Thursday, May 29, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #22: GODZILLA VS. DESTOROYAH (1995)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

TRAVIS:

The Heisei era was intended to bring Godzilla roaring back to life in the modern movie age, and for the most part, it was quite a successful relaunch. The flicks became so profitable that Toho was churning them out annually. Though the studio and the monster could've happily lived on in Japan, America was a stomping ground too good to pass up. Sony had been developing their own Godzilla treatment since 1992, and it was planned in 1998 that the King of the Monsters would come to US shores in his own summer blockbuster from the filmmakers of INDEPENDENCE DAY. How exciting it was to actually have G in a genuine Hollywood picture! But before he could be reborn in the Land of the Free, he had to finally perish in the Land of the Rising Sun.

GODZILLA VS. DESTOROYAH opens with the big guy in meltdown mode, pulsating a fiery red glow and sizzling smoke from his skin. The radioactivity inside of Godzilla is taking its toll after all these years, and soon he'll become unstable and explode in a nuclear apocalypse that will destroy the world. Not only that, but prehistoric organisms that were mutated by the deployment of the Oxygen Destroyer back in 1954 are attacking present day Tokyo. They soon combine into a BIG BOSS MODE kaiju scientifically named Destoroyah. Oh, if only Dr. Serizawa knew what havoc he'd unleash with his Destroyer invention by bringing about purple crab monsters! Meanwhile, Baby has at last grown up to be the spitting (yet still smaller) image of his own dad, dorsal fins and Godzilla roar and all. In one last glorious send-off for the Heisei series, all three creatures converge on Tokyo for a grand final battle of emotional proportions!

For me, DESTORYAH stands as one of the finest Heisei entries and one of the most entertaining G movies of all time. The movie hits the ground running with G attacking Hong Kong in radiation overload mode, and the pace never lets up. G's upcoming meltdown works extremely well as a disaster movie countdown, as well as a sad finality that he's not going to survive. What also helps the plot move along quickly is that it sheds the most of the typical human drama of underdog civilians, morally ethical scientists, and half baked romances (though am I the only one who gets a Sapphic vibe between Miki and fellow psychic Meru?). Everyone's on the move figuring out what to do with either red G, the Destoroyah monsters, or Godzilla Junior. The whole movie is basically racing towards the final moments when Godzilla disintegrates from the terrible power that changed him forever. Though time would show that he'd be revived many times since then, it's hard for any G fan not to feel mournful when watching the demise of our hero. Was it tragic for you, Luca?

LUCA:

How could it not be, with lines like "Godzilla is crying... he does not understand why his child had to die..."! Man, that bastard Destroyah is my most hated kaiju of all! I was waiting for some sort of reversal, Godzilla giving up his life force to resurrect Junior or something, but no – they just both die with no ifs and buts. Last movie ended with Baby blowing blue bubbles as the final shot, and now he’s just dropped onto a stadium after being pierced in the chest by Destoroyah’s xenomorph-style (hoo let’s talk about that) inner mouth. As for Big G himself, wow, he just… well… dies. There’s no wrinkle that happens like the aforementioned “transferring energy into Baby to save him, thereby stopping the Earth-destroying explosion”. I mean, the Earth doesn’t explode, but that’s due to intervention from humans with their Super X-3 as they cool Godzilla down before he can go supernova. I was a bit unprepared at just how fatalistic this movie would get, so I was kind of off-guard for the final fifteen minutes or so and perhaps not as emotionally involved as I would have been without trying to figure out where it was going. That’s on me, however, and I commend Toho for going so all-out tragic with it. Godzilla melting down was as haunting an image as Mothra transforming a few movies ago.

I guess you could say it was GAME OVER MANNN for Godzilla. I’m sure the director would agree, big ALIENS fan as he appears to be! Before Destoroyah goes into Big Boss Mode, there’s an extended sequence of the JDSF trying to contain the pre-Cambrian organisms. The “homage” to ALIENS is absolutely overwhelming, with the soldiers having motion detectors that beep at regular intervals as they scan the rooms, using flamethrowers, one guy being impaled on a spiky tail before being waved around floor-to-ceiling and last but not least, the Destoroyah organisms having the exact same head as the Alien Queen right down to the second, inner mouth. I liked seeing our intrepid reporter character stuck in a police car being threatened by such a non-xeno, as personal monster peril has still been fairly rare over these past twenty-odd movies. Still, not unlike the sea-louse in RETURN OF GODZILLA, there’s something super stiff about these puppets. Especially in motion they look like they’re just being carted around. Sometimes they choose to focus on the creatures’ crab-legs as they skitter about, but in the full body shots… hoo boy! I wonder if it’s a result of the tight schedules (one movie a year!) that results in compositions not being particularly thought out or simply a cultural admission of unreality that doesn’t really require these creatures to look “real” at any given time. Remember, this movie was released in a post-JURASSIC PARK world and it’s still happily delivering guys in suits stomping on each other. Maybe they just (rightly) assumed making it look real was just something they needn’t bother with. Man, ever since GOJIRA, the puppets in this series have been a real sore spot with me, huh?

What I really liked was the sense of book-ending GvD provided. So nice to see Momoko Kochi again as an elderly Emiko, warning our hip 90s heroes of the dangers of using Micro-Oxygen as a weapon. Do they not wish to honor the memory of dear Dr. Serizawa, who gave his life and destroyed his notes so that his research might never again be used for destruction! Which reminds me, Destoroyah has perhaps the best monster origin since Biollante. Born out of the use of a weapon of mass destruction just like G, in this case Serizawa’s Oxygen Destroyer that killed the original Godzilla in 1954, Destoroyah is positioned as the ultimate Godzilla-ender. Funnily enough, most of Destoroyah’s screentime is spent fighting and killing humans. He’s even killed by humans in the end! It really recalls that “people of Japan vs. Godzilla” vibe of the original. Even Akira Ifukube’s score recalls the haunting choir from the end of GOJIRA several times. You will be missed, old man!

TRAVIS:

That closure does give a nice feeling of finality to DESTOROYAH, not only for the Heisei era but (at the time) the Toho-produced Godzilla series too. It definitely works better as a conclusion than TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA since that film was only the last Showa entry due to the franchise petering out creatively and financially. There's also an unexpected sense of fatalism to the ending of DESTOROYAH, G's death notwithstanding. Though I joked about the Oxygen Destroyer-spawned Destoroyah creatures earlier, there's something eerily prophetic that Serizawa knew his powerful weapon would unleash new horrors, even if it's used for the good of humankind. Also while the world is ultimately saved from annihilation, Tokyo is sacrificed and becomes an inhabitable wasteland due to the fallout from Godzilla's implosion. The final image of Junior fully grown and mutated to take his deceased father's place as the King of the Monsters is a good last hurrah, but the implication that we'll be forever cursed by the aftermath of WWII is kinda unnerving. The ghosts of nuclear destruction continue to echo as Japan must pay again for the arrogance of man.

