Talking Movies [Godzilla Day]: Shin Godzilla

Toho’s famous atomic beast, and easily the most recognisable kaiju in the entire world, Gojira first emerged from the waters of outside of Japan to wreck the city of Tokyo on this day all the way back in 1954. In 2016, the day was declared “Godzilla Day” and, as a result, I am also appropriating November 3rd to shine a spotlight on the undisputed King of the Monsters.

Talking Movies

Released: 25 July 2016
Director: Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi
Distributor: Toho Pictures
Budget: $15 million
Stars: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara, Mikako Ichikawa, Ren Ôsugi, and Mansai Nomura

The Plot:
When a gigantic, hitherto-unknown atomically-charged creature (Nomura) suddenly comes ashore and wrecks the Kamata district of Tokyo, the Japanese government, military, and scientific communities debate endlessly about how best to contain and combat the creature. Their procrastination costs countless lives and their efforts prove futile when the creature spontaneously evolves the ability to stand upright and begins remorselessly destroying its surroundings, threatening the existence of not just Japan but the entire world if left unchecked.

The Background:
When Gojira (more popularly known worldwide as Godzilla) made its big-screen debut in Godzilla (Honda, 1954), it represented very real lingering fears regarding the threat and consequences of nuclear war. Since then, the titanic monster has appeared in numerous films and been depicted as both a saviour and destroyer of Japan, a protector and an unrelenting force of nature that has become an iconic figure in pop culture over its many decades of cinema. While Godzilla’s first big-budget American debut didn’t quite land as well as producers Toho had expected, the success of the 2014 version inspired the studio to resurrect their famous monster after some twelve years in hibernation. Unrelated to the many Godzilla movies that had come before it, and the ongoing Legendary Pictures films, the film redesigned Godzilla into a terrifying new form, one that would dwarf all previous iterations of the character, and sought to use the creature as a terrifying allegory not just to the threat of nuclear disaster but also natural disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes while at the same time providing a realistic critique on the ineffectiveness of governments to respond to such devastation events.

The Review:
I am a pretty big fan of the Godzilla franchise; thanks to a massive marathon that was on television years ago when I was a kid, I can comfortably say that I have seen pretty much every single one of Godzilla’s big screen ventures with the exception of maybe a handful of the early ones. One thing I’ve learned about watching Godzilla films is that they are just as much about procrastination and long-winded side plots as they are about massive kaiju levelling cities and kicking seven bells out of each other. Usually, Godzilla movies involve a side plot revolving around a plucky Japanese report (or two) and/or military figures and scientists; sometimes, they even involve bizarre concepts like time travel and aliens but no matter what type of side plot they choose to employ it all comes down to one word: filler.

A very different Godzilla takes everybody by surprise when it suddenly rampages through Tokyo.

Shin Godzilla is rather unique in its use of filler in that the vast majority of its runtime is devoted not to the titular creature but to the seemingly endless debates and meetings within the Japanese governmental body. Prime Minister Seiji Okochi (Ôsugi) and his cabinet are understandably caught completely off-guard when what appears to be an underwater volcano or similar, relatively simple natural disaster floods the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line turns out to be a gigantic quadrupedal creature that flops and flails its way through the Kamata district of Tokyo, leaving buildings destroyed and countless people homeless, injured, or dead, before promptly disappearing back to the sea. Initially, Okochi’s closest advisors and endless swarm of fellow politicians and officials are dismissively of young Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi’s (Hasegawa) instance that the initial phenomena could be a giant creature and that ignorance costs them precious response time and the lives of many. To solve the problem, the government decides to debate the matter, jumping from political opinions, to military options, to the baffled assumptions and confusion of scientists in a desperate bid to agree upon the correct and most appropriate course of action.

The governmental bodies are startlingly inefficient and eat up a lot of screen time.

Eventually, the United States begins to show an interest when the creature’s radioactivity is discovered to be a very real threat and sends Kayoko Ann Patterson (Ishihara) as their representative to help aid the Japanese government in discovering the creature’s origins. This, of course, leads to yet more debate and procrastination; there was seriously an extended sequence in the film’s first ten minutes or so that saw the P.M. ferried from one meeting to the next and to the next as meetings were organised and adjourned faster than any military action could be agreed upon, and these debates were focused on (almost to the point of parody) at the expense of any other onscreen action. I get it; the idea is to convey that the government is absolutely ineffectual, powerless, and ignorant when it comes to massive disasters. They would rather debate the matter in a committee, lying to the public to calm any discontent and lingering fear over organising any kind of actual military action to avoid causing unnecessary collateral damage. Placing a destructive force like Godzilla into the modern world, where policy and procedure and semantics are often more important than any actual action, makes for a startlingly effective allegory for the ineptitude of the world’s governmental bodies (and politics in general) but it doesn’t necessarily equate to a particularly exciting or engaging Godzilla movie. Characters appear and disappear on a whim and it doesn’t help that very few of them have a chance to stand out thanks to Japan’s strict code of honour and professionalism meaning that people spend more time changing into appropriate outfits, being respectful, and mulling over treaties and documents than actually showcasing any real personality.

Thanks to the chaos, destruction, and death, Yaguchi steps into the role of a leader and commander.

The P.M. is hesitant to make any rash decisions out of fear of injuring innocents or causing undue damage, which costs the military perhaps their best chance at destroying the creature before it evolves into its bipedal form and, ultimately, his procrastination and hesitancy costs him his own life and those of his closest advisors. This allows for Yaguchi to eventually step into the role of the lead character after he manages to formulate one last desperate bid to subdue the creature with a coagulating agent. He is able to reach this conclusion thanks to intelligence provided by Patterson, a smarmy and self-aggrandising character with aspirations on becoming the President of the United States. When the many older interchangeable politicians eventually fail to agree on a viable plan of action (or die thanks to their incompetence), the film’s focus falls back onto these younger characters and a gaggle of misfits and scientists, a handful of whom are able to showcase a little more personality beyond spouting nonsense, such as Hiromi Ogashira (Ichikawa), whose pragmatic nature helps her to stand out in a sea of stuffy politicians.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Amidst all of this pointless, senseless, endless political debate, there actually is a few appearances of Godzilla to be found here and in forms that we haven’t really ever seen before. Sadly, though, there’s a strange hypocritical attitude towards Godzilla in this film; on the one hand, it’s clearly this unstoppable force of nature that threatens Japan and is apparently resistant to all forms of military reprisal and, on the other, the film mocks its name and even the very idea of it as a creature. Sure, a kaiju wrecking downtown Tokyo is an outlandish concept and one that is laughable in its ridiculousness, but in the context of the film it’s actually happening so it kind of feels like mocking the word “tsunami” after the weather formation has decimated an entire city. When it first emerges on land, Godzilla is this strange, floppy beast that lumbers around on four rudimentary flipper-like legs. Though the effects look really good, especially compared to the suits worn in some of the early films (which, to be fair, have their charm and the model and design work used to realise them is admirable), this first form looks really weird and it’s mainly because of Godzilla’s weird, floppy head and unblinking, gawping eyes.

Godzilla appears in many different forms, each one bigger and more menacing than the last!

Biologically, it makes a lot of sense of Godzilla to begin in this form, which is much more marine-like and hampered by an overactive metabolism that causes it to soon overheat and retreat to the sea but, in execution, it just looks very goofy and unsettling and I’m not entirely certain why the filmmakers chose to not have the creature blink. Godzilla’s big thing in this film is its ability to evolve; soon into its crawling rampage, it attempts to transform into a bipedal form and, when it finally re-emerges from the sea, it has assumed an upright form that is largely familiar to any Godzilla fan…but dramatically larger and far more menacing than any other Godzilla seen before it. With rudimentary dinosaur-like arms (which are weaker and more useless than any previous Godzilla, being little more than static claw-like appendages for the most part), massive chunky legs, and an ostentatiously-large tail, this Godzilla sports jagged teeth, a rock-like hide, and small, piercing eyes (that still don’t blink; I’m sorry to harp on about it but I don’t really get that choice) in addition to his iconic roar.

Godzilla displays more destructive and versatile attacks than ever to lay waste to Tokyo and the military.

Completely resistant to all forms of attack, this Godzilla also boasts the most powerful and destructive version of its atomic breath yet; beginning as a plume of fire, it quickly becomes a devastating purple ray of death that fires from the creature’s gruesome split-jaw. Later, when the American’s actually manage to damage the creature, it starts spewing lasers from its back/fins and even from its tail, making it probably the most diverse and powerful of any Godzilla before despite the fact that it likes to just stand around as still as a statue or plodding slowly forwards with little to no purpose. Eventually, when all other conventional weapons have failed, Yaguchi spearheads a ludicrous plan to stave off an impending nuclear assault by launching a focused and co-ordinated attack on the creature’s head and legs and bury it under collapsing skyscrapers so a series of cranes can inject a coagulating agent into its mouth that, after the deaths of many and even more destruction, eventually manages to literally freeze Godzilla in place. Luckily, its radioactive half-life is conveniently discovered to be surprisingly short, meaning Tokyo can be reconstructed without fear of millions dying from radiation sickness. I find this extremely unlikely and actually quite odd; I would have expected Godzilla’s radioactivity to have been far more devastating in this film considering the climate at the time) but, instead, the creature is anti-climactically stopped just as its rampage was kicking up a notch and the film abruptly ends having wasted far too much of its run time on pointless and frankly boring political discussions.

The Summary:
One of the issues I had with Godzilla (Edwards, 2014) was that the film spent way too much of its time teasing the titular creature and cutting away from Godzilla’s rampage; I got why, as it was a great way to introduce new audiences to the character and to build suspense but, for those of us who are big Godzilla fans, we want to see the actual creature in action not spend all of our time with the human characters. This is, however, the price one must pay for being a Godzilla fan; human characters and side plots always exist in these films and distract from the kaiju action. It makes sense as you want to have characters you can relate to and root for and it helps put the film’s devastation and themes into context but it doesn’t change the fact that the kaiju action is what makes these films so enjoyable. And, in that respect, Shin Godzilla fails quite spectacularly; Godzilla has never looked more terrifying or displayed such incredible power and yet it’s largely just a massive, shambling slab of meat that barely moves and reacts to being attacked not because it’s in pain or enraged but more because that’s what the plot expects it to do. The film just spends way too much time focusing on its critique of government, politics, and red tape than it does actually focusing on Godzilla’s presence and threat, which is a shame as there was so much potential for a big-budget, traditional kaiju film but Shin Godzilla doesn’t really impress much beyond its commendable effects.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think of Shin Godzilla? How did you feel about its pacing and focus? Did you like Godzilla’s redesign or do you feel it strayed a bit too far from its traditional appearance? Were you also disappointed by the film’s lack of focus on Godzilla and commentary on politics or do you feel it did a good job of shaking up the traditional Godzilla formula? What is your favourite Godzilla movie and why? How are you celebrating Godzilla Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Shin Godzilla, or Godzilla and kaiju films in general, feel free to leave a comment below.

Talking Movies [Godzilla Month]: Godzilla (2014)

Toho’s famous atomic beast, and easily the most recognisable kaiju in the entire world, Gojira first emerged from the waters of outside of Japan to wreck the city of Tokyo on November 3rd, 1954. To celebrate “Godzilla Day” this month, I’ve been dedicating very Saturday in November to looking back at the undisputed King of the Monsters’ many reboots.

