Pretender to the Throne
Godzilla is directed and co-written by Roland Emmerich and stars Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria, Kevin Dunn, Michael Lerner, and Harry Shearer.
If one were to consider the 1998 American Godzilla to officially be a part of the Godzilla library, the question must be asked: what exactly is it about the 1998 Godzilla that is impressive enough to qualify it as a Godzilla film? Certainly, we are not dealing with the same Godzilla that made Tokyo and all of Japan his personal playground for the better part of the 40 years prior. No, this is a Godzilla that is making his presence felt in New York City: the perfect spot for a monster attack in the United States. So let me rephrase the question: is a Godzilla film, set in New York, and entrusted to none other than Roland Emmerich enough to qualify said film to be a part of the official Godzilla library? The answer, my dear readers, is a big fat no.
The 1998 Godzilla was the first of an originally planned American Godzilla trilogy; Toho was in the middle of their second Godzilla hibernation period, not intending to bring back the character until the start of the new millennium (I think it was around 2004 when Toho had planned on rebooting the series). Toho granted permission for an American Godzilla film to producer and distributor Henry G. Saperstein, and after jumps through many hoops, a Godzilla film produced by TriStar Studios, written by screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, and utilizing the talents of director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin was in the works, at least until Emmerich decided to throw out Elliott and Rossio's script and, with Devlin's assistance, create a new one from scratch. Emmerich made it very clear that, if he agreed to do the film, he would be granted total creative freedom with no worries about studio interference. Right then and there, Godzilla was doomed to fail, because if there's one thing we've learned about Roland Emmerich over the years, it's that the man is a savant when it comes to style-over-substance.
I was only knee high when Godzilla first hit theaters back in 1998, so I have utterly no memories of the film's rampant advertising campaign. You maybe have seen pictures or short video clips of it: buses, billboards, and other large structures with a poster for the film that read: his ____ is bigger than this ____. TriStar had no confidence the film would do well, evident in their refusal to give test screenings and set aside time to fix any flaws. Thus, their only hope was to market the crap out of the film and try turning Godzilla into the film that everyone was talking about, increasing the likelihood that people would go see the film just because they saw posters for it on every street corner, not because they thought it would be a great time at the theaters. Either way, it's a ticket someone pays for, and that's all that matters at the end of the day. When all was said and done, Godzilla walked away to the tune of $379 million, but given the fever pitch of the marketing campaign, this was nothing short of a disappointment. The planned sequels were cancelled, and Toho immediately began production on a new Godzilla film, leaving this Godzilla to be nothing more than an ugly scar on the franchise.
So let's take a bite right in: the film opens with sepia-tone footage of French nuclear tests, coupled with shots of iguanas crawling around on a beach. The first sentence of the Wikipedia plot summary contains the following: "an iguana nest is exposed to the fallout of a military nuclear test." The movie hasn't even started yet and we're already at strike one: the confirmation that this Godzilla is an iguana, and not the kind of T-Rex, stegosaurus hybrid we've known Godzilla to be. Roland Emmerich has stated that he wanted this Godzilla to represent a giant animal and not a giant monster, which sort of defeats the purpose of the whole thing, but I digress. We then move on to a giant sea creature attacking and destroying a Japanese fishing vessel, about the closest this film ever comes to honoring the original 1954 Godzilla. It's perhaps the only time you can watch the film and be optimistic that things won't turn out so bad, but no, it's all downhill from here. The film introduces us to Dr Nick Tatopolous (Broderick), a scientist who is out in Chernobyl, studying the effects of radiation on worms. He is greeted by the U.S. State Department and is taken to Panama and Jamaica to help study giant footprints and the remains of the fishing vessel. Nick deduces that the footprints and the shipwreck are not from a dinosaur, but from some giant creature that was subjected to nuclear testing. That very giant creature soon surfaces in a rainy New York, and needless to say, he's quite the unwelcome visitor.
- Godzilla clocks in at a whopping (and inexplicable) 139 minutes, but I credit Roland Emmerich for this: he does find a way to inject some kind of entertainment value into the film and keep it from feeling as long as the run tie suggests. Now, don't get me wrong: this is not a type of entertainment that will slap a silly smile on your face and make you want to watch the film over and over again. The best way to describe how Godzilla is entertaining is rooted in morbid curiosity: this is a film that believes it's something awe-inspiring, something that will have people talking for years. The most famous giant monster of them all is coming to America, and he's stomping around none other than the Big Apple, truly a must-see. For at least the first 10-15 minutes, you buy into the notion that this Godzilla will be somewhat awe-inspiring, an honorable addition to the Godzilla library, and that it was not a mistake for Toho to entrust their beloved kaiju with a Hollywood studio. Then you see Matthew Broderick driving and singing to the tune of Singin' in the Rain, then you begin to notice the questionable acting and the lame dialogue. Finally, you see the hideous CGI creation that is Godzilla. By this point, you have already given up hope that Godzilla will be decent, but you can't shake the notion that you want to keep watching, not because you're amused by what you're seeing on screen, but because you're fascinated watching Godzilla continue to go through its delusion of grandeur with shameless, childlike zeal. It's a movie so infatuated by being the first American film titled Godzilla, that it doesn't care one iota how many technical blunders it suffers along the way. It's about cranking out some kind of an audio-visual product, all for the honor of slapping the title Godzilla on the poster when all is said and done. It's like the filmmakers knew deep down this was a bad movie, but instead of hanging their heads and feeling sorry for themselves, they were going to embrace this misfire like a badge of honor. Yeah, this movie is a piece of shit, but it's OUR piece of shit!
A quick sidenote: Something else that helps is that Godzilla never takes itself too seriously: a barrage of one-liners and goofy character interactions is evidence that the movie is at least having fun with itself. Certainly, the movie is in the spirit of what Emmerich likes to do with all his blockbuster sci-fi films: have fun with little to no regard towards facts and logic.
- It seems unfathomable to believe that this Godzilla could be any worse than the likes of Toho's worst, such as Godzilla's Revenge or Godzilla vs. Megalon. From a pure film-making standpoint, this Godzilla is, in all seriousness, above and beyond what those films had the audacity to churn out. That's still not saying much though, because Godzilla's special effects, specifically its CGI, is simply unacceptable. Godzilla himself is as shoddy as can be, especially during the early scenes that take place during the day. It's no wonder that Godzilla ends up appearing mostly at night, that way Emmerich and crew can better conceal their hideous CGI. As an added bonus, Godzilla runs away nearly every time he appears, like he's the world's shyest giant monster. There was no faith in the creation of this Godzilla, nor was there faith in the equally shoddy baby Godzillas that make up the film's third act. The entire sequence in Madison Square Garden is a complete ripoff of the velociraptors chasing the children scene(s) from Jurassic Park, and it all adds up as just a way for Emmerich to pad the run-time. Good special effects is the one thing you'd think this movie would get right, but no, Emmerich can't even provide that to us. Would you believe Terminator 2 came out almost ten years earlier?
- So the misrepresentation of Godzilla as an iguana is strike one. The awful special effects was actually strike three. Strike two against the film is its pitiful lineup of characters and the equally pitiful acting performances to go with them. I commend Matthew Broderick and find the guy to be a perfectly fine actor. I have no clue though what kind of preparation he did for this role. Broderick, while able to convey Tatopolous's charming nerdiness, is incapable of showing anything resembling fear, as if Tatopolous is experiencing fear for the first time in his life and doesn't know what short of facial expressions and tone of voice are supposed to go with fear. Jean Reno isn't even trying to hide how much he is not taking the movie seriously, while poor Maria Pitillo looks like she has little confidence in her performance and is getting by on the bare minimum. It's unfortunate Pitillo's career never amounted to anything more prominent than this movie. I think the right director and the right script would have given the chance to deliver a performance to prove she did have some talent. But anyway, there's nothing really to like about any of these characters. Emmerich even goes as far as to put in Mayor Ebert and Assistant Gene: obvious parodies of film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. I get that Emmerich was salty about the negative reviews Ebert and Siskel gave to some of his earlier films, but what I don't get is Emmerich not having the guts to have Godzilla squish these two like bugs. Emmerich was probably so despondent by the end of principal photography, that he no longer had the energy to do so. What a shame.
Kenpachiro Satsuma, the actor who played Godzilla during the Heisei series, walked out of a fan convention and gave a quote that I think perfectly summarizes the 1998 Godzilla and everything that's wrong with it: "It's not Godzilla. It doesn't have his spirit." This is not Godzilla we're watching; this is some giant, cowardly iguana creature that is so far off from everything Godzilla represents, it's best to think of this monster as one of he various names that fans have critics have dubbed the monster over the years: GINO, which stands for Godzilla In Name Only, or what Toho started to trademark the monster as: Zilla. I personally prefer Zilla, because I see it as a monster that thinks it's Godzilla but is unworthy of having "God" in its name.