Time to wrap up my feelings on the Heisei series! I'll always have a slight disconnect with these films as I grew up loving Godzilla through the Showa films, ignorant that Toho was making brand new movies during my childhood. For me, G will always be identified with his stompy adventures with Anguirus, Gorosaurus, and Manda. However, the Heisei stuff is a fine collection, though one wonders what direction it would've taken had the unusual GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE been more successful. More strange kaiju like Biollante would have been fun, but the reboots of old favorites like Rodan, Mothra, and Ghidorah were very enjoyable too. The disparity between BIOLLANTE and the other entries give the feeling that the franchise wasn't so much chasing hot genres but products that were mass produced for worldwide consumption. Not saying that G had become bland, but maybe the imitation that seemed kooky and fun in the past now felt like an old dinosaur trying to keep up with the times. Nevertheless, Godzilla proved that he was a monster for all seasons, surviving the overstuffed popcorn flick days of the 80s and 90s. Perhaps it was time for a rest. Any last words on DESTOROYAH or the Heisei times before we melt away?

LUCA:

Yeah, I actually just wanted to quickly confirm the sapphic vibe Miki and Meru give off, since Miki's first line to Meru is a Joey Tribbiani-esque "Ayyy you come here often??". BUT IN TERMS OF GODZILLA whoaaaa I actually took that last shot of Godzilla to be more of a symbolic silhouette shot of the big guy to close the series on, not an actual "Babyzilla full-grown and revived" thing. Holy shit, Travis, I like your reading much better. Nothing man does can put the genie back in the bottle, once opened. That's dark as fuck, and thematically completely appropriate to the rest of the movie. I bet Christopher Nolan loves the Heisei era most of all. Such tragedy... destroyed infrastructure... I now also like the military getting the drop on Destoroyah and freezing Godzilla better. If you're gonna go for the "haha man is powerless" gotcha at the end, it's probably best to balance it out with some small semblance of victory. You may not be doomed to death, humanity, but you are doomed to eternal clean-up duty. Seems like we can't be bothered in real life, though.

Oh, the Heisei era. There is, of course, a great stand-out movie among them for me (BIOLLANTE), and mostly okay ones. I'd call SPACEGODZILLA the only outright bad one. As you say though, it's that detour into the safety of updating old Showa foes that really takes the wind out of Heisei's sails. It's all good fun for the most part, with some really cool monster fights along the way. It's just that, when trying to build a series of movies centered around giant monsters fighting that also has to maintain an internal movie-to-movie continuity, I think there's probably only so many stories you can tell, so it's not for the best to then start crankin' 'em out one a year. Note that BIOLLANTE was four years after RETURN! To me at least, the advantage goes to the Showa Era here. The first movies were all about finding what worked, so there's some interesting feelers prodding around, and after that they threw stuff at the wall to see what stuck. They didn't have old formula to retreat to like in Heisei. Plus, they were all 80 minutes or less!

Join us next week as the death of Toho's Godzilla paves the way for the rise of Sony and Roland Emmerich's GODZILLA! Surely all my qualms will be addressed there with a good heapin' helpin' of Broderick and Reno!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #21: GODZILLA VS. SPACEGODZILLA (1994)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

LUCA:

Everything in the Heisei era is bigger, faster, more hardcore than in the Showa era. So it stands to reason that they’d stop putting in the effort quicker than in the Showa days. It took ‘em 13 years and 8 movies to turn into half-assed kiddie matinee programmers last time, now they did it in 10 years and 6 movies! GODZILLA VS. SPACEGODZILLA sees the arrival of, well, SpaceGodzilla in his crystal ship to fuck shit up on Earth as monsters are wont to do. SG is the result of one of Godzilla’s cells going through a black hole, coming out a white one, and absorbing some sort of crystalline organic structures along the way. I feel like I’ve also described a Godzilla porn parody here.

Anyways, meanwhile on BIRTH ISLAND (couple leagues closer to shore than Infant Island, I guess?) one sergeant Yuki is being a weird mountain man survivalist who wants to kill Godzilla for stomping on his friend Major Gondo, whom you may remember for being the awesome dude from GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE who shot a fucking rocket into G’s mouth. Gondo’s sister, professor Gondo, from G-Force Command desires no such vengeance, however, but wishes rather to use our favorite floppy-eared psychic Miki Saegusa to control Godzilla’s mind. This movie’s the most prominent Miki’s been since her introduction in BIOLLANTE but unfortunately she hasn’t really grown a personality in the intervening years. Too much work as director of the psychic institute, I guess! Good on her for that.

In the meantime, there’s also MOGERA, a highly strained acronym mole robot who is built because the government funds just weren’t there for a second MechaGodzilla. Thank goodness, I say! Keep it fresh and exciting, don’t repeat monsters in subsequent movies. Well, I’ll allow the repetition of Baby, who is slightly grown up now (Godzilla knee-height!) and appears to have a good bond with his adoptive daddy. It’s a shame they didn’t go even more Showa with these two, showing Godzilla’s “study nut” side and having them play/learn together. Yes, I am a huge Minilla mark, Travis! How about you?

TRAVIS:

It’s odd because the adopted offspring of Godzilla should be obvious points of derision, yet you can’t help but find’ em lovable! Baby in particular looks like a hybrid of Toho and Sanrio, ready to be slapped on lunchboxes and T-shirts alongside Hello Kitty. I think our acceptance lies in our primal response to parent/child relationships in wild animals. Yeah, realistically we’re watching adult men in monster suits hugging, but the suit actors find a nice balance between natural beast behavior and the slight humanist touches that we recognize in our own families. After all, whether they be dogs or cats or kaiju, it’s always cute to see Papa take care of his kid.

Not so cute is Spacegodzilla, decked out with giant crystals sticking out his back and extra pointy teeth. We’ve already compared the weaponized Gigan to the overwrought drawings of Rob Liefeld, and to continue the comic book comparisons, SG screams 90S XTREME GOJIIIIIIIRRRRAAAAAHHHHH right outta Image Comics. It’s an interesting idea/callback to have Godzilla cells stranded in space to form a new monster, but SG is just a ridiculous update of ol’ G. Speaking of monster updates, viewers probably don’t even realize that this is MOGERA’s second film appearance, having made his debut way back in the 1950s sci-fi flick THE MYSTERIANS. Much like Mechagodzilla, he was originally an evil alien-controlled robot in his first movie before rebooting as a G-force weapon in the Heisei series. Not much of a personality, but it’s cool to see him split off into two weapons.

