Reviewby Richard Eisenbeis,
Godzilla: The Planet Eater
Following 2017's Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters and 2018's Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle, Godzilla: The Planet Eater is the third and final film in the Godzilla anime trilogy. Penned by acclaimed screenwriter Gen Urobuchi (of Psycho-Pass and Madoka Magica fame), it comes with all the deep psychological exploration—and soul-crushing despair—you've come to expect from his works. This review contains spoilers for all three films.
The Planet Eater begins shortly after the end of City on the Edge of Battle. The human survivors of the battle between Godzilla and Mechagodzilla City have retreated back to the Houtua village and the protection of Mothra's egg. As Haruo sits in mourning at Yuko's bedside, matters begin spiraling out of his control. Mere miles away, Godzilla stands motionless, recovering from his latest battle, but ready to fight all challengers to his domination of the Earth. In space, the human-alien alliance nears its breaking point over the issue of what should happen to Haruo—is he a traitor who helped Godzilla win or a savior who prevented the birth of something even worse?
But the biggest danger is the closest. Nearly all of Haruo's soldiers on Earth have become a fanatical cult worshiping the Exif's god, believing that its divine intervention is responsible for their continued survival. And worse yet, Metphies is encouraging this view, preparing them to help him summon the Exif god to battle Godzilla. But this “god” is not a peaceful one like Mothra—it is the invincible monster that destroyed their civilization: King Ghidorah.
On its most basic level, the anime Godzilla movies have a central conceit; as civilizations grow throughout the galaxy, they are all but destined to cause the creation of a monster that proves to be the death of their civilization. For humans, that is Godzilla, a chaotic living organism brought about as a natural antibody to stop the destruction of the environment at human hands. The Bilusaludo's monster, Mechagodzilla, is a robotic hivemind creature created by taking their logical mindset to its most pragmatic extreme—in other words, if civilization is destined to be destroyed by a giant monster, it's better to become that monster and triumph over any other monsters you might encounter. Ghidorah, on the other hand, is a monster born from the unchecked pride of the Exif, what happened when their pride was confronted with extreme nihilism.
At their pinnacle, the Exif discovered that the universe was finite. No matter how evolved they would become, they would eventually be destroyed, either by a monster of their own making or the heat death of the universe. Embracing their eventual extermination, they actively set out to make the ultimate civilization-annihilating monster, not only to destroy themselves but every other civilization and monster as well. Their absolute belief in their own superiority would allow nothing less. But it's not enough to simply destroy civilizations as their respective monsters appear. The Exif want each civilization to agree with their dogma, to accept that they are doomed and choose final destruction at Ghidorah's hands instead of their own created monster's.
This leads directly into the second theme explored in these films: the need for revenge. It's obvious that Haruo hates Godzilla for the deaths of his parents, comrades, and all those on the spaceship who didn't make it through their long exile. It drives him to continue fighting when all seems lost and allows him to inspire those with similar losses to battle alongside him. However, as losses mount and hope wanes, it's also the perfect tool to lead him to the Exif's way of thinking and make him so focused on killing Godzilla that he'd sacrifice not only himself, but all of humanity and the Earth as well.
But Haruo isn't Ahab and Godzilla isn't his white whale. In the second movie, we see that he is not willing to give everything up for victory, as he was able to put his revenge aside in his attempt to save Yuko. And this is where the drama comes from in The Planet Eater. We see that there is a part of Haruo fighting both his desire for revenge and the ever-mounting despair of his situation. There is hope for him making it out of the film with his soul intact, and this hope is personified in the Houtua.
The Houtua prove the lie of the Exif philosophy. Biologically, the Houtua are as evolved as the Exif. However, they have not come to the same nihilistic conclusion. And why would they? They've created their civilization-ending monster, Mothra, yet they live in harmony with it. In fact, Mothra even fought on their behalf to save them from Godzilla. But it doesn't end there. Even in a world where Mothra is reduced to a fragile egg, the Houtua are able to coexist with Godzilla by simply living in concert with nature and avoiding him. They may fear Godzilla but they don't hate him. He is simply a force of nature. To the Houtua, life is simple: winning is living, death is losing. To give into nihilism would be to decide to lose forever.
When it comes down to it, the film (as well as the entire trilogy) hinges on the internal battle within Haruo, between the nihilism of the Exif and his need for revenge versus the hope of the Houtua and his need to protect those dear to him. As you may have guessed by this point in the review, for a movie about giant monsters fighting each other, there is very little of that in this film. Rather, it is about a battle of philosophies. However, while Haruo's internal battle takes place, Godzilla and Ghidorah do fight it out. Sadly, it's also the most boring part of the film.
The battle between Godzilla and Ghidorah is built around the ever-misunderstood thought experiment of Schrodinger's cat and the role of the observer in quantum physics. What this means practically is that the supposed action climax of the film is basically just Godzilla standing there while Ghidorah bites him and the human scientists deliver an endless stream of technobabble. This is doubly unfortunate as the anime's reinterpretation of Ghidorah is incredibly interesting. Instead of simply being able to shoot gravity beams, The Planet Eater version of the famous monster is seemingly made of gravity. Each head comes out of a separate black hole, and Ghidorah is supermassive in its own right. Whenever characters are in proximity to the monster, time and space get bent in creative and creepy ways.
Visually, Ghidorah's an incredibly creative take on an iconic monster. With its luminous skin, endlessly long necks, and no body to speak of, it looks vastly different from all past versions of the monster. However, despite the changes, it is still unmistakably Ghidorah. And Ghidorah isn't the only visual treat of the film. The surreal dive into Haruo's mind is filled with excellent visual storytelling choices. But where the film really stands out is its climax, which evokes the most taboo moment in Japanese history and uses it to build a beautiful yet haunting image that wordlessly reveals the state of Haruo's tortured soul.
On the aural side, the music is competent if forgettable. However, both the insert and ending themes really stand out. Not only are both catchy songs, but they also serve to bookend and highlight the film's most important scene that unequivocally presents the film's message.
While the exploration and subsequent battle of philosophies is interesting, it's not the debate itself that the audience is supposed to take away from the film. The Exif's nihilistic worldview and repeated genocides put them squarely in the villain category. No, the message of the film is more polarizing, that technology will be our downfall and living in harmony with nature is the best way forward. It's a rather extreme message, but this is far from the first pro-environmental Godzilla film. If nothing else, you will be left mulling it over as the credits roll, which is probably exactly what the filmmakers intended.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : A
Music : B
+ As dark and psychologically complex as you'd expect from the writer of Madoka Magica and Psycho-Pass
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