This all started innocently enough. One man, seeking to forestall writing about the Robocop remake for a few more hours, decided that a trip to the movies would be a sufficient diversion. A few months, twenty five films, and innumerable grimaces later, an article was born. And trust me, dear readers, this baby was a breech.
As I lie in bed waiting for sleep to mercifully end my daily suffering, my mind persists in needling me with questions: How did it ever come to this? How did one innocuous choice lead me down this sinister staircase? Was it my own Ahab-esque obsessive personality? Wasn't there somewhere else I could lay the blame in order to avoid this uncomfortable level of introspection? Why do the Japanese enjoy these movies, anyhow? Forget that last question. I might as well be asking why life exists. A scapegoat. Focus on a scapegoat. Surely I share no blame in the abhorrent timesuck that my life has become. I blame Devlin Satanfingers.
Let's go back to that day in mid-May when everything went askew...
Perusing the movie listings, I mutter to myself, "Hmm. Bryan Cranston. Juliette Binoche. Elizabeth Olsen. The reviews are surprisingly strong. That was a pretty sweet trailer. I loved those movies when I was a kid. Godzilla it is!" Perhaps all of this is punishment for vocalizing these sentiments, rather than just thinking them like normal folk, but as soon as I conclude my external monologue, a fervent scratching grows audible from beneath the oaken floorboards of our venerable office. I wheel over to investigate, assuming our rat problem has once again reared its swarming array of heads. It is indeed a known carrier of the Black Death, but one far peskier than any mere rodent. Peering through a displaced knot in the floorboard is the unmistakable retina of our disgraced field reporter, Devlin Satanfingers.
Apparently, Mr. Satanfingers, missing for three months and enthusiastically declared dead, has in fact been residing beneath our offices, subsisting on fiberglass insulation and dust mites. The mere mention of the word Godzilla has awakened him from prolonged stasis, and he noisily scrabbles out of a nearby vent ceaselessly chanting "Kaiju". Whatever that means. I resign myself to this unwanted companionship, and head out to see Bryan Cranston yell at a giant lizard.
Now I remember why I hated Gareth Edwards' debut film, Monsters. Godzilla movies are supposed to be fun, right? This was an interminable bore. I get that they were trying to recapture the more serious tenor of the original 1954 film, but that film earned its dour tone by conveying a message about the dangers of the arms race in a Japan less than a decade removed from the devastation of the atomic bomb. This conveyed no message. Much like Edwards' first film, it featured some heavy handed imagery meant to evoke a certain vague sentiment, but really endeavored to say nothing at all. That's fine. Godzilla doesn't need to be a message movie, as virtually all of its sequels have illustrated, but this is a somber film, largely devoid of the lighthearted fun that permeates most successful popcorn movies.
It commits the further sin of wasting a tremendous cast, jettisoning presumed lead Cranston by the midway point in order to focus on the engrossing tale of Boring White Man. It was also a bit curious to make Godzilla the de facto protagonist, defending the globe from a pair of Cloverfield cast-offs. Traditionally, Godzilla is introduced as a great threat to our way of life, allowing future franchise entries room for escalation as he slides into a comfortable position as the lesser of two evils. Going with Good-zilla inexorably forces the series in a single direction, dooming audiences to a franchise that has nowhere to go, and will quickly turn stale and repetitive. I assume they'll lean heavily on Godzilla's extensive rogues gallery to maintain fan interest going forward, but the formula has already been rigidly laid out.
Getting back to the exhilarating plot: Boring White Man and Godzilla team up to defeat the insidious MUTOs, and the day is saved. Another quibble: There's no fucking Godzilla music. Akira Ifukube's wonderful score is the single most iconic thing about this hulking slab of iconography. If you're making a Godzilla movie, it ought to sound like this:
Even that heinous Robocop remake had the sense to incorporate the original film's beloved theme. It's about managing audience expectations. I didn't buy a ticket to 2001: A Space Odyssey. I bought a ticket to the farthest thing from 2001: A Space Odyssey imaginable. I don't want to hear fucking Thus Spoke Zarathustra. How is that an appropriate parallel to draw? The lizard is monolithic? Really? Is that the thought process at work here? I actually think I preferred the much maligned Roland Emmerich Americanization to this tedium. At least that was fun, right?*
*At this point I was informed by our crack editorial staff that I probably ought to revisit the 1998 film if I were going to make such a claim. Turns out I was 13 when I saw the film, and my opinion might have slightly evolved since that time. So maybe I should be blaming my editor for all of this.
I naively proclaim, "Hey, why don't I watch ten Godzilla films! Then I can really get a feel for the tone these films ought to be striving toward. Maybe I'm not giving this one a fair shake." Once again, my penchant for blurting out my intentions proves calamitous as Devlin begins chanting anew. "Gojira!" he exclaims, vigorously and repeatedly. He's inexplicably clad in a trenchcoat befitting a cartoon grifter, and from one of the seemingly endless compartments in the coat's lining he produces a DVD, its near mint condition a stark contrast to his viscera spattered personage. I pop in the DVD and prepare for some Broderick good times.
Gojira aka Godzilla (1954)
This did not star Matthew Broderick. It was actually a copy of the original Godzilla. I must say, this is a pretty cool little film. It's not the masterpiece that some would have you believe, but it isn't difficult to see why it was such a significant cultural touchstone. The miniatures that this franchise became notorious for are incredibly crafted, and the work and care that went into the film are obvious. It's essentially a cautionary tale illustrating the implications of weaponizing scientific advancement. Implications that were all too evident in Japan at the time of the film's release. Somewhat surprisingly, the film does not have a strong anti-Western tinge, but exists as more of a pacifist tome. It holds up a mirror rather than pointing a finger. The military is responsible for the creation of Godzilla, but is ineffectual in dealing with the repercussions. For a nation awash in literal and figurative nuclear fallout, that was certainly resonant. The film has a couple of wonderful scenes, notably Godzilla's initial reveal, and a monsoon scene that holds up exceptionally well.