He's at least more interesting than the humans. Boring protagonists are obviously not new to the G series, but you'd at least hope that Miki could've been more developed. A take-charge psychic female character that carries on throughout the franchise is a great idea! Unfortunately, she's normally around only for the sake of exposition or plot. Where's Godzilla now? Miki knows! Her undercooked romance with Lt. Koji is pretty bland, but I gotta admit that their first flirtation scene made me laugh. She's on the beach of Birth Island unsure of her actions, then Koji joins her and tries to convince her to fight for love. She suddenly gets pissy and yells at him for not considering Godzilla's feelings about being attacked. I think we found a love story even more boring than Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen! Oh, and Mothra and her twin fairies occasionally show up as astral projections to encourage Miki. Way to phone it, Mothra!

LUCA:

Aawww, can ya blame her? Looking back, I loved the ten minute action set piece of Miki mentally controlling Godzilla while Yuki tries to shoot his blood coagulator bullet at him. NOT SO while I actually had to watch it! So here we've got Godzilla sloooooowwwwwly rising from the sea while a guy with a fucking pop gun tries to get juuust the right aim while two other dudes have to stop him. Then Miki triumphantly makes him (sloooooowly) walk across the beach. Amazing ten minute set piece here, guys! When Toho moved their monster action to an island for the first time in EBIRAH, at least they added some zesty youthful characters and a swingin’ Masaru Sato score. GvSG almost comes close to the fun-loving vibe of EBIRAH in its opening scenes, with the two bumblers Kiyo and Koji as our seeming protagonists, but the movie grows into an ensemble piece of mostly boring humans doing mostly boring things.

SpaceGodzilla certainly looks funky enough – I do appreciate that it’s not just another Showa monster update – and I always like a monster that has two modes, but he just doesn’t have enough of a personality to be an interesting threat. His crystal ship form is funny cuz the puppet has two very limited arm movements that he’s just constantly doing while airborn. The final Fukuako fight set piece with SG’s crystal plantation that must be destroyed so his deflector shield will go down should have been cool in theory, but at 110 minutes and no particularly interesting characters, it was too little, too late. Have I already mentioned that I kinda love the G-Force logo? It looks like New Jersey goombah Godzilla going “ayy oww why you breakin mah balllzzz”! Look, you make your own positives, okay?

I’m glad the Heisei series is drawing to a close with the next one, because I suppose there’s only so many stories you can tell featuring giant monsters beating the shit out of each other – especially if you’re trying to uphold a continuity with the previous movies. If nothing else, I’m curious to see if Baby’s even bigger in the next movie. He was basically human-size in GvMG, and now came up to G’s knee in this one. It’d be cool to see a (nearly) fully grown up Minilla, essentially making it a movie featuring two Godzillas that LIKE each other. Travis, are you looking forward to ending this run next week as well? I’d call SG the only outright stinker so far, but I wasn’t too keen on RETURN either, to be honest. BIOLLANTE’s greatness and the entertainment of GvKG and GvM keep me from being too glum about the Heisei era. I’m confident GODZILLA VS. DESTROYAH could still pull an upset!

TRAVIS:

I'll write more about my final thoughts on the Heisei era in the next review, but to keep it brief, box office was always the most formidable foe for Godzilla. During the Showa days, that meant chasing whatever the hot genre was, whether it's teen stuff or alien invasions or spy action. What made it fun was that you never quite knew what kind of G movie you'd watch. With G entering the modern blockbuster age of the 80s & 90s, he had to keep up with the flashy hits of the day, which is why the Heisei films generally stuck to A to B formula. Human drama, new monster and shiny tech, G shows up. As you pointed out, Luca, as good as some of the entries are, it was time to power down.

Toho probably would've happily chugged along with more G movies as they continued to be profitable, but the lure of American millions was far more tempting, and Sony was ready to officially bring the King of the Monsters to the US market in 1998. To make way for this brand new 'Zilla that would dominate the world, it was time to properly retire Japan's favorite kaiju once and for all. It all literally ends with a bang in GODZILLA VS. DESTROYAH!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade EXTRA TARDY EDITION: GODZILLA (2014)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

LUCA:

Sometimes a movie isn't quite what a trailer makes it out to be. MAN OF STEEL wasn't quite the tale of the last son of Krypton come to inspire mankind to greatness, finding love and acceptance among them, as its expertly cut initial trailers would have you believe. So too is Gareth Edwards' GODZILLA not a grim meditation on apocalyptic annihilation by way of atomic monsters, as the Oppenheimer-narrated teaser seemed to say. Even Bryan Cranson's character's speech about how "this thing will send us back to the stone age" -- a line that got me excited for a movie that would go in depth on the idea that humanity would actually move down a couple notches on the food chain once kaiju appeared -- is actually cobbled together from a few different scenes in the film. GODZILLA 2014 (henceforth G14) has far less lofty ideals than, say, to examine man's propensity for nuclear self-destruction. Mostly, it would like to be a thrill ride. G14 is less GOJIRA than it is JAWS.

Sure, there is some mention of nuclear testing being the cause of all this, and Ken Watanabe's character (delightfully named Serizawa after Akihiko Hirata's eye-patch wearing scientist from the original) references his personal connection to Hiroshima, but commentary is not on the film's mind. Peril and adventure are! Now, unfortunately the movie does not have characters as good or fun as Spielberg's shark thriller. Watanabe does the best with what he has, imbuing Serizawa with a twitchy-eyed madness I'm not quite sure was meant to be intentionally funny, and Bryan Cranston utilizes his brief screentime well enough. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a bland, undefined hero, while Elizabeth Olsen gets to be a worried wife. Nobody is BAD per se, but you'll probably not walk out of the theater quoting any boss lines either.

But hey, there's one guy in there who steals the show without any lines at all -- Gojira! Our favorite pear-shaped atomic dinosaur is, quite astonishingly, the least grumpy and destructive I've ever seen him. His eyes convey pathos and evoke sympathy at several points in the movie. It's the cuddliest I've probably ever seen Big G! This is simply astonishing! This is some pure and simple Showa shit! The movie could not be farther from the film sold to us in trailers. Unlike with MAN OF STEEL, however, I was very pleasantly surprised by this unexpected turn of events. How did YOU leave the theater, Travis?

