Shin Ultraman Review: A Haphazard, Kaiju-Sized Blockbuster [Fantastic Fest]

"Ultraman" is a franchise that has deep roots dating back to the mid-'60s with the original series that birthed the giant Japanese superhero. We've had several iterations of the character since but now, it's radical reinvention time: "Shin Ultraman" arrives from Toho and director Shinji Higuchi to give us an Ultraman for modern times. Much like "Shin Godzilla," "Shin Ultraman" very much succeeds in providing an update to the franchise that can stand up to modern scrutiny. But, in many ways, that's where the similarities stop with this absolutely insane, visually delightful, and downright haphazard reboot. What begins, instead, is something hard to classify but also impossible to look away from.

The movie takes place after Japan experiences a rapid growth in kaiju attacks. So, the SSSP kaiju defense task force is established to help deal with these monstrous threats. The group is led by Kimio Tamura (Hidetoshi Nishijima). But things get complicated when a particularly destructive monster challenges the SSSP and a giant silver robot arrives from the heavens to save the people of Japan. Quickly labeled as Ultraman, this robot's identity and purpose are a mystery. But shortly after his arrival, other threats emerge, putting the world in greater danger than it has ever been in before.

I can and should tell you that I went into this only being tangentially familiar with the character of Ultraman and not necessarily being a fan of it the way that I am with Godzilla and other big monster and/or superhero franchises. But what I can tell you is that this very much felt true to the Ultraman I was familiar with, while also serving as a fresh jumping off point for modern audiences. An absolutely chaotic, bonkers jumping off point, but a fresh place to start nonetheless.

Ultraman is back

"Shin Ultraman" ends up feeling like a few episodes of an expensive, blockbuster-budgeted show stitched together somewhat messily into a feature film. Be it a script thing or just a straight-up conceptual choice, it's definitely noticeble, for better or worse. Though not necessarily an issue either, "Shin Ultraman" is maybe not as linear and singularly focused as it could be. It's not a "one big threat" kind of movie. It's a lot. 

There are several enemies who appear throughout the film, making it feel like a video game with escalating boss fights. One foe is vanquished, onto the next one. It's a little tough to get a hold of at times but, quite frankly, it's so visually amusing and refreshing that the chaotic nature of the story matters less than it might in a less entertaining film. But Higuchi delivers the goods in that department.

The monster design in this movie is a real treat and makes Hollywood productions that surely have more money and resources to work with look downright sad by comparison. Do things get weird? You bet! But the action sequences and creatures are enough to make you say "f*** it" and just enjoy the weird ride for what it is. It's not nearly as self-serious as something like "Shin Godzilla," making it all the more easy to just have fun with the good-natured, good vs. evil of it all.

Chaotic blockbuster goods

The film that has been crafted here is, at times, closer to something like "Pacific Rim." It has a reverence for what came before in the genre but primarily exists to be fun. It's also quite funny at times, which helps. There's no need to take a giant alien fighting giant monsters and/or other aliens too seriously. Along the way, it also has something to say about the world we live in, even if the social commentary is the opposite of subtle. But one does not enter a movie such as this hoping for subtlety and nuance. It's a Japanese popcorn flick, and a wild one at that.

In an era full of every kind of superhero movie imaginable, when IP is everything, why not let Ultraman be this? Why not have at least one superhero franchise that just swings as hard as it can at the ball? Bright, colorful, and truly nuts, this movie is a breath of fresh air for those who are a little over the sameness of American blockbuster filmmaking.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10

"Shin Ultraman" does not yet have a North American release date set.