Talking Movies

Released: 16 May 2014
Director: Gareth Edwards
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $160 million
Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, and Bryan Cranston

The Plot:
Ever since evidence of a gigantic prehistoric creature known as “Godzilla” (T. J. Storm) was discovered back in 1954, Monarch has been monitoring appearances of the creature and other Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms (MUTO). Believing that the government covered up the death of his wife following a nuclear meltdown, Joe Brody (Cranston) becomes obsessed with discovering the truth; his sceptical son, Ford (Taylor-Johnson), soon finds his father’s fears all-too-real when two MUTOs emerge from their highly radioactive cocoons and go on the rampage, with Godzilla being the only hope for humanity’s survival.

The Background:
Although Godzilla (Emmerich, 1998) made $379 million at the box office, the film was considered to be a box office failure thanks to poor critical reviews and an overly enthusiastic merchandising campaign. Having distancing themselves from the film, Toho opted to bring the franchise back to life ahead of schedule in order to put the “God” back in “Godzilla”, and eventually put the series on a planned hiatus after the release of what remains the biggest Godzilla film yet, Godzilla: Final Wars (Kitamura, 2004). After canning plans for two more films following the disastrous 1998 production, TriStar Pictures allowed their rights to the franchise to expire in 2003 and Western audiences would have to be content with dubbed and subtitled versions of the Japanese Godzilla movies for some sixteen years. In 2009, rumours began circulating that Legendary Pictures were negotiating with Toho to reboot the legendary kaiju franchise, and Toho confirmed that they were excited to bring Godzilla back to America, and Legendary’s chairman and CEO, Thomas Lull, was determined to do that character justice this time around.

After going on hiatus, Edwards’ Godzilla inspired a whole new franchise of monster movies

The studio turned to Gareth Edwards to direct the film based on his low-budget giant monster movie Monsters (Edwards, 2014), and Edwards made sure to work closely with the film’s script to ensure that Godzilla would be represented as a ferocious force of nature while still pitting him against formidable foes and tackling contemporary issues regarding nature’s wrath. Tull was determined to ensure that Godzilla was redesigned in a way that made him both recognisable and contemporary, and turned to Andy Serkis’ Imaginarium and the Moving Picture Company to bring the creature to life; drawing from all previous interpretations of the monster, Godzilla’s new design aimed to be one of the biggest and most fearsome ever, while still being believable and somewhat mythological in its appearance and biology. Godzilla’s $529 million box office meant that it was a huge success for all involved, and the film was met with largely positive reviews. While some criticised the characterisations and Godzilla’s lack of screen time, Japanese critics praised the film for honouring the spirit of the franchise. Godzilla was so successful that it not only saw Toho produce a new reboot of their own but also kicked off an all-new, interconnected series of films dealing with rebooted versions of classic monsters like Godzilla and King Kong, eventually leading to a modern-day clash between the two as part of Legendary’s “MonsterVerse”.

The Review:
Man, I was so hyped for this new version of Godzilla back when it first came out; Cloverfield (Reeves, 2008) and Pacific Rim (del Toro, 2013) had done a lot to repair the damage of the 1998 Godzilla and anticipation was high, at least for me, to see that modern technology could really do with the Big-G. as a massive fan of the character and the franchise, who’s pretty much seen every single film starring the character (and many of his fellow kaiju), it just felt like the time was right to see Godzilla up on the big screen, literally bigger than ever, and for the character to make a big impact in a medium that was pretty much dominated by superhero films. The approach that the filmmakers took was a bold one, and definitely one geared more towards newcomers of the franchise, that I am aware divided many at the time but I still think the results were worth some of the drawbacks of the film, even if it maybe fell a little short of my lofty expectations.

Joe’s world is shattered when one of Monarch’s giant monsters attacks his power plant.

After a brief tease regarding Godzilla’s origins and its many sightings over the years, the film jumps to the Philippines in 1999, where Doctor Ishirō Serizawa (Watanabe) and Doctor Vivienne Graham (Hawkins) of Monarch are brought in to investigate a collapsed mine and discover the ancient, fossilised remains of a Godzilla-like creature and two giant spores. While one is intact, the other has broken open, unleashing an unknown entity upon the world which has made its way over to a nuclear power plant in Janjira. Here, we meet perhaps the most underutilised character in the film, Joe Brody, the lead engineer at the power plant who is deeply concerned by the tremors that have been spreading towards the facility from the Philippines. Now, I’ve never watched Breaking Bad (2008 to 2013) and have no desire to, but I am a fan of Cranston’s and he definitely brings a certain expectation and respectability to the film, so to see his character suddenly killed off so early in the runtime was a bit of a mistake (and incredibly misleading, since the film’s marketing and trailers naturally focused on him as much as Godzilla). At the start of the film, Joe is desperate to impress upon his Japanese superiors his concerns regarding the tremors, to the point that he unintentionally misses out on seeing the effort his young son, Ford (CJ Adams), has gone to celebrate his birthday, but is nevertheless depicted as a doting father and husband rather than a neglectful workaholic.

Ford is distraught to find his father’s obsessions prove accurate when a MUTO awakens and goes on a rampage.

Joe’s concerns come to fruition when the seismic activity causes a breach in the reactor; tragically, Joe’s wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche), is killed when Joe is forced to seal the blast doors to prevent a complete nuclear meltdown. Devastated by her loss, Joe spends the next fifteen years trying to uncover the truth behind the event, which saw the plant collapse and the entire area be designated a quarantine zone. This drives a wedge between him and Ford, who grows up to become Aaron Taylor-Johnson and a Lieutenant in the United States Navy as an explosive’s technician. Having just returned home to his wife, Elle (Olsen), and son, Sam (Carson Bolde), Ford definitely gains the most characterisation, personality, and humanity from his short scenes with his family, which depict him as a very attentive husband and father. However, his happy reunion is spoiled when Joe is arrested for trespassing into the quarantine zone, and Ford begrudgingly heads out to Japan to bail him out, and is frustrated to find that his father is still obsessed with the past and driven to a maniacal paranoid as a result. Joe’s findings show that recent readings from the site match those from that fateful day and, determined to return to their old family home and retrieve his notes, he convinces Ford to accompany him into the hot zone and to face his own fears around his mother’s death. After sneaking into Janjira, which has become an overgrown, semi-post-apocalyptic wasteland in the intervening years, Joe is both elated and enraged to find that his suspicions are true and that there is not radioactive contamination to worry about. However, after being discovered and detained by Monarch, the two are introduced to Dr. Serizawa and Admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn), and stunned to find that the power plant has become a nesting ground for a massive creature, codenamed “MUTO”, which has been feeing on the reactor’s nuclear energy and sending out intermittent electromagnetic pulses that only Joe and his research are able to identify as being a signal to another creature.

Dr. Serizawa is adamant that Godzilla is necessary to keeping nature, and the world, in balance.

Sadly, Ford and Joe arrive too late to do much more than watch as the MUTO hatches, blanketing the area in darkness and wrecking the site, destroying the facility and causing Joe to suffer mortal injuries. Framed as a chaotic, frantic attack, the MUTO is seeped in darkness, smoke, and debris but emerges as a gigantic, winged creature of sorts sporting an angular body which causes electronic disruptions in its search for additional nuclear material to feed on. Sympathetic to Ford’s loss, Dr. Serizawa and Dr. Graham bring him up to speed with the true nature of Monarch, which is to track, catalogue, and discover gigantic, prehistoric alpha predators such as Godzilla. The movie opens somewhat similarly to its 1998 counterpart, with some of Godzilla’s origin being relayed over the title sequence but, this time around, the focus is more on texts regarding evolution, the depiction and discovery of ancient fossils and ruins of giant creatures, and Monarch’s attempts to track down and destroy Godzilla. Told using edited text and in a found-footage style, this sequence recalls the 1954 original and sees Monarch luring the creature (seen only in fleeting glimpses as it swims through the ocean) out to Bikini Atoll so they can attack it with a nuclear bomb, a strategy that it later turns out only fuels and strengthens the creature and its gigantic brethren. So, again, we have a slightly different version of Godzilla’s origin; no longer is the creature directly tied to the tragedies of Japan’s past during the Second World War; instead, far more emphasis is placed on it being just one of a number of giant monsters that once walked the Earth and did battle with each other. The film frames Godzilla as a somewhat benevolent, if massively feared and misunderstood, protector; again, similar to Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (Kaneko, 2001), these kaiju are presented as being forces of nature birthed by the planet and a necessary part of protecting the world from reprisals. Much of this is later fleshed out in far more detail in Kong: Skull Island (Vogt-Roberts, 2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Dougherty, 2019), which explicitly paint Godzilla and Kong as being protective forces against threats both terrestrial (like the Skullcrawlers from within the Hollow Earth) and extraterrestrial (specifically King Ghidorah), but the groundwork for this concept is laid out here, especially through Dr. Serizawa’s many speeches regarding Godzilla being a necessary force to defend the Earth from malevolent forces.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Following Joe’s death and the hatching of the MUTO, the military begin a campaign to track down the creature and turn to Ford for help in filling them in with Joe’s research. Although he laments disregarding his father’s ravings, Ford is able to relate that Joe speculated that whatever destroyed the power plant was calling out to another creature, which Dr. Serizawa initially speculate is the legendary Godzilla. Much like the original film, and many of the Godzilla reboots, a great deal of the movie’s runtime is focused on tracking, understanding, and expositing information about the giant creatures which inhabit this fictionalised version of our world. Unlike his 1954 counterpart, Dr. Serizawa sports neither a bad-ass eyepatch or the lack of faith in the government and military; he views Godzilla with reverence and awe as the embodiment of nature and as something to be respected, rather than feared or destroyed. He knows full well how destructive humanity can be to each other, and sees Godzilla as a chance to show people just how insignificant they are compared to what nature is capable of producing, and, after all traditional attempts to stop the MUTOs and Godzilla fail, he stresses that the creatures should be allowed to fight as they would in the old days.

Family is a central theme of the film, as is Godzilla’s benevolence towards humanity.

A central theme of Godzilla is of family; Joe was devastated at being unable to protect his wife, and ended up pushing Ford away with his fanatical obsession with Janjira, and Ford not only desperately tries to get home to his wife and son but also finds himself further separated from them to help a lost boy reunite with his parents. The familial themes even extend to the MUTOs, as the Janjira MUTO turns out to be signalling not Godzilla, but a far larger mate in order to propagate their species, something Godzilla is compelled to prevent. While this may very well be one of the most benevolent depictions of Godzilla I’ve ever seen (it never directly attacks humans and seems to go out of its way to avoid their vehicles and buildings wherever possible, most notably when it stops bid-swim and dives to avoid destroying the Navy’s ships and refrains from demolishing the Golden Gate Bridge despite the military attacking it), it’s still an absolutely gigantic, lumbering beast from beyond time that is regularly engaging in violent conflict with equally huge monsters, so there’s a far amount of collateral damage caused as a result. when Godzilla first emerges in Honolulu, much to Dr. Serizawa’s exhilaration and awe, it unintentionally causes a tsunami to flood through the streets, devastating much of the area and killing countless innocent people. Similarly, much of San Francisco is destroyed in the finale but, again, Godzilla exhibits little to no interest in actually harming humans or destroying cities, meaning that this destruction is pretty much all directly attributed to the MUTOs. Consequently, Godzilla is not some malevolent destroyer or wrathful creature out to teach humanity a lesson and is, instead, extremely territorial and protective of the Earth and its inhabitants in a way that goes far beyond other depictions I’m familiar with.