TRAVIS:

To speak about the larger sense of geekdom these days, with studios readily developing any franchise that’s available, it feels like you never truly have to grow up. Concerning 2014, never in my childhood would I’ve guessed that as an adult I’d indulge in brand new cinematic adventures of Captain America or the Muppets, and I couldn’t even fathom seeing a big budget American Godzilla flick (I mean, I did in 1998 but….) So how did I feel ultimately feel about GODZILLA? I smiled. Of all the reasons and words I’ll prattle on about in this review, I simply smiled. I only have a few experiences in the movie theater with G, and this felt right. Enthralling. Exciting. Godzilla. Though we’ll probably list a few faults, I couldn’t be happier. You’re very correct, Luca, that we’re in for an adventure rather than a somber tale, and I think it’s because Gareth Edwards is the right type of G fan. He acknowledges what G represents as a heavy burden/moral lesson about man’s treatment of nature, yet he also understands that smashing and bashing is just so much FUN. One thing that encouraged me in the prerelease hype is he would cite both the original GOJIRA and the monster mash DESTROY ALL MONSTERS as his favorites. Watching GODZILLA, I completely grasped that balance and duality. As much as I love GOJIRA, its solemnness would wear thin eventually (by movie 3, he’s fighting King Kong). His ties to WWII and the atomic age ground him in reality so that we can accept the silliness of grappling giant condors and mantises. For Edwards, I’m sure GODZILLA was boyhood playtime again, just with bigger toys this time.

Let’s talk about humans shall we, Luca? I agree with your assessments about the cast, and critics especially seem to point out how dull Aaron is. I concur with your conclusion about him: banal but not terrible. He also isn’t helped by Cranston and Juliette Binoche being so strong in the opening scene. They don’t have a lot of screen time (Binoche especially), but they’re such great actors that you immediately understand and empathize with their pathos. In comparison, Aaron does nice yet forgettable work. As far as Watanabe’s Dr. Serizawa, I’m going to guess that he understood his role as Expository Gravitas Asian in this summer blockbuster and had a lark.

BUT TRAVIS, WHAT DID YOU THINK OF GODZILLA HIMSELF? Loved the big guy since I was little, and I still love him now. The way he fights Muto alongside the army reminds me of his good guy days on his old Hanna Barbera cartoon; the humans struggle with the villain monster all they can until they summon G from the depths to save their asses. No Godzooki in sight though! Awww man, dat radioactive breath! You knew (or at least hoped) it was coming, and both moments were so BAWASS that the audience I was with happily applauded. I’ll probably see better quality films this year, but listen I just saw Godzilla grip open Muto’s mouth and blast blue fire down its goddamn neck and then threw down its disembodied head and roooooaaaaaarrred and it was the best thing I ever saw. You like dat radioactive breath too, Luca?

LUCA:

yeah i was p down for it

One of my favorite things about the movie was the (actually quite Japanese!) feeling of teamwork and respect between the different factions. You'd expect David Strathairn's admiral character to be a big bully blowhard who doesn't want to listen to the PUSSY LIBERAL science types, but he's respectful throughout. He immediately takes to Watanabe's advice. The Navy has ZERO qualms about ESCORTING FUCKING GODZILLA TO SAN FRANCISCO. There's no X-Files style attempts at keeping the cover-up going once the monsters are out, no MIB "weather balloon" explanations for destruction. I liked that! Serizawa's explanation to Aaron about how "there used to be atomic monsters okay", accompanied with a little diagram that reminded me of the "food chain" from Lisa the Vegetarian, cracked me up.

Music! It was too much for me to hope for a reprisal of Ifukube's classic themes, but Alexandre Desplat does kill it. I've been listening to the opening credits (which were amazing, btw) theme for days now. His use of bamboo flutes and Taiko drums is probably quite eye-roll inducing for the Asian movie nerds in the house, but I liked that he even bothered to create an actual (however stereotypical) Asian musical identity for Big G. I'd actually love to know your opinion on that one, Travis! Tiresome, offensive?

I'd love to see a sequel (and if the opening weekend indicates anything, it's that I'm not alone), and I think what would be crucial to a second movie's success is Edwards' continued involvement. Next to Godzilla himself, he's probably the biggest star. His set pieces, his sense of scale, his obvious love of kaiju -- indispensable, I say! In terms of sequel direction, I honestly think King Ghidorah would be an awesome escalation. Build it up like ARMAGEDDON or something, make him be like Galactus come to consume the world. This movie's tone definitely allows for such silly Silver Age grandeur. Whatever they do, they've got my ticket already for sure!

TRAVIS:

I’m already in line for more GODZILLA too! How about some fanboy sequel speculation? The most obvious easter egg/homage in the film is Aaron’s old terrarium labeled “Mothra”, and you also see a poster of different moth species featured prominently in his classroom when the nuclear plant meltdown begins. Will the guardian of Infant Island eventually show up? I imagine those Mothra references are akin to the S.H.I.E.L.D. involvement in the first IRON MAN movie: standalone geeky allusions to the bigger universe that can act as franchise insurance later on. Also don’t forget that Watanabe and Sally Hawkins tell us that Godzilla and other prehistoric creatures (DUN DUN DUHHHHH) fed on radiation after hiding in the Earth’s crust. Could Rodan or Anguirus rise again soon? I like your Ghidorah as Galactus idea, Luca. Hopefully the filmmakers won’t try to “ground” him in reality and turn him into stormy clouds!

I doubt that’ll happen though, because Edwards seems to have the right mindset about kaiju. I’ll admit that I wasn’t crazy about his debut film MONSTERS, but the parts that worked were his handling of the alien “Creatures”. The low budget probably forced him to hide them for most of the movie, yet he could suggest their presence in impressive ways. Distant, unknown sounds become alarming, and an object in the distance stirring about strangely can seem tense and terrifying. He brings those same tricks to GODZILLA, and they work so beautifully powerful. In an age of CG where anything can be brought to life, a ragged creature from the past still awed the audience I sat with. My favorite shot in the movie might be in Hawaii when the army flares fire from the rooftop, only to reflect off the massive body of Godzilla. We get those blockbuster money shots of monsters wrasslin’ in the finale, but all those peeks and glimpses of G and Muto were the important puzzle pieces that illustrated the gorgeous spectacle at the end.

