Greetings Fellow Bog Leeches,
I recently saw the latest Ultraman movie, Ultraman Zero: The Revenge of Belial, and thought I'd make a thread about it in case anyone is curious about this film (and I know you all are). Actually, while I enjoy pretty much everything Ultraman-related, I'll admit that some of the films have a pretty niche appeal, with only fans of the franchise being able to understand what is going on. Thankfully, this movie is a solid film that is fun and entertaining from start to finish, suitable for most audiences.
Ultraman Zero: The Revenge of Belial is a sequel to 2009's Mega Monster Battle: Ultra Galaxy Legend The Movie. In that film, an evil Ultraman known as Belial attacked the home of the Ultramen with an army of 100 kaiju, and lost. Really, that's all you need to know! However, it turns out Belial survived in an alternate universe separate from the home of the Ultraman, and here he has pillaged countless worlds and slaughtered untold billions to assemble a massive army capable of traveling back to the home of the Ultramen to enact his revenge.
The film's story begins with Ultra Seven and his son, Ultraman Zero, fighting off one of Belial's attack ships that had been sent to the Ultramen home world. Belial may be a ruthless mass-murderer, but he isn't the smartest villain around; why send only one ship to attack the most powerful planet in the multiverse when it is doomed to fail and will only alert the good guys of your plans? Ah well, the plot has to start somewhere.
The Ultramen figure out that the attack came from another universe, but they only have enough power to send one Ultraman there. Ultraman Zero volunteers because his name is in the title, and within a few minutes he's off to a magical and surprisingly compelling adventure. Ultraman Zero meets up with two courageous brothers, a princess, and three other giant hero allies on his quest to free the universe from Belials' tyranny.
As I mentioned before, this movie succeeds in pacing and story telling where other Ultraman movies have faltered. It is a far superior film to its predecessor, as that film was essentially a collection of cameos strung together by a series of fight scenes and confusing plot points. In Belial's Revenge the story has a clear three-act structure, with solid pacing that builds up to a well-executed payoff. Like all Ultraman movies, there is a deus ex machina at the end, but unlike some of the other films it is foreshadowed early on, and doesn't feel like a cheat. It is also a testament to the writing that you don't really have to have seen the previous film, or indeed be familiar with the Ultraman franchise at all, to understand what is going on.
Another area this film really shines in are its heroes. Ultraman Zero is lovably cocky, hitting just the right balance between being defiant against seemingly impossible odds and being concerned and compassionate for those who are risking their lives alongside him. The giant heroes joining Zero on his quest are Glenfire a (literally) hot-headed giant alien fire elemental who serves as a body guard for a fleet of space pirates, Mirror Knight, the serene and dutiful silver guardian of the planet Esmeralda, and Jean-Bird, a no-nonsense artificial intelligence tasked with protecting the Princess of Esmeralda, Emerana, after her world was conquered. These heroes are each loaded with personality and play off one another nicely. The human characters are not focused on as much as the giants, but they are also charming to watch and easy to empathize with.
The villains are rather cliché, but they contrast the heroes well in this film. There is the haughty and strategic General Darkgone who contrasts the chaotic free spirit Glenfire, and there is the bestial and reckless General Iaron, who contrasts the lawful and disciplined Mirror Knight. Belial himself comes across as every pure-evil big ugly demon character in every shonen anime ever, but he stays consistently threatening and loathesome from start to finish. While in some Ultraman films the villains may seem 'cool' or sympathetic in their goals, and may even evoke pathos as they get the snot kicked out of them towards the end, Belial and his servants are so contemptible and the heroes so likable that there is never any question of where the audience's sympathies lie. Really, this is how this sort of movie should work, so I once again must applaud the writing.
The film's visuals are actually pretty stunning in places. Fantastic locales such as The Space Nitromethane Sea and the Planet of Mirrors are breathtaking, and the choreography of the action scenes, most of which take place in space, are also fantastically shot. It is a good example of how even effects work that is below the current western Hollywood standard can be impressive when executed with style and skill.
If the film has one problem it's that the climax does drag on a bit longer than it really needs to. I understand that the main appeal of these films are the fight scenes, and the climax is just as well shot as all the others, but it seems like too much was left to be resolved at the very end. For example, there is no reason Belial's generals couldn't have been defeated during their initial fight scenes, as they don't really add much to the story and their side-battles at the end of the movie only draw out the already very lengthy fight with Belial even further. Still, it's not really a big problem, and if you're a fan of Tokusatsu you're already used to this sort of thing.
Like most Ultraman-related media, Ultraman Zero: The Revenge of Belial is not available in the west. However, there is a fan subbed version currently on Youtube which you can view for the time being here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBZ6n4tmaY4&feature=related
I really hope this one gets a domestic release, as it is definitely one of my favourite Ultraman movies. I am quite looking forward to 2012, when Ultraman Zero will return again!