As impressive as the CGI is, the film suffers from being too dark and cutting away from the big monster fights.

Godzilla was, at the time, indisputably the most impressive and detailed depiction of the famous kaiju ever put to screen that wasn’t a man in a suit. Sadly, however, the film plays things a little too safe too often by relying on thick, suffocating night scenes when depicting its kaiju and showing Godzilla in far too many brief, tantalising shots. I’m all for a slow and dramatic build-up to the creature’s reveal, and Godzilla certainly excels in that regard, but the film frustratingly cuts away from the creature’s first two battles against the MUTOs just as things are about to get interesting, which is extremely disappointing. The result is that the film frames the creatures more as unstoppable acts of nature, or destructive events, and lingers more on the consequences of these creatures existing rather than them brawling amidst city skyscrapers. I can understand this, and even applaud the decision as it’s a great way to reintroduce Godzilla to modern, Western audiences who may be unfamiliar with the character, but for long-term fans such as myself it was just infuriating to have a battle teased and then stolen away from us not once, but twice. We’re also constantly denied a clear shot of the creatures, even in the finale, as they’re normally always swamped in the darkness of night and surrounded by smoke, debris, and buildings, making the action extremely difficult to make out at times, which is also disappointing since Godzilla had never looked bigger or more ferocious than it did here. Going with an original monster design for Godzilla’s enemy was a bold choice; however, the MUTOs recall many of Godzilla’s previous foes, such as Rodan, Orga, Megalon, Gigan, and Battra, while still being suitably savage sand intimidating in their own right. The female, especially, is a formidable threat for its sheer size alone and the fact that Godzilla has to battle two threats in the movie is impressive considering most Godzilla movies have only one monstrous foe to oppose it.   

Stenz reluctantly agrees to let nature take its course and to “let them fight”.

I can also understand the criticisms of dropping Joe so anticlimactically and shifting the film’s focus onto Ford, who continually signs up to the military’s many campaigns against the creatures in order to get back home to, and protect, his family. I like Aaron Taylor-Johnson and had no real problems with his character; he’s a bit bland at times, sure, but he’s a soldier so that’s almost to be expected, and he’s made much more relatable through his desperate attempts to contact and return to Elle. He comes out of the film looking far better than Elle, whose main characterisation is that she’s a devoted and terrifying wife and mother and also a nurse, so she’s frantically trying to save lives when being scared out of her mind for her husband. Dr. Serizawa is the closest link between Godzilla and his original World War Two origins; possessing an heirloom from his father, a pocket watch that stopped on the day the bomb fell on Hiroshima, Dr. Serizawa objects to the use of nuclear weapons to draw away and destroy the creatures but Stenz remains steadfast that it is their only viable option to save lives from the creature’s continued attacks. Crucially, Stenz is not personified as some fanatical, irrational warmonger; he doesn’t make the decision to employ nuclear weapons lightly and is simply trying to safeguard lives by eradicating the source of the threat. When his bold attempt to draw the MUTOs away from civilisation using an old analogue warhead on a train result in the entire regiment being killed except for Ford, Stenz has no choice but to trust in Dr. Serizawa’s faith in Godzilla’s nature and to “let them fight”.

Godzilla destroys the MUTOs with its atomic breath and is heralded a hero by a grateful humanity.

The male MUTO retrieves a nuclear warhead and brings it to its mate in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where the two establish a nest, leaving the military no other choice but to mount a high altitude – low opening (HALO) jump into the city to disarm the bomb before it empowers the creatures further and kills millions. Of course, Ford is the point man on this incursion (which formed a significant part of the trailers and remains one of the most memorable and impressive sequences of the film not to feature a kaiju) due to his familiarity with the bomb, which allows him to be right up close to the action when Godzilla arrives for a final showdown with the MUTOs. Although difficult to see because of the poor lighting, this is where the film finally delivers some solid monster-on-monster action as Godzilla, though generally framed from a ground-level perspective as we follow Ford and his team’s efforts to destroy the nest and send the warhead safely out to sea. This, naturally, enrages the MUTOs much like ‘Zilla was enraged in 1998, but while they’re briefly able to overwhelm Big-G with the numbers advantage, they’re summarily executed in glorious fashion when Godzilla unleashes its iconic atomic breath! In the aftermath, after Ford finally reunites with his family, Godzilla recovers from exhaustion and is heroically dubbed the “King of the Monsters” and returns to the ocean victorious, leaving behind a world forever changed and indebted to its actions.

The Summary:
I had such high hopes for Godzilla and, for the most part, it delivered above and beyond what I was expecting. The film is a perfect love-letter to the very best parts of some of Toho’s long-running franchise and features easily the most impressive interpretation of Godzilla I’ve ever seen on film. Huge, ferocious, and intimidating, this Godzilla isn’t to be trifled with and blows his 1998 predecessor completely out of the water. I wish I could say more about how impressive the creature’s CGI is but, unfortunately, there are very few opportunities to really see it. The film is just way too dark and way too eager to cut away from the action, which can be frustrating when viewing this film in a bubble. However, Godzilla did wonders for reinvigorating the Big-G and introducing Toho’s famous kaiju to entirely new audience; framed as a gritty, poignant disaster movie that examines the consequences of such creatures existing in our world, the film excels in legitimising the creature as a force of nature that is here to protect us, and the world, from malevolent threats. As a reintroduction to the character, it worked really well, leaving me anxious and eager to see more of it in sequels and subsequent films, and I was super gratified to see more and more of Godzilla and its world expand into more familiar territory alongside the MonsterVerse. This first film may not be for everyone, and I can fully understand why long-term fans might have been disappointed, but it’s a strong effort in my opinion and easily washes away the bad taste left in the mouth by Roland Emmerich’s previous efforts.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Were you impressed with Godzilla? How did you feel is measured up against the original and the 1998 production? What did you like Godzilla’s look and depiction in the film; do you prefer Godzilla as a destructor or a protector character? Were disappointed that Joe was killed off so early and what did you think to Ford as a character? What did you think to the MUTO creatures and the cinematography of the film? Were you frustrated that it kept cutting away from the action or did you enjoy the slow build towards the dramatic finale? What is your favourite Godzilla movie and why? How did you celebrate Godzilla Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Godzilla, or the franchise in general, sign up to leave a comment below or drop a comment on my social media and thank you for joining me for Godzilla month!

Talking Movies [Godzilla Month]: Godzilla (1998)

Toho’s famous atomic beast, and easily the most recognisable kaiju in the entire world, Gojira first emerged from the waters of outside of Japan to wreck the city of Tokyo on November 3rd, 1954. To celebrate “Godzilla Day” this month, I’ll be dedicating very Saturday in November to looking back at the undisputed King of the Monsters’ many reboots.

Talking Movies

Released: 20 May 1998
Director: Roland Emmerich
Distributor: TriStar Pictures
Budget: $130 to 150 million
Stars: Matthew Broderick, Maria Pitillo, Jean Reno, Hank Azaria, and Kevin Dunn

The Plot:
When a gigantic, mutated iguana dubbed “Godzilla” suddenly comes ashore and rampages through New York City, the United States military finds their conventional weapon ineffective against the creature’s size and speed. Doctor Niko “Nick” Tatopoulos (Broderick) is brought on to try and understand Godzilla’s biology and nature in order to destroy it and ends up uncovering a conspiracy involving French nuclear tests and the monster’s true reason for arriving in the Big Apple: to birth its young.

The Background:
Ever since the release of the original Godzilla/Gojira (Honda, 1954), American filmmakers and studios have strived to translated the character for Western audiences; the original Japanese film received an international release as Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (Morse and Honda, 1956) and included a number of additional scenes and edits, with most revolving around actor Raymond Burr, who was inserted into the film. The sequel was completely rebranded as Gigantis: The Fire Monster (Oda, 1959) and Toho’s kaiju movies were consistently dubbed into English over their many decades of release, ensuring that a version of the atomic monster was as accessible to worldwide audiences, however awkwardly these dubs may have been. American film producer and distributor Henry G. Saperstein had attempted to get a fully American Godzilla production off the ground since the early-to-mid nineties, but the concept and its many pitches were repeatedly turned down by the likes of Sony Pictures and Columbia Pictures. Producer Cary Woods was finally able to get the project off the ground by pitching it directly to Sony Picture’s then-CEO and chairman, Peter Gruber, who was excited by the project and managed to purchase the rights from Toho.

Godzilla was dramatically redesigned for his big-budget US reimagining.

Toho were extremely protective of their property, however, and provided the filmmakers with a memo that detailed how the character should look and act in the film. After a number of rejected scripts, the studio settled on a pitch by up-and-coming filmmakers Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, hot off the success of Independence Day (Emmerich, 1996), who threw out the previous scripts and commissioned Patrick Tatopoulos to dramatically redesign Godzilla as a far more nimble and agile creature. Toho were stunned by the redesign but powerless to change it, though they eventually distanced themselves from the project entirely, and the creature was brought to life using cutting-edge CGI and a number of animatronics. Godzilla was bolstered by an aggressive marketing campaign that kept the creature’s full design obscured and resulted in toy manufacturers Treadmasters going out of business following the film’s scathing critical reception. Regardless, Godzilla’s $379 million box office made it a financial success and led to a short-lived animated spin-off, but plans for two follow-ups were shelved due to how badly the film was received; Toho were so underwhelmed by the film (which they felt took the “God” out of “Godzilla”) that they began production of a new series of Japanese-produced Godzilla films, and it would be some sixteen years before an American film studio would revisit the franchise.

The Review:
It’s easy to forget now but Godzilla was a huge deal back in the day; the marketing was absolutely everywhere, from billboards to toys and merchandise, to a bevvy of trailers, all of which only showed glimpses and size comparisons of various parts of the creature. Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin were the hottest of hot shits after Independence Day and big-budget disaster movies were all the rage [] in Hollywood, so anticipation was really high for their next effort. For a Godzilla fan such as myself, this was the first chance I would ever get to see a Godzilla movie on the big screen, and I vividly remember being taken to see it by my dad when it came out all those years ago. As a kid, I remember being bowled over by it and wowed by the destruction, special effects, and the sheer size and awe of the creature, but it’s safe to say that, very much like Independence Day, a lot of the glamour surrounding Godzilla died off really quickly. Now, it’s regularly aired on television to the point of oversaturation, its flaws are well documented, and it’s since been surpassed by bigger, better, and more fitting versions of the character but I still get a pang of nostalgia any time I watch it, see some of the old marketing crop up on social media, or whenever Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page’s “Come with Me” appears on the radio.

I’m not fan of Broderick, and he’s definitely the weakest element of the film as the resident “Worm Guy”.

