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The Hollywood Reporter

‘Ultraman: Rising’ Review: A Famous Japanese Franchise Gets a Heartwarming American Reboot

By: Jordan Mintzer

June 14, 2024

For millions of Japanese viewers as well as countless fans across the globe, the Ultraman franchise, pitting a giant superhero against giant kaiju creatures of all shapes and breeds, has been a popular staple since it was first launched as a TV series in the 1960s.

But for this critic and likely many other viewers, especially in the U.S., the new English-language feature-length version, Ultraman: Rising, will be their first encounter with a character who’s been taking flight for over a half a century in live-action, animated and manga formats.

Ultraman: Rising

Release date: Friday, June 14
Cast: Christopher Sean, Gedde Watanabe, Tamyln Tomita, Keone Young, Julia Harriman
Director: Shannon Tindle
[Co-director: John Aoshima]
Screenwriters: Shannon Tindle, Marc Haimes, based on the “Ultraman” franchise from Tsuburaya
Rated PG, 1 hour 48 minutes

The experience is not unlike discovering Star Wars for the first time by watching the 2015 J.J. Abrams movie, whose Jedis and Storm Troopers won’t ring much of a bell if you haven’t seen the earlier ones. Still, the the team behind this endearing if familiar Ultraman reboot does a good job at ushering us into a whole new world of heroes and villains, while trying to make the rehashed material feel meaningful.

Much of that material won’t seem new, especially for anyone who’s already seen a Godzilla flick, or one of the Pacific Rim movies, or Big Hero 6. But writer-director Shannon Tindle and co-writer Marc Haimes, who wrote the script for Kubo and the Two Strings, do their best to enhance it: Not only do they add a brand new subplot involving the baseball career of Kenji “Ken” Sato aka Ultraman (voiced by Christopher Sean), but they introduce a real emotional arc about the hero’s traumatic past, as well as an extremely cute fatherhood narrative where Ultraman is suddenly forced to raise an orphaned child.

That child, Emi (Julia Harriman), is no ordinary baby but a pint-sized kaiju dragon, which means she’s about the size of a garbage truck. Pink and cuddly, and with the ability to destroy a state-of-the-art mansion in one temper tantrum, Emi is picked up by Ultraman after a duel with Gigatron, one of many creatures the hero battles as a professional monster-fighter — a job he does while also holding down a career as a professional baller.

In fact, Ken is not only a talented baseball player, but one of the world’s greatest. At the start of the movie, he gets traded from the L.A. Dodgers to Japan’s Yomiuri Giants, triumphantly returning to the homeland he abandoned with his mother as a child. Back then, his father, Professor Sato (Gedde Watanabe), was the first Ultraman, and now it’s Ken’s turn to pick up the legacy, even if he’d much rather be lounging around his bodacious villa and scoring home runs.