A terrible waste.
Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle will launch on Netflix on July 18, 2018. It was previously released theatrically in Japan.
The second part in a trilogy of animated movies, Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle is the continuation of Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, in which protagonist Haruo Sakaki and his cohorts returned to an Earth they had once lost to the titular beast. That movie ends in desperation, as, having thought they had defeated Godzilla, they discovered their opponent was only a smaller version of the king of the monsters, and the big guy was still alive and well.
This time around, the word “city” in the title title refers to Mecha Godzilla City, a creation made from a substance called nanometal. Haruo’s team discover this creation, make it their base, and turn to face Godzilla.
Unfortunately, the motivations of the characters and the reasons for their behavior are made so unclear to the audience that whatever happens as the story unfolds, no matter how tragic or hopeless the protagonists’ plight becomes, it’s difficult to care.
It is never really explained why Haruo and his cohorts feel they had to travel across space and pay heavy sacrifices on this Planet of the Monsters and fight Godzilla. Haruo comes across as a paranoid lunatic, who barks expository monologues as his cohorts follow him blindly, and the movie’s complete negligence to express their motivation to the audience is a crashing failure.
The climactic battle lacks any feeling of motivation. Godzilla attacks, and so defense is simply the obvious reaction. But what are the protagonists really defending? We have no particular attachment to this Mecha Godzilla City on this Planet of the Monsters, and nor do the characters, really. The first movie revealed that 20,000 years had passed and Earth had changed beyond recognition. If this is no longer the planet they had called home, who cares if it gets destroyed or abandoned? It’s hard to feel invested in it.
With a deficiency of resources on a postapocalyptic Earth, you might expect to see the human team hunt for resources, craft weapons, and come up with a carefully considered plan before heading into an exciting battle. Unfortunately, the actual story is nowhere near that interesting.
And as a Godzilla fan, the biggest frustration is being denied the simple pleasure of watching Godzilla destroy a city. That’s one of the main reasons we watch Godzilla movies – to see a gigantic monster break stuff. Seeing Godzilla tower over a familiar landscape brings a sense of scale, but sadly that is missing here.
With all of that said, City on the Edge of Battle does have some interesting themes, such as the confrontation between the humans and the more coolly rational Bilusaludo alien race. The Bilusaludo become one with Mecha Godzilla, part of the machine. They discard emotion to be led instead by efficiency. The idea of merging with a machine and aiming for victory with pure logic is in itself reminiscent of video games. We also see the Exif race, who are governed by religion, and so the film explores how humanity can become torn between reason and doctrine.
On the other hand, when Haruo says that he wants to be “human” and other bizarre statements, and then starts behaving in a hostile way, I found this hard to swallow. His actions come across as self-centered racial dogma. It would make more sense for him to work together with the Bilusaludo and utilize their skills in the battle. For instance, in the Mass Effect game series, alien races with differing appearances and ways of thinking fight side by side, and the conflicts are drawn with great complexity. Compared with that, this movie portrays those subjects in a more simplistic way.
Although this may have been a deliberate attempt to show a group led by one person who makes decisions in the heat of the moment without properly considering the outcome (a criticism that has been leveled at Japan’s conduct during World War II, when the decisions were made by a handful of people), the tragedy and catharsis mean very little since we cannot sympathize or empathize with the hero’s intentions.
Naoya Fujita is a freelance writer for IGN Japan.