After a quick open credits sequence that hints towards the movie’s revised origin for the titular monster, we’re then introduced to easily the worst part of this, and any movie that he stars in: Matthew Broderick. I’m sorry to say that I’m not a fan of this guy; the only films of his I can even remotely stand to watch are this one and The Cable Guy (Stiller, 1996) and even then I’m more interested in the giant monster and Jim Carrey, respectively. Here, Broderick plays Dr. Niko Tatopoulos (named after the man who redesigned Godzilla for the movie, and subjected to a pretty lame running joke where no-one can pronounce his name properly so everyone just calls him “Nick” or “The Worm Guy”), a scientist working for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) who is busy research the affects of radiation from the Chernobyl disaster on local wildlife, specifically worms, when he is suddenly whisked away to give his expert opinion on a gigantic, radioactive footprints and a wrecked sea vessel in Panama. While his new boss, Doctor Elsie Chapman (Vicki Lewis) believes that culprit to be a dinosaur that somehow escaped extinction, Nick provides the more credible explanation that the attack was caused by a creature mutated by radiation, and proves to be correct when the Big-G itself makes landfall in New York City. Nick has a tenuous relationship with the military and governmental officials he finds himself surrounded by; while Ellie clearly has the hots for him (for whatever reason) and Sergeant O’Neal (Doug Savant) is friendly enough to him, Colonel Hicks (Dunn) is far more abrasive and has little time for wild theories; he just wants to cut to the chase and find out the best way to track and destroy the creature as quickly and efficiently as possible, which is decidedly at odds with Nick’s more awestruck reaction to the creature and his scientific curiosity.

Nick and Audrey rekindle their romance in the midst of a giant monster attack.

Nick and the military follow Godzilla to New York City, which reunites him with his ex-girlfriend Audrey Timmonds (Pitillo), a beautiful young woman with aspirations of being a fully-fledged reporter but who is stuck doing menial work for her lecherous boss, anchor-man Charles Caiman (Harry Shearer). Although Nick never forget Audrey (he still has photos of her and the two of them together in his car, which isn’t creepy or obsessive at all…), their reunion is a little awkward as they broke up when Nick proposed to her and she got cold feet. Just as they begin to rekindle their friendship, and express a continued mutual attraction to each other, Audrey screws it all up by swiping a confidential videotape that reveals Godzilla’s origins and preparing a report on the creature, and Nick’s theories that it is nesting in the city, to try and launch her career as a reporter only to be screwed over herself when Caiman steals her report and misidentifies the creature as “Godzilla” instead of “Gojira”. From there, Audrey conducts her own investigation into Nick’s theories and, like him, ends up constantly at ground zero when the creature and its young rampage through the city. The two are joined by Audrey’s her friend and cameraman, Victor “Animal” Palotti (Azaria), who largely acts as the film’s comic relief. Of the three main characters, Animal is probably the most likeable and interesting to watch thanks to being both something of a snarky jokester and a bit of a cynical Brooklyn native who finds himself recording evidence of the story of the century by association.

In a film of bland and cliché characters, Jean Reno stands out as the highlight for his undeniable charisma.

The rest of the film’s characters are made up of the standard, no-nonsense military types and thinly veiled parodies of real-world film critics, but easily the best human character in the film is Philippe Roaché (Reno). An agent of the French secret service, Philippe is conducting his own investigation into Godzilla; having been charged with destroying all evidence of his government’s involvement in the creature’s creation, including the creature itself and its young, Philippe takes a special interest in Nick and the ongoing military operation to track and destroy Godzilla, and is the only one wiling to entertain Nick’s theory about the creature having nested in the city. If you actually stop and think about it, it’s quite odd that Hicks and the other governmental officials don’t believe Nick’s theory considering he’s been right about every single other thing he’s said about the creature up until that point, but I guess it’s necessary to introduce some drama in the muddle of the film and get Nick teamed up with the more efficient and interesting French spies. This leads to some of the film’s more amusing and entertaining moments, such as their continual dissatisfaction with American coffee and snacks, them all chewing gum to “look more American”, and Philippe even impersonating Elvis Presley to convince the Americans that he’s one of them. While Hicks and the United States military are satisfied to believe that they’ve ended Godzilla’s threat, Philippe leads his men to Madison Square Garden to find and destroy the creature’s nest, which results in his men suffering the highest, most tangible body count in the entire film as they’re torn apart by the baby ‘Zillas. Still, Philippe remains an instrumental and pivotal character in the film since he’s the only one who takes Nick seriously outside of his friends, and Reno’s stoic charisma and undeniable screen presence easily allow him to steal every scene he’s in and be the undisputed highlight of the human cast, especially compared to the bland and awkward Nick.

Godzilla’s full reveal is built up over time, with the creature shown in glimpses and tantalising shots.

Very much like the original Godzilla, it takes some time before we actually seethe titular monster in full view; its emergence from the ocean comes at around twenty-five minutes into the film and is easily one of the best and most memorable shots of the entire film as it slices up through the water and lumbers its way into the city, crushing cars and people alike and raining debris down on the streets. Even here, we don’t really get a good look at the creature as its framed mainly from the legs and ankles down and we get brief glimpses of its jaw and head, all of which really helps to create a sense of mystery and fear surrounding the creature. In the first of many borrowings from Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1993), the creature’s approach is heralded by a series of rumblings and shaking buildings, and the entire city is thrown into chaos as it stomps through downtown Manhattan before promptly disappearing. This is a recurring element in the film; despite being a good ninety-meters tall and causing a great deal of destruction in its wake, Godzilla is extremely difficult for the military to track and easily evades their attempts to track it by returning to the ocean and burrowing deep into the vast New York underground. This leads to a shot that should have been one of the most chilling in the movie but ends up being one of the most aged CGI shots in the film as Godzilla’s eye dominates one of its tunnels, and way too much of the film’s runtime is devoted to trying to figure out and draw out the creature and then contending with its young. When the creature does appear, it’s always at night and in the rain (which theoretically helps mask some of the CGI effects but ends up making the film appear very dreary and bleak as it’s constantly raining all the time), but it definitely makes an impression to see this mammoth, dinosaur-like creature standing in Central Park or weaving between the skyscrapers of the city, easily evading the military’s weapons with its agility and sheer mass.

The Nitty-Gritty:
The movie wastes no time in altering the origins of the iconic kaiju; in this version of the story, Godzilla is a normal, everyday iguana that was horrifically mutated by radioactive fallout from military nuclear tests in French Polynesia. I actually don’t really mind this change all that much; it’s not a million miles away from Godzilla’s actual origin (which varies, but is generally that of a new species of dinosaur that is supercharged by nuclear radiation) and brings the story a little closer to then-modern day. Obviously, it diminishes a lot of the horror of the original Godzilla in that the creature is no longer the embodiment of nature’s wrath or a physical manifestation of the nuclear terror that gripped Japan after the Second World War, but I think altering the story somewhat is probably necessary if you’re going to shift Godzilla’s target from Japan to America. However, thinking about it now, they probably could have retained the original story and had Godzilla target America as recompense for their actions during the war, similar to how the character would later be a vengeful force of the unjustly killed in Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (Kaneko, 2001). Still, the creature remains very much a symbol of the dangers of nuclear power and mankind’s tendencies towards recklessly endangering others and nature, though it does make you wonder why only one iguana was mutated in such a way when we clearly see an entire nest near the set of the nuclear tests.

This version of Godzilla is far more agile and versatile than its more bottom-heavy predecessors.

The film does circle back around to the original movie, and the creature’s origins in Japan, by having it attack a Japanese boat out at sea, the sole survivor being traumatised by the experience and dubbing the creature responsible “Gojira”, and Godzilla laying waste to a village in Panama, which is all very similar to events seen in the original movie. Godzilla’s motivations for coming to New York couldn’t be further from the original monster’s, as it arrives not to unleash the fury of nature upon humanity or teach us the error of our violent ways, but to establish a nest within the city. Consequently, Godzilla doesn’t really go on a rampage in the same way as its predecessors; it only rages through the city after being attacked by the military while trying to have its fill of fish, and is far more concerned with gathering food for its young then destroying iconic landmarks. Indeed, as Mayor Ebert (Michael Lerner) states, the military causes more damage to the city than the creature as its easily able to slip past their missiles and high-powered artillery using its speed and agility; while the cluttered city doesn’t really give the creature a chance to reach its top speed, it allows Godzilla to nimbly hop onto and through buildings in a way its predecessors (and successors) never could. Its sheer size and mass also make it heavily hesitant to artillery, but its far from the invulnerable, unquenchable force of nature as the traditional Godzilla; the main issue the military have in trying to harm it is that it’s too fast and aggressive for them to get a good shot at with their more powerful weapons, and it favours an intense blast of air that becomes highly combustible rather than the iconic atomic breath, but it’s still a very formidable creature that easily overwhelms the U.S. military since they’re just not equipped to handle it.

Godzilla is enraged when Ferris Bueller causes the deaths of all of its young!

Eventually, however, the military are able to draw the creature out with “a lot of fish”; although the same trick doesn’t work twice, it is enough to force Godzilla into the ocean, where it is seemingly killed by torpedoes fired from a submarine. From there, Nick and his friends join forces with Philippe and the French secret service to destroy the nest, with the film blatantly ripping off the Velociraptors from Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1997) in the depiction of the young ‘Zillas. These snapping, vicious little creatures are about the size of an average man and “born pregnant” and hungry, but are largely hit in miss in terms of their effects and their threat; sometimes they’re fully CGI creatures, other times they’re traditional animatronics, and sometimes they’ll leap at and chew the faces off the French but other times they’ll back away from falling lights to avoid hurting the main cast. This sequence gives the characters an additional threat that they can actually overcome, but does kind of drag the movie out a bit; I feel like it might’ve been better to simply have the nest and many five mini ‘Zillas running around rather than a whole mess of them, but they do serve one key purpose. Up until that point, there’s been a sense of awe and even beauty around Godzilla; it’s not presented as malevolent or aggressive in the slightest and is instead simply an animal looking to lay its eggs that only acts aggressively when provoked. However, when its young are killed, Godzilla becomes a vengeful and enraged creature as it relentlessly chases after the ones responsible (Nick, Animal, Audrey, and Philippe) in the lead-up to the finale.

In the end, Godzilla is tangled up and brought down with a ridiculous amount of ease.

For the most part, the film’s special effects and CGI hold up pretty well; Godzilla and its young can appear very weightless and fake at times thanks to some dodgy lighting effects, but when the creature is shot correctly, it remains an impressive and detailed digital creature. A few choice miniatures, physical sets, and animatronics help to lend a tangible threat to the creature and its destruction, and it’s clear that the most time, effort, and money went into the full body shots of the massive kaiju. Unfortunately for this version of Godzilla, the adaptation process has robbed the creature of many of its abilities, ferocity, and threat; though gigantic and formidable, it’s still just a mindless creature with simple urges (feeding, sleeping, and protecting its young), and its threat to the city and its inhabitants is generally framed as being incidental to its size and nature. Godzilla’s true threat lies in its ability to reproduce asexually; though it’s the only one of its kind, it can lay a vast amount of eggs, which hatch very quickly, and each of its offspring has the potential to grow just as big and produce just as many eggs, potentially meaning that Godzilla could supplant the human race as the dominant species on the planet. This is an interesting addition to the Godzilla lore, but one that somehow isn’t as impressive or as fearsome as Godzilla’s general depiction as the embodiment of nuclear fears. Upon discovering its young have been bombed to death by a massive air strike, Godzilla flies into a rage and chases as Nick and the others (who are, somehow, able to out-run the creature in a taxi despite the terrible weather and the destruction littering the streets…) and ends up getting tangled up in the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge. This finally gives the military a clear and open target to aim at and, after being assaulted by a bombardment of missiles from a few fighter jets, Godzilla finally goes down for the count. While it’s an anticlimactic and disappointing end to the traditionally indestructible creature, it’s a surprisingly distressing moment as the once mighty creature’s heartbeat slowly dies away in a scene very reminiscent of King Kong (Guillermin, 1976). Also like in that film, Nick is the only one to feel remorse at Godzilla’s death, as everyone else bursts into cheers of applause, but the film ends with the revelation that at least one of the creature’s eggs survived, and this ‘Zilla would go on to be the more heroic version of the character seen in the animated series.

