on my Kōbun Shizuno. I only watched Knights because (a) it was on Netflix, and (b) (as you might’ve noticed) I’m a sucker for stories about giant robots…especially ones that end up fighting Godzilla. The asymetry of twenty-foot tall mechs and Godzilla’s three-hundred-feet-plus bulk is a carry-over from Sidonia, whose aliens could shape-shift into forms the size of cities…but we can skip all the usual stuff about how the themes of this film fit fits into a director’s body of work and just focus on them in a vacume…get it…?
There’s something to be said for fighting against a future of hopeless resignation to horrible circumstances. And Haruo says it, in his big motivational speech, after he becomes leader of this doomed expedition due to everyone above him dying. It’s the first time we see him display passion for something besides hating on Godzilla. Not just because the Big G killed his parents – though, duh – but also because Haruo figures Godzilla stole humanity’s home world from us – killing our parents on a planetary scale, you might say. Dooming us all to a life without pride, or joy or hope.
As he was in his last film, Godzilla is entropy incarnate. The all-consuming force of total destruction. Stare into its hollow eyes and face The Horror. It is inevitable. And we can either resign ourselves to this fact, or we can join with our friends and fellow shipmates and try to acomplish something greater than ourselves.
All of which is…interesting…at first…but as time goes on and plans have to be improvised, it gets unfortunately flat. As is nearly every character who isn’t Haruo. Metphies teases Haruo (and us) with peaks at the Exifs’ religion, and how Godzilla isn’t the first Category 5 Kaiju they’ve seen wipe a sentient race off it’s homeworld…but, again, it’s just a tease. Like the fact that, for something called “planet of monsters” we only really see two – Godzilla, and the dragons – outside of brief cameos in flashback you have to pause to visually comprehend. They didn’t even do the obvious move that I expected them to do – that Gareth Edwards did in his first movie. “Son Los Mostruos” – “they are the monsters” – meaning “we are the monsters – meaning the Planet of Monsters was Earth all along and you maniacs, you finally did it! You blew it up! Damn you all to Hell!
The Sudden But Inevitable Twist is pretty predictable, too. So much so that I don’t even want to spoil it, for once. As if the damn Wikipedia doesn’t already spoil the fact this is the first part of a planned trilogy.Not that that’s a bad thing, but still, there is a downside to these planned rilogies – why shoot for the moon the first time out when you have two more rockets idling on the pad. Better to treat it like the first act of a movie – get all the exposition out of the way, establish all the rules you can go on to fuck with…and hope you still have some good ideas by the time you get to Movie 3.
When I started posting screenshots on Twitter, one of my friends asked if they were from Godzilla 2014 or the latest Toho movie – which turned out to be a great question, so thanks, Professor. I feel pretty much same way about this that I felt about Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla. I don’t hate it – there’s not enough to hate. But by the same token, there’s not very much to like, either. And what is there feels like reheated left-overs from the director’s previous work. It’s like taking that last little bit of spegetti sauce and spreading it on a pizza. In the absense of the next two movies in this obvious trilogy, I’m left with a general sensation of “meh.” And that’s the unfortunate reality of having thirty-two movies in your series: a handful are going to be stand-outs, a handful are going to be complete shit, and there’s going to be a big fat section in the middle that’s just “meh.”
Good thing that doesn’t matter to Netflix. As a de-facto home video monopoly, they’re not actually selling movies to the populace – they’re selling millions of their subscriber’s eyeballs to the movie companies – the oh-so-lucrative “turn the TV on in the background while you clean the house so you don’t feel so alone” demographic. A demographic Netflix has caputred expertly. Which is how they can go anywhere from five-to-twenty billion dollars in debt and still stay afloat. Because that’s how the entertainment industry actually works!
So, as with so many other things, I guess it’s gonna take two more years to see how this trilogy will shake down. And anyway, there’s more Godzilla in the world. No feeling of “meh” will live in me as long as that great joy.