"It means the terror of Godzilla is spreading in the minds of the people!"—Concerned Scientist
In recent years, Godzilla's dominance as crown prince of giant monsters has been threatened. No, not by Mothra or Ghidorah or even the Smog Monster—but by Gamera the Flying Turtle. Kaiju purists scoffed when Toho picked up the rights to Godzilla's rival from Daei a few years ago, recalling campy images of little boys in short pants chasing after a giant turtle who was friend to all.
And then Shusuke Kaneko unveiled his Gamera trilogy. No one scoffed any longer. Bold and intelligent, at least by the standards of giant monster movies, the new Gamera films were great stuff. The third one, Revenge of Iris, is still the kaiju movie to beat, with Gamera's brutal assault on Shibuya the standard for all future "monster stomps city" sequences. The scene works not because the special effects look any more realistic than the usual rubber monster stuff (Sony learned the hard way that state-of-the-art special effects cannot substitute for a good script when they butchered their own American Godzilla film), but because it is about the people at street level, overwhelmed by terror and danger. We see the real consequences of these monsters' destructive power, and we are as afraid as audiences were when Godzilla first stepped out of the ocean in 1954.
Speaking of the devil, Godzilla gets an old-fashioned stomp fest at the beginning of Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla in which --
Wait a minute…hasn't Godzilla fought this battle before? Well, yes and no. There was a battle by this title in 1974, with a rematch the following year. Mechagodzilla was built by aliens in those bouts. After Godzilla's "second phase" (kicked off in 1984), there was a different Mechagodzilla, built by the government. But none of that counts in this new, freshly minted Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, which seems to completely ignore all previous continuity except the original 1954 movie. Even stranger, the screenplay for that 1993 battle was written by the same guy (Wataru Mimura) as this new film, even though they are completely different Mechagodzillas!
Are you following this? To make a long story short: in 1954, Godzilla attacked and was destroyed by the oxygen weapon of Dr. Serizawa. Now it is 1999, and while Mothra and Gaira (and presumably others) have all had a field day eating citizen sushi, there has not been a new Godzilla until now. Nope. Not even one. Why now? Where did this new Godzilla come from? Why would the audience for this 2002 film be expected to forget that the previous year, Toho had their signature monster meet Mothra, Ghidorah, and Baragon? How many different Godzilla continuities are there? Do not ask so many hard questions.
Indeed, do not look for much focus on the new Godzilla at all. The most curious thing about this golden jubilee Godzilla film is that the big G is a bit player in his own damn movie. He hardly appears, seems to have no particular motivation, and acts, in spite of all the characters throwing fits about how awesome he is, like the monster-of-the-week from a 1970s kaiju movie. The plot is pretty typical kaiju with a little Jurassic Park thrown in: the government uses cloned cells from the remains of the original 1954 Godzilla as the basis for a cyborg designed to take out this new threat. There is a clever scientist (Shin Takuma) and a courageous pilot (Yumiko Shaku)—and an annoyingly cute little girl in pigtails (Kana Onodera)—to take up space between fight scenes. Of course—and you can see this coming miles away—this Mechagodzilla, which everybody calls Kiryu because it has fewer syllables when you are shouting battle orders, has a crisis of conscience when it starts having flashbacks that it is the real Godzilla. But after it has a temper tantrum and blows up a few buildings, everything is fine for the rest of the movie.
Not that Tokyo seems to be in any actual danger. The crowd scenes are so thinly populated that we get the impression that most of Japan was on holiday during Godzilla's rampage. The special effects seem to have backpedaled and look particularly cheap compared to other recent kaiju films. And unlike the recent Shusuke Kaneko stab at the Godzilla franchise, Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, there is a bored quality to the entire affair.
No wonder Toho recently announced that the Godzilla series is retiring for a while. Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla is a tired and uninspired effort. Perhaps the only weapon that can really kill Godzilla is ennui.
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Scales of Justice
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