The Summary:
It’s not hard to see why so many bemoan Godzilla, especially the die-hard fans of the character and its franchise. Realistically, the film would work just as well without the Godzilla name attached to it since so much about the monster has been changed that the filmmakers could have simply said any remaining similarities were a homage to Toho’s famous kaiju. The problem is that Godzilla really is so much more than just a mindless animal rampaging through a city; it’s supposed to be this metaphorical, elemental force of nature that exists to remind us of our failings and/or to defend the Earth from increasingly ludicrous and monstrous threat. Reducing it down to an irradiated and enlarged iguana that’s just trying to lay eggs is quite the betrayal of the core aspects of the character, and it also doesn’t help that it’s simply Godzilla against the largely ineffectual military rather than facing off against another monster. While this isn’t necessary a required element of a Godzilla film, as we’ve seen throughout this month, it is one of the main appeals of the franchise and was another serious miss-step on the filmmakers’ part. Still, as a disaster movie about a giant lizard trashing parts of New York, it works pretty well; the level of destruction is nowhere near that seen in Independence Day, though, and the attempt to introduce the secondary threat of Godzilla’s young succeeded only in unnecessarily prolonging the film’s runtime. I do have  a little affection for this film, though, despite my dislike of Matthew Broderick and many of the changes made to the titular monster; I actually quite like the more versatile and agile design of the creature, and the film definitely excels whenever Godzilla or Jean Reno are onscreen, but it remains a startling underwhelming disaster film that’s way too reliant on special effects and oddball humour. Obviously, you’re going to need a lot of special effects to bring Godzilla to life but you really need to make damn sure that the rest of the film can support those effects, and the creature within it, and the sad truth is that this could have been any threat, monster, alien, or otherwise, stomping through the city and very little about it would be different except that Godzilla fans wouldn’t have had to see the famous monster butchered by studio meddling.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

So…do you have any fond memories or positive things to say about Godzilla? Were you disappointed by Godzilla’s redesign or were there elements of it that you enjoyed? Are you a fan of Matthew Broderick (and, if so, why?) and which of the film’s characters was your favourite? What did you think to the changes made to Godzilla’s origin and motivations, and the incorporation of its young? Were you disappointed by how easily Godzilla was taken down? Did you ever watched the cartoon that spun out from this film and would have liked to see a sequel? What’s your favourite Godzilla movie and why? How did you celebrate Godzilla Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Godzilla, or Godzilla in general, feel free to sign up and leave a comment below, or let me know on my social media, and check back in next Saturday for more Godzilla content!

Talking Movies [Godzilla Month]: The Return of Godzilla / Godzilla 1985

Toho’s famous atomic beast, and easily the most recognisable kaiju in the entire world, Gojira first emerged from the waters of outside of Japan to wreck the city of Tokyo on November 3rd, 1954. To celebrate “Godzilla Day” this month, I’m dedicating very Saturday in November to looking back at the undisputed King of the Monsters’ many reboots.

Talking Movies

Released: 15 December 1984
Director: Koji Hashimoto
Distributor: Toho
Budget: $6.25 million
Stars: Ken Tanaka, Shin Takuma, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Yosuke Natsuki, Keiju Kobayashi, and Kenpachiro Satsuma

The Plot:
Decades after Tokyo was devastated by a gigantic, radioactive dinosaur, reporter Goro Maki (Tanaka) finds evidence of another incarnation of Godzilla (Satsuma) after a fishing boat is attacked by a monster that emerges from a volcano. Although Prime Minister Seiki Mitamura (Kobayashi) tries to keep the beast’s return under wraps, the government is forced to turn to their advanced cadmium-firing Super X weapon in a desperate attempt to halt Godzilla when it rampages through Tokyo once more.

The Background:
When Gojira (more popularly known worldwide as Godzilla) made his big-screen debut in Godzilla (Honda, 1954), he represented very real lingering fears regarding the threat and consequences of nuclear war. Since then, the character has appeared in numerous films and been depicted as both a saviour and destroyer of Japan, a protector and an unrelenting force of nature that has become an iconic figure in pop culture over his many decades of cinema. In 1975, Honda helmed the fifteenth film in the original line of Godzilla movies, Terror of Mechagodzilla, which proved to be such a box office failure that Toho put the franchise on a premature hiatus. Over the next ten years or so, Toho attempted many times to reinvigorate the franchise, but all attempts were shelved until series creator Tomoyuki Tanaka took charge or revitalising the series and adding a contemporary shine to it following incidents such as the accident at Three Mile Island. Initially, American director Steve Miner seemed set to direct his own Godzilla movie, though the project was hampered by his insistence on utilising costly stop-motion animation and 3D effects, and when this production fell apart, Tanaka hired director Koji Hashimoto to helm a direct sequel to the original 1954 film that disregarded the character’s more heroic, anthropomorphic characterizations. Teruyoshi Nakano returned to direct the film’s special effects scenes, which saw the creation of the biggest and most detailed and expressive suits and miniatures seen in the franchise so far; the special effects were further bolstered by a sixteen-foot-tall animatronic Godzilla dubbed “Cybot” that was used for the creature’s close-ups and cost ¥52,146 to construct. The Return of Godzilla was a modest success, bringing in ¥1.7 billion at the Japanese box office, and has been noted to be one of the Big-G’s finest cinematic outings. The film also kicked off the second stretch of Godzilla films, the Heisei Era, the era that introduced me to the franchise, and received a slightly edited and altered American dub titled Godzilla 1985 (Kizer and Hashimoto, 1985). Godzilla 1985 saw the return of Raymond Burr, who made some bizarre demands upon signing on, and saw the inclusion of more comedic elements to the script. Godzilla 1985’s $4.12 million box office made it a modest success; this it received lackluster reviews, it was notable for being the last of the Toho films to receive a major North American release for some fifteen years.

The Review:
Just as in my review of the original Godzilla, I feel it’s worth highlighting that I’m reviewing the uncut and uncensored version of The Return of Godzilla, as opposed to Godzilla 1985 with Raymond Burr. However, unlike with that original version, my copy of The Return of Godzilla is dubbed into English, so any purists out there will just have to excuse me for taking advantage of this option. Like a lot of the later films in Godzilla’s Millennium Era, The Return of Godzilla also positions itself as much as a direct sequel to the original as it does as a more contemporary retelling of that film’s events, meaning that Japan has suffered through an attack from a Godzilla before, in 1954, and a number of the film’s characters either directly reference, or were directly affected by, those events (crucially, the monster is also positioned as being the same kaiju seen in that film, rather than a different one). Consequently, I would classify The Return of Godzilla as more of a “requel” than either a straight-up sequel or remake, which is honestly one of my preferred tropes in cinema since it allows filmmakers to pay reverence to a classic and yet still build upon and represent the themes of a previous movie in a new way.

Despite having proof of Godzilla’s return, Maki’s story is blocked from running to avoid a panic.

The Return of Godzilla opens very much in the same way as the original, with a Japanese fishing vessel, the Yahata-Maru encountering a gigantic, radioactive, prehistoric beast while adrift at sea. In this instance, we see that Godzilla is awoken following the suddenly eruption of a volcano on Daikoku Island and, rather than incinerating the ship with its atomic blast, Godzilla left the vessel largely intact but devoid of all life, save for the badly wounded Hiroshi Okumura (Takuma). Okumuru (and the ship’s strangely decomposed crew) are discovered by reporter Goro Maki, who is attacked by a giant sea louse but saved by the shell-shocked Okumura; terrified out of his mind by the events, Okumura is only able to deliver a brief and vague description of Godzilla and its attack but it’s more than enough for Maki to bring the story to his editor. While recuperating in hospital, Okumura is visited by Professor Makoto Hayashida (Natsuki) and basically confirms that the creature was Godzilla are being presented with pictorial evidence of the original monster’s attack on Tokyo. Hayashida believes Okumura’s story and speculates that the sea louse grew so large because it fed off Godzilla’s radioactivity, like a parasite, and that the creature was disturbed by the aforementioned volcanic eruption. Cabinet Prime Minister Seiki Mitamura (Kobayashi) is naturally concerned by the news and orders that Godzilla’s return be kept quiet until they can investigate further; this, as well as Maki’s claims to have witnessed the aftermath of a giant monster’s attack and the Japanese government’s efforts keep the creature’s presence under wraps (something that you’d think would be impossible given the nature of its original rampage but don’t worry too much about that), mean that Maki’s story is blocked from being run by his editor, Godo (Kei Satō), to avoid raising a panic.

Maki tries to reveal the truth about Godzilla, whose search for sustenance causes political tensions.

Maki is sent to talk to Hayashida, who reveals that his parents were lost during Godzilla’s 1954 attack and that, rather than trying to kill the creature, he has spent his time trying to properly research the creature for a potential weakness. During the interview, Maki crosses paths with Okumura’s sister, Naoko (Sawaguchi), and earns her favour by revealing that her brother is alive since he doesn’t agree that the media blackout has kept her in the dark. Naturally, she rushes to the hospital for a tearful reunion, barging past the laughably incompetent government detail stationed to keep him from having visitors, and reuniting Maki with Okumura in the process. After Godzilla destroys a Soviet submarine out in the Pacific, tensions between the Soviets and the United States escalate to the brink of all-out nuclear war and Mitamura is forced to reveal that Godzilla was behind the attacks in order to prevent a third World War, officially revealing Godzilla’s presence to the world during a press conference. Okumura publicly declares his desire to see Godzilla dead, and both he and Naoko are aggravated at Maki turning their reunion into a media circus, and see him as symptomatic of the press’s sensationalist reaction to Godzilla’s return. While the media has a field day reporting on the kaiju’s return and speculating on whether or not it will attack Japan, a hastily-constructed Godzilla countermeasure committee discuss their options to defend themselves should Godzilla attack and resolve to employ their top secret super weapon, the “Super X”, to combat and destroy the creature.

To combat Godzilla, the JASDF deploy their futuristic Super X craft armed with cadmium rounds!

