Welcome to Chillflix, the first of many film reviews based on Netflix Originals. Why? Because Netflix continually releases a heaping load of content and some of it is actually quite good. Thus I feel it merits its own distinction within this site’s film reviews. The structure of these reviews will be similar to our Plus/Minus gaming reviews, only, for the sake of keeping each at least relatively unique, we’ll just call these “Ups and Downs.” I know, I know, it’s a brilliantly original idea, right?
Today’s film is actually a really interesting one for me as I grew up a huge Godzilla fan. No joke, I had just about all the VHS tapes that made their way to Blockbuster -save for the ones in which he died or appeared to die (apparently I couldn’t handle that emotionally at 5 years old)- and I wore the tapes out. To this day I will still contend that the original (Gojira) is a cinematic masterpiece. Sure, things got really campy and dumb there for awhile in the 70s, but the character and his origins have continued to evolve. Some incarnations are good, some are bad, and some are somewhere in between. Today, I examine Netflix’s latest incarnation: Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters.
20,000 years after humanity has fled the Earth, leaving the planet to Godzilla and the rest of the kaiju, a desperate, resource-depleted crew is forced to return to the planet. The goal is to take back the planet by destroying Godzilla, whom they’ve determined in their analyses has somehow survived all this time.
We are soon introduced to the protagonist, a man who as a child fled Earth with his grandfather and thousands more. We learn through his narration that sometime in the late 20th century, countless kaiju awoke from deep within the Earth to overrun numerous cities. Humanity fought back but soon Godzilla would rise from the depths of the ocean, destroying man, monster, and anything else in his path. Eventually, full-scale nuclear attacks were launched against the King of the Monsters, all of which inevitably failed. Then, in their darkest hour, visitors from the stars appeared. An alien race, humanoid in appearance, tell mankind that their own homeworld had been destroyed by a blackhole and to be allowed to remain on the Earth, they will destroy Godzilla for the humans.
Their plan appears to be a nod toward Godzilla’s rogue gallery and fan-favorite, Mecha-Godzilla. Unfortunately, this is merely teased as the base in which he’s being constructed is obliterated by the King of the Kaiju. With no other choice, thousands, along with a handful of members from the alien race, flee to the stars in search of a new hospitable planet. Unfortunately, this is a pipe dream as they appear to lack the technology for cryogenic sleep, meaning countless generations would have to survive aboard the ship until they reached a planet they could inhabit. This is more than many can bear as just twenty-two years into their voyage, madness begins to spread and resources rapidly deplete. In a controversial move the protagonist attempts to prevent, the elderly and sick are jettisoned from the voyaging ship in a rocket, which promptly is detonated. The ship, it seems, has become a cage even worse than the threat of Godzilla.
A short time after the elderly ship has been destroyed, the public internal server has a set of blueprints leaked, complete with plans on how to defeat Godzilla. This leak leads the travelers to demand leadership return to Earth and reclaim their home. After some debate, the powers that be grant this wish, sending a battalion of 600 soldiers, including the protagonist.
I’m not going to lie, despite only teasing Mecha-Godzilla and taking some liberties with Godzilla’s origin, I actually think this is a really cool concept. In truth, it’s a story I’ve toyed with writing in the past, at least in terms of its base concept. All the same, seeing it realized was a treat.
The animation style of Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters isn’t a favorite of mine. Very stylistic and 100% digital coloring mixed with CGI make at times for some fluid animation but sluggish or under-expressive facial features. Likewise, Godzilla is at times so painfully slow in his movements, entire scenes lose a piece of their suspensefulness. Yes, Godzilla is massive and a traditional way of conveying scale is to slow movement. However, the decision to never have him move beyond a glacial pace, with the exception of his head turning to face an oncoming airstrike, robs him of much of what made him incredible for me as a child. Sure, almost regardless of the era, he’s never been nimble-footed (we don’t talk about Godzilla 1998), but he’s at least moved with urgency when in battle, whether he was fighting a fellow kaiju or humanity itself. To me, this style would’ve worked better as a fully colored graphic novel rather than an animated film.
