Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Series Report Card: Godzilla (2018) Part Two

34. Godzilla: The Planet Eater
Gojira: hoshi wo kû mono

There's a specific reason why Toho pursued making a series of animated “Godzilla” movies. Their contract with Legendary Pictures, the producers of the American Godzilla movies, specifically stipulates that Toho can not release a live-action film in the same year as Legendary puts one of their “Godzilla” movies out. Toho clearly seized upon that “live action” loophole, realizing they could keep the brand alive while they wait for Hollywood to crank out their next mega-budget installment. But maybe it wasn't a great idea to flood the market with three animated features released within basically a year? Nevertheless, the conclusion to Polygon's cell-shaded “Godzilla” trilogy rolled out into Japanese theaters last November, coming to America Netflix back in January. Now, nearly five months later, I'm finally getting around to watching it.

If you don't recall how “City on the Edge of Battle” ended – I certainly didn't – “The Planet Eater” provides little remorse. It leaps right back in, with Godzilla temporarily demobilized by nanites. The remaining human, Bilusaludo, and Exif forces have gathered in the near-by tunnels with the native Houtuan population. Exif high priest, Metphies, uses this opportunity to spread his species' religion to the colony. Feeling guilty about Yoko being turn to metal by the nanites, leader Haruo doesn't know what to do. Too late, he realizes Metphies and the other Exif are summoning their god of destruction to the planet, Ghidorah, in the hopes it'll kill Godzilla and all other life on Earth.

Since this is the last of Polygon's animated “Godzilla” movies, let me, one more time, bitch about how ugly these films are. As always, the animation is shockingly unexpressive. Characters stand around in dark rooms, talking to each other. The backgrounds are flat and underlit. The action scenes are not very impressive. There's something about the cell-shaded CGI that causes the characters' movements to look weirdly unnatural. Once again, the idea of an animated “Godzilla” movie – a movie that could do anything, look like anything – instead feels utterly lifeless and visually unappealing. So much wasted potential.

Much like the first two parts of Polygon's “Godzilla” trilogy, “The Planet Eater” is absolutely obsessed with its own convoluted lore. The Exif religion played a role in parts one and two, way too large of the role, but the entire first third of this film is devoted to the topic. In this moment of panic, with so many of their friends gone and Godzilla right over their heads, Metphies converts everyone to his weird rituals. This leads to endless conversations about miracles, the power of God, the existence of an all-mighty, and whether or not he/it will intervene. Because what do we expect from a Godzilla movie other than theological debates, based in made-up alien religions? It's absolutely exhausting.

These are not the only kind of long-winded conversations “The Planet Eater” inflicts on the audience. Nearly the entire first half of the movie is devoted to people discussing the various philosophical ramifications of the things they've seen and experienced. Quickly, the conversation turns towards what exactly defines a monster. If mankind made Godzilla, does that make them equally monstrous? Listen, usually I'm all up for talking about what does and does not make something a monster. Yet “The Planet Eater” is so relentlessly droll, a caper on a trilogy of relentlessly droll films, that these moments come off as infuriating, instead of interesting.

Eventually, “Godzilla: The Planet Eater” goes into full-on “Evangelion” mode. Haruo is rendered an especially inactive protagonist for most of the movie, set into a hypnotic trance while Metphies attempts to bring him over to his side of thinking. What results is yet more dialogue-driven scenes, discussing Godzilla's origin, mankind's role in it, and how that reflects on everyone involved. There's lots of scenes of Harou floating through a blue and green light show. In a way that can't help but feel pretentious and kind of tasteless, this extended dream sequence incorporates a scene of the nuclear bomb being dropped on Japan during World War II.

Oh, by the way, Metphies is a bad guy now. The Exifs are revealed to have been playing the long con with humanity, befriending them so they could eventually lead Ghidorah, who they revere as a god, to another world to destroy. By this point, I am so detached from this trilogy's mythology that I honestly can't tell if this is a twist or not, if this was properly foreshadowed in the previous films. I think it's suppose to be a shocking reveal though, that someone our hero has trusted actually has the extinction of humanity on his mind. If that was the intention, it didn't really work, as Metphies acts like a creepy weirdo planning something devious all throughout this one. 

