Ultraman: Rising Review: Reinventing the Classic Hero for a New Era

Ultraman: Rising packs a lot of complex emotions into its frame as the Tokusatsu classic enters a new era

Ultraman has been experiencing a major revival as Tsuburaya Productions has expanded its classic hero franchise through all sorts of new projects such as a TV anime, comics, reboot films and more. But Netflix has kicked off a whole new kind of endeavor with the company as Ultraman: Rising serves as the first Western animated project in the franchise's history and the first superhero film Industrial Light & Magic has ever worked on. There's quite a lot of pressure from all sides as fans of the classic will be watching with a discernible eye, and the Netflix audience is getting their first impression of the decades old endeavor. 

Ultraman: Rising takes all of this pressure head on as it doesn't shy away from the franchise's long history, but also does not feel weighed down by that history. By choosing to tell a brand new story not seen in any incarnation of the original Japanese TV series, and by featuring a universal emotional core of parenthood at the center of it all, Ultraman: Rising stands out from the rest of its compatriots. It makes for a great viewing experience that's not only visually striking to look at, but narratively filling as well. 

Ultraman: Rising follows Ken Sato (Christopher Sean in the English dub, Yuki Yamada in the Japanese dub), a massively popular and successful baseball player who's forced to uproot his life and move to Japan in order to take over the mantle of Ultraman from his father. In the midst of balancing his superhero and private life, things are flipped on him once more when a child of a kaiju he defeats mistakes Ultraman for its mother. Then needing to raise this kaiju child, Ken then needs to balance work, hero life, and a new parenthood all the while he's being hunted down by a military force seeking to wipe out kaiju completely. 

For fans of the classic Ultraman franchise, this is likely going to sound dramatically different than what has been seen before. There are Easter Eggs throughout alluding to some of the monsters and characters in the franchise, but Ken's origin and Ultraman transformation abilities are divorced from the older incarnations. But even with that said, it never once feels like it loses the spirit of the classic hero in translation. This version of Ultraman feels tried and true to what the classic hero has been fighting for, and the extra layers to Ken's character helps it evolve and feel fresh. 

It's a classic hero with a classic design, for sure, but it feels brand new in Ultraman: Rising. This is noticeable at every level too. To begin with the obvious, Ultraman: Rising is just a great look feature. Ultraman's design is slick, and exaggerated with just a dash to make it cool and fluid in motion. Lighting is so cool to see (as many fights are seen at night to further emphasize glowing elements), the few monster designs we see in action are fun, and the human characters have bold outlining. In motion, it looks even better. 

But the visual aspect of it all wouldn't mean as much without actual meat on the bones to back it up. The story of strained parenthood unfolds over the course of the film, and it explores the multi-generational pain that can unsuspectedly pop up in between parents and their children. The scars of the past are repeated in ways that Ken would never expect. After losing his mother, he and his father grew distant and this new role as Ultraman is only widening that divide as Ken blames the Ultraman title for much of the strife he's currently going through. 

In raising his unexpected child, Ken's eyes begin to open and further gets him questioning the relationship with his own father. It's this back and forth that forms the base of the film, and while it's one of the biggest strengths, it also might be one of its biggest flaws. It's balancing quite a lot, and that means there's not enough of the Ultraman action itself to fully satisfy on that end of things. While it all builds to an emotionally explosive climax, there's really only just that main action sequence in the third act. 

It's ultimately a bit underwhelming in that aspect as the action's fluid and intriguing when it does happen. When Ultraman: Rising completely leans into the action that the franchise is known for, it's firing off on all cylinders. It just takes a bit to get there while balancing the rest of its emotional experience. It's a pay off worth waiting for thanks to all of that character work it takes to get there, sure, but there's still a feeling that it could have been a much more fleshed out experience overall if it had more of that action fun mixed in. 

With all of that said, Ultraman: Rising seeks to tackle a lot in its new vision of the franchise. It introduces a new take on the classic hero, adds unique layers of depth that isn't seen in many of the iterations, has cute moments and explosive action. It's just that it feels like it doesn't quite balance it all as some elements are necessarily sacrificed for the others. 

Rating: 4 out of 5

Ultraman: Rising releases with Netflix on June 14th.