All the signs were there from the start: the quick shooting schedule, the lack of test-screenings, and the reluctance of its director, co-writer Roland Emmerich. Was anyone that surprised that Godzilla was the disappointment it ended up being? While the entertainment value is there, Godzilla is heavily lacking in everything else: compelling characters, convincing special effects, and the spirit of the kaiju it's based on. It's a soulless film that believes it's something more special than it actually is, which is why you can at least watch it with morbid fascination. In the years since, Emmerich has stated he regrets taking the directorial role, and Dean Devlin admitted to he and Emmerich's script being the source for the film's failure. Failure is the only way this Godzilla will be remembered: a failure to bring Godzilla to American studios (until 2014 at least), a failure to honor what Toho spent the better part of 40 years on, and a failure to represent who Godzilla is and what he stands for. I will never consider it to be a part of the official Godzilla library, and based on the reactions of Emmerich, Devlin, and several of the actors over the years, they probably don't want to either. Godzilla In Name Only or Zilla, indeed.
Recommend? No. The only thing I can possibly recommend is if you're in the mood to watch a movie you can watch and make fun of for 2+ hours.
Some monsters just want to watch the world burn
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah is directed by Takao Okawara, written by Kazuki Omori, and stars Takuro Tatsumi, Yoko Ishino, Yasufumi Hayashi, Sayaka Osawa, Megumi Odaka, Masahiro Takashima, Momoko Kichi, and Akira Nakao.
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah marks the end of the Heisei Godzilla series, and that's exactly how the movie is presented: like an ending. Marketed as the movie in which Godzilla dies (even though Godzilla died once before in the original 1954 Godzilla), Godzilla vs. Destoroyah was meant to be the final Godzilla film produced by Toho until the character's 50th anniversary in 2004. In the meantime, a trilogy of American Godzilla films starring Matthew Broderick was to be made, but this plan backfired so hard that it convinced Toho to bring Godzilla back much sooner than they had originally anticipated. So in hindsight, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah's sense of finality isn't as strong as it planned to be, but that doesn't stop the film from being one of the best of the entire Godzilla library.
In the summer of 1995, producer Shogo Tomiyama announced that the next Godzilla film would be the final installment of the series. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II and Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla were unable to generate the sizable audience turnout that Godzilla vs. Mothra succeeded in generating, so it made sense for Toho to send Godzilla on another hiatus, not wanting to further diminish the character's popularity and drive him into the ground again like they did at the tail end of the Showa series. The original plan was to have the Heisei Godzilla face off against a ghost version of the original 1954 Godzilla, but the idea was scrapped because the producers didn't want to have three straight films in which Godzilla faces off against some alternative version of himself (robot Godzilla, space Godzilla, and then ghost Godzilla). However, the idea to callback to the original 1954 film was kept in place, and believe me: the original 1954 film will get brought up A LOT when discussing all the modern-day Godzilla films. The callback to the 1954 film primarily deals with the Oxygen Destroyer, the weapon that killed the original Godzilla and, as we quickly learn, gives birth to Destoroyah.
The movie opens with Godzilla going on a rampage through Hong Kong, but there's something wrong: Godzilla is covered with bright, fiery spots, and his atomic breath has now turned a red-orange color. It turns out that Godzilla is undergoing a nuclear meltdown: his heart acts a nuclear reactor, and when his temperature reaches 1,200 degree C, he will unleash a nuclear power capable of setting Earth's atmosphere ablaze and burning the entire planet's surface to the ground. The JSDF scrambles to find a way to prevent this nuclear meltdown, but Godzilla's meltdown isn't the only problem. Scientists discover that the Oxygen Destroyer has mutated organisms living in Tokyo Bay, and these organisms quickly evolve into giant creatures that start to wreak havoc. The creatures eventually merge together to form one mega monster the JSDF dubs "Destroyer", which soon comes into contact with Godzilla. I should also mention that Godzilla Junior is present, which should be totally expected, given that these late Heisei Godzilla series all seem to love having a baby Godzilla involved.
- Godzilla vs. Destoroyah wants to be as grandiose and hard-hitting as possible given the stakes involved in the plot, and it hits the nail right on the head with its action and special effects. While there may not be much in the way of monster choreography, the monsters exchange massive blow after massive blow, and there's no shortage of blood and graphic monster violence. The addition of steam and glowing orange spots are nice touches that properly evoke the idea that Godzilla is melting down. The Godzilla suit is also one of the best ones of the Heisei series: a firm, well-rounded head and dorsal fins that maintain their standard shape, but also look like they're about to melt off at any moment (as they should). The best feature is Godzilla's eyes: a bright orange color to match his atomic breath, as well as make Godzilla look like a fearsome hellspawn. One of the most impressive effects is a transition effect that occurs when the JSDF temporarily freezes Godzilla using their advanced Super-X III fighter jet. For 1995, it's an effect that still holds up extremely well showing a face going from unfrozen to frozen. Obvious green screen is basically nowhere to be found in the film, and the use of enough low camera angles and framing techniques do a nice job of giving the necessary impression of the monsters' size. If this movie was being graded on special effects alone, it would get an A+ without question.
- I do hope that Toho can bring Destoroyah back at least once or twice in future kaiju films, because this is one of the coolest monsters that they've pitted Godzilla against. Starting off as a microscopic trilobite creature, Destoroyah first evolves into several large crab-like creatures, then into a flying super crab, and finally, a massive bat-creature that looks like it could be mistaken for the devil. It's no coincidence that both Godzilla and Destoroyah look like they've been pulled out of hell; they're about to burn all of planet Earth to the ground. Destoroyah has a neat line-up of powers: he has a pinkish breath that, I assume, sucks the oxygen out of anything it touches. He also can use his horn as a glowing katana blade (he only uses it once or twice though). Destoroyah can also devolve back into the crab-like creatures he was previously, and he also uses his long tail to drag Godzilla around and choke him. This is truly one of the most evil, merciless monsters that Toho has created, and there are various moments where he overwhelms Godzilla, even when it seems like Godzilla is gonna blow any second. Everything about Destoroyah backs up his ridiculously awesome name, which is why it's a huge bummer that the English subtitles and dubbing continue their notorious tradition of butchering various kaiju names, referring to Destoroyah as just Destroyer. Just doesn't have the same kick to it.
- If I would say that there is anything noticeably wrong with Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, it would be that the movie has a series of bizarre moments that beg an explanation. The scene of the JSDF facing off against the Destoroyah crabs is an action scene straight out of Aliens, and there's a true head-scratcher when one of the crabs tries to kill one of the characters that gets trapped inside a car. The crab tears the car apart and has a clear opening to make the kill, but it doesn't follow through. There's also a goof that kind of ruins a moment when Destoroyah bites a big hole in Baby Godzilla's chest: the chest wound is just magically gone a few minutes later. The climax of the film also transitions from day to night rather abruptly, but given the film's plot and tone, it's perfectly understandable why most of it takes place at night. In summary, there are a series of little moments here and there that don't really make a lot of sense, but these moments are small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, so it's not worth harping on them too much.
Being advertised as the film in which Godzilla dies, Toho ended the Heisei Godzilla series on an absolute high, delivering one of the best films of the entire Godzilla series, maybe even the best since the original 1954 film. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah offers just about everything we could ask for: terrific special effects, a plot with perfectly fleshed-out, and a new monster in the malevolent Destoroyah that Toho should seriously consider bringing back in future Godzilla and/or other kaiju-based films. There are some weird moments during the film that don't make a whole lot of sense, but when you've got the kind of explosive action this film offers and not have to worry too much about characters and story, it's easy to just sweep those confusing little moments under the rug and fully enjoy the film for what it gives you. Toho went all out with Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, and while this "ending" for Godzilla didn't quite work out the way Toho had hoped in regards to when they hoped to bring the character back, it doesn't diminish the film's emotional weight, its ambition, nor any of its achievements.
Recommend? Yes. This is a must-see for all Godzilla fans.
Kaiju is an artifact designed for space travel.
Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is directed by Kensho Yamashita and stars Megumi Odaka, Jun Hashizume, Zenkichi Yoneyama, Akira Emoto, and Towako Yoshikawa.