Designed in secret to defend the capital, the Super X is comprised of a highly durable, heat-resistant titanium alloy and fires cadmium rounds specially-created to pierce Godzilla’s skin, this flying fortress is prepared for battle alongside the entirety of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF). However, Godzilla makes landfall at the Shizuoka Prefecture nuclear power plant without any resistance whatsoever since his approach was masked by fog, of all things! Luckily, its feeding time is interrupted by a flock of birds, which draw it back out to sea, which Hayashida attributes to a migratory radar not unlike the homing abilities of birds. This odd and convenient inclusion means that Godzilla is now highly susceptible to magnetic forces, but raises the question of why it even came ashore to feed if it was due to migrate; the film seems to suggest that the birds somehow activated this sense within it, which is a bit of a stretch for me but then again this is a film about a gigantic, radioactive dinosaur so… Anyway, this development leads to them contacting renowned geologist Professor Minami (Hiroshi Koizumi) and, together, they develop a plan to use this knowledge to lure Godzilla to Mount Mihara on Ōshima Island and trigger a controlled volcanic eruption that will imprison the creature. While Hayashida is determined to safely subdue Godzilla without killing it, the remainder of the world’s superpowers are determined to use their nuclear arsenal to destroy the creature, something Mitamura vehemently denies; while Hayashida views the monster with a certain awe and respect, Mitamura has no desire to have nuclear weapons of any atomic yield dropped on Japan even if Godzilla attacks because of how destructive they are and a severe lack of evidence that they’ll even harm the kaiju.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I mentioned in my review of the original film that pretty much every single Godzilla movie follows either a reporter or a member of the military, and the same is true of The Return of Godzilla. In fact, we follow three different staples of humanity that would become the “Holy Trinity” of the Heisei Era, especially: the press, the army/JASDF, and the increasingly ineffectual and perplexed Japanese government. I can see why so many Godzilla movies follow this format; it’s important to see the government being overwhelmed and inadequate against Godzilla, whom they view with a mixture of awe and dread, to emphasise not only how their procrastination and fear costs valuable time and lives in preparing for Godzilla’s attack but also that the creature has no respect for their authority or societal law. Framing the narrative largely through Maki/the press is generally always a quick and easy way for the characters to learn about Godzilla, and thus position themselves as the audience surrogate; it’s somewhat redundant over fifteen movies into the series, but this was the first Godzilla film in about ten years so it’s not too surprising that they’d want to properly introduce the monster to new audiences. Finally, following the JASDF allows for some of the more explosive and exciting action sequences of the film and the now-traditional trouncing of all of then-modern society’s most powerful weapons by this unstoppable force of nature. As ever, the human characters prove to be the weakest element of the film (well, them and the large amounts of time where Godzilla is entirely absent form the film): there’s a bit of a romantic sub-plot between Maki and Naoko, but this appears to be based on little more than him being attracted to her and her…I dunno, letting her emotions get the better of her, I guess? They really don’t have all that much chemistry and she doesn’t really do much except worry about her brother and patch up Maki when he gets hurt. Hayashida is certainly nowhere near as interesting as Doctor Daisuke Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), and while Okumura gets to have a measure of revenge against Godzilla by triggering the explosions that trap it in Mount Mihara, he really doesn’t have all that much else to do (it might’ve been better to have him piloting the Super X to allow him to go toe-to-toe, figuratively speaking, with Godzilla).

Godzilla rampages through the city, shrugging off all attacks, until confronted by the Super X.

As in the original movie, a great deal of The Return of Godzilla’s early going is spent building tension regarding the titular kaiju; Godzilla is only briefly glimpsed during the first thirty-odd minutes of the film, seen as a gigantic shape lumbering from the ground or passing through the murky depths of the ocean, and its attack on the Soviet submarine is framed pretty much entirely from within the vessel to heighten the sense of terror surrounding the creature’s destructive intentions. When the creature does finally appear, it’s revealed from a very unique perspective of a showed and terrified security guard who is suddenly confronted with Godzilla’s massive feet; from there, this composite shot pans upwards to the creature’s face and Godzilla’s new, bulkier design is revealed for all to see. Perhaps taking its cue from the Showa Era films that proceeded it, The Return of Godzilla also features the brief appearance of a secondary giant monster of sorts, in the form of a large and unpleasant sea louse. While Godzilla itself remains an impressive and fun combination of suit work and animatronics, the sea louse leaves a lot to be desired; similar to Mothra’s maggot form, you can practically see the wires that propel it through the air as it lunges for Maki, and watching him struggle with the bit lump of rubber and plastic aboard the ship is particularly ridiculous in all the wrong ways. Rather than having Godzilla battle another kaiju, The Return of Godzilla sees the return of its conflict against the futuristic might of he JASDF, which is of little consequence against such an unconquerable force of nature as Godzilla. That is, of course, until the Super X enters the fray and basically turns the film into Godzilla vs. Thunderbirds (1965 to 1966); a highly advanced flying fortress, the Super X hovers around the city and distracts Godzilla with flare bombs so the pilots can fire cadmium shells into Godzilla’s mouth. This is surprisingly effective as Godzilla’s atomic breath is entirely useless against the craft and the monster is apparently now also easily distracted by pretty lights and the cadmium rounds successfully render the beats inert after a few shots, though the visual of a bulky, cumbersome little space craft battling the Big-G isn’t necessarily the most visually striking opponent for the titular monster.

There’s been a clear upgrade in the quality of the effects and overall presentation.

Naturally, though, Godzilla looks worlds better than he did in the original movie; the suitmation evolved quite extensively throughout the Showa Era and Godzilla slowly become a lot cuter as he was anthropomorphised and transformed into a heroic, almost comical, protector figure to appeal to kids. The suits did seem to drop in quality, however, appearing for more floppy and goofy compared to the intimidating original and, while a lot of close-ups of Godzilla’s feet don’t do much to sell the illusion of a giant monster rampaging across the land, the far more expressive and detailed face helps to make give Godzilla a decent amount of personality (although its unblinking eyes do look quite goofy). A far larger and bulkier creature than we saw before, Godzilla is a lumbering, aggressive force of nature; it trounces the power plant, toppling buildings and crushing carefully-constructed miniatures and causing countless deaths in its desire to feed off the nuclear reactor stored there, leaving a disaster area in its wake. After much political procrastination on how to best defend and prepare for Godzilla’s inevitable attack, the G-Man finally comes ashore to attack Tokyo and the JASDF; shots of Godzilla wading through Tokyo Bay as explosions fire off all around its head and of it rampaging through the city smashing apart models and toy tanks really help to make up for the hour-long build up to the creature’s first big action scene, and the scenes of destruction are far more detailed and impressive than those seen in the original. Godzilla smashes through the streets, swatting skyscrapers out of the way, crushing a train (much like in the original), and lays waste to the JASDF using its atomic breath (now represented as a bright blue/white beam of radioactive energy rather than a stream of smoke). Mass evacuations are ordered to try and minimise casualties, though this does little to limit Godzilla’s destructive and devastating rampage. Many of these scenes of devastation are brought to life not just through practical, in-camera effects of a man in a suit tearing through a highly detailed recreation of Tokyo or splashing about in  large water tank, but also through some ambitious (if, obviously, somewhat dated) composite shots that take full advantage of Godzilla’s impressive animatronic head. After decimating the JASDF and shrugging off even their high-powered laser cannons, Godzilla is finally subdued by the Super X, whose cadmium shells are fired into its mouth and successfully slow its heart rate, apparently similar to quelling an out of control nuclear reactor and, while Tokyo is left in ruins, the creature is rendered unconscious.

Revitalised by an EMP, Godzilla is summarily lured to a volcano and trapped by its own instincts.

However, angered at Godzilla destroying one of their submarines, and what they perceive as Mitamura’s weakness, the Soviets launch a nuclear missile into the heart of Tokyo in an effort to destroy the creature. Although the U.S. intercept it with a missile of their own, they unintentionally cause Godzilla to be revived from the resulting nuclear storm and, to make matters worse, the electromagnetic pulse of the explosion temporarily disables the Super X. This not only revives Godzilla but, in a trope that would be revisited time and time again after this film, also greatly empowers it; as the Super X is all out of cadmium shells, even its advanced missiles and laser weapons have no effect against the vengeful Godzilla, who causes even more destruction as it lumbers after the flying fortress, threatening Maki and Naoko (who are still trapped in the city and helped to safety by a very strange drunkard (Tetsuya Takeda)) in the process and leaving the city in shambles. Although the Super X is faster and more nimble, Godzilla is only further enraged by its attacks and final destroys the craft, and its plots, for good by dropping a skyscraper on it! Victorious, Godzilla threatens to continue its rampage through the city as an unstoppable force of nature until Hayashida finally gets his homing signal up and working; unable to resist the call of the homing signal, Godzilla heads out to see and over to Mount Mihara, where it stupidly topples into the volcano like a good little puppy and is subsequently trapped when Okumura triggers the detonators and a controlled eruption, which encases Godzilla is molten rock. Once again, we’re left with a rather anti-climatic ending for the world’s most famous kaiju, however it’s interesting to note that, where Godzilla was originally defeated by a scientific device that was even more deadly than the creature itself, this time it is conquered by turning its very nature against it. As a force of reckoning, a warning regarding the dangers of nuclear power, Godzilla is an overwhelming force but, here, its also just as explicitly a slave to its instincts and the call of nature as any other creature. This ultimately proves to be its downfall and allows Godzilla to be subdued not by the highly advanced Super X, but by manipulating its instincts against it, indicating that only nature can defeat nature.

The Summary:
The Return of Godzilla is certainly visually impressive; the effects have come a long way from the original movie, and Godzilla and the miniatures it crashes through and stamps under its feet had arguably never looked better before this film. Brilliantly brought to life through a heavily detailed suit and animatronic head, Godzilla has a real weight and viciousness to it; it swipes skyscrapers like they were nothing, tramples through streets and buildings like they were nothing, and shrugs off everything from explosive missile rounds and high-powered laser cannons. It’s a shame, then, that the creature is absent for so much of the movie; this was, and would continue to be, a recurring issue in many Godzilla films and I get that it’s a new introduction to the character and a great way to build a sense of tension, awe, and dread up to its first big reveal, but the film really drags while you’re waiting for the Big-G to finally show up and cause some mayhem. The Super X would be just one of many futuristic craft constructed to fend of Godzilla, with later models and vessels being far more versatile and interesting; here, it’s just a clunky bit of kit that meanders around the city firing off its weapons before being crushed by Godzilla. The idea of turning Godzilla’s nature against it to manipulate it to its anti-climactic end is an interesting one, but results in a bit of an uneven representation for the titular kaiju: Godzilla is both paradoxically an invincible and inexhaustible force of nature but also a living creature that can be easily distracted and lured away by manipulating its instincts. Thematically, I quite enjoy this, and a running them throughout the subsequent Heisi Era would revolve around pitting Godzilla against creatures born from its cells or even more impressive feats of technology (and sometimes both!), but it feels  bit clunky here and actually weakens Godzilla in many ways. Overall, it’s a much bigger and more impressive version of the original film, with some great practical effects and scenes of monstrous destruction, but drags a little too much and seems to be lacking both the fun of the later Showa Era films and the dark, gritty message of the 1954 original.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you enjoy The Return of Godzilla? How did you feel it holds up today, especially compared to the original and other films of the Heisei Era? Did you like Godzilla’s depiction and the animatronic head used to bring it to life? Were you also disappointed by Godzilla’s lack of screen time and the Super X? Did you enjoy the bigger, more detailed miniatures and scenes of destruction? What did you think to the film’s message and the way in which Godzilla was overcome? What is your favourite Godzilla movie and why? How did you celebrate Godzilla Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on The Return of Godzilla, feel free to sign up to leave a comment below or leave a reply on my social media, and check back in next Saturday for more Godzilla content!

Talking Movies [Godzilla Day]: Godzilla (1954) / Gojira

Toho’s famous atomic beast, and easily the most recognisable kaiju in the entire world, Gojira first emerged from the waters of outside of Japan to wreck the city of Tokyo on this day all the way back in 1954. In 2016, the day was declared “Godzilla Day” and, as a result, I’m not only celebrating the day today but will be shining the spotlight on the undisputed King of the Monsters from next Saturday.

