Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Turtle Talk #6: GAMERA 2: ADVENT OF LEGION (1996)


It had been a year since Japan recovered from the rampage of the Gyaos, but outer space decided to rear its ugly head and deliver another destructive force to the Land of the Rising Sun! GAMERA 2: ATTACK OF LEGION begins with a meteor zooming down for the stars and crash landing near the city of Sapporo. There aren't many traces left of the invaders at the impact site, yet strange fluctuations in electricity and oxygen levels start occurring. Soon the alien intruders make their appearance, and they're a bunch of creeeeeeepy craaaaaawwwlers! Given the name “Legion” by Col. Watarase (Toshiyuki Nagashima), these one-eyed beetle-like creatures are numerous and begin building giant plant pods in various cities. And of course, there's only one hero big enough to squash this buggy menace.... 

And what a new menace this is! Even though we've already seen the flocks of Gyaos in GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE, this is the first enemy in the entire Gamera series to be made up of little (well, little in the kaiju sense) hive-minded parasites. This can sometimes be a detriment in these monster flicks because we're used to our bad guy monsters as big, brutish heels who take on our heroes, so having small armies of critters doesn't necessarily give the audience that fun personality to boo and jeer. Because of that, you'd hope that the filmmakers can make up for it by having the Legion be very unique in their biology. And they are! The building-size Mother Legion that fights Gamera is kinda generic, but the smaller Legion soldiers that menace our human protagonists are pretty interesting. They're silicon-based lifeforms, and they're constantly on the prowl for glass objects to absorb their silicon content. There's not even blood or muscles inside their bodies, only pressurized air that flows through their exoskeleton. In that regard, this might actually be the least gory Gamera film of all time! Not too much flesh wound fluid spilt here... 

However, there's enough Kirin beer in this movie to share with everyone! The company behind the popular brand of Japanese alcohol must've put some dollars in the filmmakers' pockets because Kirin is featured pretty prominently in LEGION. In a very amusing scene, we catch up with poor Osaka (Yukijiro Hotaru), the cowardly detective from GUARDIAN, in his new job as a security guard at a Kirin warehouse. It seems like the stress of dealing with carnivorous bat creatures took a toll on the former cop, and we now see him enjoying a low-stress (and low-monster level) gig of watching cases of beer. But uh oh! Here comes the Legion sneaking into the warehouse and absorbing the glass bottles to Osaka's horror! Will the monsters ever leave him alone? The next morning as Midori (Miki Mizuno) observes the copious amounts of alcohol spread all over the floor, she exclaims, “What a waste of good beer!” Hahahahaha yes, when aliens show no reverence for that precious Kirin, you know they're up to no good! And of course, Gamera at one point crashes into a strategically placed Kirin billboard during one of his fights. Hey, it's not advertising of alcohol to children if he just happens to knock over a sign! Did any of this make you thirsty, Luca? 


Mmmm, goes down smooth… 

Oh, what? A movie? Let me get my notes! 

You know who’s the greatest victim of Gamera’s 90s rampage so far, Travis? Our dearest readers! If Shusuke Kaneko keeps delivering solid movies with excellent monster action and kind of boring human protagonists, we’ll never have anything interesting to write about anymore! In fact, I daresay that with his two decent entries out of three so far, Kaneko is en route to deliver a Heisei series that, in my humble opinion, Godzilla should be envious of. Maybe that’s why the big guy turned Kermit-green in G2K? 

He shouldn’t feel too bad about it however, since GAMERA 2: ADVENT OF LEGION is pretty liberal in its borrowing from other films, and in this case – somewhat damningly – an actual GODZILLA movie! This time, our favorite Atlantean rocket turtle faces a foe that is many: the fleet of space bugs called Legion by an overly melodramatic Watarase who witnesses the critters attack Gamera, and promptly recites the oft-overused in genre fiction quote from the book of Mark. “The Bible???” his lieutenant asks, clearly never having seen any horror movies made between 1985 and 2005. Legion is, of course, suspiciously similar to Destoroyah, the horrible monster made up of microbial sea life mutated by Dr. Serizawa’s Oxygen Destroyer from the original 1954 GOJIRA. In a hilarious turn of analogous events, the Legion babies attack citizens as well as military personnel in few scandalously splattery scenes. I thought Gamera movies got away with monster gore cuz it was so outlandish and unrealistic? Not that I’m complaining, mind! What’s hilarious here exactly, is that not only did DESTOROYAH have these scenes as well, the final Godzilla Heisei film really obviously “borrowed” motifs and visual gags from James Cameron’s ALIENS for these man-sized monsters vs. soldiers scenes. ADVENT OF LEGION? Well, if Godzilla’s “homaging” ALIENS, we’ll just do PREDATOR, Kaneko says! Not only is there the slaughter of a subway car full of civilians during a strobe-lit alien attack, we even get some heat-vision POV shots from the Legionnaires, looking just like the familiar viewpoint of our favorite alien hunter. Finally (and this is my favorite), composer Kow Otani kind of nails that very, very familiar Alan Silvestri sound in his score, with a short horn crescendo followed by an outburst of a few notes, upon which the music recedes into anticipatory murmurings again. You can go to YouTube and look for “Predator theme” to hear the sound for yourself, but Silvestri honestly does it in ROGER RABBIT, THE MUMMY, THE 13TH WARRIOR, you name it. In ADVENT OF LEGION, it’s evident from the title card music onward. I can’t get mad at that – it’s so cheeky! 

