The 2017 film, Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, takes place in the distant future. It’s been over 20 years since the constant fighting between Godzilla and a host of other giant monsters forced humanity to flee the Earth. Two different alien races offered to help the humans get rid of Godzilla but it turned out that both of them had ulterior motives and ultimately, neither one of them was a match for Godzilla. So, now, humanity is stuck floating through space, looking for another home. An entire generation has never known Earth. Meanwhile, the children who were forced to flee their home planet have grown up hating Godzilla and wondering if they’ll ever be able to return home.
One of them is Captain Haruo Sakaki. He believes that he’s come up with a way to destroy Godzilla once and for all but, in order to do so, he’s going to have to convince the ruling Central Committee to allow him (and several others) to travel back to Earth. It going to take a lot of convincing, especially since Haruo is already in jail for defying orders. But what if Haruo anonymously publishes an essay? Will that be enough to sway public opinion?
Okay, so maybe you’re getting the feeling that Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is not a typical Godzilla film. You’re correct. This is the first animated Godzilla film. It’s also the first Godzilla film in which the key to getting people to team up against Godzilla is the publication of an anonymous essay. It’s kind of like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton singing pseudonyms to the Federalist Papers because they knew readers would be more likely to listen to Publius than to listen to Jim, the Virginia Lawyer. Godzilla: Planet of Monsters spends a lot of time on Haruo and his allies trying to convince the Central Committee to let them fight Godzilla. On the plus side, the animation is gorgeous so visually, the film holds your interest and, as someone who hates bureaucracy, I appreciated the menacing way the that Central Committee was rendered. On the negative side, this is a Godzilla movie and, in the end, that is who we’re watching to see.
That said, the film definitely deserves some credit for returning a sense of menace to Godzilla. As opposed to some of the later Toho films, where Godzilla was too obviously a man in a rubber suit to really be a credible threat, the animated Godzilla presented in Planet of the Monsters is a terrifying force of unstoppable chaos. There’s nothing cute or cuddly about this Godzilla. This Godzilla is all about mindless destruction. Like the atom bomb that was the original inspiration for the monster way back in the 50s, this Godzilla destroys the innocent and the wicked alike. When he first appears as a shadowy form reigning destruction down upon civilization, the audience is reminded that Godzilla was never meant to be a hero or a toy or any of the other roles that he’s played over the years. Godzilla is pure, mindless chaos and destruction.
Of course, he’s still the most compelling character in the film. Unfortunately, the humans in Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters are not very interesting. We’re supposed to care about Haruo but he’s so obsessed with destroying Godzilla that he becomes a bit of a bore after a while. Does he do nothing but talk about Godzilla all the time? No wonder they tossed him in jail. The other human characters all tend to blend together but then again, this is a Godzilla film. We’re not watching for the humans. We’re watching for Godzilla and his family and this film, whatever it’s other flaws, brings everyone’s favorite monsters to vibrant life. You just wish the film would be a bit quicker about getting to him.
Sadly, Godzilla will never win an Oscar. But his fans will always love him, even as he tramples them and disintegrates them with nuclear fire. In the end, that’s what fandom is all about, isn’t it?