Upon re-watching Godzilla vs. Biollante some months back, I was at least somewhat convinced that that film was the worst the Heisei Godzilla series had to offer. I have come to rescind that statement, because, oh boy: if Godzilla vs. Biollante was a chore to watch, then Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is a chore and then some to sit through. I suppose the one thing Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla has over Godzilla vs. Biollante is that the former is never straight-up boring, but when speaking in terms of pure technical prowess, Godzilla vs. Biollante takes the cake. After bringing many of the classic Showa series kaiju up to speed, the Heisei series would ride off into the sunset with two films, each featuring a new monster for Godzilla to take on. The first of these monsters is an outer space version of Godzilla with the impressively un-creative name of SpaceGodzilla, and if you were thinking that Godzilla gets to travel to outer space to go toe-to-toe with this new monster, I'm sorry to say that Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is unwilling to give us such a luxury, despite the fact that Godzilla has already fought in space before. It's also worth noting that Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla continues the process of having the demise of one monster plant the seeds for the birth of a new monster. The end of Mecha-King Ghidorah brought about the rise of the new MechaGodzilla, and the end of MechaGodzilla gave way to the new giant mecha, M.O.G.U.E.R.A. So how did SpaceGodzilla come into existence, you ask? Well, it turns out that Godzilla cells from Biollante and Mothra somehow made their way to a black hole and were exposed to radiation, thus generating a space monster that is practically identical to Godzilla.
That's just scratching the surface of how bizarre and crowded the plot is for Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla. The human side of the story concerns three members of the United Nations G-Force: Koji Shinjo (Hashizume), Kiyoshi Sato (Yoneyama), and Akira Yuki (Emoto). The three travel to Birth Island to execute Project T: a plan to stop Godzilla from attacking cities by controlling his mind with telepathic powers. The plan goes awry when SpaceGodzilla arrives on the island, attacking Godzilla and imprisoning Godzilla's offspring: Little Godzilla (again, impressively un-creative). SpaceGodzilla then departs to go and lay waste to Japan, with Godzilla in hot pursuit. Godzilla isn't alone in his fight, however: the Japan Self-Defense Forces send their new mecha M.O.G.U.E.R.A. to assist.
So you've got a couple human characters and a handful of monsters. Sounds like a typical day at the office for Toho, except that the film flies by at an almost breakneck pace, and the script by writer Hiroshi Kashiwabara crams in so much extra material that it's next to near impossible for any of the film's story-lines to breathe. The whole Project T bit eventually morphs into an in-your-face message about how, "all living creatures have feelings", which serves as a continuation of the environmental messaging from 1992's Godzilla vs. Mothra. Speaking of Mothra, the twin faires (aka The Cosmos) like to show up every now and then to provide encouragement for our recurring psychic character Miki Saegusa (Odaka), and it's about as pointless as poor Little Godzilla, who does nothing but walk around and look cute until SpaceGodzilla shows up and takes him out of the movie entirely. I truly don't know the reasoning behind why all these later Heisei Godzilla series insist on having a baby Godzilla be present. At least Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II made the baby Godzilla feel somewhat integral to the plot, while Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla simply uses a baby Godzilla as a means to put another monster into the movie, no matter how useless said monster is. But anyway, we've got Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, a baby Godzilla, telepathic powers, and a pro-animal, pro-environment message all to worry about, and it all adds up to one cluttered monster movie.
- The good news about Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is that, once SpaceGodzilla shows up on Earth, the monsters pretty much take over the movie, which isn't too long of a wait. The monster fights and special effects though are all over the place: shots of Godzilla using his atomic breath or SpaceGodzilla using his lightning(?) blasts make for some fairly entertaining monster action. Unfortunately, there's next to nothing in the ways of choreography: Godzilla and SpaceGodzilla just stand still and keep blasting each other, while M.O.G.U.E.R.A flies around and launches a few attacks every now and then. The only part of the monster fights with some sense of choreography is when M.O.G.U.E.R.A runs towards SpaceGodzilla and uses a drill attack, and then back off once SpaceGodzilla retaliates. By the way, the M.O.G.U.E.R.A mecha in the film is an updated version of the same robot character that first appeared in the 1957 film The Mysterians. Anyway, the special effects during the monster fights are standard fare for a 1990's Godzilla film, but there's also the occasional ugly green screen shot, particularly during some scenes of Little Godzilla walking around and the Cosmos coming down to speak with Miki in the form of a tiny Mothra. Some shots of the giant SpaceGodzilla crystal flying through space are a bit of an eyesore as well. With the monsters taking over the movie at a relatively early point though, it means that there is plenty of building smashing, colorful lights, and kabooms to satisfy. I wouldn't go as far as to call the monster action enthralling, but it's what you came for, and it's what the movie gives you plenty of.
- Much like the English dubbing, the screenplay for a Godzilla film almost always leaves a few holes to address (although the dubbing is more like a gigantic sinkhole). What hurts this Godzilla movie most of all however is its pacing, in which the absolute bare minimum is done in order to get from Important Plot Point A to Important Plot Point B. No better example than this: there's a scene where Miki is kidnapped by the Yakuza and literally a few minutes later, Shinjo, Sato, and Yuki are attempting to rescue her. Travel time and distance are complete non-factors here: SpaceGodzilla is probably the galaxy's fastest space traveler, and M.O.G.U.E.R.A proves to be quite the space traveler himself, since he can fly out to space, intercept SpaceGodzilla, have a fight, get badly injured, and then return back to Earth all in one perfect run. I know I'm digging too deep into something that doesn't deserve to be nitpicked, but the movie is trying to do so much in so little time, there isn't anything to latch on to and absorb, and thus, the pacing feels wildly off. Kensho Yamashita and Hiroshi Kashiwabara stated they wanted to make the film more lighthearted and to put more emphasis on character development. That sounds nice and all, except that the movie seems to be doing anything and everything to try and get to the monster action, so the whole character development part kind of fizzles out. There's also not much room in the ways of humor, so I am unsure exactly as to where Yamashita and Kashiwabara thought the film was more lighthearted. The movie falls way short of its most ambitious goals, which is a disappointment, because this maybe could have been one of the best Godzilla films ever if Yamashita and Kashiwabara had achieved what they set out to do.
It's a bit much to call Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla a disaster; the movie succeeds at being entertaining from first frame to last frame, with plenty of kaiju action that no Godzilla fan in his or her right mind can complain. Everything else though? Not so great: The special effects are a mixed bag, the story is bloated by Godzilla movie standards, and the pacing is incredibly off. It isn't anywhere near as bad as the likes of Godzilla vs. Megalon and Godzilla's Revenge, but Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla unfortunately takes the crown for worst Godzilla film of the Heisei series. SpaceGodzilla is an okay monster; I like the look of the giant crystals on its shoulders and the alligator-like face that gives him enough distinction from Godzilla. Under the right circumstances, I think this is a monster that Toho could sell. The story we have here from Yamashita and Kashiwabara however, isn't the one to make SpaceGodzilla work. It tries to be a story about telepathy, about how animals have souls, and about Godzilla facing off against an extraterrestrial version of himself. It's never straight-up boring, but watching Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla tends to be a bit of an arduous chore, kind of like a long flight through outer space. If only NASA had SpaceGodzilla's speed.
Recommend? No, but the movie can make for some entertaining monster action.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is directed by Takao Okawara, written by Wataru Mimura, and stars Masahiro Takashima, Ryoko Sano, Megumi Odaka, Yusuke Kawazu, and Daijiro Harada.
The Heisei Godzilla series finally found its footing after Toho brought back some of the classic kaiju monsters: King Ghidorah and Mothra in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah and Godzilla vs. Mothra, respectively. If audiences liked seeing these familiar monsters back on the big screen with more up-to-date technology, why not keep it going? Toho continued the "digging through the memory box" trend in the fifth film of the Heisei series, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, bringing back not one, now two, but three of the classic Godzilla era monsters: Mechagodzilla, Rodan, and Baby Godzilla. On one hand, you could be upset that Toho was unwilling to think up new, original monsters for Godzilla to face off against. On the other hand, you could be happy that Toho was not going to let some of the Godzilla series' most famous monsters be forever stuck in the past. Whichever way you may feel, the classic monster revival formula was still working: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II was another commercial and critical success.