Watching the first GODZILLA trailer last year prompted me to start these reviews with Luca, and it’s a little unbelievable to find myself writing this on its opening weekend months later. During the intervening time, I noticed how positive the prerelease hype was. For hardcore Godzilla fans, it was a dream come true. Geeks in general were ready for the return of a figurehead of sci-fi & horror, and even casual filmgoers seemed welcome to having the ol’ lizard back from their childhood. No one can dispute him as an icon, and now it’s foolish to argue his relevancy. The news broadcast in the final minutes of GODZILLA stated it perfectly: “King of the Monsters”.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #20: GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA 2 (1993)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

TRAVIS:

When I discovered the Japan-exclusive Heisei-zillas in my later formative years, there were things that were a bit hard to comprehend. For instance, it took me a while to understand that GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA II was not a sequel to the 1974 MECHAGODZILLA film, but that it was just an American release retitle to clear up confusion since Toho had sent it out in theaters as simply GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA. Luckily, the continuity in the actual film is less befuddling. In fact, GvMGII calls back to GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH as the government has salvaged the remains of Mecha-King Ghidorah to create a brand new weapon to finally defeat the King of the Monsters: their very own Mechagodzilla! But big G isn’t their only threat because a wild Rodan has appeared too! As if you couldn’t handle all these kaiju already, a mysterious giant egg hatches in captivity, revealing a friendly, infant Godzillasaurus nicknamed Baby! What a monster mash!

Though suit actor Kenpachiro Satsuma previously cut his teeth as Gigan and Hedorah, his performance as Godzilla in GvMGII is one of the best in the Heisei era. There’s a liveliness and fluid animation to G that makes it seem like Satsuma was finally comfortable in the role after inheriting it in THE RETURN OF GODZILLA. Rodan gets a spirited refreshing too as he gets to show off a vicious side that really hasn’t been seen since his 1956 self-titled debut. Most of the G films relegated him as the goofy, flappy sidekick, but here we see him savagely peck and sonic boom the fuck outta G. Mechagodzilla himself gets a nice upgrade as well. His Showa build had that nuts and bolts “cosmic tales” look that reflected the pulpy Showa age, and for the modern Heisei age, he’s given a pristine, state of the art chrome sheen to his body. Simplified and upgraded for MGiOS 2.0.

However, the true monster heart of the film is adorable ‘lil Baby. It seems odd that even though the Heisei series was meant to be more mature that the filmmakers would still want to do SON OF GODZILLA redux. Still, this isn’t some braying, cowardly offspring like Minilla. Hurricane Ryu (who had already portrayed Ghidorah and Battra) keeps Baby animalistic in behavior, only becoming a little humane when he imprints scientist Gojo as his mother. It’s not hard to be charmed seeing a defenseless, cute version of that mighty bully Godzilla. You kinda wish you could keep him as your own pet as long as his father didn’t destroy your town searching for his kid. Were you prepared for this new delivery, Luca?

LUCA:

I wasn't, but it was a happy occasion nonetheless! Even moreso than adding Battra to GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, GvMG2 surprises by adding two more monsters than its title promises. I was genuinely surprised when the second egg from Adona Island contained not a second Rodan, but a BabyZilla! Rodan's appearance made me chuckle, by the way. He's just there in the frame suddenly, without fanfare. You can imagine my delight! MechaGodzilla gets this whole origin scene that the movie gets kicked off with, including a slow pan during the opening credits over the salvaged cyborg head of Mecha-King Ghidorah. "Yes... we will use this 23rd century technology..." Meanwhile, Rodan literally just appears out of thin air, flying along without even a musical cue accompanying him. "Okay it's Rodan, alright? Ugh fucking deal with it."

You say Rodan’s meaner in this version, Travis, but it’s all in the service of protecting Baby, so it doesn’t even register to me as meanness. What was kinda weird was their bonding through some sort of psychic plant (?) that had enveloped both of their eggs – a plant with a psychic song that got everyone who heard it ULTRA HYPED and causes little girls to sing like professional sopranos! I don’t think the plant is ever even named, which is weird for a plot element that has such a huge impact on both the plot of the movie and the character of Godzilla going forward. Then again, this is a series that off-handedly mentioned “one of the Mothra twins died” between movies so who knows! Don’t kill Baby, Tanaka-san! I couldn’t handle such FEELZ after Rodan’s noble sacrifice! I cheated a bit and checked how many movies we still had Akira Ifukube for, and I was saddened to see that after this one, there was only GODZILLA VS. DESTOROYAH left. I hope whoever fills his shoes lives up to the maestro (or at least to Masaru Sato). Man, that sad rendition of the Rodan theme at the end… I mean, I don’t even think the Rodan theme is very good, but it still kinda got me!

That about sums up the Godzilla series’ whole MO, doesn’t it? Somehow managing to remain charming despite many elements just being outright laughable. That poor (and otherwise perfectly authoritative) G-Force commander who was forced to speak in hilarious INGURISH whenever issuing commands to a flight crew that clearly spoke Japanese also. The character of DR. ASIMOV, perhaps the worst western actor in the series so far, delivers his lines in what seemed like an intentional superintendent Chalmers/principal Skinner deadpan. “Yes. Indeed. That might prove possible. Against Godzilla.” And there’s a MechaGodzilla white lady (!) co-pilot that isn’t much better with the stilted acting. I’m starting to think they just scrounged up whatever whiteys they could find and jammed ‘em in front of the camera. The Bond comparisons are never far away… So much to say and we haven’t even talked about MechaGodzilla (the titular foe) yet at all! Do you prefer MG as an alien creation or as humanity’s way to fight back, Travis?

TRAVIS:

Going back to my young days when I was trying to wrap my head around all this Heisei nonsense, it was a little difficult to conceive MG as a “good guy” at first. I warmed up this MG 2.0 though, and in attempting to ground Godzilla in reality (well… sort of), it would make sense that the Japanese government would construct their own monster to counter kaiju. His redesign seems reminiscent of VOLTRON and POWER RANGERS since he’s now controlled by a hotshot team of ethnically diverse pilots. He even gets a fun upgrade/toy accessory when the Garuda ship attaches to his back to give him more firepower. Go, go, Mecha-zillaahhhhhh!

Much like GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, this feels like another Showa throwback, and a large part of that is thanks to the iconic music of Ifukube. The familiar battle march is reprised many times, and when it’s paired up with the images of G and Rodan fighting, it takes you back to the olden days of GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER or INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER. I know I’ve said it many times before, but Ifukube simply understood the power of these monsters. During his scoring sessions, he’d actually have his orchestra face the movie screen as they played so they could watch and feel the enormity of Godzilla. Apparently he was warned by his peers to not even do the score for the original GOJIRA for fear of being typecast as the “sci-fi/monster music” composer. It’s a good thing he didn’t listen because his classical, traditionalist style would make G distinct from the other silly silver screen creatures of the day.