Among the other plot lines running throughout the animated “Godzilla” movies, the most stereotypical animesque ideas present has been a love triangle floating around our boring hero Haruo. He was obviously interested in fellow pilot Yoko, while Houtuan twins Maina and Miana were clearly enamored of him as well. “The Planet Eater” revolves this collection of entangled romances in as blunt a way as possible. Yoko was infected with nanites at the end of the last movie. This has essentially killed her, turning her into an undying but statue-like human. Midway through the film, Maina then stripes down and present herself to Haruo, with the intention of sleeping with him... Before he realizes it was actually Miana. The film keeps its ambiguous over whether the two go all the way but something about this moment, a child-like teenager making herself sexually available to a guy who just lost his crush, feels really skeevy.

About the only thing I've found consistently compelling about the anime “Godzilla” flicks has been its reinvention of the central kaiju. King Ghidorah receives maybe the most interesting take yet. Here, the famous three-headed space dragon has become an extra-dimensional eldritch abomination that literally feeds on the destruction of sentient life. Ghidorah, referred to as a king by his worshipers, is never shown in full. Instead, multiple heads emerge from black holes, suggesting we're only getting a peak at a massive entity. He literally exists in an another dimension from Godzilla, making him difficult to fight. Transforming Godzilla's most fearsome foe into something like a Lovecraftian god is a clever idea.

However, no matter how clever the ideas in the animated 'Godzilla” films have been, the features have been obnoxiously stingy with them. “The Planet Eater” is maybe guiltier of this than any of the previous films. Godzilla and Ghidorah's fight isn't a fight at all. Instead, Godzilla basically stands still, defenseless against Ghidorah's floating heads. He's immobilized for most of his screen time. When he's finally allowed to strike, Godzilla blows his enemy away with several well placed atomic breath blast. And that's it. An even bigger tease is Mothra, heavily foreshadowed in the last film. The big moth only appears in a dream sequence and only in silhouette. Why would you even introduce a giant Mothra egg and not have Mothra actually do anything? One of many questions with no answers in sight.

Most of “The Planet Eater's” plot is resolved about seventy minutes into the film. Yet another baffling decision is made, as the film continues on-wards into an excruciating fifteen minute epilogue. About three minutes of that runtime is devoted to a musical montage, showing how civilization evolves in the next few years. The film assumes we are very invested in the characters and their world, as the ending of “The Planet Eater” resolves any and every plot point that hasn't already been sealed away. At least Godzilla has a role to play in this unnecessary coda, even if he continues to show no personality at all. There's also a post-credit scene which I perhaps found difficult to understand.

By previous metrics, even the worst “Godzilla” movies are redeemed because they have Godzilla in them. For the first time in the thirty years I've been a Godzilla fan, in the sixty-five years the franchise has existed, a “Godzilla” movie has bored me. As reluctant as I am to say this, I think that makes “Godzilla: The Planet Eater” the worst “Godzilla” movie. Let's compare some, hmm? Yes, “Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla” also chokes on its own convoluted mythology and features maybe the King of the Monster's most boringly overpowered enemies. But it's still got lots of monster action in it. “Godzilla Raids Again” is a listless re-trend of the original but it also gave the world our first kaiju fight. “Godzilla vs. Gigan” is kind of lame but Gigan is a bitchin' monster and that movie has giant cockroach people in it. Even Tristar's notoriously loathed American remake, for all its many faults, is never as aggressively boring as “The Planet Eater.”

What gulls me the most about Polygon's “Godzilla” trilogy is that it didn't have to be this way. This could've been three whole movies indulging in Godzilla tail-surfing, using his atomic breath to fly, fighting as many enemy monsters as possible, or any of the other crazy shit we love from the Showa movies. It was an opportunity to push a series with an already substantial crazy shit level even further over-the-top. Instead, we got a suffocatingly dull series of films that are so serialized they don't feel like films, that feature even less monster action than most of the live action entries in the series. All I can assume is the directors and writers disappeared up their own asses something fierce, using the lucrative “Godzilla” license as an excuse to discuss ideas they were dead set on exploring. It has been said that no movie with Godzilla in it can be wholly bad. “Godzilla: The Planet Eater” somehow proves this rule wrong. [Grade: D]

No comments: