Review: Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters

I watched Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters over the weekend, and I did not like it. I’ll admit that I am simply not the target audience of this film. I am not a Godzilla fan, and I am not an anime fan. Be warned that spoilers, and personal reflection, follow.

Background

Before I get to the review itself, I feel that it’s necessary to explain my background with Godzilla, and to touch on my relationship with anime. Of course, that’s not a required part of any review, but (a) this is my personal blog and I do what I want, and (b) I think that I need to defend against any potential claim that I just don’t “get it” because I’m not a fan (an increasing response to any criticism of a nerd pop culture property). If you’re not interested in this, or don’t need to be sold on the ability to engage with a property even without being a fan (which should be self-evident), then you can skip down to the review itself, which has its own section heading below.

I have a great fondness for the original Godzilla film, and will occasionally watch it again. I watched at least a couple of the other Japanese Godzilla movies over the years, but mostly as a child, and I remember them mostly as being rather silly and campy. I liked the 2014 American Godzilla film directed by Gareth Edwards; while I can’t defend the film on quality, Child Me also liked the 1998 American Godzilla film, especially its swifter, streamlined, more saurian monster. And I’ve liked many giant monster movies, more recently including Cloverfield and Pacific Rim. Even Peter Jackson’s King Kong, which I thought was too long and mostly too dull, had some excellent dinosaurs and giant monsters. And I’ll admit that I’ve never watched any of the old classics like the original King Kong or The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms or The Lost World, but I mention those films in particular because I’ve been inundated with clips of the monsters in those movies wreaking destruction, and they left an imprint on my imagination. So I guess you could say that I’m not a Godzilla fan, but I enjoy kaiju films and the giant monster genre and recognize its conventions (including that you have to really exercise your suspension of disbelief and accept–or even embrace–its campy elements).

Similarly, I have enjoyed many films and shows that fit in the broad category of “anime,” or that incorporate Japanese animation, or that have been inspired by either of the first two categories. I don’t have as much of a personal connection with this, but admittedly “anime” is such a broad category. I like “anime” like I like Western animation. Kind of depends on the content, the art style, and whether I think the story is valuable and entertaining. I’m not bluffing: interests have included camp children’s entertainment like Dragonball Z; science-fiction and fantasy like Cowboy BebopTrigun, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet; slice-of-life shows like Silver Spoon; anime-influenced Western shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender; and genre-defying classic films like, well, anything Studio Ghibli (I even liked Tales from Earthsea). I have given up on many shows that have been recommended to me because they were too dull, or too melodramatic, or too pervy. I have a low tolerance for fan service. I’ll never be one to dig into obscure deep cuts, and I’m just going to watch what I feel like. But it’s hardly like I’m opposed to anime on principle.

The Review Proper

I said all the above to make clear that I’m not approaching this film as a fan. But I was hoping for a monster movie with lots of splashy animated battle scenes. Amazingly, I did not get that. Instead, I got an overly complex yet still half-baked sci-fi plot about colonization and intergalactic travel and the horrors of war.

The plot is truly ridiculous. Monsters appear. We don’t know how or why (a later character suggests that it’s the belief of an alien race that Godzilla-like monsters appear as avatars of destruction to strike down civilizations which have exhibited great hubris). Regardless, Godzilla emerges and kills all the other monsters. And most of humanity. Humans have no way to defeat Godzilla, who can survive atomic blasts, is shielded from most damage, and quickly regenerates. Conveniently, not one but two alien races show up to offer to help. One race offers a religion that seems to fixate around a god of probability. The other race offers to destroy Godzilla by using a Mechagodzilla. Perhaps unsurprisingly, humanity is in favor of the “destroy Godzilla” option. Turns out that Mechagodzilla does not work, though, so that alien race loses. Humanity joins with both alien races in getting the hell off the planet. They travel through space and time for twenty years, failing at colonization efforts.

All of the above, I should mention, is exposition in the first third of the film. The actual plot opens with a failed shuttle landing mission on a lifeless planet. Following this disaster, the colony ship leaders decide to go back to Earth. Yes, they just turn the ship around and, by doing very special calculations, they somehow get back to Earth with no time passage at all. For them. Outside of the ship, something like ten thousand years has passed (the stated time changes throughout, although I think this reflects best guesses rather than an actual plot hole).

These weird space refugees have now decided to fight Godzilla. Again. But this time, they did their research, apparently: an imprisoned dude best known for attempting to blow up a landing shuttle looked through confidential records and determined that if you can just blow up a special organ that produces the shielding, then Godzilla can be killed. This organ turns out to be Godzilla’s biggest dorsal fin. How that would have never been destroyed sufficiently by a much larger army is a mystery to me. How a crazy suicide bomber locked in a prison is able to figure out the first useful plan to stop Godzilla is an even bigger mystery.