On the other hand, the film struggles mightily with the human element. The characters are wooden archetypes, and the acting is... not strong. It doesn't really manage to stick the landing either. The endgame involves a great deal of mad science chicanery. Godzilla is killed via the campiest sounding weapon of all time: The Oxygen Destroyer. Yes, the Oxygen Destroyer. It dissolves fish! All in all, this is a noteworthy film, and it's quite enjoyable to boot. It also provides a pretty basic and foolproof template for rebooting the franchise. A template that no one, Japanese or American, has managed to adhere to as of yet.
Alright Devlin, bring on the Broderick. I need me some Broderick. "Kingu Kongu!" yelps Devlin, producing another disc.
King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
Goddamnit. Not Broderick. And not watchable. This was one of the old films I was most looking forward to. I fondly remember renting it time and again from the Meijer by my house as a young lad. It has Godzilla and King Kong! And some of the worst characters to ever grace the screen! I'd like to posit the theory that Michael Bay harbors a great fondness for this film. It honestly feels like a proto-Transformers. It is LOADED with the idiotic humor and poor characterization that have come to define that franchise. This may sound like some sort of bit I've cooked up, but I'm being earnest here. I believe we may be looking at the genesis of Bayhem.
The plot involves some greedy industrialist wanting to use King Kong as a mascot for something or other. A TV station, I believe? So he captures him from Skull Island. Shockingly, Kong escapes. And fights Godzilla, who also happens to be around for some reason. Kong looks like absolute shit, here. Even worse than Jeff Bridges Kong. The suit looks like amateur taxidermy. Somewhere along the line Godzilla picked up this annoying habit of clacking his fingernails together constantly, making this battle an assault on multiple senses. Who wins? I don't know. They probably just roll into the ocean or some shit. That's how these things tend to go.
It's beginning to dawn on me that I have empowered a man whose mind has been ravaged by malnutrition and syphilis to dictate my viewing schedule. This may have been a lapse in judgement. Broderick? A mournful song emerges from the fiend's cracked lips as he hands me the third disc:
"Mosura ya Mosura
Dongan kasakuyan indo muu
Rusuto uiraandoa, hanba hanbamuyan, randa banunradan
Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
Mothra is truly bizarre. In a universe populated by a seemingly endless array of destructive reptilian beasts, Toho introduces... a big technicolor moth. Also, the moth is psychically linked to pocket sized twins who summon the insect guardian through the power of song. Like I said, bizarre. The plot of this one is incredibly similar to Godzilla vs. King Kong, minus most of the abysmal humor and with a welcome patina of kitschy charm. A wealthy industrialist appropriates Mothra's egg in some money making scheme. Godzilla shows up randomly to wreck some shit. Mothra is summoned. Mothra battles Godzilla. The title kind of gives it away.
At least the big rumble is a bit more memorable in this one. It's a two-rounder: Godzilla actually kills Mothra midway through the film, but her larvae emerge from the giant Easter egg and return to avenge their mother's death. Somehow, two (relatively) tiny worms manage to cocoon Godzilla in silk and dump him into the ocean. Roll credits. This one's kind of fun. It's at the very least nice to look at, with its lush painted backgrounds and vibrant palette. The fact that I can't remember a single detail about any of the characters is probably a bit damning, though.
My Broderickian enthusiasm rapidly fading, I resign myself to whatever affront next emerges from the untold depths of that infernal coat. Arms flopping about like loosely packed sausages, Devlin lets loose the shriek of a wounded marine mammal. This could mean only one thing:
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
This one's a real mixed bag. On the one hand you have Ghidorah, the most inspired creature design that Toho has ever managed to cobble together. There's nothing inherently interesting about a three-headed dragon, but Ghidorah's bulky, armless torso and wildly undulating heads are always a pleasure to behold. On the other hand, this is the movie that brings outer space into the equation, and while that decision may have kept the series fresh for a few more years, it eventually led it down a convoluted and soul-deadeningly repetitive path. This entry embraces the old 'more is more' philosophy. Not content to have Godzilla battle a three-headed space monster, Ishiro Honda also threw in one of Mothra's larvae (apparently the other one suffered a tragic off-screen death) AND Rodan.
Let's talk about Rodan for a moment. Rodan is a generic Pteranodon beastie who ruins every movie he appears in. What makes his presence so offensive? His music.
Every time they queue up the Rodan theme, I feel like Humphrey Bogart's about to swoop in and kiss some dame square on the lips. Which is quite off-putting in this context. The plot involves a failed assassination attempt, Venusian possession, and a doomsday prophecy. It's not nearly as exciting as it sounds. This film also marks Godzilla's first turn as a protagonist. He teams up with useless larval Mothra and smooth jazz Rodan to thwart Ghidorah. As with every Ghidorah battle, it ends with him flying back into space, conveniently available for the next installment.
We appear to be traversing in chronological fashion, so I'll have to table my Broderick dreams for the foreseeable future. Devlin has gotten into the office tin foil supply and seems to have slipped into a binary diction.
Monster Zero aka Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)
I prefer the title Invasion of Astro-Monster, because this film is solidly in the realm of American '50s sci-fi, where seemingly every movie was titled Invasion of ________ or Attack of ________. Ghidorah's immediate return to the series introduces alien invaders to the mythos, and cranks the camp dial all the way to the right. The plot? Astronauts encounter ludicrously clad aliens while exploring the newly discovered Planet X. Planet X? Nibiru? Did this film foretell the cataclysm destined to befall the Earth at the end of the Mayan calendar? Were these aliens actually the Zetas whispering their cold truths in the ear of the great prophet Nancy Lieder? Probably. Here they're referred to as Xians, and they wish to procure the services of Godzilla and (ugh) Rodan to stop the dreaded space monster Ghidorah from raining fire down upon their planet. In exchange, they'll cure cancer!
