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Ever wanted to see what would happen if the man behind Madoka Magica, Psycho Pass, and Fate/Zero made a Godzilla movie? Well, your wish has been granted with Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters.

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is the first film in a trilogy from acclaimed author and anime scriptwriter Gen Urobuchi. And while it may be Godzilla, it’s not exactly the usual Godzilla fare.

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Near the end of the twentieth century, monsters began appearing around the globe. The worst of these was Godzilla. While humanity spent 50 years battling against these monsters, even the help of two alien species—the Exif and the Bilsard—wasn’t enough to defeat the King of the Monsters. Thus, the three species built a colony ship and escaped with whom they could to a new world.

Unfortunately, when they get there after a 20 year trip, they discover the new world to be nothing like they had hoped—as certainly not suitable for humanoid life. Thus, the Humans, Exif, and Bilsard decide to return to Earth where they find that—thanks to time dilation—20,000 years have passed.

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Moreover, the planet that awaits them shares little with the old world they left. A strange fog covers the Earth, unknown plants and animals roam wild, and, worst of all, the King of the Monsters still reigns supreme. Now there is simply no choice but to kill Godzilla and retake the planet—or accept extinction.

The film centers around Haruo, a soldier driven to kill Godzilla and, in doing so, avenge the death of his parents. But it’s not like we really get to learn much about him or the other characters. Rather, this film (as the first in a trilogy) is far more interested in building the setting.

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The first third of the film is spent detailing the situation on the colony ship. With not much in the way of remaining supplies and with no world to colonize, the remaining people are faced with an unprecedented crisis. Many of the young have never lived anywhere but the ship while those old enough to remember Earth also remember Godzilla and the destruction he caused.

However, in the past 20 years on the ship, the three races have worked together to analyze data and invent new technologies—so there is hope that, even should Godzilla and the other monsters still be alive on Earth after such a long time, they can be killed.

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The second third of the film is spent exploring the new, radically different Earth our heroes find upon their return. It also sets the stage for the battle with Godzilla—explaining why the giant monster seems unkillable and what they have discovered that will allow them to kill it.

The third and final act is basically a giant fight scene—the battle against Godzilla in all its climactic glory.

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The film’s biggest problem is that, due to all the time spent on the hows and whys of the fight with Godzilla there is little in the way of character development. It’s all rather one note: Haruo is driven by revenge; Metphies is enigmatic; Yuko has a crush on, and wants to impress, Haruo. It’s hard to root for the characters when there is little to get you personally invested in them.   

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Godzilla, on the other hand, is easy to root for. The idea behind Godzilla in general is that the monster is our reckoning made flesh. Humanity has destroyed the Earth for too long and Godzilla is born from our own hubris and disrespect for nature. Thus, when humanity battles Godzilla, we are facing our own mistake. In other words, our so-called heroes deserve what’s coming to them.

….And, of course, there’s also the fact that when you go see a Godzilla film, you want to see him rain as much destruction as possible—be it on humanity or on other giant monsters.

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All in all, Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a movie more concerned with setting the stage for the rest of the trilogy than telling a story itself. In a lot of ways, with it’s space colony ship troubles, it feels like fellow Polygon Pictures anime Knights of Sidonia—though without the complex, layered characters of that tale. Still, if you are coming just to see Godzilla’s nuclear breath wreak humans on speeder bikes or in tiny mecha, you’ll definitely get a hearty helping.

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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters was released in Japan on November 17, 2017. It is scheduled for a worldwide release with English subtitles on Netflix.

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