Back to GvMGII! Even though we’re now used to G as a wild animal in the Heisei era, it’s here we see attempts to soften up to the beast. Of course, giving him a kid will automatically gain him some sympathy, but it seems like the Japanese are little more understanding of the big guy. When Miki is on target to fire an electric probe at G’s second brain, she hesitates for a bit before ultimately delivering the kill shot. After he’s revived and heads off to sea with Baby, she wishes the both of them well on their journey. Even the tough G-force commander watches father and son disappear into the horizon and says, “After all this, I’d say the winner is life”. Hoo boy, that line’s in competition with “Godzilla is inside every one of us” from GODZILLA 2000 for BESTEST CLOSING LINE EVER. Do you think life was the true winner, Luca?

LUCA:

Yes, LIFE was definitely in it! "You mean... organic. Life against. Inorganic?" to quote the pretty blonde MechaGodzilla co-pilot who seems to speak English about as well as her Japanese colleagues. To be honest, Travis, my vague pop culture understanding of MechaGodzilla always had me picture him as a man-made machine, so it was the first alien origin of the Showa era that knocked me for a loop. The Heisei made more sense to me! Also, I kinda loved that our protagonist “Dinosaur Boy” gets hired on the basis of… his love for pteranodons? And he somehow gets assigned to the flying part of MechaGodzilla called GARUDA which nobody thinks will ever come in handy because of its weak firepower (yet excellent aerial maneuverability!). Man, what a shit detail… if only a flying nemesis would pop up for Dinosaur Boy to prove his worth… I loved that Garuda gets a little introduction during the opening voice-over, and is wholly dismissed out of hand while actually getting its traits listed. Yeah, no way will we come back to use this thing! Also a big fan of the Garuda training simulator that evoked the INDEPENDENCE DAY PS1 game. I will say that, when clicked onto MechaGodzilla’s back, the whole thing looked pretty badass.

Kudos to the script for finding a way to have the humans win and still have Godzilla be alive at the end of the movie for more sequels. It manages to make the humans look resourceful and determined, while allowing Godzilla to live to fight another day in a manner different from “yeah he was too tough to get killed by that” YET AGAIN. The status quo is changed in such a way (Godzilla is now IMBUED WITH THE POWER OF CARING) that I’m actually quite curious to see where the next one takes it. And they better not screw it up with a title like GODZILLA VS. SPACEGODZILLA!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #19: GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

LUCA:

Sometimes Godzilla movies have plots that sort of putter along, doing their thing, with characters overcoming obstacles or resolving conflicts thanks to things they have learned (be it externally or internally) on their journey. And then Godzilla pops up like a big party pooper. These “oh shit yeah Godzilla’s in it too I guess” movies have the tendency to star Mothra. Is it something about Mothra’s inherent design that makes it difficult to incorporate Big G organically? I mean ya gotta hit dem Mothra beatz: larval stage, cocoon, beautiful beautiful butterfly, fairies, fairy song(s), possible fairy endangerment. Watching GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (not to be confused with 1964’s MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA) however, I wondered if it wasn’t an intentional homage to the 1964 movie. You see, GvM feels, out of the four Heisei movies so far, like the biggest Showa throwback yet. This isn’t just apparent in the choice of G-antagonist in Mothra, but also in the recurrence of plenty of ole Showa staples. There’s a very on the nose environmental message, island exploration, ancient civilizations, a prominent child character and that old standby of waving the hero monster goodbye at the end of the movie.

Now, you could say that GvKG felt very retro as well, what with its bringing back of King Ghidorah and having him be mind-controlled by aliens (whoops, FUTURE PEOPLE) to boot, but I felt like there was a little bit of sly subversion going on. The aliens turn out to actually be future people, one of whom has a change of heart and turns into the hero of the movie. The little baby dragon things that turn into KG are said to be “highly empathetic”, so don’t worry – space dragon KG is 100% controllable! GvM on the other hand, feels like a far more straightforward 90s Showa movie. A comet has struck the Earth, throwing everything out of balance (and awakening Godzilla hello here he is see you later okay), and uncovering a giant egg on Infant Island. Tomb raider Takuya Fujita is press-ganged by the Japanese government into using his Indiana Jones skills to retrieve this exotic anomaly for them. He is aided by his ex-wife and an eager company man for maximum banter possibilities. Can you guess who is in the egg hmmm? This is only possible for the select few who know the title of the movie they are watching! Thankfully aware of the fact that most people know what Mothra’s deal is, Toho throws in Battra as well, basically Mothra’s dark twin. Some good kaiju fightin’ ensues!

With my pretentious douchebaggery in lobbing terms like “sly subversion” at a movie called GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH, it would seem like I liked that one better than GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA. Not the case at all! GvM is straightforward but well done. The Mothra/Battra/Godzilla climactic fight is quite exciting! The movie wisely keeps the Mothra/Battra dynamic sort of in the dark (“dark twin” doesn’t quite cover, so you’re actually kept guessing as to what these two want from each other. Fighters? Lovers? WHO KNOWS!). My favorite scene was Mothra’s cocooning and rebirth as the entire JSDF looks on in awe and wonder, accompanied by a haunting soprano. It reminded me of the “birth of the Sandman” scene in SPIDER-MAN 3. Followed by ultralulz as Battra also turns into his final stage by just ZAPPING himself with purple lightning and popping out of the sea fully formed. Travis, did your opinion of Mothra… EVOLVE during this movie?

TRAVIS:

Mothra is certainly a different kind of kaiju from the rest of the Toho monsters. Though Battra is introduced as her evil counterpart, I actually think she shares a better duality with Godzilla. Though she wasn’t mutated like G was, both bring about destruction because man has wronged nature. In G, our hubris is brought down on us like an atomic bomb as we pay for our transgressions. With Mothra, nature is reacting against our human errors. Both creatures are destructive, but unlike G, I think Mothra positively reflects how we can overcome our problems. Her movies always convey an environmental message, and even the team-up smash-up GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER shows the power of cooperation by having her convince hotheads G and Rodan to put aside their differences and defend the world. She must’ve struck a chord with audiences too, as MOTHRA was the second highest grossing film in Japan in 1993, only behind JURASSIC PARK (it was truly the Year of the Dinosaur). In perspective with the rest of the franchise, it’s the highest grossing Heisei entry and the second highest grossing G flick after KING KONG VS. GODZILLA. Toho even spun off Mothra into her own successful movies (the REBIRTH OF MOTHRA trilogy) after G’s “retirement” in GODZILLA VS. DESTROYAH.