So, the monsters are shipped off to space where they quickly dispatch Ghidorah. Unfortunately for the hapless Japanese, this was all an elaborate ruse. The Xians plan to use all three monsters to conquer Earth. The human plot involves a hunky blond astronaut's unfortunate choice of mate and a high tech rape whistle that's conveniently the key to defeating the invaders. Eventually, the Xians lose control of the colossi, and Godzilla and Rodan chase Ghidorah back into the depths of space.
Much like Mothra vs. Godzilla, Monster Zero is elevated by its immense camp value. The sets are charmingly goofy, the Xian ships look like the sort of toy a collector would proudly display on their mantle, there are visible wires in just about every scene, and Godzilla dances a highland jig. It's admittedly quite fun, as these things go.
Boy, we sure are burning a lot of these ten slots on the classic Showa series. I'd like to think we'll get a few modern takes on the character before this rainbow reaches the pot of gold that is Matthew Broderick. Devlin offers no response as he hands me the next disc. Why is he wearing dishwashing gloves? Ominous.
Destroy All Monsters (1968)
In this wildly original film, aliens bent on conquering Earth take control of several giant monsters in an attempt to force humanity's surrender. The only reason for its existence is to see these monsters attack some non-Japanese locations. We're treated to very brief attacks on London, Paris, Moscow, New York City, and Beijing. Also, they dusted off pretty much every old monster suit they had in the closet for this one. If your fondest hope upon entering the theatre is to see lots and lots of shit happening, Destroy All Monsters will be right up your alley. This is another of those entries where I can't recall a single element of the human story. There are scientists and astronauts. They manage to free the monsters from the control of the sinister aliens, and said monsters proceed to punch the aliens back into space. Or maybe they kill the aliens altogether. I don't care. I remember everyone being clad in garish yellow. And the aliens were revealed to be some sort of sentient mercury. Like Alex Mack.
Boy, ten of these is proving to be quite the endurance test. How about a newer film, eh Devlin? "How's life on Monster Island, dear sweet Minya?" implores the glassy eyed Satanfingers. What?
Godzilla's Revenge aka All Monsters Attack (1969)
Godzilla's Revenge, penned by Jenny McCarthy, tells the tale of young Ichiro, who has clearly endured a full battery of childhood vaccinations. His parents are practicing a form of detachment parenting, leaving Ichiro free to roam around various junkyards and abandoned factories. When kidnapped by dangerous criminals, Ichiro retreats to a safe place deep within his own mind. Classic autism. Ichiro's imaginary journey finds him on Monster Island, having a prolonged discussion with Godzilla's progeny Minya. Minya is a constant disappointment to his father, with the roar of a braying ass and the power to blow harmless smoke rings at his enemies. Ichiro's mindscape is populated with bountiful stock footage and a grotesque monstropomorphized version of his schoolyard bully Gabara. Ichiro utilizes his autistic fugue to devise an escape plan and grow as a person. Certainly a result preferable to Polio.
Two more of these fucking things. I don't feel like this is a very accurate representation of the various tones Godzilla has struck over the years, but I'm at the mercy of a man who has time and again proven incapable of... well, pretty much everything
. Oh great, Devlin's found the smoke machine from my old days as MC Fatback.
Godzilla vs. Hedorah aka Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971)
Godzilla vs. Hedorah is certainly a different beast from the majority of these things. More 'of its time' than the majority of Godzilla releases (The film was released the same year as Tom Laughlin's seminal independent film Billy Jack), Godzilla vs. Hedorah is a juicy slice of '60s psychedelia. In some ways, the film is more faithful to the original Gojira than the rest of the series that precedes it. It has a tangible political message, railing against the rampant pollution in Tokyo by having those toxins fuel the titular monster. The film is also the most violent installment since the original, with Hedorah reducing several bystanders to charred skeletons on screen. That's about where the similarities end, however. Godzilla is repurposed as a sort of superhero here, with children toting around Godzilla action figures and celebrating his arrival in their town. A far cry from the harbinger of doom he represented early in the series. The biggest sin the film commits is once again musical. Ifukube's score is replaced by this preposterous Riichiro Manabe composition, which stuck around throughout the 1970s:
I mean, we all love a parade, but that's a bit much. The film has a rather difficult time balancing the increased violence with the decidedly kid-friendly tone of 1970s Godzilla. Its clashing tones and vibrant imagery make for quite a jarring watch. Hedorah is definitely among the best adversaries for the big fellow that the series has conjured up, though. The movie is the first to employ the multi-stage monster, with Hedorah constantly growing and shifting forms. Godzilla vs. Hedorah is certainly dated and ridiculous, but at least they weren't treading water here. And in this series, that's something to be commended. So of course, director Yoshimitsu Banno was promptly blackballed following the release of the film, and never directed another film.
Alright here we are. Big number ten. I've got my Siskel and Ebert jokes all queued up. It's Broderick time. Devlin appears to be cutting some boards to size with the official Optimism Vaccine Circular Saw. An insect skitters from beneath his sleeve as he hands me the final DVD.
Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)
Where the fuck is Jean Reno? More '70s Godzilla? God-fucking-damnit. Okay, calm down. We must not be including the new movie among the ten. This is actually number nine. Emmerich is coming to wipe my tears away. Stay on task.
Godzilla vs. Gigan steers away from the dangerously interesting diversion of Hedorah, placing the viewer safely back in the realm of alien invaders controlling monsters to conquer the Earth. What sets this film apart? Toho apparently decided that the camp level of Monster Zero was just no longer sufficient. This is some John Waters shit.