I'm not sure what it is about Mechagodzilla, but it seems like whenever he battles Godzilla, Toho is giving one of their better efforts. The 1974 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is easily one of the best Godzilla films to date, and while 1975's Terror of Mechagodzilla was a disappointment, every Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla film afterwards has been, at the worst, competent. If competent is the absolute worst that it gets for a Godzilla film, you are in a good spot, my friend. So yeah, that is to say that Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is perfectly competent. It's also very entertaining and one of Toho's best efforts during the Heisei series. I now feel even worse when, at a younger age when I was watching all these Godzilla films for the first time ever, the local video rental store nor my local library had this film on DVD for me to check out. Thus, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II was the one Godzilla film that always dodged me, until I discovered the Internet and its capabilities.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II serves as a sequel to Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah: a new anti-Godzilla team known as the G-Force retrieves the robotic head of Mecha-King Ghidorah, using reverse engineering to learn about the head's technology, paving the way for the creation of two new Godzilla-fighting machines. The first is a gunship called Geruda. The second is a giant mech called Mechagodzilla. Two years after Geruda and Mechagodzilla's conception, a Japanese team travels on a mission to Adona Island, where they come across a giant egg. The egg gives off a signal that attracts Godzilla and Rodan who do battle while the humans escape with the egg. The egg later hatches to reveal a Baby Godzilla, which gives off psychic calls that brings Godzilla to Japan. Godzilla's destructive tour through Japan brings him face to face with Mechagodzilla, later transitioning to a fight involving Godzilla, Rodan, and Mechagodzilla.
Hold on a minute. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is a sequel to...Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah? Once again, titling issues cause unnecessary headaches for a Godzilla film, and let's just get it on record that this titling issue is never going away. The Japanese title of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is just Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, and the reason for the 'II' in the English title is because Western markets like TriStar Pictures did not want to have different films in the same series to have the same name. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla was already taken by the 1974 film, so despite the fact that Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is not a sequel to the 1974 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, nor does it have any affiliation with that film whatsoever, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is the title that was released to Western audiences. This same titling issue would appear yet again with 2002's Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, which also had the title Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla in Japan. Bottom line: the title Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla makes almost no sense anymore.
- The entertainment level is sky-high in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. Kaiju action is aplenty, and the special effects are (for the most part) about as good as they could be for the early 1990's. The absolute worst the effects get is some embarrassing green screen shots of Rodan flying over Japan. Oh, by the way, the English dub calls him Radon, which is technically his official name, but because previous English dubs always referred to him as Rodan, it doesn't sound right to hear everyone say, "Look! It's Radon!" Anyway, Godzilla, Rodan, and Mechagodzilla go about fighting each other by basically blasting each other to bits. Godzilla's atomic breath is his best friend in this movie, and, for whatever reason, Rodan gets his own atomic breath to use late in the film. Mechagodzilla has a colorful line-up of weapons, and he sure puts all of them to good use. There's not much in the ways of monster movement; the fights are comprised of Godzilla, Rodan, and Mechagodzilla mostly standing in place and trying to fire their weapons at each other. The only physical fighting the monsters do is a couple body slams and Rodan pecking at Godzilla and Mechagodzilla. That may not sound like overly interesting monster action, but Takao Okawara always finds a way to have one monster get the upper hand and generate an end result that feels like it matters, which is enough to ensure that all the monster action ends up contributing to the plot in some way.
- It's strange to not have really much of anything to criticize in regards to the story or the monster action. The story is as straight-forward and sensible as they come for a Godzilla film: Humans create a giant mech called Mechagodzilla, and Godzilla and Rodan show up to cause a ruckus. Basic stuff. What I will criticize though is that Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II really tries to make something of value out of its interest in telepathy, and it's all for naught in the long run. Miki Saegusa, a recurring human character throughout the Heisei series, is mostly known for having telepathic powers, but Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II gives her basically nothing to do with her powers until the climactic battle. There's also the matter of Baby Godzilla having the same kind of power, which he uses to call upon Rodan and make significant things happen on the fly. Baby Godzilla's role in the film doesn't extend anywhere beyond, "the adorable newborn is put into perilous situations because he's/she's special." Why don't Miki and Baby Godzilla spend more time together, especially if they have similar powers? Telepathy in the film is only used for the sake of the plot, and not to give us some deeper meaning on Miki's character nor add an extra layer or two to Baby Godzilla. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II has a strong disinterest in its human characters, but I think there was some missed potential with all the telepathy business, especially since a human and a monster character share in it. Perhaps the film could have made brief commentary on Baby Godzilla having telepathy, such as the telepathy is supposed to be like a psychic bond between a parent and child. Maybe there's something more to be said about why Miki has some supposed psychic connection with Godzilla? I'm not asking for dense thematic content here. I just think everything the movie has regarding telepathy could have added a little more meat to the story.
But you know what? The telepathy business is small potatoes when you look at the big picture: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II excels with its monster action and its overall entertainment value, and when you throw in the fact that the story has next to nothing that is utterly ridiculous, this shapes up to be a damn fine addition to the Heisei series and the Godzilla series as a whole. I guess I should also comment a little bit on the all the monster suits, because those are always a notable part of a Godzilla film. Godzilla and Rodan look just fine for their early 90's renditions. Baby Godzilla is nowhere near the terrifying beast that was Minilla from the late 60's Showa series, though he is kind of bug-eyed in a way that is slightly off-putting. Mechagodzilla is also acceptable, though his roar is now some fine-tuned machine noise that isn't at all menacing and is a far step-down from the shrill, metallic screeches of the 1970's Mechagodzilla. Mechagodzilla's face also now slants downward slightly as opposed to sticking straight out, which doesn't make him as intimidating as the 1970's version. Though since Mechagodzilla is technically a good guy now, I guess that was kind of the point. Whether he's a good guy or a bad guy, Mechagodzilla seems to bring the best out of the Godzilla filmmakers. That, or you just happen to have the right people working at the right time. Sadly, this would be Mechagodzilla's one and only appearance in the Heisei series, before he comes back for a couple more appearances in the Millenium series. While I think King Ghidorah will always be Godzilla's arch-rival, Mechagodzilla will always be a worthy challenger to that title. None more proof is needed than the higher quality of the films the robotic monster has starred in over the years.
Recommend? Yes. This Godzilla film is well worth your time.
Godzilla vs. Mothra, also known as Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth is directed by Takao Okawara and stars Tetsuya Bessho, Satomi Kobayashi, Takehiro Murata, Megumi Odaka, Akiji Kobayashi, and Akira Takarada.
It is a pain in the neck to hear someone say the title, Godzilla vs. Mothra, because Toho, somewhat unintentionally, has made Godzilla facing off against Mothra to mean one of a bajillion different things. Only one other kaiju movie before 1992 had featured only Godzilla and Mothra, that of course being 1964's Mothra vs. Godzilla or as it was known in North America: Godzilla vs. The Thing. So while there was only one straight-up Godzilla versus Mothra movie before the Heisei series began, the two monsters had starred together in several other films, enough times that deciphering the whole Godzilla and Mothra relationship ended up being like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle where fitted pieces keep popping out.
But it's okay. Continuing their ambition from Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah of bringing back all the classic monsters, Toho got to work getting the beloved Mothra up to date, capitalizing on a screenplay written in 1990 by Akira Murao, in which Mothra fights a dragon named Bagan who tries to destroy humanity for abusing the Earth's resources. A neat idea, but Toho didn't think Mothra had the marketing power to be a hit with audiences overseas, so in came the internationally recognized Godzilla. The story of Mothra vs. Bagan was altered to include Godzilla, but that's not all: Bagan was re-conceptualized as another insect monster named Battra, one that is a dark, evil twin of Mothra.
The story of Godzilla vs. Mothra tells us that long ago, an ancient civilization tried to control the Earth's climate, and in response, Earth created the flying insect monster Battra. However, Battra grew unstable and started to destroy the Earth. Mothra, another monster responsible for protecting the Earth, faced Battra in a great battle and won. In the present day, a meteorite crash lands on Earth and awakens both Godzilla and the long-dormant Battra, the latter of which is still angry over humanity's abuse towards the Earth's natural order. The meteorite also uncovers a giant egg that belongs to Mothra. Three explorers, Takuya Fujito (Tetsuya Bessho), his ex-wife, Masako Tezuka (Satomi Kobayashi), and secretary of the greedy Marutomo company, Kenji Ando (Takehiro Murata) are sent to explore Infant Island where Mothra's egg is located. While there, they meet the Cosmos, two pint-sized humans who can communicate with Mothra. Kenji informs the Marutomo Compay of the egg's existence and has them come to retrieve it, presumably for protection. The egg eventually hatches to reveal a new Mothra larva, who comes into contact with Godzilla and a Battra larva. Mothra escapes when Godzilla and Battra take their fight underwater, and heads for Tokyo in order to rescue the Cosmos, who have been kidnapped by the head of Marutomo.
Was "Save the Environment!" the message that all movies were going for back in the early-to-mid 1990's? Other pro-environment movies like Dances with Wolves and Pocahontas came out around the same time that Godzilla vs. Mothra did, so I guess how you feel towards movies like Dances with Wolves and Pocahontas will affect how much you may like Godzilla vs. Mothra, even though all three movies are radically different in regards to plot and setting. The strange thing is that this is not the first time that a Godzilla movie has attempted to be proactive in regards to keeping the Earth's climate in tip-top shape, the other being 1971's Godzilla vs. Hedorah, although that movie was more on the nose about minimizing pollution. Thankfully, Godzilla vs. Mothra avoids nauseating preachiness when it comes to its pro-environment attitude, and while the movie is mostly flawed in other areas of its writing, this is still one of the better Godzilla movies of the entire Heisei series.
