Review: ULTRAMAN ZERO: THE REVENGE OF BELIAL
Review Of The Latest Ultraman Movie
Author: Jim M. Ballard
Official Movie Site: ultramanzero.com
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains plot details for a new movie.
Opening to theaters nationwide in Japan on December 23rd, ULTRAMAN ZERO: THE REVENGE OF BELIAL (Urutoraman Zero THE MOVIE Chou Kessen! Beriaru Ginga Teikoku) is the latest entry in the enduring Ultraman series, and serves as a direct sequel to last year’s MEGA MONSTER BATTLE ULTRA GALAXY: THE MOVIE (Daikaiju Batoru Urutora Ginga Densetsu THE MOVIE) in which the evil Ultraman Belial was released from a millennia of imprisonment and resurrected an army of 100 monsters to defeat the Ultra warriors.
The new film delves right into the action with a dramatic sweeping shot of Princess Emerana’s home world of Esmeralda being ravaged by Ultraman Belial (now calling himself “Kaiser Belial”) and his empire, and her protector Mirror Knight – one of the film’s three new heroes – leaping forth to her defense.
Moving to the home world of the Ultramen, the story soon picks up after a surprise attack on their planet leads Ultraman Zero to follow the source of their unknown attackers into an alternate universe. There on the desert planet Anu, a young man named Run and his younger brother Nao are engaged in a heated battle against an army of giant robots known as “Legionoids”. During the assault, Run is injured and left dying before his brother’s eyes, before the timely arrival of Ultraman Zero who, touched by Run’s bravery, joins his life force to spare Run from his fate.
Run and Nao shortly encounter Princess Emerana, protected in her spaceship Jean-bird beneath the surface of planet Anu, who teaches them of Ultraman Belial’s empire and the devastation they brought to her home world. Disturbed by the realization that Belial had survived their last encounter, Run swears to find and destroy Belial once and for all, and the trio set off on a journey into the depths of the unknown universe. But shouts of protest are heard from Nao, who believes he and his brother’s sole task is to discover the secret of the “Shield of Baradhi” – a mysterious amulet entrusted to them by their father.
Billed as the Ultraman series 45th anniversary production, the new movie was written and directed by Yuichi Abe, who first made his mark on the franchise directing episodes of ULTRAMAN NEXUS (Urutoraman Nekusasu, 2004), followed by ULTRAMAN MEBIUS (Urutoraman Mebiusu, 2006) and ULTRA GALAXY: MEGA MONSTER BATTLE – NEVER ENDING ODYSSEY (Urutora Garakushii Daikaiju Batoru Nebaa Endingu Odessei, 2008). The up-and-coming director is highly regarded for his experience in visual effects, and ULTRAMAN ZERO: THE REVENGE OF BELIAL is perhaps the ultimate demonstration of his abilities in this regard.
Rather than rehashing what we saw in last year’s movie, it draws upon it’s strengths and takes it to new places. The shift from straight action to fantasy-adventure is a welcome one, and the return of location footage and live action sets blends nicely with the same pioneering CGI work seen in last year’s movie, which save for one set was filmed entirely on green screen.
The youthful cast, led by 22 year-old Yu Koyanagi as Run, all give energetic, entertaining performances and are generally a pleasure to watch, with 10 year-old Tatsuomi Hamada in particular giving a surprisingly strong performance as the young boy Nao.
As with last year’s movie, the film does suffer from incorporating too many ideas for the 90 minute screen time. The space pirates whom travel with the new hero Glenfire are a notable example; they serve no real purpose in the story, and seem to appear and disappear as the action sequences require. The film can at times also feel like a pastiche of other popular works, with the desert planet Anu, the princess and the galactic empire in particular all drawing noticeable parallels to the STAR WARS movies. But whether one views this as a detriment to the film or not, it undoubtedly opens up the mythos of the Ultraman universe even further than the last movie.
Having first cut his teeth on the Ultraman series with ULTRAMAN NEXUS, it is perhaps of little surprise that writer/director Abe also includes several references to the “Ultra N Project”. Cameo roles for two of NEXUS’ leading actors – Yasue Sato and Tamotsu Ishibashi – as well as a surprise appearance from Ultraman Noa, are sure to please fans of the “N Project” that has largely been ignored since its cessation over five years ago.
One particularly enjoyable addition to the story is the return of a long unseen twist on the concept of an Ultraman adopting a human host, the particulars of which have largely remained consistent for the last 45 years. When Ultraman Zero joins with Run he takes on full control of his body, explaining that Run’s consciousness is still alive but “sleeping” within him, leaving Run himself unaware of everything that transpires thereafter. This calls to mind a key point from the original ULTRAMAN– lost in that show’s English dubbing– in which Hayata was unaware of anything that occurred from the time he merged with Ultraman until they were separated at series’ end.
Boasting an impressive combination of computer generated and live-action effects, the film is a true tour de force for Tsuburaya’s effects team. The computer generated effects look just as impressive as last year’s movie, with a much vaster and more imaginative array of environments; the “Mirror World” in which Mirror Knight resides is a particularly stunning setting; the sky filled with an aurora and the characters literally walking on water. The green screen composites are a particularly big improvement over the previous film, in which background elements often became visible through the characters. This problem has been rectified almost entirely this time around, with a very clear definition between the live action and CGI elements presenting a much nicer looking image.
Perfectly complimenting the fantastic visuals is a music score by Kenji Kawai – the composer extraordinaire behind such films as GHOST IN THE SHELL (Gousuto In Za Sheru Koukaku Kidoutai, 1995) and DEATH NOTE (Desu Nooto, 2006) – who makes his second venture into the world of Ultraman after having scored the 2004 television series ULTRAMAN NEXUS. Following from Mike Verta’s grand score for last year’s high-octane action movie, Kawai’s music is aptly suited for the new film’s fantasy-adventure orientation, bringing many new themes and sweeping movements.
While uneven in parts, ULTRAMAN ZERO: THE REVENGE OF BELIAL is overall a highly entertaining film which once again takes the Ultraman series to new places. Incredible visual effects, intense fight scenes and a wonderful all-encompassing musical score should keep all those thirsty for a fresh dose of Ultraman action fully satisfied.
For more information on ULTRAMAN ZERO: THE REVENGE OF BELIAL, please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:
- ULTRAMAN ZERO: THE REVENGE OF BELIAL – Press Notes
- ULTRAMAN ZERO THE MOVIE: SUPER DECISIVE BATTLE! BELIAL’S GALACTIC EMPIRE