Even though you’re correct, Travis, that the gaseous innards of the Legion babies don’t make for a very splattery series of encounters, I did love the extremely badass confrontation Watarase has with one near the end of the film where he just walks up to it and pops it two in the dome. “DAYUM that’s gangsta!” a white man thought while watching this but did not say it out loud because that would be embarrassing. This doesn’t kill the critter, of course, necessitating Watarase to keep blasting at different joints until it’s a sad pile of chitinous jerk, steam whistlin’ out of its wounds all the while. And here I am wasting words on a kaiju movie without even getting to the kaiju fights! Well, kaiju-on-kaiju fights that is. What did you think of Gamera vs. Momma Legion, Travis? 


The big monster fights scenes are well-done and exciting per Kaneko's style, yet the generic nature of Momma Legion keeps it a little tempered. Again, the soldier bugs crawling all around town are interesting villains, and they're a different type of threat in the Gamera saga. Plus, they get under my skin a little because of a small phobia I have: creepy eyes. If there's one thing that a monster or villain must have in their design to disturb me, they gotta have weird-looking eyes or an unnerving stare. So by placing the soldier Legion's solo eyeball in the middle of their buggy mandibles, I admit that it gives me the goosebumps! The boss enemy Legion has a fine creature design but doesn't have much personality. And it can shoot a laser because.... kaiju flick. Like I said, it's definitely not a bad antagonist, and its biology is very unique in this series, yet this big baddie is a slight step down from the savagery of the Gyaos. 

You mentioned earlier, Luca, that our human protagonists have been kinda boring. While they're certainly not complex, I do find our group of folks in LEGION to be a little interesting. At the very least, they don't have me reaching for my phone when the non-monster scenes occur. Though they may be a bit bland, I like that we're given just some plain decent people making thoughtful decisions. Watarase is certainly a military badass, yet he's more than willing to listen to Midori and Obitsu (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) when dealing with such an abnormal threat. Heck, even the nerdy Obitsu gets a heroic moment when he dashes off to an electricity plant to overload its circuits and attract the swarms of soldier Legions away from Gamera. We've talked in the past about gender diversity in kaiju stuff, and it's good to see in LEGION that two of the most important characters are Midori (who has insight into the behavior of the Legion) and the returning Asagi (still holding onto her psychic bond with Gamera). In fact, I applaud that the Heisei trilogy has a girl as the youth with a special friendship with Gamera, as the Showa series typically had boys as the turtle's BFF. I know it can be hard in our sarcastic natures to goof on nitpicks in quality monster movies such as these, Luca, but do you have anything else in ya? I believe in you! 


Actually, let me answer that in the form of some hot behind-the-scenes info for all you loyal readers! As we discuss our findings through unofficial channels during our kaiju odysseys, there's the occasional lightbulb moment from either of us, when we come to realize some outrageous viewpoint is being held by the other guy. Coincidentally, the most outrageous one of these was probably when Travis asked me "Are you... are you enjoying the Gamera movies more than the Godzillas?" after which I started sweating, pulled on my collar a bit and jumped out the window. We're not too far away from the end of our second monster journey, and one thing the Gameras certainly have over the Godzillas a bit more is a certain amount of irreverence. The writers/producers/directors generally operate under the assumption that, hey, we're just adding to a series that was a rip-off to begin with, so there's not really a whole heapin' helpin' of legacy that we're supposed to honor, you know? It's a bit difficult to be a sarcastic internet asshole when, in effect, the movie's already doing it for you! 

Take Heisei Godzilla's Miki (Megumi Odaka). Essentially, Heisei Gamera's Asagi is the same damn character as her, kaiju telepathy and all. But, of course, Toho makes near a damn dozen Godzillas in the Heisei period, resulting in Miki not always getting her due as a character, or being shuffled off to the side with stellar lines as "Godzilla coming up on screen!" The two movies I've seen Asagi in, meanwhile, have her as a side-character with some actual shit to do. And here's the big irony, Kaneko's such a good director that even with the script going FRANKLY WE NO CARE and just phoning it the hell in or ripping off characters and sequences wholesale, these Heisei Gameras absolutely can go toe-to-toe with the Heisei Godzillas and, in many cases, even transcend them in sheer monster-fighting entertainment quality. Here's hoping he sticks the landing with GAMERA: RETURN OF IRIS!