Cockroaches disguised as humans build a skyscraper that looks like Godzilla for some nefarious purpose. I guess it plays some role in conjuring Gigan, a garish hook-handed monstrosity from beyond the stars, and Ghidorah to defeat Godzilla and win the day. Godzilla also has a sidekick, the spiky Anguirus, who he sits around chatting with in their down time. A literal Scooby gang is assembled to foil the alien plot, and Godzilla, of course, emerges victorious. Huzzah.
The sonorous whir of a professional grade saw continues unabated as Devlin flashes a hideous, sunken grin and hands me this most anticipated of discs.
Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
So, the entire purpose of this undertaking was to compare the new Godzilla with Hollywood's previous attempt at franchising the Japanese icon, yet apparently the 1998 film isn't even one of the ten that Devlin had handy. Wonderful. And this is your choice for the final film? It might as well be titled The Adventures of Jet Jaguar. Godzilla really only merits a Special Guest Star credit. The film involves the denizens of Atlantis striking out against mankind for their crimes against the environment. They proceed to unleash Megalon, the worst looking monster the series has produced to date. He seriously looks slapped together from things lying around your average high school drama department's wardrobe closet. Vaguely insectile and cursed with dull knives where his hands should be, Megalon is curiously clad in the tattered rags of a grizzled hobo. He's apparently too shitty to find his way around, so the Atlanteans kidnap Godzilla's super robot friend Jet Jaguar to act as a sort of GPS for Megalon's impending rampage.
Somewhere along the line, Jet Jaguar smashes through into singularity, and can no longer be controlled by mere humanoids. Jet Jaguar convinces Godzilla to pop in just before the curtain falls, in a desperate attempt to boost ticket sales. Gigan also shows up, presumably because they were filming these movies concurrently. The ensuing battle has got to be the most ridiculous thing I have witnessed thus far. It's a straight up tag team wrestling match. I felt like I was watching The Natural Disasters take on the Legion of Doom. I'm pretty sure Godzilla even goes off the top rope at one point. As per usual, face bests heel.
Thank God, we're finally done. I'll have to spend a couple hours with everyone's favorite star of War Games at a later date. At this point I feel like I owe Gareth Edwards an apology. Sure, Gareth, you made a shit film, but it turns out that was totally consistent with the source material. You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear, right? Most of these are indeed not entertaining. You nailed it. I'm going home.
It seems Devlin has other ideas. He's somehow fashioned the aforementioned precision-cut boards and foil into a life size silver replica Devlin Satanfingers. It could almost be described as a Mechadevlin. Oh, goddamnit.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is truly the nadir of the original series. The plot, you ask? Fucking space aliens try to conquer Earth by defeating Godzilla with a giant monster. Jesus Christ. This movie doesn't make the slightest amount of sense. Sure, Mechagodzilla is one of Godzilla's most enduring adversaries, but I for one always thought of him as something created by man to combat the big lizard. Nope. Here he's disguised as Godzilla for half the film, because the aliens apparently want to undermine humanity's faith in a mindless destructive lizard? That's not even a stated motive though. They've disguised their Mech as Godzilla for no damn reason whatsoever.
Another twist: This time the aliens aren't mercury or cockroaches, they're ape-men!. Still disguised as humans, of course. Who has money for all of those ape suits? Best to just sprinkle in a hairy hand here and there. Apparently the Mothra suit was damaged or something, so they conjure up a new fellow via song in order to aid Godzilla. The human plot here is so absurdly complicated and pointless that I can't be bothered to attempt a summation. Here's your summation: Never watch this movie.
A now sentient Mechadevlin has blockaded all exits and produced a 12th (13th?) disc. Helpless before the mechanized menace, I sit down and prepare for more pain. Look on the bright side. Maybe Matthew has come at last.
Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)
Terror of Mechagodzilla is the final film of the original series, as well as creator Ishiro Honda's final directorial effort. It's not a great film, but it is an improvement over its predecessor in almost every way. Sure the plot still involves a nonsensical alien conspiracy, but that's largely put on the back burner.in favor of a surprisingly effective human plot. A scientist, disgraced for his Ken Ham-esque belief in the continued existence of dinosaurs (In a universe constantly beseiged by Godzilla and his behemoth brethren. Absurd, I know), becomes involved with this set of alien invaders after they save his daughter's life. Lo and behold, he was right all along, and the Titanosaurus, now under alien control (of course it is), becomes an integral part of the plot to defeat Godzilla. For reasons undefined, the aliens decide to make the scientist's cyborg daughter the control mechanism for the newly rebuilt Mechagodzilla. The combined might of Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla proves too much for our scaly hero, but just when it appears those pesky aliens are finally going to gain unfettered access to Earth's bountiful swimming holes, the scientist's daughter jumps off a freaking cliff, crippling Mechagodzilla and saving the day. Kind of fucked up, no?
The film's rather a mess, but it's the only one of these sequels that manages to elicit the slightest stirring of emotional response towards its characters. The daughter's sacrifice is actually kind of sad. The last time I felt anything other than impatience was at the end of the first film, in which Dr. Serizawa makes a very similar sacrifice. Way to bring things full circle, Toho. I'd almost call that decent writing. Almost.
I can only hope that my captor's collection is limited to the original series. Devlin doesn't abide hope. The world turns to ash with the utterance of a single word: "Heisei."
Godzilla 1985: The Legend is Reborn aka The Return of Godzilla (1985)
Nearly a decade after the conclusion of the original series, Toho was looking to re-establish their brand by bringing the spectacle back to Godzilla. With Godzilla 1985 they wisely decided to start with a clean slate, jettisoning all those zany sequels from the new canon. The film is a direct sequel to Gojira, with the titular beast returning to terrorize Japan 30 years after his original assault. The Heisei series is certainly more rooted in reality than its predecessors, with the focus more on the military's evolving efforts to effectively combat the seemingly indestructible. Sure, that directly contradicts the spirit of the original film, but hey, it's fun to watch.