Talking Movies

Released: 3 November 1954
Director: Ishirō Honda
Distributor: Toho
Budget: ¥100 million
Stars: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kōchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, and Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka

The Plot:
A gigantic creature (Nakajima and Tezuka) born from nuclear radiation wakes from the bottom of the ocean to destroy a Japanese freighter, ransack Odo Island, and finally lay waste to downtown Tokyo. When the military proves ineffective at harming or stopping the rampaging creature, only Doctor Daisuke Serizawa’s (Hirata) experimental “Oxygen Destroyer” has a hope of stopping the King of Monsters from destroying all of Japan!

The Background:
On August 6th, 1946, at the height of the Second World War, a nuclear weapon code-named “Little Boy” was dropped by the United States military on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing 70,000 people. A second bomb strike Nagaski three days later, killing a further 35,000 people, and in the Japanese Imperial Army summarily surrendered in aftermath of these devastating attacks. Since then, radiation and atomic fallout from the bombings have resulted in thousands of people falling sick and dying, and post-war Japan was gripped with fear regarding nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear destruction. From this fear was born Gojira, the living embodiment of nuclear destruction, and was as inspirational to producer Tomoyuki Tanaka as King Kong (Cooper and Schoedsack, 1933) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (Lourié, 1953) in Godzilla’s development. Director Ishirō Honda’s war-time experiences made him idea to the task of taking the concept seriously, while the titular creature went through a number of concepts before Teizo Toshimitsu, Akira Watanabe, and Eiji Tsuburaya settled on its final design.

The original Godzilla spawned the most successful monster series in cinema history.

Combining elements of numerous dinosaurs, Tsuburaya initially planned to bring the creature to life using stop-motion animation but reluctantly utilised suitmation, resulting in a 220-pound suit that was so heavy, hot, and cumbersome that it took two stuntmen to wear it. Though the origin of the creature’s name is the subject of many tall tales, his iconic roar was the work of composer Akira Ifukube and Tsuburaya directed the film’s many complex models, miniatures, and special effects. In its original Japanese run, Godzilla was a modest financial success but was criticised for glorifying a real tragedy with an unbelievable, fire-breathing monster. Still, the film did well enough to receive an international release, where it was retitled Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (Morse and Honda, 1956) and featured a number of edits, including the insertion of Raymond Burr, where it made a further $2 million the original’s bleak themes. Since then, Godzilla spawned easily the greatest and most iconic monster movie franchise of all time and enjoyed a legacy that spanned over sixty years of invention, reinvention, and creativity and it all began here, with a metaphorical mediation on  the horrors of nuclear war.

The Review:
I can’t actually remember off the top of my head when I first became aware of Godzilla; I think it was just one of those cultural phenomenon’s that I had just picked up from references and homages in other media as I certainly don’t remember the movies being on television when I was a kid. I know I was fascinated by the creature, and the concept, in my pre-teen years and jumped at the chance to stay up late to watch a whole evening’s worth of content celebrating kaiju films, which included the first-ever Godzilla movie I ever watched from start to finish, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (Ōmori, 1991), which was all produced to coincide with the upcoming release of the 1998 American version of the film. After that, I was as hooked as I could possibly be and made a point to tape any subsequent Godzilla movies when they aired, and even went out of my way to get box sets from Australia to own the films (since hardly any of them are available here in the United Kingdom). Consequently, I’m more a fan of the Heisei and Millennium eras of the franchise, but I’m always up for a bit of black Showa action since that is where the series started, after all. The first thing to note about this review is that I am watching the original black-and-white version of the film with Japanese subtitles, meaning there’s no Raymond Burr and no hilariously bad dubbing; however, this isn’t actually my preferred way of watching Japanese films or anime and I’m perfectly fine with dubs over subtitled films. Still, it would be remiss of me to mention that the film quality hasn’t actually aged all that well; it’s quite grainy and dark, and actually seems inferior to even King Kong, but I’m hardly going to begrudge the film based on the technology and film quality of the time.

The outer islands of Japan are ravaged by a gigantic, radioactive creature who lives to kill… kills to live!

The film begins with a sudden and violent flash of light destroying the Japanese freighter Eiko-maru just outside of Odo Island; when the Bingo-maru is sent to investigate, it is also destroyed, the locals are thrown into a panic at the loss of life and the few survivors tell tales of the ocean simply exploding around them. Of course, the press catches wind of the story and speculation as to the cause of the accidents is only exacerbated after the natives of Odo Island find their fishing efforts ruined and stories of an ancient sea monster named “Godzilla” being blamed for it all by an elderly native (Kokuten Kōdō). Although these are initially dismissed, they turn out to be true when the island is ravaged by a fierce storm and a gigantic, dinosaur-like creature is briefly seen laying waste to the village. Traumatised by the devastation, the natives appeal for an investigation, which renowned palaeologist Doctor Kyohei Yamane (Shimura) agrees is the best course of action. Accordingly, he heads to the island to assess the damage and is accompanied by a team of scientists, his daughter Emiko (Kōchi), and Hideto Ogata (Takarada), a salvage ship captain who steers the boat. Amidst the wreckage on Odo Island, Yamane discovers that the village well has been contaminated by radioactive fallout and that massive radioactive footprints and extinct trilobites are littered throughout the village; the cause is immediately identified when the alarm bell rings and Godzilla is fully seen, and heard, for the first time, quite rightly sending everyone into a screaming panic! Although the creature disappears back into the ocean as soon as it emerges, Yamane has seen enough to postulate an original for the creature, believing that it is an ancient, sea-dwelling dinosaur of sorts that survived the extinction of its brethren to become the legendary creature the natives refer to as Godzilla and apparently disturbed from its long sleep at the depths of the ocean by recent atomic tests being conducted at sea.

The human characters are decent enough, but as always the last thing you’re watching a Godzilla film for.

Although there is some debate about how public to make these events, the press print their story anyway, though few seem to take the impending threat of Godzilla seriously and find the idea of retreating to the safety of bomb shelters to be too much of an inconvenience. The military’s efforts to destroy the creature using depth charges are met with failure, and only cause further lives to be lost at sea when Godzilla retaliates, destroying both military and civilian vessels with its atomic breath. Yamane is distraught at the military’s efforts to kill Godzilla, as he wishes to study the creature further to discover the secrets of its biology and resistance to radiation, though he asserts that the creature is virtually indestructible since was able to absorb massive amounts of radiation and survive for millions of years without being harmed. One newspaper agrees one the scientific merit of the creature and sends a reporter, Hagiwara (Sachio Sakai), to interview Dr. Serizawa, a reclusive scientist horrifically scarred from and traumatised by the war, and to whom Emiko is engaged. Emiko agrees to take Hagiwara to see Serizawa since she wants to break off their engagement in favour of Ogata anyway, but he staunchly refuses to divulge any information on his latest research to Hagiwara. He does, however, provide a secret demonstration of his Oxygen Destroyer to Emiko, who is so traumatised by the devices ability to strip marine life to the bone through aggressive asphyxiation that she forgets all about mentioning their engagement. However, after Godzilla finally makes landfall and begins rampaging through first Shinagawa and then central Tokyo, shrugging off the fighter jets, missiles, and electrified fences erected to slow and stop its progress, she has no choice but to betray Serizawa’s confidence and goes to him with Ogata to plea for his help. Serizawa, however, is reluctant to employ the Oxygen Destroyer since he fears, and knows, that the military or other superpowers of the world will see its awesome destructive power as a weapon and force him to make more, but is spurred to assist after witnessing the sheer destruction caused by Godzilla.

The Nitty-Gritty:
As is to be expected from a Godzilla movie, much of Godzilla’s runtime is spent following a handful of human characters who react to the titular creature in different; thankfully, for a long-time Godzilla fan such as myself, the original film doesn’t actually set the template that so many others would follow and veers away from following reporters and/or soldiers and mostly focuses on Dr. Yamane, his concerned daughter, and her bland, would-be-lover. Yamane is different from every other character in the film in that he doesn’t want to see Godzilla destroyed; instead, he wishes to study the creature, to uncover the secrets of its strength and the potential benefits it could bring to mankind, and this even brings him into conflict with Ogata, who tries in vain to argue that the creature’s threat outweighs Yamane’s scientific curiosity. Were it not for the presence of Dr. Serizawa, Yamane would easily be the most interesting human character; while the reporters, soldiers, and government officials we do see are overwhelmed by Godzilla’s rampage, Serizawa is more concerned with the potential of others to pervert his research into something equally, if not more powerful, than nuclear weapons.

Godzilla is a fearsome force of nature who rampages through the city with an unquenchable fury.

Considering that Godzilla is the embodiment of nuclear terror and exudes radioactivity, the scientists don’t really do all that much to protect themselves from radiation; Yamane handles radioactive evidence with his bare hands and his team simply tell bystanders to stand back when they pick up signs of radiation, however once it makes landfall, its threat is taken very seriously. While the miniatures and model shots would improve over time (vehicles, such as helicopters, cars, and trains, suffer the worst in this film, though houses and structures tend to simply crumble and topple with ridiculous ease), the rear-projection effects are pretty ambitious for the time. Honestly, the entire film is bolstered by being in black-and-white and the graininess of the film stock; this, and the darkness that constantly bathes Godzilla, goes a long way to hiding some of the cruder effects and presenting the creature as a terrifying force of nature. I do have to commend the suit work, though; sure, it’s probably cheaper, easier, and less impressive than stop-motion effects but it definitely allows for a far ore versatile kaiju, one who can crash through a miniature version of Tokyo with ease and leave thousands either dead or slowly dying from radiation sickness. Of course, the star of the show, and the main reason that anyone watches this and any of the Godzilla films, is the Big-G himself. The film spends a great deal of time building anticipation to Godzilla’s full reveal, showing merely the flash of its atomic breath or the dark shadow of its leg as it topples buildings; even when we see its head and torso emerge over the mountains of Odo Island and out at sea, were still barely have an idea of what it actually looks like, which is a great way to paint it as this mysterious, fearsome, and almost mythological being. Long regarded as a creature of legend, Godzilla is like a living force of nature, easily shrugging off gunfire, missiles, and every attempt by the military to harm it. Seemingly without conscience, the creature emerges from the ocean and tramples its way through Shinagawa, killing untold numbers and causing devastation in its wake; while the military scrambles to organise mass evacuations and erect massive electrical fences, their efforts are entirely in vain (despite the incredibly speed that they’re able to put these defences together) and Godzilla easily tears its way into downtown Tokyo. The shot of the creature, seeped in darkness and with fire rage all around it as it roars in triumph and unleashes its destructive atomic breath, perfectly encapsulates everything that this original version of Godzilla represents: fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the power of nature, fear of radiation, fear of nuclear fallout, and fear of our impending demise against forces we cannot possibly understand or hope to fight back against.

Godzilla shrugs off all of the military’s might but is finally killed by Serizawa’s Oxygen Destroyer.