- I'm glad the days of the cheap stock footage are over, because there is absolutely no shortage of quality now when it comes to the monster action. The fights involving Godzilla are wonderfully entertaining, and Takao Okawara crafts the fights to include more than just Godzilla firing his atomic breath or Mothra flying around and whacking Godzilla on the head. Battra knocks Godzilla over using a ferris wheel, and Mothra and Battra ram into each other a couple times while flying through the air. The green screen is embarrassingly noticeable during some shots of Battra chasing Mothra, but that's the worst it ever gets. All three monsters are given equal opportunity to do something, and the fighting is all the better because of it.
- Godzilla vs. Mothra is completely in love with its Mothra and Battra history, so much so that it throws into question what exactly Godzilla's purpose to the story is. Unlike Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, where we got a valid explanation for why the characters needed to go back in time and prevent Godzilla from ever existing, there's next to nothing in this movie to justify why Mothra and Battra need to confront Godzilla, other than to prevent him from wrecking Japan yet again. The script is missing a clear reasoning for why Godzilla has to be present, and because of this, hardly anything about the plot would change if Godzilla was removed altogether.
The script also includes a lousy family divorce sub-plot between Takuya Fujito and Masako Tezuka, and it's handled without the least bit of care. Almost everything regarding this sub-plot is done through side comments that the characters make while they're either running from the approaching monsters or standing by and watching them fight. I commend the effort towards making something worthwhile out of the human plot of a monster movie, but it just doesn't turn out well.
So despite a highly problematic script, Godzilla vs. Mothra excels with its monster action and benefits from a cool-looking new monster in Battra. A lot of the story elements, like the hatching of a Mothra larva and a greedy corporation trying to use the egg for their own reasons, are borrowed from 1964's Mothra vs. Godzilla, but there's enough new material here to make for a fresh update of Mothra and for a perfectly watchable installment to the Heisei series. The film turned out to be a huge hit when it was first released, and this helped keep Toho inspired towards bringing back more of the classic kaiju. After a bumpy start, the Heisei series finally had some sense of direction.
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is directed and written by Kazuki Omori and stars Kosuke Toyohara, Anna Nakagawa, Megumi Odaka, Katsuhiko Sasaki, Akiji Kobayashi, Yoshio Tsuchiya, and Robert Scott Field.
At long last, Toho delivered the Godzilla film that just had to be made, the one where it's Godzilla and his arch rival King Ghidorah going mano a mano. No Monster Zero gimmicks or tag team wrestling bouts, just Godzilla and Ghidorah squaring off, with no other monster in the vicinity. Following the financial disappointment that was Godzilla vs. Biollante, Toho decided to start bringing back classic monsters from the Showa series, thinking a few familiar faces would help the Heisei series fair better at the box office. What better familiar face to bring back right away than, still to this day, the coolest monster that Godzilla has ever gone up against? I was especially excited to re-watch and do a review of this particular Godzilla film, because, for years, I've considered it to be my personal favorite among all of the Godzilla films. After watching the film again for the first time in several years.....um, well....I may be having second thoughts about that personal favorite Godzilla film thing.....
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is a Godzilla film of pure extremes; when it's good, it's really good, and when it's bad, it's horrendously bad. But despite its horrendously bad parts, I still consider the film to be one of the best in the entire franchise. The good parts are some of the best moments to ever be seen in a Godzilla film, and when we're talking about bad parts, we're talking about plot and writing. I would throw dubbing into the mix as well, but I swore off talking about bad dubbing a while back, so I promise I won't bring it up in any considerable length here. I just can't help myself with mentioning this, however: the dubbing for Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is cringe-worthy to the upteenth degree, some of the most cringe-worthy dubbing that I have ever heard for not just any Godzilla film, but for any film period.
So anyway, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah presents to us a plot that aims to be a more child-friendly, fantasy adventure. The plot also attempts to cash in all of the time travel craze that was going on during the mid to late 80's and the early 90's, due to the success of the Back to the Future trilogy and the first two Terminator films. A UFO lands on Mount Fuji, revealed to be the mother ship for humans from the year 2204 who are known as "Futurians." The Futurians explain that in their time, Godzilla has completely destroyed Japan, and that they plan on going back to the year 1944 to erase Godzilla from history. We learn that in 1944, a group of Japanese soldiers on Lagos Island were being attacked by American soldiers, until they were saved by a mysterious dinosaur known as a "Godzillasaurus." Then in 1954, hydrogen bomb testing on Lagos Island mutated the dinosaur into Godzilla. To prove that their story is true, the Futurians show a copy of a book about Godzilla by science fiction writer Kenichiro Terasawa (Kosuke Toyohara), who has not completed the book yet in the present. The Futurians explain that they can travel back in time to 1944 and remove the dinosaur from Lagos Island, thus preventing the hydrogen bomb from ever creating Godzilla.
What the Futurians don't know, however, is that we've seen seventeen Godzilla films already, and one thing we've learned from those seventeen films is that aliens in a Godzilla film always have a malevolent plot in the works. As it turns out (OH, WHAT A SHOCK!), the Futurians have their own plans in mind. The Futurians go back in time and remove the dinosaur from Lagos Island, but before returning to the present, they leave behind three little creatures called Dorats. The three Dorats are exposed to the hydrogen bomb test in 1954, merging together to become the three-headed golden dragon, King Ghidorah. King Ghidorah shows up in the present and begins to lay waste to Japan, and Japan's only hope of stopping King Ghidorah and the Futurians is to create a new Godzilla.
One frustrating aspect of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is how much it feels like a strict Godzilla film, as opposed to a Godzilla film giving equal attention to all of its present monsters. The humans and the Futurians discuss Godzilla and the Godzillasaurus dinosaur in considerable length, yet Godzilla himself doesn't actually appear until over an hour in. Ghidorah shows up right around the 45 minute mark, but don't expect to get any serious exposition on why the Futurians chose to replace Godzilla with King Ghidorah. King Ghidorah is a more destructive monster, I guess is the explanation? I mean, he does have three heads that can all shoot lightning out of their mouths. Oh yeah, and he can fly too. But whatever the explanation is, poor Ghidorah is once again the mind-controlled weapon of extra-terrestrial beings, as if, after Ghidorah's debut, Toho could never again think up a proper way of incorporating an independent Ghidorah into a Godzilla film.
- Ah well, Ghidorah being mind-controlled again is the least of our worries here. The Ghidorah suit is given a nice upgrade, and the fight scenes with Godzilla is some of the best monster action you'll ever see in a kaiju film. Omori gives Ghidorah a new bag of tricks to use on Godzilla, such as using his wings as a shield against Godzilla's atomic breath and attempting to choke Godzilla with one of his three heads (as you see in the poster). Godzilla primarily relies on his badassery to combat Ghidorah, and the fight truly feels like two heated rivals going at it. The musical score by composer Akira Ifukube (his first Godzilla film since Terror of Mechagodzilla) heightens the intensity with an up tempo soundtrack whose main theme never gets old as the film goes on. If we only watched the scenes in which Godzilla or King Ghidorah are physically in the frame, I might argue that it would be a short movie that is much more enjoyable than the entire 103 minute movie.
- The number of plot holes present in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah would make swiss cheese envious. While time travel is a neat idea, it's also one of the most fragile elements that a plot can use; one or two screw-ups, and your whole story stops making sense. The "erasing Godzilla from history" part of the time travel is fine and all, but the Futurians intent on destroying Japan in the present becomes incredibly muddled when Godzilla's timeline is interfered with by King Ghidorah. Trying to figure out everything with Godzilla in this movie is bound to make your head explode, how Godzilla's disappearance from the past can lead to his re-appearance in the present, and how this change apparently has no effect on the future. It's almost fascinating to watch and see how very little sense that the plot makes by the end. Oddly enough, though, keeping track of the plot is a far more pleasant activity than trying to put up with the lineup of dull human characters, several of which are given absolutely nothing to do but watch as helpless bystanders. In short, the number of plot holes stems from how increasingly convoluted the story becomes and how very little care that Omori gives towwards addressing all of the time travel concerns. My personal favorite plot hole is this:
The three Dorats replace Godzilla on Lagos Island and get mutated by the hydrogen bomb in 1954. In this movie, 1992 is the present. What was King Ghidorah doing between 1954 and 1992?
