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Review: Shin Ultraman

Following up on his take on Godzilla, Shin Godzilla, director Shinji Higuchi has tackled another beloved tokusatsu property, Ultraman, with Shin Ultraman, out now on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD.

Much like Shin Godzilla, Shin Ultraman is a reboot of the long-running franchise that keeps a lot of what fans love of the franchise while updating some aspects to more modern sensibilities.  Shin Ultraman begins with Japan under siege from a constant stream of massive kaiju, which are dispatched by the government agency S-Class Species Suppression Protocol or the SSSP.  When newer and tougher kaiju begin appearing, a mysterious giant superhero, dubbed Ultraman, arrives to start defeating the kaiju.  The Japanese government, and the world, want to know who or what Ultraman is and the SSSP soon find out that their colleague Kaminaga (Takumi Saitoh) is who they are looking for.  In contrast to Shin Godzilla, which slowly built up to what fans wanted, which was massive destruction from the King of the Monsters, Shin Ultraman kicks right off with lots of kaiju fighting action and then gets into more of the social commentary and character dynamics that also featured in Shin Godzilla.  The mix is much more balanced here, so if you didn’t particularly enjoy the realistic governmental reaction to Godzilla in Shin Godzilla, you have plenty of action to keep you interested, although it never quite hits the energy of the opening act.  There’s some specific commentary about the Japanese government caving to whatever demands the latest alien threat arrives and delivers that probably played more in its home country but there’s some universal philosophy and debate about humanity as well and whether we are on the to destruction or enlightenment and the opinions of various alien entities.  The movie is also very episodic, which is in keeping with the TV series origins of the Ultraman character and there are mini-arcs where Ultraman and the SSSP have to deal with a new threat before moving on to something else.

The action throughout Shin Ultraman is fun throughout, with tons of iconic poses and super moves from Ultraman being represented like his S-Beam or energy saw blades along with his ability to fly.  There are recreations of imagery like Ultraman flying, fist up, out of an explosion, that will be instantly recognizable to any Ultraman fan.  One slightly disappointing aspect is that Ultraman and the various aliens and kaiju he battles are CG.  Shin Godzilla also featured CG but, in my opinion, it was better utilized there and Godzilla looked better than most of the creatures in Shin Ultraman.  There is a lot more variety here, so I guess that’s part of the tradeoff and things get wonderfully weird and cosmic toward the end of the movie.

The cast is great throughout, with one of the standouts being Takumi Saitoh, who has a Spockesque take on Kaminaga, who reacts to his human SSSP colleagues in a deadpan manner that results in some funny comedy bits but he also gradually becomes more impassioned about his love for humanity and their protection.  Masami Nagasawa brings some fun, weird energy as Asami, the newest member of the SSSP who gets directly involved in the action toward the middle of the movie and has weird quirks like grabbing her own butt and saying “Show some spirit!” to get psyched up.  The rest of the SSSP are solid, like Daiki Arioka and Akari Hayami as the SSSP’s science team who contribute theories on how to defeat the various threats and nerd out on kaiju, with Arioka’s Taki specifically being a gigantic sci-fi otaku, with models of famous spaceships around his work area.

If you enjoyed Shin Godzilla, Shin Ultraman has similar vibes with some social satire and commentary about politics and humanity while also delivering lots of fun tokusatsu action and keeping the spirit of the original Ultraman alive and well.

Where to watch Shin Ultraman

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