Godzilla 1985 certainly succeeds in ramping up that spectacle, perhaps at the expense of plot. It's a pretty bare bones affair: Godzilla attacks Tokyo against a backdrop of Cold War bloviation. Anti-Western sentiment begins to creep into the series here as well. Soviet and American generals engage in a prolonged dick measuring contest, while the sage Japanese officials progressively approach the Godzilla problem. The increased budget is obvious, and there's a lot of satisfying carnage to behold, but the human element is out to lunch. The use of Cadmium missiles to diffuse the living reactor that is Godzilla was a nifty little idea. Unfortunately, the big guy is ultimately dispatched in more traditionally asinine fashion: He's knocked into an active volcano.
I can't even muster a reaction when Devlin plucks several strands of hair from my scalp, presumably for use in highly unethical genetic research. I just don't care. Perhaps whatever unholy perversion he manages to create can bring an end to this ceaseless monotony.
Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)
There's a legitimately great film buried in here somewhere. Godzilla vs. Biollante modernizes the message of Gojira by applying its warnings against irresponsible scientific advancement and weaponization to the burgeoning field of genetic research. The resulting film mirrors the 1980s efforts of David Cronenberg in many ways. Godzilla's foe is essentially a complex emotion made grotesquely manifest by way of pseudo-science and goopy practical effects. In the deft hands of an auteur, this material could very well be Godzilla's answer to The Brood or The Fly. Alas, Godzilla is the natural enemy of art.
The plot involves a grieving scientist splicing his dead daughter's genes with genetic material recovered from Godzilla. He also threw a rose in there, because that was her favorite flower, I guess. The result is the hideous and wonderful Biollante, perhaps the best practical effect of this sort I've ever seen outside of a Hollywood film. Godzilla, having recently emerged from that volcano, is naturally drawn to Biollante, due to their shared genetics, and they tussle, because... Godzilla. It's a shame this film is so bogged down with distracting subplots. The most egregious offender would have to be the preposterous Saradian(?) mercenary, hellbent on stealing Godzilla's genetic material and the film's momentum. The resulting film is frustratingly discordant, though still worth checking out if you're a practical effects junkie such as myself.
If only I could travel back in time and fill in the the office floor joists with sweet, suffocating concrete.
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)
This marks the point where Toho embraced that grand Bollywood tradition of shamelessly aping Hollywood productions. Kazuki Omori presumably ingested a great deal of James Cameron's oeuvre prior to this regurgitation. Travelers from the distant future arrive to rid the world of Godzilla, under the guise of preventing Japan's future destruction. After a brief stop in present-day Japan, they travel back to Lagos Island, transporting the native Godzillasaurus off the island before it can be mutated by nuclear testing, thus erasing Godzilla from existence. This film could really have used a competent script supervisor. After they PREVENT THE CREATION OF GODZILLA, everyone back in present-day Japan sits around reminiscing about Godzilla. One of the main characters even plays back an answering machine message left prior to their timeline-altering journey which mentions a book he was writing on the scaly bastard. That is some lazy shit.
Oh, and there's a twist. A hilariously xenophobic twist. The time travelers are actually mustache-twirling Westerners seeking to prevent the inevitable economic dominance of mighty Japan. They've actually replaced the Godzillasaurus with cuddly future pets, which the nuclear testing transforms into King Ghidorah. The future men can control Ghidorah, and use him to ravage Japan. Godzilla is somehow reborn via a nuclear submarine, stronger than ever, and murders the shit out of Ghidorah. Godzilla is not content with slaying his foe, however, and resumes the ravaging. One of the future folk is Japanese, and therefore noble and good, so she heads to the future to recover Ghidorah's corpse and construct a Mecha-King Ghidorah. Mecha-King Ghidorah manages to stop the steroidal Godzilla's rampage.
This all sounds like a tangled mass of nonsense, and I suppose it is, but it's actually one of the more entertaining entries in the series. The aesthetic is spot-on, and the film greatly benefits from some good old-fashioned Western storytelling. It also features one of the better human sub-plots. It seems the Godzillasaurus actually defended a battalion of soldiers on Lagos Island during World War II, and the battalion's commander Yasuaki Shindo figures prominently in the plot. His quiet moment of mutual recognition and respect with the rampaging Godzilla near the film's conclusion is surprisingly effective. Godzilla then incinerates him with a blast of atomic breath.
Are we still doing these fucking interludes? Devlin has spent the last hour scrawling crude figures on the walls of the office. He pauses just long enough to pop in yet another disc.
Godzilla vs. Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992)
How can you liven up a beat-for-beat remake of Mothra vs. Godzilla? By tacking on a limp Indiana Jones prologue, apparently. Maybe throw in an evil Mothra for good measure. That should do the trick. One of the strengths of the Heisei series is its continuity. Most of the films feel like a portion of the larger whole. That continuity doesn't really seem to allow for the sort of mysticism involved with Mothra. Consequently, this film sticks out like a sore thumb.
There's not much to comment on here. It's a slight variation of the earlier film. The characterization is slightly improved, I suppose. The appeal of Mothra vs. Godzilla was never in the plotting, though, and this movie lacks the former's vintage charms. There's also an awkwardly forced environmental message. Apparently humanity is destroying the environment, even though the crisis du jour is a meteor striking the Earth. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think we have a great deal of control over the path a space rock happens to take. Reducing one's carbon footprint isn't going to have much effect in this instance. This movie is about as necessary as Gus Van Sant's Psycho. Yet somehow it won three Japanese Academy Awards and stands as the highest grossing Godzilla film that Toho has ever produced. Go figure.
I can't even be bothered to turn my head in observance of Devlin's latest hijink. I'll go ahead and assume it involves foil and flawed logic.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)
Finally, a reasoned and thematically appropriate depiction of Mechagodzilla. In Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, the metallic brute is a part of the escalating anti-Godzilla tactics depicted throughout the Heisei series. The military has appropriated the future technology used in the creation of Mecha-King Ghidorah to create the ultimate tool for defense against Japan's recurring lizard problem. There's nary an ape-man to be found. Refreshing. The film is also a bit more graceful in its incorporation of Hollywood elements. The introduction of Godzilla Jr. leads to some Spielbergian interaction with the two main protagonists. There's even a flying bicycle to drive home the E.T. parallel. It works quite well as a simple method for humanizing these giant city-destroying beasts.