All of the time travel craziness can be talked to death, but in a movie where we finally see Godzilla and King Ghidorah battle one on one, it's not worth the time or the effort. The plot holes shouldn't get in the way of enjoying the monster action, which are some of the best sequences in all of Toho's kaiju archives. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah delivers the most where it needs to deliver the most, and it's more than enough to make up for all of the horror going on around the monsters. It's tough to properly grade a movie like this, because normally, I'd think the high points and the low points balance out, resulting in a film that's average at best. But in the case of a Godzilla film, you have to apply some kind of scaled scoring, because kaiju films have to make sacrifices in certain areas in order to succeed where it truly counts: the monsters. In the case of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, the monsters are everything we'd want them to be, even if there is a bit too much that hinders the entire experience. For me, I think I'll keep this one as my personal favorite, but I won't be holding onto it too tightly.
Recommend? Yes, because watching Godzilla and King Ghidorah fight is worth sitting through all of the schlock that comes beforehand. This is a must-see for all Godzilla fans.
So you did do it. You amalgamated one of Godzilla's cells together with the plant's cells. Are you proud of this? What kind of science do you call this?
Godzilla vs. Biollante is directed and written by Kazuki Omori and stars Kunihiko Mitamura, Yoshiko Tanaka, Masanobu Takashima, Megumi Odaka, Toru Minegishi, Yasuko Sawaguchi, and Toshiyuki Nagashima.
A natural question to ask Toho about the Heisei Godzilla series following the release of The Return of Godzilla is, "Now what?" They got their infamous kaiju back on the big screen after a near-decade long slumber, and now was the time for Toho to jump their creative noggins into high gear and start thinking up some ideas about where to take the series next. One good sign is that Toho didn't make it a priority to start making annual Godzilla films, with Godzilla vs. Biollante coming out a a full five years after The Return of Godzilla. Never again would the Godzilla series return to the cheap stock-footage tactics of the late 60's and early 70's that largely stemmed from Toho's desire to get a Godzilla film out in theaters every year. The path that Toho tried to take with Godzilla vs. Biollante was one that continued the grim tone brought back by The Return of Godzilla, in which Godzilla maintains his presence as a villain and his rampage through Tokyo is treated like a horrific disaster. Unfortunately, choosing this path led to disappointing box office numbers for Godzilla vs. Biollante, prompting Toho to shift gears and start bringing back familiar monsters from the Showa series.
As the poster shows, Biollante is a giant plant monster, one with razor sharp teeth and who attacks with killer vines. Now, I would like to say that a plant monster seems like a decent idea for a new monster to fight Godzilla, except that Biollante has some close similarities to Audrey II, making Godzilla vs. Biollante seem like Godzilla meets Little Shop of Horrors. There's also not a whole lot of Biollante in the movie, though boy do characters love to talk about genetics and other science terminology that relate to the creation of Biollante.
The story takes place some time after the end of The Return of Godzilla. Godzilla is trapped inside Mt. Mihara, but several of his cells are discovered and taken to the Saradia Institute of Technology and Science. The cells are to be merged with genetically modified plants with the hopes of replacing Saradia's deserts with fruitful land, thus ending the country's dependence on oil. Dr. Genshiro Shiragami (Koji Takahashi) and his daughter Erika (Yasuko Sawaguchi) are sent to aid in the cell project, but a terrorist bombing destroys the laboratory, killing Erika in the process.
Five years later, Dr. Shiragami tries to keep Erika's spirit alive by merging some of her cells with the cells of a rose. Scientist Kazuhito Kirishima (Kunihiko Mitamura) and Colonel Goro Gondo (Toru Minegishi) approach Dr. Shiragami, hoping that he can assist them in developing a weapon called "Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria", which will be used in case Godzilla returns. However, Dr. Shiragami refuses to assist. Meanwhile, an explosion occurs right outside Mt. Mihara, sending tremors that damage Dr. Shiragami's home. One night, strangers break in to Shiragami's lab, but they are attacked by a massive plant creature that eventually escapes out to Lake Ashina. Not long afterwards, Godzilla is released from Mt. Mihara. Godzilla sets out to replenish his nuclear energy, but instead comes across the plant creature (given the name "Biollante" by Dr. Shiragami), where a massive battle ensues.
Basically, Biollante is a plant version of Godzilla. Y'know, because he's made from Godzilla's cells and all. That part is no problem. What I do have a problem with is how everything else just isn't all that interesting. There's a lot going on with the plot, and good luck trying to keep up with all of the names, places, and motivations crisscrossing in ways that make it hard to believe that this movie's title promises that a giant lizard will be facing off against a giant plant. Godzilla vs. Biollante complicates itself far more than it needs to, and there is a mighty sigh of relief when the monsters finally step into the frame.
- The monster action is pretty stellar, enhanced by a blood-pumping musical score by composer Koichu Sugiyama. Godzilla's atomic breath makes the fight just a little bit unfair, but how director Omori makes up for this is choreograph the fight in a way that has Godzilla not so much go in to the fight headfirst, but stand back and study Biollante. Godzilla watches how Biollante positions himself, and then launches an attack when he sees an opening. Biollante's main method of attack is using vines with chomping mouths, but Godzilla destroys them with ease. The climactic fight also has one of the most grotesque moments of violence in the entire Godzilla franchise: Biollante sends a vine straight through one of Godzilla's hands, with green ooze splattering everywhere. Better to not watch the fight while eating a snack.
- What makes Godzilla vs. Biollante quite a chore to watch is how incredibly unfocused the film is, contributing big time to how uninteresting the plot becomes. Characters come and go with no rhyme or reason; you'll see a character one moment, and then there's no mention of them until 15-20 minutes later. Not helping matters is how many characters we have to keep up with: the good guys, the villains who are after the Godzilla cells, and, oh yeah, two giant monsters. Omori's clumsy handling of the characters and plot make it that much harder for us to get engaged with the story and not start saying, "When are the monsters gonna show up and start fighting?" Might I also mention how ridiculous and illogical the bit about Dr. Sagiyama trying to keep his daughter's soul alive is? For starters, we learn he's trying to do this FIVE YEARS after she's killed, which throws into question how in the world does he have functional cells from his daughter. I've never worked in a morgue or a funeral home, but I sincerely doubt that after FIVE FREAKING YEARS that your body still has living cells intact. I don't know, maybe he got the cells shortly after she died and found a way to preserve them. But even after you look past that bit, the whole, "keeping her soul alive in a rose" part is schmaltzy as all get out. Good thing the movie is too unfocused to dive too deep into that plot point.
I wouldn't feel right in saying that Godzilla vs. Biollante is bad. It's mostly that its good parts are overwhelmed by its inability to stay focused and maintain a progressive approach to the story. Characters are all over the place, with the monster action feeling like a reward we receive after completing some long, laborious task, as opposed to being an exciting spectacle that we've been building up to. Like Terror of Mechagodzilla, this is a Godzilla film that I know I watched at a younger age, but can't for the life of me remember how I felt afterwards. And also like Terror of Mechagodzilla, I came away far more disappointed than I thought I would. Despite retaining some of what worked well in The Return of Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Biollante is a sequel that manages to do somewhat worse. Don't let your hopes wilt, though. I promise the series has much better to come.
Recommend? No. For any Godzilla fans, don't make this a priority to watch.
Godzilla's Return To Form
The Return of Godzilla is directed by Koji Hashimoto and is the first film of the Heisei Godzilla series, serving as a sequel to the original 1954 Gojira and also serving as a reboot of the entire Godzilla franchise. The film stars Ken Tanaka, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Yosuke Natsuki, and Keiju Kobayashi.
After a near decade long hiatus following the end of the Showa series, Toho brought their infamous kaiju back to the big screen, kicking of a string of seven new Godzilla films that would take the franchise up through the mid 1990's. Godzilla was brought back with a clean slate, Toho wiping away every one of Godzilla's bizarre character traits, specifically Godzilla being a superhero and an environmentalist like he in the late 60's and early 70's. The big G would start anew as the villainous, rampaging monster of destruction that the world fell in love with back in 1954, a role he would reprise several more times later in the series. If and when Toho ever needed Godzilla to not play a pure villain, he would resemble a monster antihero, but we'll get to that when the time comes.
