Ultraman: Rising

Children take center stage but aren’t the real stars of “Ultraman: Rising,” a new animated superhero fantasy about absent parents, lost kids, and other Pixar-entrenched stock types. The movie follows (but predictably differs) from “Shin Ultraman,” the most recent high-profile project featuring the 58-year-old alien hero. “Shin Ultraman” was more of a retro-modern redo of the original “Ultraman” series and its serial format. “Ultraman: Rising” aims squarely for a family-friendly mass audience, one that’s probably less concerned with the character’s previous incarnations. That’s not a major or concerning difference, though it’s sometimes frustratingly apparent given that so much of this new movie’s formulaic daddy issues drama recycles decades of pseudo-adult animated movie clichés.

This new Ultraman’s a brooding hero who must grow up to be truly great, which in this case means getting over his domestic hangups—angry with his dad and missing his mom—and also taking care of a giant baby dragon monster. The dragon’s cute and instantly amusing, partly because it doesn’t speak or have a character beyond its wild mood swings and heart-tugging character design. This new version of Ultraman is also not as charming, especially not when he’s a regular person with a family and other mundane concerns. That was never exactly Ultraman’s strong suit, though he still looks good when wrestling with monsters, robots, and other sci-fi menaces.

In “Ultraman: Rising,” baseball prodigy Ken Sato (Christopher Sean) serves as Ultraman’s alias. Ken tries and mostly fails to juggle both a major league career and a kaiju-battling calling. Ken’s arrogance defines him for a while, though that and a few other qualities seem only to matter whenever the plot needs an extra push. Our hero avoids his doting father, Professor Sato (Gedde Watanabe), because he blames his dad for not protecting his mom, who goes missing after an early scene. In that establishing flashback, Sato tells Ken that the key to being a hero is finding balance. So Ken takes it upon himself, with some help from his robot minder Mina (Tamlyn Tomita), to care for Emi, a baby kaiju discovered shortly after a battle with the dragon Gigantron. This puts Ken at odds with the stern Dr. Onda (Keone Young), the generically militaristic leader of the Kaiju Defense Force.

It takes a village to raise Ken, who rejects all of his father’s calls and doesn’t know how to respond to nosy but well-meaning journalist Ami Wakita (Julia Harriman), a single mom of a young, Ultraman-obsessed daughter. Ami puts Ken on the right path, but Mina does most of the work of caring for both Emi and Ken. Dad inevitably swoops in later, but not until it’s time for him to rescue Ultraman from the burden of being a psychologically complex character.

By contrast, Emi is mostly defined by her attachment to Ultraman, whom she assumes is her mother, and her own monstrous bodily fluids, including slimy puke, fiery gas, and gooey “poopies.” These jokes seem to have written themselves, and so do most of the movie’s contrived plot twists and unseasoned dialogue.

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