The score of Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters isn’t bad but it falls well short of the memorable gems the franchise is known for. If Toho is going to produce an animated Godzilla film, why not capitalize by stirring up some of that nostalgia? Yes, the Godzilla roar is quite comparable to the classic, but beyond that and the general creature design from the 2014 American Godzilla film, what more is there? It almost feels like they realized they were squandering some of the nostalgia pop opportunity early on and then shoehorned in the glimpse of Mecha-Godzilla and what appears to be Rodan in the opening monologue to make up for it.
Still, the sound design itself, whether ship engines, explosions, gunfire, etc, is all solid. I can only remember a time or two where something made a noise that didn’t square with how I thought it should’ve sounded. For instance, one character forcefully shows another against a metal wall to berate him for cowardice. From his tone and the suddenness of the motion, we can determine he’s upset and asserting himself. Yet the sound feels rather small; a light “ding” or “clunk.” Perhaps I’m nitpicking. Regardless, I’ll stick to my overall impression and score this as an
The action itself, while CG heavy, had some moments of good fluidity. The cruisers and some of the artillery drones glide smoothly through the air and forest as you might expect futuristic military technology to do. The moments of dive-bombing Godzilla are fast-paced, oftentimes utilizing the vantage point of the attacker as he charges Godzilla. This pulls you in as a viewer but I don’t feel it was fully realized as it could have been.
Another cool moment is when the military base camp is ambushed by a number of winged dragon-like creatures. They aren’t nearly as large as Godzilla but compared to humans they are still quite large, probably 12-16 feet from nose to tail. As funny as it sounds, the only action I was disappointed with was that of Godzilla himself. He continually fights back way of his atomic breath but little else. No tailwhips or even swipes with his hands. On top of that, his atomic breath felt pretty underwhelming overall. A flicker of blue electricity around his dorsal fins and then a quick bolt of blue light from his mouth. Hit target, explode target. That’s about it. In Godzilla films, particularly recent Godzilla films, directors have understood this moment is massive, and no film has done it better (although the 2014 film was no slouch) than 2016’s Shin Godzilla.
Case and point…
Overall, as far as action is concerned, there was a lot of nice movement but nothing I expect will really stick with me.
***Bonus grade: atomic breath reveal and effect: Down
No secrets here, this felt like a huge missed opportunity. Aside from the slow-lumbering Godzilla, who didn’t even appear as large as previous Godzillas, there were only the winged-dragon creatures to be found. Not exactly the diverse “Planet of the Monsters” we’d hoped for. What’s stranger was the decision to make the creatures’ flesh metallic more or less. The glossed over explanation is that plant life, as well as the creatures of the planet, have somehow evolved to the point of having a metal hyde. This includes Godzilla. Thus, whenever the creatures are shot with bullets, the sound of pinging metal is heard. For me, this is a poor decision. It would be one thing if their hyde was as strong as metal but quite another to show it as and give it the same qualities as metal. What you end up with is something more akin to transformer-rejects, not dragons.
I’ll say this, however. Without giving any spoilers, the twist in the final five minutes of this film and the reveal itself substantially alter my opinion of the film overall. Almost all of my complaints were forgotten by this moment and it left me intrigued by where a “Part 2” would go. So despite everything you read before, I’m giving this an
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a wonderfully unique concept compared to whether the franchise has been before. It’s nice for the character to have a return to being the “monster” rather than the savior as even the 204 film depicted. My favorite Godzilla films have always been when he was the anti-hero who fought anything and everything that got in his way. King Ghidorah? Bring it. Mecha-Godzilla? Step up, son. Humans with a nuke? You get the idea. This film was a return to that side of the character but I feel it didn’t give him enough to do. The reveal at the end saves it but not entirely. To me, this is just an okay film I would only recommend to anime fans and Godzilla diehards.