“Of course, if we run into Godzilla, that would be extremely awful for us.”
Godzilla is no stranger to reinvention. There have been no fewer than five distinct Godzilla continuities (six, I guess, if we’re going to generously consider Roland Emmerich’s 1998 monstrosity an actual Godzilla movie…which it isn’t) through dozens of films, with two different live action franchises running (one kicked off in the west with Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla and the other with Japan’s 2016 Shin Godzilla). Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the Godzilla anime that just arrived on Netflix makes that three distinct current continuities for the King of the Monsters, and it’s the one that owes the least debt to any of its predecessors.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters isn’t a reboot in the strictest sense of the word, but it’s certainly not a sequel to any existing film, either. Instead it’s a kind of branched off reimagining of the Godzilla mythos, not so much starting from scratch as just repositioning Godzilla as the kind of threat that can anchor a different kind of science fiction than that which we’re used to. I guess if you want, you can consider it a distant sequel to any of the official Godzilla continuities out there. Pick your favorite.
Beautifully animated, with a lush color palette and inventive, space opera influenced design in each of its vehicles and spacesuits, Planet of the Monsters does what all the best reboots do, taking its central concepts seriously and not presupposing any prior knowledge by the viewer. If you were completely unfamiliar with Godzilla, then Planet of the Monsters would feel like the logical start of a new sci-fi franchise, one where Earth’s 4,000 surviving humans took to the stars after an unfathomable disaster.
That disaster, of course, was Godzilla. And not just Godzilla, but other kaiju. Unlike prior films, though, these rampages were unchecked, and humanity decided that evacuation was the wisest course of action. Until, of course, it wasn’t. After over 20 years in space, they figure Earth is the least worst option left to them, so they return to their home planet, where over 10,000 years have passed. Surely Godzilla and friends are dead by then, right?
Of course not! The only logical thing to do is to figure out how to wipe out Godzilla so that humanity can settle and repopulate their world. You can probably guess what happens next. Well, most of it, at least.
As with all early entries in any new Godzilla timeline, our title character is a force of nature, and not terribly interested in helping humanity. Although we never see him engaging in the kind of traditional city-stomping destruction we’re used to other than in a prologue that sets up the wider story (and does feature some fun easter eggs for longtime fans), in a way, seeing him in the wilderness, moving slowly, purposefully, and unleashing radioactive breath hell on spacecraft feels perhaps more inventive than I expected it to. Even out of his usual element, Godzilla is master of all he surveys.
There’s no push and pull between scientists (“we should study Godzilla!”) and soldiers (“let’s make lizard mcnuggets outta the sumbitch!”) here, which does reduce any chances for true tension. Godzilla is an obstacle, in fact the obstacle, to humanity’s survival. Our key human characters aren’t terribly well developed or sympathetic, though, which doesn’t really add to the suspense, and some of the technical jargon surrounding the plan to take Godzilla down reduces the plan to something like a video game final boss battle. But Planet of the Monsters is just so damn gorgeous to look at, and such a complete departure from what you usually expect from this world, that you should just take it all in and enjoy the surprises.
Watch through the credits, too. Toho has this planned as a trilogy, so there will be more animated Godzilla adventures in the hopefully not too distant future. If they’re as good as this one, or if they can improve on this foundation, then it should be a good few years for giant monster fans.