Mechagodzilla looks great here, a substantially streamlined design that feels almost practical. The action sequences are a lot of fun, and Godzilla displays some actual vulnerabilities, which lends a bit of dramatic heft to the prolonged battle scenes. And then fucking Rodan shows up, because God forbid I actually enjoy one of these films. Why is Rodan there? Apparently to provide a convenient deus ex machina by imbuing Godzilla with his life essence, and allowing the headliner to escape with his life yet again.
The office landscape has changed substantially in the last few hours. Foil stalagmites protrude from the floor surrounding Devlin, mirroring the jagged maw of my soul.
Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994)
This feels like a companion piece to Godzilla vs. Mothra, existing outside of the main Heisei plotline. Mothra's teeny-tiny pals even show up to alert the protagonists to the looming threat of SpaceGodzilla. This movie looks cheap as hell, with its asteroid field straight out of a junior high science fair, and its pool toy depiction of Godzilla Jr. There isn't really any Hollywood influence to be found in this one either, although I suppose SpaceGodzilla is essentially General Zod. This all makes sense, considering this film feels like a relic of the Showa era. The human story isn't altogether awful. Well, half of it is awful. The other half sort of works. The plot thread involving a scientist determined to psychically control Godzilla is a total fiasco, but the soldier obsessed with avenging his brother's death by killing Godzilla is serviceable.
There's also an awful looking Mech, that is used here in lieu of Mechagodzilla. I'm not sure what the reasoning behind that one was. Their new robot looks like one of those toys you'd get from the dollar store that looks like a Transformer if you squint, but is actually just a crudely painted blob of plastic with no articulation. SpaceGodzilla himself alternates between menacing and laughter-inducing. His base design is pretty great. Lots of weird extra teeth and protruding crystals. He looks unnatural and unsettling. However, when he zips around the globe on the bottom of a giant crystal iceberg, it looks like a cosmic joke. Why am I still talking about this movie? Godzilla wins. Nothing to see here.
Only one film left in the Heisei series. Another potential exit from this neck deep quicksand. Devlin is sitting uncomfortably close to me. He's emitting enough heat to warm your average three bedroom home to a toasty 72 degrees on a cold winter's night.
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)
This film gets almost everything right. Godzilla had been around for forty years at this point, and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah truly feels like the story's culmination.The film is sparse on human subplot, which is fine, because Godzilla's plight provides sufficient dramatic thrust. Godzilla, often described in the Heisei series as a living nuclear reactor, has begun to overheat. A meltdown seems inevitable, which would incinerate the Earth's atmosphere. Or maybe it would burn through to the Earth's core. Depends on which crude computer simulation you believe. Either way, humanity's pretty much fucked. The military employs their entire arsenal of wacky weaponry in an effort to slow down the doomsday clock.
Meanwhile, Serizawa's Oxygen Destroyer resurfaces in all its fish melting glory. Somehow the weapon that felled the original Godzilla has melded with an ancient species of crustacean forming the rapidly evolving Destoroyah. Considering Serizawa was convinced that his invention could potentially end all life on Earth, Destoroyah's emergence represents yet another doomsday scenario. Dueling doomsdays! Destoroyah isn't a particularly elegant creature design, nor does it really exhibit any of the harrowing properties of the weapon that birthed it. Destoroyah's connection to the Oxygen Destroyer is really little more than a nice callback, a signifier of mortal danger for the star of the franchise.
Cutting to the chase: The military's efforts to stop the chain reaction within Godzilla are ineffective (shocking, I know), and he stomps toward his final conflict a smoldering, melty mess. Destoroyah provides Godzilla with the proper motivation by murdering his son. Even in a film about the death of Godzilla, he can't be expected to throw a fight, so Godzilla promptly vanquishes Destoroyah. Godzilla reaches critical mass and is reduced to a pool of magma, glitter, and bones. Godzilla Jr.'s corpse absorbs the excess energy from the meltdown, saving the world and leaving us with a handy replacement Godzilla. Phew. Two doomsdays averted.
Much like Godzilla, I'm clearly experiencing an overload, and nearing the point of meltdown. Unfortunately, I have yet to receive the increased strength and stamina that aided the mighty dino in his waning days. Like a certain precocious teenager, I am in desperate need of a day off.
Well, this film has aged about as gracefully as a refrigerated banana. Roland Emmerich's highly anticipated follow up to the international sensation Independence Day stars Jean Reno, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, and noted character actor Kevin Dunn. It centers around the fascinating tale of a large iguana come to roost in Manhattan and the legions of men who would blow it up, if only they had better aim. I've neglected to mention the film's biggest star: Balky '90s CGI. Yes, this movie is garbage in virtually every respect, but I'd go so far as to call it unfairly maligned. The bulk of the series is garbage. This film is not some gross misrepresentation. The only reason it's so derided by fans of the franchise is for its depiction of Godzilla. The Japanese have never depicted Godzilla as resembling a naturally occurring creature. He's an unwieldy, unnatural thing. An abomination of nature, birthed by man's careless arrogance. Here, he's just a huge lizard. His breath may be heavy with the stench of rotting fish, but it's certainly not atomic.
The changes made to Godzilla are understandable, if ultimately proven foolish. They wanted to ground the film in reality, a goal entirely at odds with a cartoon plot that would feel perfectly at home in the old Showa series. There's a shallow love story, much hand-wringing about career choices, the French Secret Service, and a heaping helping of buffoonery. It's muddled, needlessly complex, and utterly uninteresting. Which is just how Godzilla aficionados apparently like their plots. Invite a traditional Godzilla to the festivities, and this would be heralded as a triumph by many fans. Don't get me wrong, though. This film is anything but a triumph.
