Godzilla is such a fascinating property because he’s been around for over six decades and is arguably a larger cinematic icon than James Bond. The beast has gone through a number of reinventions over the years, but the most interesting of these facelifts have taken place in more recent years. Filmmakers have gone out of their way to deliver movies that aren’t your standard action-packed Godzilla endeavors.
After some of the more progressive, ambitious takes on the character, such as Shin Godzilla or Gareth Edwards’ reimagining of the franchise, the character is allowed to be more of a cipher that can hint at heavier issues. Yes, Netflix’s Godzilla anime trilogy is about giant monsters that engage in all-out combat with the fate of a planet at stake, but it also mutes the action and focuses on the more intimate, personal fallout of this battle.
Humans and their emotions are much more the focus of these films and the total runtime of Godzilla’s appearances through this trilogy would likely surprise most kaiju fans. This will obviously dissuade some viewers, but after two films that have followed a similar approach, audiences should at least be prepared for the kind of story that Godzilla: The Planet Eater decides to tell.
It’s also important to remember that the person who scripted this anime film trilogy is the same individual responsible for dense works like Psycho-Pass where heady themes are par for the course. This film is more interested in the cost of war, how psychologically damaging battle can be, and the grueling internal battle soldiers face once they’re locked in combat, than it is about vanity sequences where Godzilla runs amok. Just like the other two films in this trilogy, Godzilla largely stays out of the picture, even though this trilogy revolves entirely around him (it’s still bonkers to me that the titular beast is only in Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle for five minutes and he almost feels like an afterthought). Thankfully, Godzilla: The Planet Eater features more of the fearsome kaiju than the other films.
The first film in this trilogy, Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, helped set the stage for what a wasteland the Earth has become 1000 years in the future. Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle deepens that mythology with the introduction of the subterranean telepathic humanoid race, the Houtua. The film also concludes with Haruo’s decision to essentially abandon the plan to use nanometals to suppress Godzilla and to not turn his back on his humanity in order to become a part of something stronger that can overcome their threat. The gambit results in Godzilla’s escape and the utter destruction of “Mechagodzilla City,” but offers a hint of a solution in the form of whisperings over Ghidorah, a monster even stronger than their currently most-hated kaiju.
The Bilusaludo aliens are keen for Haruo to pay for his rash decision at the end of the previous film. Headlining this movement is Exif alien, Metphies, who has turned the relief over the end of the nanometal threat into religious zeal as he convinces Earth’s population that a miracle has happened and that humanity is finally back on the rise. It works in the story’s favor that Metphies resembles a legitimate Messianic figure. He may just be the leader of a fanatic death cult, but he also looks like an angel descended to Earth and it helps his case.
Haruo and Metphies look for a compromise where the best parts of the Bilusaludo and humans can mesh together into a superior being. Metphies’ radical beliefs and the frantic prayers of his manipulated followers worked as engaging breadcrumbs throughout the previous films, but all of that religious fanaticism and idealization of mass suicide pacts come to a head here as Metphies’ and his people prepare for their final destructive coup of this grand “golden demise.” If they’re at death’s door, then they’d prefer that Ghidorah be the one to do the deed and wipe the entire slate clean in the process.
It’s satisfying to see just how much Haruo’s decision during the conclusion of the last film has so royally screwed up the human-alien relations on the planet. Nobody knows if Haruo is a colossal traitor or actually saved the planet from a much more debilitating danger. There’s a lengthy section towards the middle of the film where Haruo just gets in a funk over how badly he screwed up in City on the Edge of Battle. It’s a dark moment for the character, but his eventual realization that survival in itself can still be a form of success helps center Haruo’s actions for the final half of this adventure.
After Metphies experiences visions of the cherished beast, King Ghidorah, he’s able to actually summon the kaiju into existence. Godzilla: The Planet Eater’s interpretation of “The Winged Demise” makes him out to be a massive snake-like dragon of pure energy and gravity (and not unlike the fight against the Katayanagi Twins in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). He looks especially badass and intimidating. The character’s golden kaleidoscope “introduction” is also a staggering, effective way to kick off the picture. Ghidorah’s triple-headed visage enters through various voids and he immediately goes on the offensive. It’s at this point that Godzilla wakes up and decides to remind everyone that he’s the monster that they should be worried about, but Ghidorah quickly establishes his dominance.
Godzilla and his powerful atomic breath are completely useless against Ghidorah, largely because it seems that only a physical representation of Ghidorah has entered this plane of existence and that his true form is off in his original world. This means that Ghidorah can dish it out, but is also essentially invincible. Metphies takes mental control of Ghidorah after he implements some creative cosmetic surgery involving Ghidorah’s amulet. The fight between these titans is sometimes problematic, but it’s also the most satisfying showdown out of this trilogy.
Haruo attempts to stop Metphies and Ghidorah in their attack, but Metphies reiterates that Ghidorah is the Exif’s God and that his sole purpose is to consume planets and be a dangerous agent of chaos. Their purpose is to feed and sustain this benevolent beast’s existence. This psychic showdown between Haruo and Metphies in the final act takes an unexpected twist when the pacifistic growing egg of Mothra, of all creatures, intervenes and attempts to help Haruo by providing him with crucial information about Metphies and his grandfather that allows Haruo to gain control of the battle.
With all of the giant monster mayhem over with, the film presents a methodical epilogue that focuses on the future of humanity and the next generation of survivors and what its future may look like. The conclusion ends on a truly chilling, depressing note as Haruo once again has to clean up humankind’s mistakes as he makes the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good. It’s a painful, bleak note to go out on, but it’s also one that feels tonally and thematically appropriate for this trilogy and definitively ends this story. After the credits finally roll it looks like there’s at last peace, but the line, “As long as you have life, Ghidorah will be watching,” continues to reverberate in your brain. It may only be a matter of time until the fate of mankind is once again put on the chopping block.
The animation in Godzilla: The Planet Eater is sometimes lackluster, features regrettable CG effects, and a questionable score that pales in comparison to the previous two films. With the tiny amount of fighting that actually takes place in this movie, it’s also a little surprising how drab it can be to see two giant kaiju trying to kill each other. The battle, in many ways, is the highlight of the film, but it could still be a lot more captivating and better choreographed.
Haruo’s conflicted mission and what he truly wants out of life is the major driving force through the film. Revenge is often contrasted against peace and these complex philosophies allow Haruo to experience a powerful arc as he fights for the future. In spite of this trilogy’s downfalls, it also feels like something that would flow much better in one sitting. Each film connects and expands upon the previous one and Netflix’s staggered release schedule for the trilogy hasn’t done the story any favors.
This is certainly the most complete of the three films, but it’s also encouraging to see how Godzilla: The Planet Eater helps make the previous two movies in the trilogy feel richer and more complete. The thought-provoking theme of how continued expansion and growth can actually lead to your own demise has never been clearer than in this concluding piece of the trilogy. If nothing else, it should be interesting to see how this interpretation of Ghidorah compares to what’s delivered in Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters this year. Godzilla can clearly hold his own within the world of anime.
Godzilla: The Planet Eater is now available to stream on Netflix.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.