Godzilla is a household name. Whether or not you’ve seen the franchise, if you were shown a picture of the so-called “King of the Monsters,” you’d probably be able to identify it. In the world of Kaiju, the Japanese monster film genre, Godzilla is the indubitable leader.
But outside of this arena, he’s lost all traction.
In the heavily saturated landscape of superhero and sci-fi films alike, Godzilla isn’t shining through the likes of “Star Wars” or the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Perhaps that’s because Toho, the Japanese film company that owns the Godzilla franchise, isn’t pulling its load to fill in the gaps.
“Godzilla: The Planet Eater,” which was released worldwide on Netflix on Jan. 9, is the finale to Toho’s trilogy of anime films that attempted to stoke the franchise flames and keep the excitement alive. Did it work? How many people do you know — especially anime fans — who are talking about this series?
Look at any list of the top 100 anime films of the decade, and it’s doubtful any entries of the trilogy will be there.
Any film franchise that expects longevity needs to maintain momentum with side projects. In the case of films such as “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” lending creative freedom and rights to an animation studio can lead to something truly remarkable. But for series such as “Star Wars,” films like “Solo: A Star Wars Story” would probably be better off not existing.
Godzilla’s last big-screen appearance was in 2014, when the now 64-year-old franchise was rebooted with the help of actors like Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Olsen. And as 2019 approached, a trailer for the sequel, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” was released, featuring Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler.
But what happened to the franchise during those five years? Not enough
“Godzilla: The Planet Eater” is centered around a team of humans who have returned to earth after being displaced by Godzilla’s destruction years prior. Since then, the planet has become inhabited by multiple species of monsters with Godzilla remaining at the top of the food chain.
The crew’s captain, Haruo Sakaki — likely named after Godzilla’s original portrayer Haruo Nakajima — must decide how to defeat Godzilla and save the earth from the monster’s impending battle against Ghidorah, the three-headed dragon.
From the onset, this film teases viewers with a strange motif of belief systems. The film’s characters try to push an anti-Dostoevskian idea that the world would be better without religion, but Godzilla himself appears to break down that ideal as a sort of Grand Inquisitor, being the omen humankind needed to realize its weakness.
Haruo, irritating as he is, realizes he needs to sacrifice his hateful ways to be humankind’s savior — but why does it take three films for him to realize this?
The film contains all of the staples of the anime vernacular, mainly grandiose visuals and mouth movements poorly synced with the American dub. But what is especially striking is how embellished the voiceovers get at times, Haruo’s especially.
It’s no secret to anime’s biggest fans that American dubs can sound melodramatic, often to match the emotion captured in the original visuals. But for Haruo, his vengeful demeanor is butchered in his unconvincing vocal delivery.
Weak writing and poor acting aside, the music choice in the film also strikes a nerve. In the trailer for 2019’s live action “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” Debussy’s “Clair De Lune” played in the background as an intentional contrast to the peril-filled images, taking after Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
But there seems to be no comparable technique employed in “Planet Eater.” Though the vivacious orchestra could have been intended to pay homage to the music from the original 1954 production, for a modern animated sci-fi film, it feels a bit out of place.
Perhaps most perplexing about “Godzilla: The Planet Eater” is Netflix’s association with the series. Networks know that if you’re going to add anime to an anglo-medium, it better be good. This is best evidenced in Cartoon Network’s Toonami, an anime-dominated show block consisting of classics like “Naruto” and “One Piece.”
But this attempt by Netflix to enter the anime sphere of entertainment seems a weak attempt to steal users from anime streaming sites like CrunchyRoll.
“Godzilla: The Planet Eater” was not an outright failure. There are certainly captivating scenes and gorgeous animation. But its primary fault is trying to be babied by the legacy of Godzilla, while under the guise of being a modern take on the franchise.
“Godzilla: The Planet Eater” requires viewers to watch the first two parts of the trilogy to understand, but even those falter in similar ways, relying too much on tired anime and film tropes to stand out. All and all, in what has been a truly halcyon era for action films and animation, “Planet Eater” doesn’t hold a candle to its competition.