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!

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