For a movie that was quickly rushed into production after the lucrative GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH, the special effects are top notch. I agree with you, Luca, that the Mothra cocooning scene is beautiful, and the accompanying score is another welcome reminder that old master Akira Ifukube is at the podium. The big battle at the theme park is expertly done too. The city models are very detailed, the mechanics inside the Mothra and Battra puppets breathe life into them, and the gigantic ferris wheel gives a nice sense of scale to both the size of Godzilla and the growth of modern Japan. Speaking of G, man, first he blows off Ghidorah’s middle head in KING GHIDORAH, and now he rips into Battra’s neck with his jaws. How vicious! Since you warmed up so much to the friendly, dancing Showazilla, I must wonder how you feel about this animalistic Heisei brute, Luca!

Probably the part you can most notice any cost cutting due to hurrying MOTHRA in theaters is how they blatantly rip off Indiana Jones. It’s not even the fun homaging of temple raiding found in NATIONAL TREASURE or THE MUMMY; the explorer protagonist is first seen in a fedora attempting to extract an ancient artifact! He of course sets off the trap and escapes the crumbling cavern, then he’s contacted by the government because strange things are afoot, and he’s the best expert in archeologicalwhatever. Estranged, jilted lover Marion Ravenwood is even echoed when he’s forced to team up with his ex-wife. Oh, and they also fall off a collapsing bridge like in THE TEMPLE OF DOOM. No time for lawsuits, Dr. Jones!

LUCA:

Yeah, the fights in this are absolutely top notch. Fucking LOVED Battra zapping that skyscraper, making the top half crush Godzilla. Him saving the downed Mothra by breaking off the ferris wheel and smashing Godzilla in the face with it was also fantastic. These fights are at their best when they really emulate the showmanship of wrestling matches, and GvM does a very good job with that. I loved Battra's face turn! Speaking of which -- man, Godzilla's continued heel status throughout the Heisei era is fascinating! He's... sort of scary again? I mean, they put him down each movie but he just keeps coming back up! His ferocious mauling of Battra actually made me exclaim "Oh shit!" when he bit down and a fountain of green ooze sprayed across his face. Zilla attacks are usually blunt force or fire breath, so whenever they make him chomp down on something (most memorably, Anguirus' neck in RAIDS AGAIN) it's always quite shocking.

Oh, I found the Indiana Jones riffing far less egregious than the T2 homaging in GvKG, since I think Indiana Jones itself is a pastiche of old adventure serials and pulp novels. The TEMPLE OF DOOM bridge scene could have been the cover of any 1930s future toilet paper bundle, while I think the T2 "robot chases car on foot"/"cyborg with half his face burned off vertically" are far more specific things to rip off. OH WELL I enjoyed both movies so I'm not gonna hold it against 'em too much.

Final lulz observation from me: the unscrupulous businessman who wants to keep the Cosmos (the Heisei name for the Mothra fairies) at all costs, but his subordinate Ando says it would be wrong and absconds with them. Lord Business is SO fucking upset at this, sweating and shaking and yelling BAKA!! BAKAAAA!!!!, ultimately falling to his knees and screaming to the heavens. FANTASTIC! I hope this actor will be back for many more entries, perhaps even as the same character. I hope you will be back, Mr. Makoto Ohtake! If they can bring Miki Saegusa back for three movies in a row, surely there's room for a heartless capitalist villain! You can't keep counting on those Americans forever! No okay, you probably can.

TRAVIS:

Indeed, maybe you can! That unnamed man who Takuya was trying to sell the Cosmos to looked kinda American! Those greedy Yanks! Or maybe he was from Rolisica (the fictional Western country in the original MOTHRA). Can’t trust those round eyes anyway! I too quite enjoyed Otake’s whiny entrepreneur, and for a film that feels like a Showa throwback, it’s surprising that Mr. Business didn’t meet a kaiju-related demise like the antagonists in MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA or Shindo in KING GHIDORAH. Sorry to break the news, Luca, but this is Otake’s only appearance in the G series. It’s too bad because he would’ve made a great reoccurring human villain. He could constantly build up new structures and hatch corrupt plans that would inadvertently provoke the monsters, only for Godzilla and company to destroy it all as he wails and hollers cartoonishly. Oh, what could have been…

At this point, the King of the Monsters was pulling in the big bucks, and Toho was happily back in the G business. They seemed to have found a winning formula with Godzilla + old Showa foe = profit! It was time to double down, and for the next film, two kaiju from the past would return for the sake of franchise viability. Even though the Heisei series was a clean reboot, Toho hoped people wouldn’t be confused with the title GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA II!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #18: GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH (1991)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

TRAVIS:

“2024 A.D.” is the caption that opens GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH, and from that point on, we’re on the zaniest, criss-crossiest time travel story this side of BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II. Visitors from the future (imaginatively named Futurians) arrive in present day via flying saucer. Their announced goal to Japan is to go back to the past and transport Godzilla out of our timeline to save the country from his eventual nuclear annihilation. Their plan succeeds, and the King of the Monsters is no longer a threat but AHA! Never trust anyone who arrives in a flying saucer! The Futurians leave behind three Dorats (cute, cuddly mini dragons) in G’s place to become mutated by H-bomb testing and transform into the dreaded King Ghidorah! Turns out Ghidorah was part of the secret plan to level Japan and prevent it from becoming the mightiest super power in the world in the 22nd century. There’s even more craziness going on in this movie, but I’m gonna keep this introductory paragraph short! We haven’t scratched the surface!

Luca, elsewhere online, you expressed disappointment that the mediocre box office of BIOLLANTE directed the G franchise into a more traditional route for KING GHIDORAH. Audiences felt differently however, and it was quite the money-maker in theaters, prompting Toho to pump out a sequel every year until 1995’s GODZILLA VS. DESTROYAH. It even won a special award at the Japan Academy Awards for SFX (a first for Godzilla)! One aspect I’m glad KING GHIDORAH took by going historic was to bring back Akira Ifukube as composer. BIOLLANTE and THE RETURN OF GODZILLA have good, modern blockbuster scores, but there’s a sense of weight, heft, and majesty to the kaiju scenes in KING GHIDORAH that Ifukube was brilliant at illustrating. Hearing that good ol’ Zilla march by the old master is music to the ears!

