Very few things fill my heart with as much nostalgic warmth as Ultraman can, with the possible of exception of Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot. Being a little kid back in St. Louis and sitting on my grandma’s bed, since she was the only one allowed to have a freaking TV, and watching Ultraman was a joyous situation that I’ve yet to duplicate. Of course if you were a child in the late sixties or early seventies watching these wacky Japanese serials, eventually the spirited question would arrive in ‘Who would win a fight between Ultraman and Giant Robot?’ The Ultraman of my childhood had a glaring weakness in that he was fueled by the sun and when the sun went down or a cloud floated by, Ultraman and his alter-ego Hyata were usually toast. This does begs the question why the monsters just didn’t attack at night. Giant Robot had his own issues in that he had to do his dance routine before he did ANYTHING and if you took out that punk kid, Giant Robot was also pretty useless. A debate for another time. Today we’re focusing on a complete rebooted update of Ultraman with director Kazuya Konaka’s ‘Ultraman The Next’ which finds the big silver dude with half a plate on top of his head in fine form even after a forty year hiatus.
Say hello to Maki Shunachi (Tetsuya Bessho), ace fighter pilot for the Japanese Defense Force. Though Maki is fulfilling his childhood dream of taking to the skies, he has decided its time to shut it down at his relatively young age so he can spend time with his wife Yoko (Nae) and sickly son Tsugumu (Ryohei Hirota). Just one last flight and my man is outta here. Well we’ve seen enough movies to know that this one last flight is usually the kicker and during this final flight Maki runs into a huge mystical fireball causing him to crash his plane, but miraculously he survives.
No problem because even though Maki feels funny
sometimes, he quits the force and is now flying small
commuter planes and spending this quality time with his
family, at least that is until a secret Japanese
government agency kidnaps him and throws him in
a steel encased basement. Whattup wit dat? Well, we observed in the films opening scene this brutal looking monster bust out of this very same agency, killing mucho soldiers in the process, and apparently the dude who this monster used to be experienced a similar phenomena that Maki had encountered, with the exception of his ball of energy was underwater and blue in color. And eeeevil.
The fear is that Maki will also turn into a monster like this cat, but also this monster seems attracted to Maki in some non-gay way which has the agency using him as bait to trap and kill this monster once and for all. Not gonna happen. This monster is just getting bigger and stronger, with the ability to absorb other life forms around it and take on their abilities. The good thing is the Maki’s odd feeling has manifested itself into ULTRAMAN! Ultraman has been tracking this mean and evil beast and is set to send back to the hell from whence it came once and for all. The problem with that this monster is bigger, stronger, faster and meaner than Ultraman, plus those fuel cells we remember from past Ultraman television episodes, while no longer sun dependent, still have the tendency to deplete themselves at the most inopportune times. All we know is that if Ultraman fails then there will be nothing to stop this beast from eating all six billion of us. Save us Ultraman!
We will admit, outside of the rather explosive opening sequence, ‘Ultraman the Next’ does take its own sweet time in getting started. A lot of the time is spent with the character of Maki, who is almost always depressed, his son who is almost always sick, and his wife who is almost always concerned about her depressed husband and sick child. So the writers took the time to build up the characters and establish a relationship between Maki and his family, then some service had to be rendered for the actual story of Ultraman and the monster which took a little bit of time, not to mention the side story of the pretty Doctor who runs this government agency who was engaged to the dude before he became the evil monster. So yes, there’s not a lot of action and an awful lot exposition early on in this movie and while I wouldn’t have minded less exposition it did lay a decent foundation for the story that follows.
Then the monster battle kicked into high gear and we got down to the business of destroying Tokyo. Again. This is the best of part of ‘Ultraman the Next’ and the section that will turn grown men into little kids once again and make actual kids smile, at least those who aren’t too scared of this monster who does do an awful lot of human murderization in this movie. Buildings topple, things explode, bridges collapse, people get stomped on and this battle pretty much rages for practically the entire third act of the movie. We do observe that Ultraman and his nemesis violate almost every single law of physics as they fly around in our airspace making impossible stops, turns, cuts and drops which does tend to make our giant creatures look like the computer generated entities that they actually are but all in all, especially for a Japanese monster movie, the special effects are pretty darned good. You might want to a watch an old episode of the original series to get a true feel of how far they have come.
Simply put, if you like monster movies and had a soft spot for Ultraman back in the day then you owe it to yourself to track down a copy of ‘Ultraman the Next’. However if you don’t have an affinity for dudes jumping around and doing battle in rubber suits I seriously feel sorry for you because you need therapy.