Anyway, the ship returns to Earth and the military lands on the planet (along with Suicide Bomb Guy, who is out on “bail”). Lesser monsters kill some people before being shot down, so the commander of the mission decides to retreat. So at this point, humanity has abandoned Earth, returned to fight, given up again, and prepares to leave once more. But his retreat path follows the same course as their original route to trap Godzilla (they have to meet up with other companies because their own landing craft aren’t capable of departing). Godzilla shows up and destroys a good portion of the survivors, and Suicide Bomb Guy (let’s call him SBG for now on) attacks Godzilla on his own, ineffectually and without producing any useful data for a later attack. He plans a suicide run (this dude is determined to kill himself), but the commander who ordered the retreat fires at Godzilla at the last minute. SBG pulls away from his crash course, for some reason, and the commander is killed by Godzilla.

Naturally, with the commander dead, the chain of command falls to…a priest. Who then abdicates command to Suicide Bomb Guy. SBG is really determined to kill himself and everyone else in fighting Godzilla. But also there is a woman/girl/doll on the team who MUST BE PROTECTED, so SBG is sort of conflicted about this. He decides that he is going to definitely suicide himself in a final attack on Godzilla, but he is just really not any good at suicide attacks. He orders initial waves of speeder bikes to harass Godzilla into chasing them to a trap point. This is incredibly boring, as very CGI speeder bikes zip around a near-motionless Godzilla. They crash into him frequently, even though Godzilla barely moves, because apparently they all learned to drive in Florida. They can’t even get out of the way of a fairly narrow beam of an atomic ray. But they do eventually lead him to the trap. The trap goes boom, and Godzilla is buried in rubble. Artillery opens up, but Godzilla’s dorsal fin starts to regenerate even under the barrage. So SBG, now in a mech suit, jumps onto Godzilla to stab the fin with an EMP probe, which disrupts Godzilla’s shielding or something like that, and orders the artillery to fire again. They hit Godzilla many, many times, but somehow SBG survives. Then a bunch of other mech warriors jump on Godzilla and poke him with probes, and it’s Godzilla’s turn to go boom.

Except wait, there’s more. The original Godzilla was alive all this time, apparently just hibernating and growing larger. He emerges and destroys everything, leaving Suicide Bomb Guy trapped under rubble, screaming and crying. After the credits, we discover that SBG has been saved by a local girl. The movie ends, practically promising a sequel to the adventures of Suicide Bomb Guy and his Great White Whale Godzilla (apparently this is the first in a trilogy).

This film fails to deliver on all points. The plot is garbage. There is very little action, and most of it looks awful. Godzilla mostly just stands–even in the final race to the trap, we barely see him move at all. The little side monsters, which look like generic tiny dragons, are boring. Basically all the carnage is distractingly out of focus or just off screen, so that we are frequently told exciting things are happening, even if it’s just repeated shots of a dragon thing shaking around a blurry doll body, or wide shots of Godzilla shooting yet another atomic ray into the sky. There are many shots that look like they have just been recycled–especially of speeder bikes pivoting and crashing, and of Godzilla turning his head and shooting an atomic ray.

The characters are bad too. I could not be bothered to remember Suicide Bomb Guy’s name, and he’s the dude with the most characterization, such as it is (he’s apparently really smart since he came up with a tactic no one had ever bothered to think of, and he’s brave I guess since he keeps attempting suicide, and he’s fiery and passionate since he attacked a commanding officer for suggesting retreat and also cried because he saw that there was evidence of humanity left on Earth). The religious alien race all look like High Elves. One of them is a main character, I guess; he is sympathetic to SBG and supports fighting Godzilla, which is a controversial position apparently. The Mechagodzilla race all look like an anime version of Klingons. There are several involved in the fighting on Earth at the end, and I could not tell them apart, but one seemed more important than the others for some reason. There was the commander who was kind of a friend to SBG until he wanted to retreat, and then he was a Bad Guy until he saved SBG and died. Also, there was the Lady Character who wanted to be there to get “stronger” or something. I think she lived. She kind of loved SBG but also hated him, even though she never met him before. And she’s into conspiracy theories for one scene. Oh, and there is a professor guy on the mission who mostly just provides exposition that didn’t fit into the first twenty minutes of exposition.

Even the animation is shitty. I’m convinced that everyone wears the same sort-of-dirty, sort-of-lumpy space suit to save on animation costs. It doesn’t look good, and it’s hard to track who’s doing what. Most of the movie is batshit crazy dialogue, and I already discussed the disappointing action sequences above. Everything looked like low-budget CGI, which seems to be a trend with Netflix anime series and is contrary to basically every anime aesthetic I’ve ever even somewhat liked.

It seems that professional nerd reviewers have been soft with this movie, acknowledging flaws with characterization and appearance but saying that this somehow is proof of concept that Godzilla works as an anime. Fuck that. Of course Godzilla can work as an anime. He’s a giant monster attacking people! Kaiju (and giant robots, and plenty of other weird sci-fi shit) are found often enough in anime. We can have lots of battles against Godzilla and lots of character development in down moments! Any past Godzilla film, Japanese or American, could have been adapted into an anime. Godzilla is a broad enough property that almost any original idea could do. I didn’t watch this for proof of concept of perhaps the most obvious idea ever! This was, hands-down, a bad movie. Please do not waste time watching it!

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