The lives of three stunt pilots (Scott, Chuck, and Beth) are changed when they gain the ability to transform into three new Ultra-beings, and form the Ultra Force, to battle four giant Sorkin Monsters.
Ah the 80s. A time when Japan had the toys & the animation studios, while the USA had got rid of its restrictions on advertising to children; resulting in some of the greatest & many of the most shameless commercials disguised as cartoons. In that environment, one can see why Hana-Barbera, who at the time were at a low point in the company's fortunes, might be interested in trying to bring Ultraman to the US. The result was this 80 minute pilot that was hoped to be the start of a new, “Americanised” entry into the storied franchise.
The film (though really it's 4 episodes
cut together) begins with the USA being bombarded by several asteroids from the planet Sorkin, carrying in them giant monsters that soon start unleashing Kaiju terror. Fortunately three ace pilots – Scott, Chuck & Beth – are given the power to fight them when a blinding flash of light - that turns out to be the dormant souls of a race of interstellar guardians - gives them immortality & the power to transform into Ultramen. Guided by the super secret agency that consists of an old man & three “zany” robots, who happen to have future tech & a base inside Mount Rushmore; they become the Ultra Force who must protect Earth from the Kaiju.
So it's a very convoluted spin on the Fantastic Four, but it only gets worse. After defeating the first monster, the Ultra Force earn the ire Dr. Susan Rand, who wants to give peace a chance & thinks communication rather than violence is the answer. It is for the next monster, which they save from the National Guard & send to the Andromeda galaxy because that's apparently far enough to be out of harms way. But not for the next one; which rewards her attempt at empathy (& challenging the cruel experiments of her male co-workers) by trashing New York.
Worse still for the Ultra Force, saving that second monster leads the National Guard to attack them, resulting in greatly exaggerated rumour of their deaths. Except when they reveal themselves to fight the third monster, the army doesn't care about them any more. I suppose they have bigger problems. The show ends with the final Kaiju thrown into the sun (not as cool as it sounds), the Ultra Force remaining vigilant for the next attack & Scott & Susan fall in love because of course they do. Basically it's a whole load of nonsense resulting from the producers attempting to “Americanise” Ultraman by haphazardly shoving in elements from American cartoons & comics.
But does any of that really matter, so long as it leads to some cool Kaiju fights? Well yes, since it's the majority of the runtime. But even if it didn't, the fights themselves are just as confused as the rest of the production. For starters, fights do not start with the Ultra Force becoming Ultramen, but instead with them attacking in toy friendly jets that sometimes fire lasers, sometimes missiles (but never both). It's only when one or more of them are close to death (as in, their plane is about to crash) that they transform, whereupon they usually have to struggle with tentacles for a few minutes before overcoming the monster. It seems a rather poorly conceived spin on the usual “it's too powerful, we have to level up” fight structure, purely for the sake of squeezing in some more potential merchandise.
The monster designs themselves are alright, if rather uninspired. The final one is notable for starting out looking like Mew from Pokemon, only to end up like a cross between Stitch & the Overfiend. But beyond watching buildings get destroyed, there isn't much to the fights to get excited about. Being animated means it lacks the charm of the live-action fights & looking like a cheap 80s OVA means there aren't any key frames or sequences that stand out, not even the transformation poses. Apart from some of the music, there is nothing notable about the show's production.
No TV series ever came from this co-production. One can see how the monster of the week format would have worked if they tried. But the pilot is so bad that it's also clear why they didn't. Not that it couldn't have worked – indeed Saban would come up with a way to sell Super Sentai shows to American audiences only a few years later with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. But Ultraman USA was not to be that show. It was just too crap.