As stated at the top, The Return of Godzilla is a sequel to the original 1954 Gojira. It ignores all other installments of the Showa series, and let me warn you now, that's something we need to get used to, because a Godzilla film ignoring all previous installments except for the original is something that is going to happen a lot more down the road. But anyway, I'm thinking too far ahead. The other thing I should clear up is the meaning behind the names Showa and Heisei. The original Godzilla series is referred to as the Showa series because Showa was the name of the Emperor of Japan while the original series was being made. When Emperor Showa died in 1989, his son Akihito took over (and he still reigns as Emperor of Japan today), thus beginning the Heisei series. Now hold on a minute. If Emperor Showa died in 1989, shouldn't that mean that The Return of Godzilla should be considered a part of the Showa series? Well, yes, but for some reason, it's not. I don't know of any specific cultural concerns that were behind deciding which series The Return of Godzilla would be placed under, but the only valid explanation I can offer is that because The Return of Godzilla is a reboot to the franchise, it would make more sense to categorize it under a new series name.
Okay, now let's get to discussing the movie itself. The story is set thirty years after the original film. A Japanese fishing boat is caught in a strong current and drifts towards a volcano on Daikoku Island. A giant monster emerges from the volcano and seemingly destroys the boat. A few days later, reporter Goro Maki (Ken Tanaka) sails out to sea and finds the boat intact. He explores the boat, finding all of the crew dead except for one man named Hiroshi Okumura (Shin Takuma). Goro is then suddenly attacked by a giant sea louse, but is saved by Okumura. Back in Tokyo, Okumura looks at pictures from the 1954 Godzilla attack, and realizes that the monster he saw emerge out of the volcano was Godzilla. The press stops Goro from publishing a story about the boat incident and the resurrection of Godzilla, fearing a nationwide panic.
Shortly afterwards, a Soviet nuclear sub is destroyed. The Soviets claim the Americans are responsible for the attack, creating tension that threatens to escalate into nuclear war. Japan steps in and reveal that Godzilla was responsible for the destruction of the sub, while also revealing a new weapon called the Super X, believing it can protect Japan from a Godzilla attack. Godzilla does attack, starting off by destroying a nuclear power plant, an incident that puts the rest of Japan on high alert. You can take a good guess at where the plot goes from there.
So not only do we have a Godzilla attack to worry about, but we also have some Cold War politics going on as well. I'm not sure if this should be considered a strength or a flaw of the film; I'm leaning towards the latter because Cold War feuds were not something that any previous Godzilla film addressed in any meaningful capacity, plus the Cold War was to end about seven years after The Return of Godzilla was initially released. But with Godzilla initially being conceived as a metaphor for nuclear weapons, Toho must have believed that it would make sense to create a Godzilla film with a Cold War backdrop, given that nuclear weapons were a matter of the utmost concern during the Cold War. Still, I don't think Japanese audiences went to The Return of Godzilla with the intention of seeing America and the Soviet Union feud over a destroyed nuclear sub.
- The Return of Godzilla aims to revitalize the general terror and sense of dread that were on full display in the original Japanese Godzilla, resulting in a Godzilla film that is much darker in tone and also resulting in the most ambitious Godzilla films since Destroy All Monsters. Godzilla is stripped completely of the goofy histrionics and kid-friendly superhero identity that saddled him in the mid-to-late entries of the Showa series, with his atomic breath and rampage of destruction given a major upgrade. The Godzilla suit itself is a bit of a mixed bag; at times Godzilla looks terrifying, but other times he looks lazy and like he's about to fall asleep (maybe he wanted to stay in cinematic hibernation for a little while longer?). The animatronic head used for close-up shots of Godzilla does a weird thing that bothered me a little: when Godzilla roars, the upper lip goes up very high. But anyway, issues with the suit don't take away from the film's ambition and its hopes of recapturing what made the 1954 Godzilla such a treasure of a giant monster movie. The series got so far away from treating Godzilla's attack like a real disaster, that it's a wonderful sight to see Toho cut the bull crap and get back to what worked originally.
- It takes a little while for Godzilla to show up and seize control of the plot, but even when you include all of the Godzilla action on top of the not overly interesting human plot, the movie as a whole is incredibly tedious, tedious for a 103 minute monster movie, anyway. To start with, the movie takes a long time to get started, Godzilla's attack on the nuclear power planet being the first time we see him, which doesn't happen until around the 35 minute mark. The humans do discuss Godzilla quite a bit beforehand, the only thing to build suspense for the big G's first appearance. But as for the movie being tedious, I blame this on how the movie insists on going back to its human characters, even when Godzilla shows up in Tokyo Bay and starts trampling buildings. The humans slow everything down, acting as a buzzsaw towards any and all momentum that the movie may have been building during its more lengthy Godzilla scenes, especially when the Cold War stuff is going on. The slowness is not done to such a horrendous degree that I would consider the film boring. Oh, but the movie still does flirt with being boring here and there, and that's not okay for the first installment of a reboot.
But no matter the flaws on hand in this movie, I've heard the 1985 Americanized version of The Return of Godzilla (which is called Godzilla 1985) is much much much worse, being heavily re-edited and bringing back Raymond Burr to reprise his role of Steve Martin (not to be confused with the actor Steve Martin who was quite popular at the time this movie came out) from Godzilla: King of the Monsters! As it turns out, this was one of two Godzilla movies that I had not ever seen before, and because I reviewed the original 1954 Japanese version of Godzilla and not the Raymond Burr American version, it felt right to do the same thing for this Godzilla movie.
Looking at all of the past Godzilla films and those later to come, The Return of Godzilla is a middle of the road film for the franchise. It has the best of intentions at heart: revert back to the grim tone of the original and morph Godzilla back into the terrifying monster of destruction that he was to begin with. But those ambitions are marred by a lingering sense of tediousness, the film feeling about 15-20 minutes longer than it actually is, something we can blame on all of the human characters. The Cold War business is polarizing: some will think of it as a nice addition to a Godzilla film, while others will find it unwelcome. Regardless, this is a major upgrade from what the Godzilla series had devolved to late in the Showa series (Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla being the lone exception). Better Godzilla films were on the way, but for this film, given what it wants to be, it leaves a lot more to be desired.
Recommend? Only to the most die-hard of Godzilla fans.
Dinosaurs and Robots
Terror of Mechagodzilla is directed by Ishiro Honda and is the last film of the original Godzilla Showa series. The film is a direct sequel to Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and stars Katsuhiko Sasaki, Tomoko Ai, Akihiko Hirata, and Gorō Mutsumi. It was also the least successful Godzilla film at the box office.
Twenty one years and fifteen films later, the original Godzilla series reached its conclusion. By 1975, Toho could no longer deny the rapidly declining popularity of kaiju films and the diminishing returns of the box office, leaving them with no choice but to give their most popular monster a well-deserved rest. So instead of creating another Destroy All Monsters, Toho decided that the Showa series finale would be a direct sequel to Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla: the one film that saved the Showa series from ending in complete mediocrity. Toho had no intention of this being the final Godzilla film ever; they just needed to give audiences an extended break from seeing a Godzilla film year in and year out.
I do not at all remember the first time I saw Terror of Mechagodzilla, nor what my reaction was afterwards. What I do know is how I felt after watching the film again recently for the sake of this review: the Showa series may have been better off ending with Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. By no means is Terror of Mechagodzilla anything like the hilariously bad Godzilla vs. Megalon nor the pity riddled Godzilla's Revenge. What Terror of Mechagodzilla is is disappointing, disappointing in the sense that it does not at all contain the kind of intensity implied by the poster: Godzilla combats Mechagodzilla while cities are being destroyed; UFO's are flying overhead; tornadoes are raging in the background. This is a movie called Terror of Mechagodzilla, yet there is basically nothing resembling terror, and there is very little Mechagodzilla. But why stop there? The titling issues of the Godzilla series continues: some dumbass at independent distributor Bob Conn Enterprises gave the film a 1978 North American release under the name The Terror of Godzilla, a title that makes about as much sense as Gigantis the Fire Monster for Godzilla Raids Again.
The story of Terror of Mechagodzilla starts some time after the events of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. Interpol agents search for leftover pieces of Mechagodzilla at the bottom of the Okinawan Sea. However, their submarine is attacked and destroyed by an aquatic dinosaur called Titanosaurus. Interpol's investigation of Titanosaurus leads them to a mad scientist named Shinzo Mafune (Akihiko Hirata), who had been disgraced for his work and now wants to eliminate all of mankind. Mafune has a daughter named Katsura (Tomoko Ai) and is in allegiance with the surviving Black Hole aliens from Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. The aliens plot to use Titanosaurus and a second Mechagodzilla in order to destroy the Earth and rebuild it for themselves. Never fear, for Godzilla arrives to combat Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla and save the day.
Instead of being a straight on Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla showdown in which no other monsters are involved, Toho decided that a new monster should be thrown into the mix to give the film a little more flavor, as well as to attempt to up the suspense by having Godzilla on his lonesome against two other monsters. Understandably, the movie spends some time giving us exposition on Titanosaurus, but at the expense of extra screen time for Mechagodzilla.
