WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway, now streaming exclusively on Netflix.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway has finally brought attention back to both the Universal Century timeline and the Gundam franchise as a whole. Surpassing the box office success of the series' best-known movie, Hathaway has found a home in the West thanks to Netflix. Unfortunately, it doesn't succeed quite as well in the narrative department.
Gundam: Hathaway struggles to establish its main conflict, making it a confusing affair, to say the least. Though it features the franchise's signature focus on philosophical and political ideas and ideals, the lack of explaining exactly what they concern leaves the film itself feeling hollow.
Based on the Hathaway's Flash novels from the 1980s, Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway is the sequel to the legendary anime film Char's Counterattack. Picking up several years after that film, it centers around the now-adult Hathaway Noa, who masquerades as Navue Erin, the leader of the terrorist organization Mafty. This anti-Federation group shares many of the same ideals as Char, seeking to destroy much of humanity for its perceived evils.
This change of heart for Hathaway likely stems from the death of Quess Paraya, much like how Char's return to villainy was the result of his losing several friends and allies after already having done so with Lalah Sune. Where Char's heel turn was already somewhat questionable and left unexplained to an extent, despite being such an important narrative event, Hathaway's role as the leader of Mafty is explained even more poorly.
Outside of the one tragedy in Hathaway's life, it's never explained why he founded Mafty. The presence of a beautiful girl who's seemingly a Newtype brings him to question his crusade, but this only goes to show how little of his convictions beforehand are explained. This makes Hathaway seem extremely petty at times, not unlike the worst bits of Kylo Ren.
It's bad enough that the main character's motivations are so poorly defined, but the film seemingly expects viewers to just know the central conflicts in the world of Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway. One of the biggest reasons in the books that Mafty opposes the Federation involves its treatment of the former space colony and Zeon members. Now living on Earth, these characters were marginalized and treated as second-class citizens, constantly harassed and even deported by the police.
The movie gives a glimpse of this, but never appropriately emphasizes it. Hearing the plight of an everyday Filipino man has an effect on Hathaway, but the movie should have had more moments like this to show that this is the reason why Mafty fights the Federation. This all results in a movie where the CGI Gundam battles don't have any stakes because no one really knows why the characters are fighting. This lack of explanation and substance is noticeable to even die-hard Gundam fans, so those without much knowledge of the franchise will be completely lost.
Even those who've watched Mobile Suit Gundam movie trilogy and Char's Counterattack will be somewhat lost, as simply too much foundational material is missing from the movie. Hopefully, the next two entries in the planned film trilogy will fix these issues to tell more robust stories.