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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters

A Satisfying Animated Debut for the King of Monsters That Could Have Been So Much More

David Figueroa, Contributor

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Last November, a film titled Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters was released in cinemas across Japan. The film was the 32nd film in the Godzilla movie franchise, as well as the first-ever animated feature film starring the titular beast.

The film was announced back in 2016, directly following the release of that year’s mega-hit Shin Godzilla. Many fans, including me, were confused as to why they would choose to capitalize on the success of such a popular reboot (Shin Godzilla was one of the highest grossing Japanese films of all time) with a glorified cartoon rather than a live-action sequel. Nevertheless, as more news came out about the film, fans couldn’t help but get excited.

When the plot synopsis was first released, fans were intrigued. The idea of setting a Godzilla film 20,000 years in the future (and partially in outer space) was not one that had been explored before, as the farthest a Godzilla movie had previously been set in the future was 30 years. This got us skeptics excited for the movie and virtually ensured that this would be a refreshing new take on the King of the Monsters.

But then came the trailers. With each trailer, my excitement for the film slowly dwindled. The first trailer was fine and increased my appetite for more. However, the second trailer was what killed me. From a bear-looking Godzilla to out-of-place music, it became apparent to me that this movie was going to be a missed opportunity. When all of this first went down, I turned to Twitter expecting to find thousands of fans who agreed with my assessment of the trailer. But instead, I was bewildered to find out that the overwhelming majority of fans were praising the trailer!

I could not believe it. Was I the only sane one? Or was I crazy? I watched the trailer over and over again hoping it would grow on me, but it didn’t. In fact, it only got worse with time. I slowly came to grips with the fact that was completely alone in my assessment of the trailer.

Then came November. the film was released in Japan, with mixed reviews at best from critics-the same critics who had universally praised Shin Godzilla just a year earlier. The fans were not much kinder to the film. Some loved it, but some hated it. My worst fears were being realized right before my eyes.

Planet of the Monsters finished out its run in Japanese cinemas with a disappointing gross of just over three million dollars. That is pretty much right at the rock bottom as far as Godzilla movies are concerned. To put that into perspective, Shin Godzilla finished out with a total gross of 77 million dollars, and the least successful Godzilla movie in modern history, 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars finished out with 12 million dollars. That makes Planet of the Monsters the least successful Godzilla movie ever (Godzilla movies from the 1950’s-80’s are not taken into account here, as their “small” grosses – usually around 1-5 million dollars – are actually, when adjusted for inflation, generally more impressive).

Of course, American fans who had not yet seen the movie tried to defend it by saying that it had a “limited release” and that Shin Godzilla was an anomaly, not a new rule for determining how successful a movie is. However, these claims are ludicrous considering that the film was very heavily promoted, and everyone knew about it, regardless of how limited the number of theaters it was released in. Final Wars, the least successful Godzilla movie ever, still grossed almost four times the gross of Planet of the Monsters.

After the disappointing Japanese cinema run was pretty much over, we got the news that it would be coming out on Netflix on January 17th. And, regardless of how much people disliked the movie, I was still excited about it. If nothing else, this was the 32nd Godzilla movie, officially making the Godzilla franchise the longest-running movie franchise of all time. The hype built up gradually, and I couldn’t help getting caught up in it.

Then, on the 17th, I rushed home from school and eagerly turned on Netflix. The first thing I saw after signing in was Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, front and center. That was admittedly pretty awesome. So, after taking a moment to tweet about how I was ready and braced for disappointment, I hit play and let the movie unfold.

So what is my final verdict?

It is an okay movie.

To be honest, I thought I was going to hate this movie a lot more than I actually did. However, it is nowhere near my favorite. In fact, I’m not even sure I would list it in the top ten. I would, however, put it in my top 15.

First, the good things. The animation is fantastic. The colors pop off the screen, and the CG monster models are perfect. This is definitely not my favorite design or characterization of Godzilla (I’m not a big fan of the fact that this Godzilla is a plant… that’s what Biollante is for), but he looks magnificent on screen. The other star monster species, the Servum, are also animated magnificently. There are lots of lens flares all throughout the movie, something that I love. This aspect makes for an interesting feel, almost as though JJ Abrams directed an anime. The concept is also really neat. I love the idea of a Godzilla movie being set in the future, and the subplot surrounding the aliens is also really well done.

The characters feel real, and we can sympathize with their struggles. Two scenes at the beginning of the film are excellent examples of this. I will not go too in-depth in order to avoid spoilers, but these scenes are really well-done.

Now, the negatives. First, there is not a lot of storyline. I said above that I really enjoyed the concept of the film, and that is true. The idea was great and original. The execution, however, is a different story. This film is currently planned as the first installment in a trilogy, the second of which is slated to come out this May. It is painfully obvious that this is just the first act of a three-part story that has been blown up to 80 minutes.

Speaking of the length, this is also one of the shortest Godzilla movies ever. That was a real bummer, considering that Shin Godzilla was the longest running Godzilla movie ever, clocking in at over two hours.

Godzilla also didn’t have much screen time in this film. That would not necessarily be a problem, seeing that Godzilla only accounted for about eight percent of the total runtime of Shin Godzilla, and about the same in the 2014 Hollywood Godzilla. The problem with this film is that Godzilla doesn’t really have much to do in this film other than to stand around and get shot at. His new powers are cool, and they are awesome when used. However, other than those new powers, he pretty much just stands there. Godzilla is in this movie for a higher proportion of the movie than the previous two films, but he doesn’t fell ever-present like he always has before.

The final problem with the movie is the fact that it got rid of everything that made Godzilla special in the past. In the original 1954 Godzilla film, Godzilla was used as a metaphor for the atomic bomb and the horrors of nuclear war. As the years have on, he has been constantly rebooted as a stand-in for the political and social issues of the day; most recently, Shin Godzilla was a metaphor for the 2011 Japanese Tsunami and Nuclear meltdown and the political chaos that followed it. Planet of the Monsters, on the other hand, has no message or symbolic significance, and the titular monster is nothing more than that – a monster. Stripping Godzilla of all his significance is this film’s biggest mistake and one that I feel contributed to its failure at the box office.

All that being said, Planet of the Monsters is a satisfying reboot for the Godzilla franchise as well as a well-animated debut for the King of the Monsters. It could, however, have been so much more. I am excited to see where the story goes next, and I hope that the next two installments are a lot better than this one. In addition, we also have next year’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters to look forward to, as well as 2020’s Godzilla Vs. Kong. This is truly a great time to be a Godzilla fan.

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