- It takes a while for all the monsters to get on screen, but once they finally do, it's some pretty damn satisfying monster action. The monsters go at each other like they are actually fighting, and not as if they're trying out to become the next contestant for WWE. There are two memorable moments: one where Titanosaurus bites Godzilla square in the face and lifts him into the air and the other when the Godzilla suit catches on fire for a few seconds. Before Godzilla shows up to fight, we get to watch Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla blow up a bunch of buildings, and oh what a sight for sore eyes it is! Absolutely no stock footage to be had! Building smashing is the one place where Terror of Mechagodzilla improves over Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (where there was almost no building smashing).
- What makes Terror of Mechagodzilla so disappointing is how much the human plot overwhelms the monsters, spending way more time than necessary on Shinzo Mafune and his daughter and not at all presenting anything fun to tide us over until Godzilla appears. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla had a fun human spy story to keep us invested, but there's nothing like that here. It's just one boring conversation after another, with a brief shot of Titanosaurus here and there to remind us that we are still watching a movie called Terror of Mechagodzilla.
All in all, Terror of Mechagodzilla is too heavy on human plot and too light on monster scenes, resulting in an uneven kaiju film that doesn't send the Showa series out on a high note. I was expecting more, given that Toho was able to bring Ishiro Honda back one more time and given how much promise that Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla offered. A sequel for one of the best Godzilla villains ever? Hell yeah! But make it a sequel in which your titular monster is barely in the movie at all? Hell no! Even if Terror of Mechagodzilla is far better quality-wise than some of the worst of the Godzilla films, it still should be labeled as a bit of a letdown, because it doesn't at all capitalize on its potential, sending the original Godzilla series out with a whimper, as opposed to a triumphant roar.
Recommend? Only to the most die-hard Godzilla fans.
We Mecha great team
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is directed by Jun Fukuda and stars Masaaki Daimon, Kazuya Aoyama, Gorō Mutsumi, and Akihiko Hirata. The film was later released in the United States under the titles Godzilla vs. The Bionic Monster and Godzilla vs. The Cosmic Monster.
Who would've guessed that Jun Fukuda, the man responsible for the bottoming out of the Godzilla franchise with Godzilla vs. Megalon and the man forever notorious as the director behind some of the lowest quality Godzilla films, was the one that would raise the series from complete mediocrity? Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla isn't the end of the original Showa Godzilla series, and boy would that have been Toho's worst nightmare had Godzilla gone into cinematic hibernation had his last film been Godzilla vs. Megalon. Instead, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla started the process of the Showa series going out on a positive note, ensuring that Godzilla would not forever be hamstrung by stock footage and stories that are targeted at small children. The Godzilla series would never again experience the unholy depths known only by the likes of Godzilla's Revenge and Godzilla vs. Megalon, but by the mid 1970's, it was only a matter of time before Toho needed to fully accept the fact that their infamous kaiju was losing popularity by the minute, and that it was soon going to be time to give the King of the Monsters a well-deserved rest.
But before Toho sent Godzilla into his 10-year hiatus, they decided to pit him against one of the coolest monsters in the entire kaiju library, the best monster that Toho had conceived since King Ghidorah. Now, Ghidorah is still, and always will be, Godzilla's archrival, but aside from Ghidorah, Mechagodzilla has shaped up to be the one other monster that Godzilla has faced off against time and time again (Godzilla has faced Mothra a few times, but those clashes are offset by the few times that the two monsters have teamed up). A robotic version of Godzilla sounded like a great idea for a new Godzilla villain, which I guess is proof that Jun Fukuda had at least a few creative bones in his body.
So in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, we have ourselves another alien invasion plot.
Wait! Don't go! I promise there's more to it!
Okay, first, let's back up a bit. In the prefecture of Okinawa, an Azumi priestess has a vision of a giant monster destroying a city. Meanwhile, a spelunker named Masahiko Shimizu (Kazuya Aoyama) discovers a strange metal inside a cave, taking it to Professor Miyajima (Akihiko Hirata), who examines the metal and refers to it as space titanium. Shortly afterwards, Masahiko's brother Keisuke (Masaaki Daimon) uncovers a hidden chamber containing ancient artifacts and a mural that states a prophecy: A black mountain will appear above the clouds, and out from it will come a monster of death and destruction; but when the red moon sets and the sun rises in the west, two more monsters will appear to save the world.
A black cloud that looks like a mountain eventually appears in the sky. Godzilla arises from Mount Fuji and begins to destroy everything in sight. Say what, now? Hasn't Godzilla been good to humans in recent years? We immediately see, however, that something is off about this Godzilla: his roar is a shrill, metallic sound, and Anguirus, Godzilla's best friend, shows up to attack. Anguirus knocks off a piece of the Godzilla's skin, revealing some kind of metal hidden underneath. After Anguirus is forced to retreat and Godzilla makes his way to a refinery, a second Godzilla appears, using his atomic breath to fully expose the Godzilla from Mount Fuji as a fake. The fake Godzilla reveals itself to be the cyborg Mechagodzilla, being used as a weapon by apelike aliens of The Third Planet from the Black Hole. The aliens plot to use Mechagodzilla to conquer the world. Godzilla and Mechagodzilla face off; Godzilla is wounded and disappears into the sea, while Mechagodzilla is damaged and is forced to return to the alien base for repairs. As Mechagodzilla undergoes repairs, Keisuke and a woman archaeologist he meets named Saeko (Reiko Tajima) try to uncover the mystery behind a statue they found in the chamber. Saeko believes the statue bears a resemblance to the ancient monster King Caesar.
That's a lot of plot for an 84 minute Godzilla flick that goes by at almost breakneck speed. The human side of the plot plays off like a James Bond-style spy flick, in which our heroes must prevent an evil overlord from acquiring some object he wants, and then later invade the villain's secret base and destroy it, like in Dr. No or The Man with the Golden Gun. Even when there are no monsters on screen, the human scenes are successful in keeping us at least somewhat amused, though they tend to be prolonged enough that you may have to remind yourselves you are indeed watching a movie called Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and not Planet of the Japanese Apes.
- I almost want to forgive Jun Fukuda for all of his previous Godzilla films, knowing he would be a part of Toho's presentation of Mechagodzilla. Mechagodzilla has a wide arsenal of weapons that makes him a ton of fun to watch: rainbow-colored eye lasers, missiles from his fingers and toes, and the ability to shoot a lightning ray gun from his chest. The monster fights are well-choreographed, with Mechagodzilla punching, kicking, and landing hits in ways that look like they really hurt, such as him breaking Anguirus' jaw and blasting Godzilla in the neck with his eye lasers. It's far more convincing than the playful-looking monster wrestling from Godzilla vs. Gigan and Godzilla vs Megalon, being mostly devoid of the pure goofiness seen in those two films. Also, the high-pitched, screechy sound that is Mechagodzilla's roar definitely sounds like something that could come out of his mouth, something that was abandoned in later versions of Mechagodzilla. The only drawback is that the suit clears shows itself to be made of rubber, bending and twisting in ways that metal clearly can not bend and twist.
- Though Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla does not bear the burden of stock footage, it does have a difficult time trying to hide its low budget. The wires used during several of the monster scenes are clearly visible, and there are also scenes where the aliens get shot, turning them back into their true ape form. The transformation effect for the aliens is one of the worst effects in the entire Godzilla series, looking like an ugly green splotch on the screen instead of something hat could have been a source of inspiration for the effects of the first two Terminator films. One scene gets it real bad: an alien henchman gets strangled, then while the ape transformation is happening, the entire frame freezes, with the strangler in plain sight. This is then followed by a cross fade effect in which the frozen strangler has slightly changed position before the frame unfreezes. Now, this freezing, cross fade tactic is used for all of the other ape transformation scenes, but none of the others have another human character visible in the frame during the cross fade. I don't care that this was 1974; how in the world did Jun Fukuda not see this?! Maybe he did see it, but he had to roll with it because they didn't have enough money to do a re-shoot or to redo the effects.
The low budget doesn't matter that much anyway. This is great stuff, considering what was on display in the past several Godzilla films. The monster action is some of the best of the original series, with Mechagodzilla shaping up to be one of the most kick-ass monster villains to ever be put in a Godzilla film. The human plot doesn't get caught up with petty dialogue that would only serve as a delay until the monsters take over, being dressed up like a miniature spy flick that just so happens to involve aliens. This is all around a solid Godzilla film, one that transcends a lot of the standards set by older kaiju films and one that should please any Godzilla fan. It's easily one of the best films of the original Showa series, as well as one of the best of the entire Godzilla franchise.
Recommend? Yes. This is a must-see for any and all Godzilla fans.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: