Review by Sean Boelman
One of the most anticipated films of the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival was Shin Ultraman, a new take on the Japanese pop culture behemoth from the creators of Shin Godzilla. It’s a movie made by fans for fans, but it can also be a wonderful introduction to the property for the uninitiated.
The film follows a task force of individuals who have been assembled to defend against kaiju attacks as a mysterious silver giant appears and begins to fight the monsters. As a reboot of the Ultraman property, it’s a solid beginning, introducing new audiences to the iconic extraterrestrial superhero while being a fun kaiju movie at the same time.
Like Shin Godzilla, the thing that makes Shin Ultraman stand out is that it is a much more grounded take on the property. Of course, there is still the high-octane kaiju action for which the series has come to be known, but it is through the lens of a procedural drama. As much of the movie takes place in a war room as it does in the field, and it’s an interesting approach.
Although the film doesn’t skewer bureaucracy as strongly as its reptilian cousin, Shin Ultraman still has some interesting things to say about the inefficiencies of government. But the more resonant message here is the optimistic one, showing that, beneath all of the corruption and destruction we are causing, there is still a reason to love humanity.
Admittedly, the character development in the movie does struggle a bit. Ultimately, the film can’t decide whether the audience cares more about the humans or the Ultras, so it tries to give us some of both, and ends up satisfying us with neither. Still, it effectively brings the audience back into the world of Ultraman.
One of the most surprising things about the movie is that Drive My Car actor Hidetoshi Nishijima has a pretty prominent supporting role, and he does a dang good job. He is a highlight in the film playing the leader of the human team, with a performance that doesn’t overbear the main heroes but is memorable in its own right.
Obviously, Ultraman is known for its cheesy practical effects, and while this one modernizes the effects by using CGI, it still manages to capture the wonderfully campy tone that made everyone love the series in the first place. It’s epic in scope but not meant to be taken too seriously, and that’s perfect for what this is.
Shin Ultraman is exactly what anyone would hope for — a fun and subtly smart action flick. The way that writer Hideaki Anno and director Shinji Higuchi blend small and large scale stories like this will never cease to be amazing.
Shin Ultraman screened at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival, which runs July 13 through August 3.