I was a little young to grow up with Ultraman, as the show premiered well before I was born. However, the follow-up show, Ultraseven (which a decade before I was born) played on TNT at odd times of the day so I became familiar with the concept of a giant of light merging with a human and arising to do battle against monstrous foes. It wasn’t until much later on that I saw the show featuring his predecessor (and even longer still before I saw the show that kicked it all off, Ultra Q, but I digress). By then it was easy to say that I was a fan. As such, when I found out that SHIN ULTRAMAN was going to be getting a release stateside, even for just two days, I was going to have to go see it. So I swung by after work to a mall that had as few stores as it did people in it and buckled in for a ride.
Unlike SHIN GODZILLA, which was a remake that completely overhauled and updated the idea of a monstrous creature coming ashore to wreak havoc, SHIN ULTRAMAN stays a lot closer to the source material. In fact, if you so desired, you could break most of it up into chunks that could serve as episodes of a limited series. Which makes sense when you consider the idea behind it was to translate the series into a movie with updated effects and story (as told by the director in the interview that played before the movie). But the main conceit of it didn’t waver. SHIN ULTRAMAN is filled with hope. Hope that humanity can stop the kaiju that are plaguing Japan. Hope that everything will be ok. Hope that a giant alien can help them in their darkest hour.
The story mirrors that of the series. A giant alien comes to Earth to fight monsters. He merges with a human to save the man’s life and together they work for the Science Patrol and when evil emerges, he fights it. Several episodes are cribbed from and cobbled together to form the plot of the movie. Some parts mirror that of their small screen counterpart almost exactly, which is less plagiarism and more an Easter egg for avid fans. This time, the human is Shinji Kaminaga, a strategy officer with the SSSP (S-class Species Suppression Protocol) who is killed during Ultraman’s arrival on Earth. Ultraman takes his appearance and works for the SSSP under this guise. As part of the team, Shinji/Ultraman helps fight monsters while trying to keep his identity a secret and also learns about what it is like to be a human.
Many monsters from the original series make an appearance, albeit with updated designs. Some don’t look much different (Neronga) but others (Mefilas) look pretty sharp. One in particular is drastically changed but in a way that makes it more of a threat than in the original series. In a cool nod, Gomess (which originally was a modified Godzilla suit), is based on the model for Shin Godzilla! Ultraman himself is a bit ganglier than usual but easily recognizable. One of the key differences is the lack of a color timer. For those not familiar with it, this device shows how much time left as Ultraman the hero has. When it starts blinking red, his power is about to expire. In SHIN ULTRAMAN, the color timer is built into the suit as a color change, turning the red markings on his suit to green. It’s a pretty organic change that works well on screen and creates a sharp look for him.
The action is fast and furious and the fights look amazing. We’re a long way from the suitmation of the ’60s. In SHIN ULTRAMAN, the creatures and Ultraman are all digital and look fantastic, at times making me wonder if they used suits for some of it. Some of the flying moves are a little wonky but it’s a small quibble when you’re getting to see a silver and red giant beat the hell out of a kaiju. But the movie isn’t all fisticuffs and there’s a lot of heart, especially between Shinji and his partner Hiroko Asami, as well as the rest of the team as they try to accomplish their tasks with the fate of the world at stake.
My one big quibble is that you never really feel like Ultraman is in danger throughout it. It’s sort of like GHOST RIDER where when the titular character shows up, the fight is gonna be over soon. In that regard, the wrestling-style fights of the original work better as it’s more entertaining to me for Ultraman to be beaten down and then pull out a win at the last minute. That’s not to say he doesn’t take his share of hits, but you never feel like he’s really in danger until the very end.
Unfortunately, the Fathom Event showing of the movie was only for two nights, so anyone who wants to see it now will have to track down the physical and digital versions when they come out. It’s well worth the effort for fans of Ultraman and giant monster movies. Even those who aren’t will find something to like about it. Just like in the movie, you can’t keep Ultraman down for long.
Now, give me SHIN ULTRASEVEN.