So, we’re in the final stretch of this Godzilla retrospective. What a ride it’s been, from social commentary, to kitsch and campiness, and in this last installment, another reboot or two. Possibly more. I also discovered my absolute favourite one. I’m not giving it away ahead of time. You’ll just have to go and see which one you think it is.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)
You would think that this is an anachronistic sequel to the first Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, wouldn’t you? I did. But we’re mistaken, my friends. As all its siblings from the Heisei period of the franchise, this film hammers out the new timeline set out in 1984.
So here’s the thing. In this timeline, Godzilla is not a redeemed or misunderstood villain at all. He’s still very much menacing humanity. That’s why, at the beginning of the film, the UN salvaged one of the heads of Mecha-King Gidorah and is using that to retro-engineer more mecha to combat Godzilla. Which means they still haven’t learned that the building of mecha is risky business at best.
They end up building Garudah, an airborne gunship, and Mechagodzilla.
Meanwhile, another dinosaur egg is found, and it appears to be sending out a psychic message to both Rodan and Godzilla. Of course, the scientists can’t just let things be, and they take the egg with them. Queue Baby Godzilla.
After some experimenting, they discover that the juvenile has a second brain in the hips, which controls his movements. Assuming that Godzilla has the same anatomical make-up, they then fit Mechagodzilla with a weapon that allows the robot to penetrate Godzilla’s hide and paralyze him by destroying the second brain.
So, the salty woman in me, at the first mention of a second brain located at the hips, wants to snort and say, “So basically like every man living, ever.” But then the rest of the story unfolds, with a weapon penetrating the hide and targeting that second pelvic brain. And I do not want to think about the allegorical meaning of that. At all. But of course I must.
Because this sounds a lot like an aggressive sexual act to me.
OK, let’s see where the story takes us, first.
Mechagodzilla, after some necessary repairs, is put back to work. However, the return of Rodan, who has recovered from an earlier, almost deadly wound inflicted by Godzilla, returns, bigger, badder, and even more mutated, to join the fun. He responds to Baby’s call and–
Wait, I thought they blocked Baby’s call? This is getting confusing.
Anyway. So the humans now have to send Mechagodzilla and Garuda after Rodan instead of hunting down Godzilla. As they’re about to end Rodan for good, Godzilla shows up, and the two mechas, clearly not a match for Godzilla, combine into…
Wait for it…
Anyway. This new creation carries out the planned attack on Godzilla, aptly named the G-crusher, and paralyses him. Meanwhile, Rodan recovers yet again under the impulse of Baby’s call. But before he can fly to Baby’s rescue, Supermechagodzilla shoots him down and he lands on top of Godzilla. His life-force then regenerates Godzilla’s second brain and he comes back even more powerful.
He takes out Supermechagodzilla with one of his atomic rays, and finally has a chance to locate Baby Godzilla.
So, the whole potential allegory with the penetration of the G-crusher (awesome name for a weapon, isn’t it?) could have been super awesome, adding a new element to the renewed underlying social commentary we see in other films we’ve gone over so far from the Heisei Period. However, for me, it all got muddled in a pile of Deus ex Machinas and unrealistic plot twists.
On top of that, what I saw in this movie was acting that fell quite flat, and the two mecha combining… It might have made more sense to just build a more powerful mecha from the start, rather than dividing resources over two, maybe? Well, at least we know where the power rangers got their inspiration, right?
To end on a positive note, Baby Godzilla is adorable. I love him even more than I did Minilla in the first series. Minilla sometimes felt like too much of a good thing, and Baby G is, to quote Goldilocks, just right.
Anyway, I’ve already spent far too much time on this one film. We have so much more to get to!
Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla (1994)
Whelp. How about that original title? I can just hear the discussion in the producer’s office.
“Wait. I know. Let’s call the next antagonist Mechagodzilla. Oh crap. We already did that.”
“But what about… SPACEGODZILLA. No one ever heard of that one before, right?”
From the part I watched, this movie has a very inconsistent quality when it comes to the monster scenes. But, OK, let’s not look too closely at that just now. A certain amount of campiness is to be expected, and I’m not going to debate the correct dosages where camp and kitsch are concerned.
So, DNA of Godzilla, carried into space by Biollante and later by Mothra, gets exposed to radiation, leading to the birth of Spacegodzilla. And he comes to earth and attacks Little Godzilla (I guess he’s not a baby anymore; kids these days grow up so fast).
Anyway, Godzilla comes to the kid’s defense but fails and Spacegodzilla traps little G inside a crystal prison. Meanwhile, of course the humans have built a mecha to replace the much-lamented Mechagodzilla.
Instead of humanity, this time it is the planet itself at stake, as Spacegodzilla feeds off the Earth’s core instead of power plants like a regular mutated dinosaur. So yes, we see the stakes rising somewhat.
So, did I like this one better than its predecessor from ‘93? Yes. But not as much as I’d hoped.
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)
Another year, another Godzilla. Or so it seems to go. I quite liked this one, I must say. As the last of the films from the Heisei era, apparently it was meant as a send-off for Godzilla, and he went in style. We see Godzilla appearing alongside his son, who has graduated to Junior now, and the Destoroyah, a colony of crab- or bug-like monsters.
This time, Godzilla is fighting a battle he cannot win. His heart, which functions as a nuclear reactor, is going into a meltdown, and when that happens, the explosion will destroy the earth and set the atmosphere on fire.