Another fond youthful memory soiled by the cynical clarity of old age, I yearn for one of adulthood's few simple pleasures: sleep. Deep, endless sleep. The pleasant pop of Robbie Williams really takes on a foreboding tone when piped through our tinny office speakers. My crucible is about to enter a new Millennium.
Godzilla 2000 aka Godzilla Millennium (1999)
Toho was so displeased with the American Godzilla that they rushed a new movie into production. They hoped to wipe our bastardization from the cultural consciousness before any further damage befell the brand. They would show America how Godzilla is done. The resulting film is one of the more incomprehensible things I have ever seen.
Having previously lauded Toho's decision to expunge the bulk of the classic series from the canon, it may seem hypocritical to doubt the wisdom of punching that reset button once again. For a bit of context, let's compare the Godzilla franchise to the most bankable asset in Hollywood. Marvel began their journey to the screen with a series of forgotten low-budget efforts. For decades they struggled to find the right formula for bringing their stable of modern mythic heroes to cinematic life. As technology and funding made a successful transition increasingly possible, they farmed many of their most popular properties out to other studios, resulting in films of varying quality. But it wasn't until 2008's Iron Man that they perfected their formula, and the financial juggernaut that came to be known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was born.
By introducing threads of continuity throughout their post-Iron Man releases, Marvel managed to turn hokey B-list heroes such as Thor and Captain America into appointment viewing for casual moviegoers. I doubt the producers lost much sleep over the decision to pretend Reb Brown's Captain America never existed. It simply had no place in their brave new world. Even in the absence of their two most enduring properties, Spider-Man and The X-Men, Marvel owns the summer. They accomplished this by actively building toward an end, in this case The Avengers. The Avengers was a satisfying culmination, and one of the most successful films ever made. Yet, when the credits rolled on The Avengers, Marvel didn't hit the reset button. They wisely chose to continue fleshing out this landscape, and planted a new glittering goal off in the distance for the audience to pursue. And when Avengers: Age of Ultron makes a mint next year, rest assured they'll have you buying tickets to the Edgar Wright-less Ant-Man in anticipation of Avengers: Heinous Thanos. Don't fuck with the formula.
The Heisei series was Toho's stab at a Godzilla Cinematic Universe, populated by Super X jets, psychic institutes, and G-Force, an entire branch of the military dedicated to defense against Godzilla attack. The results are far from perfect (as are Marvel's, honestly), but the comparatively rich world-building made these films much more involving than their disjointed predecessors. With Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, Toho had their Avengers. Everything in the series had built to that film, and it was a solidly satisfying experience. It also set up Godzilla Jr. to inherit his father's title as King of the Monsters going forward. Then, the Millennium series happened, wherein Toho donned a big rubber foot and stomped on the charming little world they had spent a decade creating. Most damning of all, they didn't even endeavor to build a new world in its place. Every film in the Millennium series is a standalone sequel to the 1954 Godzilla. This is not how you grow an audience. Trust me, here at Optimism Vaccine, we know a thing or two about growing our audience.
That was a significant digression. This piece just isn't long enough. I really needed to pad the word count. On to Godzilla 2000. Godzilla 1985 was a very flawed film, but it really nailed the approach a direct sequel to the original film ought to take. It was 30 years since Godzilla's last assault on Japan, and a good portion of the film was devoted to waiting. Godzilla slowly made his way toward Japan, leaving bits and pieces of portentous destruction in his path. There was actual build-up to his reappearance. In Godzilla 2000, it's been nearly 50 years since the disaster. It's in the history books at this point. There are probably a slew of Godzillacaust deniers traipsing about the countryside. But do we get anything in the way of anticipation? Nope. Godzilla shows up five minutes into the film.
The setup here actually felt like a stroke of genius. In the Heisei tradition, the film appropriated a Hollywood plot line that seemed ideally suited for a monster movie. They ripped Bill Paxton's merry band of storm chasers from Twister, turning them into a father-daughter team of Godzilla chasers. There's even a Helen Hunt reluctantly along for the ride. This is the basis for a really fun movie. The ideal result would probably look a lot like the 2010 Norwegian film Trollhunter. This is more akin to Troll 2. Godzilla is once again thrust into the role of reluctant defender when a UFO (sigh) emerges from the depths of the ocean to threaten mankind. The alien craft, which looks like a chrome bike seat with an extraneous nostril, docks on a skyscraper and proceeds to download every piece of information in the world, for reasons presumed unsavory. Entirely plausible in 1999. The floating proboscis then extracts some genetic material from Godzilla, and morphs into a giant monster. Who could have seen that coming? A giant monster? We're in uncharted territory here, people. Godzilla fights the monster and wins. This would be the end of your average piece of G-trash, but this is a special breed of nonsense. Take a gander at how this one wraps up:
This is probably just the result of an awful dub job, right? Nope. The scene is even more incoherent in the Japanese version. Here's the profound philosophical conclusion as subtitled on the Japanese DVD release:
"Science progressing in the wrong way produced Godzilla. Why do you appear before us?"
"It was us human beings who made the monster."
"Godzilla is in ourselves, in everybody's mind."
My head hurts. Let the record also show that this film looks like absolute shit. It features CGI so awful that some delusional fans believe it to be a sly commentary on the CG-heavy American Godzilla. It's not. It also includes the worst looking Godzilla suit in the entire 50-plus year run. This should only be viewed with a fifth of whiskey and some quick-witted friends.
I'm roused from Godzilla 2000-induced catatonia by sharp pain, as Devlin bites into my shoulder meat. I suppose I ought to feel anger, but frankly, I'm just grateful for the adrenaline boost.
Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)
Much like Godzilla vs. Mothra: The Battle for Earth, Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack is a bland rehash of a classic Showa script with an inappropriately long title. This film is a carbon copy of Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, with a few minor alterations. Godzilla and Ghidorah have switched teams, for one. In this version, Ghidorah is not a space monster or a genetic aberration created by time travelers, but instead one of three ancient guardians of Earth. That's always been Mothra's role, so that works out nicely. The role of Rodan is instead played by Baragon, thankfully sparing us the presence of Rodan. The three Guardian Monsters are summoned to protect Japan from a rampaging Godzilla. Godzilla is saddled with a peculiar mystic motive this time around, apparently driven to destroy Japan by the souls of Hiroshima victims. Sure.
The human plot provides some decent framing for the action in this one, as a particularly driven reporter repeatedly finds herself amidst the carnage, dodging death at every turn. Call it the Lois Lane trope. It's sufficiently effective. This iteration of Godzilla is a tough sonofabitch, dispatching all three Guardian Monsters before eventually being felled by some sort of drill missile. If you're a huge fan of rubber suit action, this certainly delivers that in spades. Mainly, it's just a wholly unnecessary throwback to the '60s films.
As Devlin produces yet another disc, I'm buoyed by the unmistakable air of finality surrounding it.
Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
Considering it's been a decade since the last Japanese Godzilla film, Godzilla: Final Wars may actually earn its title. If Toho is indeed content to sit back and rake in the profits from a lucrative Hollywood franchise, this is one heck of a strange swan song. The franchise was actually handed to a fairly established director in Ryuhei Kitamura, whose 2000 film Versus is a bona fide cult classic. Kitamura is a director whose films move at a breakneck pace and bristle with kinetic energy. Think of him as the Japanese equivalent of Neveldine and Taylor (Crank, Gamer). This film essentially takes every last loopy element of the Showa era, smashes them together into one film, and plays it back at double speed. Where previous installments have upped the ante by having Godzilla face two, or even three adversaries, Final Wars pits him against ALL the adversaries. All the campy benchmarks are in place: Alien invaders? Check. Terribly stilted acting? Check. Loads of rubber suits? Check. Cheap, goofy sets? Check. Nonsensical mysticism? Check. Unintelligible plotting? Check. Kitamura even layers in some nonsense all his own, setting the story in a world populated by mutants. Although on this budget, being a mutant only implies the ability to engage in some cheap Matrix knock-off action.
The film's MVP is clearly Don Frye, channeling his inner Jesse Ventura as the impossibly gruff Colonel Gordon. Indeed he is totally out of place in an otherwise Japanese cast. And it's glorious. The plot? I honestly had no idea what was going on most of the time. In this case, that's just fine. This film is hyperactive, unhinged, and a lot of fun. Is it any good? I don't know. Is Machete any good? These 'kitchen sink' homage films are really hard for me to judge. I was entertained, which is more than I can say for my other experiences with the Millennium series.
Devlin reaches into his coat for another disc, but emerges with only a fistful of squirming moths. It seems we've finally reached the end of the line at... 24 films. 24? Really? This is not acceptable. The last thing I need is for my plight to be lumped in with some tired Kiefer Sutherland vehicle. I'll have to venture into my personal collection. Ah! This ought to do nicely.
Leave it to the mad Frenchman Leos Carax to reconstitute the various elements of a Godzilla film into a riveting work of art. Carax's contribution to the anthology film Tokyo! replaces the big lizard with a feral Denis Lavant, unleashing him upon the unsuspecting citizens of the bustling metropolis. Lavant's titular Merde is a grotesque caricature of European stereotypes, caustically reflecting the xenophobia often present in the Godzilla franchise, and Japanese culture as a whole. The Japanese media dubs Lavant's comically abrasive foreign invader as "The Creature From the Sewers" as he stomps through the streets, chain smoking and devouring Japanese currency and chrysanthemums, the symbol of the Japanese Imperial family. Merde's misanthropy eventually escalates into a killing spree, and his ensuing trial allows Carax to focus his ire on myriad subjects, from media sensationalism to religious iconography.
Merde is a dense, obtuse, and outright bizarre film, but above all else it's staggeringly funny. It's the sort of film that cries out for interpretation, but it's probably best to just sit back and enjoy it for the pitch black piece of absurdist comedy that it is. Lavant's paradoxically repellent/compelling creation also appears in Carax's masterful follow-up, Holy Motors. Forget about Godzilla. Go watch some Leos Carax.
The black rotary phone permanently affixed to my desk has begun to jangle incessantly. Only one man knows this number: The malevolent Amos Stalin, founder of this proud internet institution. We haven't spoken since he left me for dead in the Arctic Circle. I tentatively grasp the receiver. A grimly familiar rasp crackles forth from the earpiece.
"Your Robocop article is three months overdue. Where is it?"
"I can explain.. None of this is my fault. He came... from the floorboards..."
"He's been living beneath the office. He... he... torments me with endless trifles."
"Satanfingers is dead, you imbecile. I cremated him myself."
"No! The floorboards! He came -"
"Our offices don't even have floorboards. Splinters are a clear safety hazard. Everyone knows that a proper professional environment calls for a fibrous neutral berber."
"Do you have anything ready for submission?"
"He's been forcing me to watch... Godzilla."
"Godzilla? That could work. What's your thesis statement?"
"Why are you writing this?"
"I'm losing patience."
"Devlin... it was all Devlin-"
"Devlin's dead. The stench of his burning flesh still clings to my throw pillows. A few bits of ash stubbornly remain beneath the nail of my left index finger. He's gone."
"Just finish Robocop."
Countless discs are haphazardly strewn about the room. On the couch next to me sits the bloated corpse of a rat, wrapped in tin foil. Realization begins to settle in, like sawdust in the dense pile of the office's beige berber. I am alone. There's no one left to blame.
I have done this to myself.
This is all my fault.