You can make all the jokes you want about how ridiculous it is to see a man in rubbery suit flailing around and slapping at model buildings, but there’s a raw power to Godzilla in this film that is often forgotten in many of his interpretations; it’s not some cute, cuddly mascot or a benevolent creature looking to defend us from some greater evil, it’s all the fury of nature and man’s inhumanity to man given physical form, and nothing showcases the awesome ferocity of its nature than seeing it lay waste to one of the greatest and most prolific cities in the modern world. Although Dr. Serizawa is moved by Emiko and Ogata’s plea to help get rid of Godzilla, he is so determined to keep his Oxygen Destroyer from falling into the wrong hands or being perverted into a superweapon that he destroys all of his research notes and all evidence of the device save for the one he has created. Realising that he could be coerced into making another, but fully aware of the destruction and devastation being caused by Godzilla, he sees only one viable option: he must personally deliver the device to the bottom of Tokyo Bay, where Godzilla has retreated following its most recent rampage, and kill himself along with the creature to end two threats against the world in one blow. He does this willingly, despite Emiko’s (unconvincing) tears and Ogata’s insistence that he go in Serizawa’s place since the doctor has no experience using a diving suit; although Ogata insists on accompanying him to where the creature lies on the seabed, Serizawa refuses to leave and severs his lifeline to the ship after depositing the Oxygen Destroyer. The device has a near-instant and fatal effect, suffocating the creature and stripping it away to its bones, and sparing Serizawa’s loved ones from its threat. Those who are familiar with the multitude of Godzilla sequels and movies may be surprised to learn that Godzilla dies so conclusively (and, if we’re being honest, anti-climatically), but, while the crew and Serizawa’s friends salute his bravery, a troubled Dr. Yamane believes that another Godzilla may come into being if humanity is unable to learn from its mistakes and stop screwing around with nuclear weapons and technology.

The Summary:
Godzilla obviously isn’t going to appeal to everyone; I’ve known a lot of people who straight-up refuse to watch black-and-white films, let alone ridiculous kaiju movies featuring a man in a rubber suit smashing apart model buildings, but I think it’s still an important film for movie fans, especially, to check out for its message on the horrors of nuclear weapons if nothing else. The themes of fear and apprehension regarding nature and man’s destructive potential haven’t been diluted over time; if anything, they’ve only strengthen over the decades as global conflicts and arsenals have escalated, meaning that we’ve never been closer to blasting our world into oblivion than we are right now. Godzilla represents the fear of that threat; a literal beast that rises from the darkest depths of the ocean and punishes humanity for their stupidity and hubris, shrugging off all modern weapons and only being defeated by employing a weapon even more devastating than both it and the weapons that awoke and empowered it. While the human characters aren’t all that interesting and some of the effects haven’t aged too well, this is true of many kaiju movies from this period, and films in general from back in the day, and I think it’s better to concentrate on what does work about the film. The model shots, rear projection, and practical effects are all very ambitious and, arguably, allow the film to hold up a little better without the jerkiness of stop-motion animation. Characters like Dr. Yamame and Dr. Serizawa are clear standouts against the bland Ogata and the largely inconsequential Emiko; speaking out on the scientific potential of Godzilla and the harmful potential of scientific research, both characters help to drive home the primary themes of the movie (that war has brought about terrible consequences and that nature will punish us for our violent tendencies) as much as the titular creature, which makes an immediate impact as a ferocious and terrifying monster in its debut appearance.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of the original Godzilla? Which version do you prefer, the original Japanese movie or the American dub with Raymond Burr? What did you think to the build up to Godzilla’s appearance and the lore surrounding the creature? Were you a fan of the film’s characters and what did you think to the suitmation used to bring Godzilla to life? What is your favourite Godzilla movie and why? How are you celebrating Godzilla Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Godzilla, or Godzilla and kaiju films in general, feel free to leave a comment below by signing up or drop your thoughts on my social media, and be sure to check in next Saturday for more Godzilla content!

Talking Movies: Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Talking Movies

Released: June 2019
Director: Michael Dougherty
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $170 to 200 million
Stars: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Charles Dance, and Ken Watanabe

Five years after Godzilla first revealed himself to the modern world, the covert organisation known as Monarch has been studying and researching other “Titans” (massive, semi-mythological creatures) around the world. However, when rogue MI6 agent Alan Jonah (Dance) plots to unleash the Titans to reshape the world, Monarch must fight alongside Godzilla to defend the planet.

After a watered down showing in Godzilla (Emmerich, 1998), Godzilla (Edwards, 2014) reintroduced Toho’s classic kaijū creature to a worldwide audience but was far from the fast-paced, action-orientated giant monster movie I was expecting. Rather than take inspiration from some of the later Godzilla films or even from Pacific Rim (del Toro, 2013), Godzilla drew more from Cloverfield (Reeves, 2008) and Edwards’ own Monsters (2010), preferring subtly and atmospheric build up rather than full-on monster action. After making over $500 million from a $160 million budget, a sequel was inevitable and, after King: Skull Island (Vogt-Roberts, 2017) set the stage for the introduction of more of the classic Toho kaijū creatures, the stage is set for Legendary Pictures’ Monsterverse.

The Review:
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
is a massive film (no pun intended); without wasting any time at all, we are immediately thrown into a world where giant creatures (known as “Titans”) are lying dormant throughout the world under the supervision of Monarch. The world is waiting anxiously for the next Titan emergence, unsure which are here to protect us and which are there to destroy us; this is tied in closely to one of the many protagonists that features in this movie, Dr. Mark Russell (Chandler), whose son died during a battle between Godzilla and an unnamed Titan.

Charles Dance steals every scene he’s in.

While Russell is therefore very much against Godzilla and all Titans, his estranged wife, Dr. Emma Russell (Farmiga), who has developed a machine (known as the ORCA) that can analyse and emit Titan sound patterns. Alongside their daughter, Madison (Brown), Emma uses the ORCA to awaken and calm the mythical Mothra but they are abducted by the renegade eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (Dance), who wants to use the ORCA to awaken all of the Titans and destroy the world so that the scourge of humanity can be cured.

As always, humans detract from the monster action.

Like all Godzilla movies, King of the Monsters is let down by its human characters; there are a lot of human characters in this film and I can’t say that I was massively interested in any of them apart from Jonah and the returning Dr. Ishirō Serizawa (Watanabe), both of whom could have easily been featured more prominently in the movie. The family drama between the Russells is nothing you haven’t seen before and contains some truly baffling twists that leave you scratching your head every time the characters stop to spout their exposition.

Rodan makes a triumphant return to cinema screens.

However, Godzilla movies are always really about one thing: massive monsters wrecking shit and fighting each other. While Godzilla featured the titular character sparingly, which was frustrating for me as a big Godzilla fan but a pretty good introduction to the character for audiences who had never experienced him before, King of the Monsters features him very heavily; now, though, Godzilla ahs to share screen time with three other Titans that will be familiar to any fan of the franchise: Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. King of the Monsters also features a truly epic soundtrack; the classic Godzilla theme is back, bringing a real ominous menace to Godzilla (despite him being a purely heroic character in the Monsterverse), and the classic Mothra theme and song gets featured as well, and the sound and music really helps ramp up the tension and the action in the movie.

King Ghidorah isn’t here to play games!

Seeing Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah onscreen is amazing and their effects look spectacular; it would just be nice to see them in either full day light, as in Kong: Skull Island, or at least lit up by anything other than a film tint or lightning. King of the Monsters also features a truly epic soundtrack; the classic Godzilla theme is back, bringing a real ominous menace to Godzilla (despite him being a purely heroic character in the Monsterverse), and the classic Mothra theme and song gets featured as well, and the sound and music really helps ramp up the tension and the action in the movie. While the film features far more monster-on-monster battles than its predecessor, it still falls back on the tired trope of these battles taking place at night, in the rain, in the sea, or otherwise somewhat obscured by other plot elements. One nice change, though, is that the human characters are usually right there in the middle of the action so it makes sense to cut back to them and the film never awkwardly and abruptly cuts away from its kaijū action like its predecessor.

The Nitty-Gritty:
It’s a Godzilla movie, so you know he’s going to wreck some serious shit and the trailers already showed that he battles Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. What wasn’t really shown, though, was that there are apparently seventeen Titans across the world, all of which get awakened in this movie but we only really focus on a handful of them. The movie makes many mentions of King Kong and Skull Island to set up the upcoming Godzilla vs. King Kong movie but Kong doesn’t actually appear in any meaningful way here; the other Titans we do see appeared to be original creations to me (one seems to be another MUTO, one is a giant woolly mammoth, one is a giant crab…), which was a little disappointing but then I guess it makes sense to not showcase all of the classic kaijū without a proper introduction. King of the Monsters has some nice throwbacks to previous Godzilla movies; for the bulk of the movie, King Ghidorah is referred to as “Monster Zero”, the Navy uses an Oxygen Destroyer missile to try and kill Godzilla and King Ghidorah, Godzilla ends up needing to be resurrected by a nuclear bomb and takes on a version of his “Burning Godzilla” form (like in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (Ōmori, 1991) and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (Okawara, 1995), respectively), and the movie is basically a remake of Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (Honda, 1964).

Titans are lying dormant across the globe.

Emma turns out to actually be allied with Jonah, which started as a surprising betrayal and then very quickly descended into a nonsensical decision. Like Jonah, she believes that humanity needs to be culled by the Titans so the that world can flourish and recover from pollution and overpopulation and all that usual stuff but, unlike Jonah, you never really feel that she has the same conviction or basis for this belief. I honestly believe the movie would have worked better if Jonah had killed Emma to obtain the ORCA and simply taken Madison hostage, then we could have delved a bit more into Jonah’s twisted world view without having Emma there to make the whole thing seem crazier than it actually is. Aside from this, the Oxygen Destroyer fails to kills King Ghidorah because he’s actually an alien life form and not of the Earth’s natural order; it does, however, appear to kill Godzilla, which allows King Ghidorah to awaken all of the Titans at once and compel them to rampage across the globe. Monarch tracks Godzilla to his radioactive undersea refuge, planning to use a nuke to kick-start his recovery, and Serizawa willingly sacrifices himself to set off the bomb and bring Godzilla back to full power. Godzilla’s emergence following this is truly epic and, for a moment, seems like he may have turned against humanity but, no, he instead uses his newfound strength to team up with Mothra against King Ghidorah and Rodan for a massive final battle.

Though obscured by nigth and rain, Godzilla is still impressive to look at.

If you know anything about Godzilla movies and Mothra, you already know that Mothra dies in this battle; seriously, Mothra always dies, generally to transfer her power to Godzilla or to inspire Godzilla to battle and it’s no different here. Godzilla is able to destroy King Ghidorah using its out of control nuclear power (which looked, for a moment, like he was going to meltdown as in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah) and is hailed as the new king of the monsters by the remaining Titans. Over the credits, we get many mentions of another Mothra egg, earthquakes and disturbances on Skull Island, Jonah purchasing one of Ghidorah’s heads, and more Titans awakening across the globe to set up Godzilla vs. King Kong and future Monsterverse movies. Interestingly, the one criticism I have about this movie is that it might have made more sense to do Godzilla vs. King Kong here to help bridge the gap between Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island and do the big Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah showdown as the third movie as I find the idea that Kong can stand against Godzilla laughable, to be honest. I imagine that the movie will be more about a scuffle between the two Titans before they team up against more monsters escaping from the hollow earth but, my main concern, is that it’s hard to top King Ghidorah, who is Godzilla’s biggest foe….maybe they’ll do Destoroyah though…


In Summary:
If you were disappointed by the lack of monster action in Godzilla, then Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the movie for you. If you dislike human protagonists taking away from giant monster battles, then Godzilla: King of the Monsters may still disappoint but it is inevitable and unavoidable for movies like this to have human plots alongside their monster action. For a movie like Godzilla: King of the Monsters, it’s best to switch your brain off and go along for the ride as, in the end, all that matters is that giant monsters are waking up and Godzilla has to fight them to defend the world and, when it comes to monster-on-monster battles, Godzilla: King of the Monsters has you covered.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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