The movie goes even more historical by showing us the true origin of Godzilla! We’ll get into the political implications of this scene in a bit, but for now, let’s talk about when the Futurians go to retrieve G in the past. Landing in the South Pacific on Lagos Island during WWII, we find ol’ G as a simple dinosaur, standing only at a relatively small 12 meters. Before the nuclear testing that would cause him to tower over Tokyo with fiery flame breath, it’s revealed that he was a turning point in the war as he crushed US soldiers and drove away Navy ships, inadvertently protecting the losing Japanese force stationed on the island. It’s not only interesting to see how deeply rooted Godzilla is in his country’s history, but seeing him severely wounded to almost the point of death by the American troops shines a new, vulnerable light on the King of the Monsters. You tend to be continuity minded with franchises, Luca, so how did this long lost beat fare with you?

LUCA:

You know, I never even knew I was so continuity-minded until I came across this damned series. Godzilla's new origin as the lone member of a species of dinosaur living peacefully on a Pacific Island until man disturbs that peace robs him a bit of the Lovecraftian mystery element I talked about in our discussion of the very first movie, but as far as reimagined origins go, this one isn't bad. The mystery element is replaced with an even stronger thematic tie to Japan, which is something I've always enjoyed. Throughout the Godzilla series, they've always had an enjoyably ambiguous relationship with big G, flip-flopping between their National CURSE and National PRIDE. In this movie, it even vacillates between scenes: Defends us from overly aggressive Americans... wrecks our whole nation! Zilla movies, man. Ya gotta get used to 'em!

Let's talk about two characters that I thought were the beezwax -- Emmy Kano and ANDROID M-11. Two Futurians come to stop Godzilla from being created, they have a change of heart late in the game and decide to set things back as they were anyway. Well, okay, Emmy Kano has a change of heart and M-11 gets reprogrammed by her into agreeing. Why Emmy has a change of heart I do not know exactly. Was she not let into the Futurians' plans? Was she just there to wrangle the Dorats? I looked up the release dates of TERMINATOR 2 and GvKG and T2 beat GvKG into theaters by six months. M-11 has several scenes that are extremely reminiscent of both Arnold and Robert Patrick (walking out of a flaming wreckage with flesh burning off, outrunning a car) so I'm a bit wary of what happened there. Toho was never shy about "homaging" popular movies! When M-11 turns "good" (or at least, in agreement with Emmy) he turns into a lame quipster who had me lawlin' at every turn with his poorly dubbed and overly enunciated English oneliners. Doesn't help that they found a reaalllly derpy white guy to play him. "Hey BUDDIES... OVERRR HEEERRE!" *smiles as he guns down guards* -- big fan of this guy!

This movie is really bad at considering time travel! "Well I guess we erased Godzilla from existence" says everyone in the present. Uhhh... shouldn't no one know what a Godzilla is now, save for maybe the time travellers? Oh no, the nuclear blast now created KINGUGHIDORAH instead! KG is also immediately referred to as KG by our present day protagonists in tones of awe and fear. How the fuck do you know who KG is, guy? Have you seen Showa Godzilla movies? I did like the little nod to what a chump Ghidorah was in most of his Showa appearances. The little dorats that fuse into KG are said to be "highly empathetic of their owner". There you have it folks, the reason King Ghidorah is controlled by every putz with a command console: he's three Tamagotchi smushed together. BOOP BOOP BOOP CHANGE MY DIAPERS WIRUSON-CHAN

TRAVIS:

Allow me to digress with the Lagos Island scene for the next few paragraphs. Back in our BIOLLANTE review, I talked about how the Godzilla films suddenly held a critical eye towards America. Throughout the series, whether he was a friend or foe, G was often recognized as a victim of the terrible consequences brought by the United States’ nuclear testing. In KING GHIDORAH, we see him suffer even more at the US’s hands by almost being killed for only being provoked. Though Japan is the country that’s endured the trials and tribulations of G, you could say that it was America that cursed the world by creating this monster. Also notice how the two evil Futurians who want Japan reduced in stature and wealth are Anglo-Saxon. It can feel as though the Land of the Rising Sun is finally tired of America’s supposed arrogance.

Lagos Island also inspires two great scenes in the film. Probably the most bizarre incident is when rich businessman Shindo and Godzilla lock eyes and seem to share a heart-to-heart (man-to-kaiju?) flashback moment. We watch a montage of Shindo as the commander of the Japanese forces on Lagos saluting the dying Godzillasaurus for protecting them. He even sheds a tear for the innocent creature that seemingly gave its life for them. Cut back to present day Shindo and G, and even the King of the Monsters appears to recall this memory, his snarled expression slowly softening. Does he have mercy for his former comrade? NOPE! Godzilla fires off his atomic breath and ka-boom goes Shindo! Even though we’re in the rough, tough Heisei era, that’s pretty hilariously cynical for the G movies.

The other LOL scene comes from those darn US troops. When the Futurians and co. arrive in 1944 in their UFO, a Navy commander and a young major spot them flying overhead. Then this exchange happens: MAJOR: “It did look like it was from another planet but… shall I report it, sir?” COMMANDER: “What? That we’re being invaded by little green army men from outer space? Let’s just keep it as our secret. You can tell your son about it when he’s born, Major Spielberg.” MAJOR: “Sir, yes, sir!” (looks to the sky) “I will, sir.” Hahahaha, so in addition to all that innovative technology that comes from Japan, I guess you can also thank them for E.T. and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. Ironically, two years later in 1993 when JURASSIC PARK was released, Spielberg cited the original GOJIRA as an inspiration. Forget JAWS; Godzilla was truly the template for the summer blockbuster!

LUCA:

That Mr. Shindo thing was SO MEAN! I am often a fan of mean humor in movies, but it feels so out of place in the gentle Godzillaverse. However, I must applaud left-turns like this, since it shows the filmmakers are still trying to be surprising after so many decades. You know, Travis, I’m not surprised that this is the era where Godzilla movies started getting video-only releases in the States. America is absolutely monstrous in the Heisei era! Yeah, a lot gets written about “contract negotiations”, but I’ll eat my hat if the negative attitudes towards America didn’t play a part. And damn man, the Spielberg crack… first GROANER DAD JOKE in 35 years of G-history. Waka waka! Together with M-11’s lame sub-sub-sub Arnold one-liners, I hope I’m gazing directly into the abyss that is the humorous aspect of this franchise.

One last continuity bitch – the 2024 setting of this movie will proooobably be ignored in the next movie, right? It’s just the Toho way! Gonna start buying hats so I can eat them (or not) for this blog. The financial success of GvsKG spurred Toho on to keep rehashing old Zilla foes, as they immediately jumped into GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (not to be confused with 1964’s MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA) the next year. Won’t you come with us to witness this beautiful cycle of rebirth?