Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me a third time — and I’m pretty sure I’ve lost all moral high ground. In Godzilla: The Planet Eater, Netflix and Toho team back up to bore the ever-loving god out of me for a third and, hopefully, final time. Any wishful thinking that the third instalment might magically turn around the series after two utterly lethargic entries was misguided, and my hopes were very quickly dashed as The Planet Eater settled into a familiar rhythm of characters no one could possibly care about reciting pseudo-philosophy no one could possibly understand. Every criticism I’ve ever levelled against the series, from the stilted animation to the lack of action to the awful dialogue still applies. Nevertheless, I powered through and watched it, so here’s my review.
As predicted when I wrote about the second film and the way it shifted the mechanically-gifted Bilusaludo aliens into the role of villains, this time around its the proselytising alien Exif and their ‘mysterious’ religion. A post-credits sting revealed that it was classic kaiju Ghidorah that destroyed their planet and caused them to take to the stars, and this film reveals, clumsily, that Ghidorah and their god are one and the same. After two films of being fairly innocuous if a little creepy, Metphies, the Exif priest, turns full supervillain and sets about summoning Ghidorah for reasons I struggle to articulate and really, truly don’t care about.
To some extent, I had expected a reveal of this kind – that the Exif would be promoted to baddies and that Ghidorah would show up. I had imagined a feasible plotline might have seen the Exif manipulating the situation to put Godzilla against their ancient enemy; that no matter the cost to the human race, at least Godzilla would destroy Ghidorah. I’m not trying to argue my imagined plotline is particularly great. I do believe it would, however, make more sense than what actually happens. Think of all the least memorable Marvel Cinematic Universe villains, the ones who just want to destroy everything for no explicable reason, like the dark elves in Thor: The Dark World. That’s the Exif in The Planet Eater. Sure, Ghidorah doesn’t need a motivation: it’s a giant monster. The humanoid characters who summon him, however, certainly do.
I found myself checking on the runtime as the film progressed, fascinated by how long it was before any giant monsters actually turned up in the giant monster film. True, Godzilla is visible early on, but after the events of the second film he’s ‘dormant’ again. However, once he ‘awakens’ with the arrival of Ghidorah, it’s not like he actually does anything. In fact, I don’t think Godzilla takes a single step in any direction in the entire film – he stands there dormant, awakens when attacked by Ghidorah who just kinda gnaws on him, and that’s it.
For a franchise that was born with the limitations of practical effects and guys in big rubber suits and still managed to create entertainment, it is truly, breathtakingly extraordinary how these three films take the medium of CG anime and do absolutely nothing with it. There’s zero effort to create something that could not have been done practically or that would have been prohibitively expensive with a blend of live action and computer-generated effects. Instead, the trilogy-ending battle looks more like something knocked together for a Flash animation.
Oh, and despite the tease in the previous film, Mothra isn’t even in it.
In previous reviews, I devoted more words than the series really deserves to the potential allegory and allusion that has always been a staple of Godzilla films. This third film left me perplexed. There’s no way to discuss it without spoiling the end of the film, so check out now if you’ve yet to watch and still want to go in relatively open. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably already aware of my overwhelmingly negative critical opinion.
The trilogy began with humans leaving Earth with two alien refugee races. They boarded their interstellar colony ship and explored space and time looking for a new home, and failed. They returned to Earth, now thousands of years in the future due to the science fiction McGuffin powering their ship, and found it dominated by Godzilla and other evolved kaiju.
In the first film, humans tried to use their futuristic but recognisable military technology to defeat Godzilla and reclaim the planet. They failed.
In the second film, the Bilusaludo relied on nanotechnology that felt like an allegorical stand in for nuclear power, causing as it did an environmental disaster similar to that experienced in Northern Japan following the 2011 tsunami and subsequent breakdown of the Fukushima nuclear reactor.
In the third film, the Exif’s religion nearly causes the extinction of all life on earth. The majority of the human and alien survivors aboard their colony ship are wiped out, leaving only a handful of survivors on the surface. Humanoid life on earth is now limited to perhaps a dozen humans and the Houtua, the primitive, Mothra-worshipping tribe of telepaths that evolved on Earth after humans abandoned it. The only piece of functioning technology left is the remnant of a Vulture suit, one of the nanotechnology-powered mecha from the second film. That alone would be an extremely dark ending, but the film doesn’t end there.
Haruo Sakaki, the series protagonist, spent most of the third film in a hallucinatory state reliving moments from his own life while listening to pseudo-philosophical drivel from Metphies. One of the few survivors, he’s among those humans adapting to life with the Houtua when one of the other human military officers announces he’s almost got the Vulture working again – and due to the self-replicating nature of nanomaterial, they can rebuild civilisation from it. Haruo proceeds to commit suicide, taking the comatose and nanotechnology-infected Yuko with him, by flying the Vulture straight into the waking Godzilla’s atomic breath. The end.
In other words, after three films in which military force, technology run amok, and blind religious belief are all damned, the film concludes with its main character completely giving up hope and destroying the last vestige of scientific advancement on the planet. The future will be a tribal life with the Houtua, at one with nature. It’s a jarring conclusion without any kind of nuance. There’s no moment where Haruo discusses his fears of the nanotechnology undoing them as it did the Bilusaludo, he just immediately destroys it and himself in the process. There’s no moderation. It’s a simplistic “back to nature” view that has very little bearing on reality, like anyone who believes “things were better in the past” without any thought for what has improved – medicine, rights, equality, and more. That the film ends with such a heavy emphasis on the ‘magical indigenous people’ represented by the Houtua feels especially egregious given Japan’s historical treatment of its own indigenous peoples.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into it. Yet since the film spends far more time on speeches than action, it feels like someone thought about it.
I watched The Planet Eater with low expectations but figured if nothing else, I’d see an interesting interpretation of Ghidorah and Mothra to go with the incredibly buff, if mostly immobile, Godzilla. It couldn’t even deliver that. I cannot emphasise enough how simply boring these three films are with almost zero redeeming factors. I implore my readers: please, watch literally anything else.
Godzilla: The Planet Eater / GODZILLA 星を喰う者
Directors: Kōbun Shizuno & Hiroyuki Seshita
Japanese Release Date: 9th November, 2018
Version Watched: 90 min (Netflix)