Meanwhile, a colony of nasty beasties are discovered. The Destoroyah. They took a leaf from Mechagodzilla’s book and merge into a stronger form.
And of course, they go after Junior. Because life really is that unfair. You wake up in a world that has no place for you, so you roam the planet wreaking havoc and snacking on nuclear power plants, but then you adopt a boy. That gaping hole in your heart fills with joy and affection.
And then some merged crab thing comes after your kid and kills them.
Poor Godzilla, overcome with grief, loses his shit and accelerates the meltdown already going on inside him. This supercharges his heat ray, allowing him to slay the Destoroyah once and for all.
Then he succumbs to the meltdown, but the humans monitoring the situation manage to do some damage control with freeze weapons, and the world is saved.
OK. So I have feelings here. I came in prepared to see Godzilla kicking the bucket. But the kid, oh my Goddess. That just broke my heart.
Well, at least we gave our saurian friend a send-off worth remembering.
Or did we?
Godzilla has left his home base of Japan and his fate now lies in the hands of Hollywood. Despite the budget, this does not leave me hopeful. Despite my fifteen year old self was very much into movies of all sorts, I don’t remember much about this film, except four things:
- big dinosaur
- the song Come With Me by Sean Combs (I forget the name he used back then, to be honest) and Jimmy Page (had to look him up, sorry Jimmy)
- Deeper Underground by Jamiroquai (still a great song if you ask me)
- and last but certainly not least, Jean Reno.
OK, my having a crush on the man does help in the memory department, but come on. Watch that film and tell me he didn’t slay it in the role of Philippe Roache, insurance agent.
But let’s not dwell on Jean for too long. We’re here to talk about Godzilla. 1998 CGI was obviously not what it is now. While I do remember thinking the effects were pretty cool, the me of twenty-two years later is significantly less impressed.
For one, we have the same inconsistent sizing issue that plagued some of the earlier films featuring Minilla as well as the current fashion landscape for women’s clothing. But then the characters lose the creature. Someone has got to explain to me how one misplaces a dinosaur large enough to crush a car with one foot.
So is this the worst film to feature the big lizard we all know and love? No. All Monsters Attack beats it, and Destroy All Monsters comes in at a pretty close second. And Spacegodzilla didn’t quite work for me either. But this second reboot does lose one thing that the others in the franchise all had, and that’s the campy, kitschy vibe, and the charm of subtitled Japanese, if you comb through YouTube long enough to track snippets of that down. In return, we get better CGI, but a story that loses both the depth and charm of the original 1954 film. And let’s face it: that CGI doesn’t hold up to our 2020 vision. (yes, that is the worst pun ever, but it’s just too tempting not to)
Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999)
So, I guess the Japanese saw the Hollywood film, shrugged, and said to themselves, “Hey we can do better than this.”
So they rebooted the franchise a fourth time.
Again, all previous stories are scrapped, and we pick up where we left off after Godzilla in 1994. At this point, I thought I wouldn’t be seeing much surprising and innovative material.
Yes, the Kaiju got a massive overhaul, and the improvements are quite noticeable. Those new dorsal spines are looking wicked.
While humans are trying to predict where Godzilla will turn up next, scientists find an ancient UFO at the bottom of the Japan trench. Since all the previous Godzilla history has been erased, they have yet to learn the lesson of not messing with stuff like this, so they of course bring it to the surface, at which point the UFO takes off on its own. Good job, guys.
Both the aliens and the humans discover the secret behind Godzilla’s ability to regenerate, and the aliens steal all the other data that has been collected on Godzilla so far. And then they announce their plan to take over the Earth and found a new empire there.
Godzilla shows up to fight them, but only succeeds in leaving behind some DNA for them to collect, which they assimilate and turn themselves into a monster called the Millennium. But the highly active DNA will not be controlled, so they mutate once more, into a bigger badder monster, Orga. After some back and forth, Godzilla sends out a blast that takes out the upper half of the monster, and then goes on a rampage through Tokyo.
No happy endings here, I guess.
Some of the scientists witnessing the onslaught–those that survive it anyway–reflect on how humans created Godzilla as a result of their ambition, but this feels a bit tacked on and on the nose, if you ask me.
Did they do better than Hollywood? Yes. Did they do better than the original? Goddess, no. But bonus points for those dorsal plates.
Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000)
Wait, another reboot? How many more…
While I’m rolling my eyes, let’s have a chat about this one.
So here’s something new. Instead of picking up after the original Godzilla with a reincarnation of the dinosaur, this film questions the events as portrayed in the film, and asserts that the Oxygen Destroyer was never used at all, and that Godzilla never died.
Anyway. The Kaiju design here really works. Those dorsal fins are looking fiercer by the minute, and Megaguirus is well thought out as far as monsters go.
I also quite like the sci-fi elements used in the film. But can we talk about the black hole machine please?
It is at least an innovative way to introduce a giant bug (looks like a dragonfly on steroids if you ask me) which lays an egg and then takes off again through the black hole.
The egg ends up in the Tokyo sewer and turns out to be not one, but a mass of eggs, which all hatch into freaky-looking larvae. Ew.
Meanwhile, Godzilla shows up for a snack of nuclear proportions, as he is wont to do. While he’s enjoying himself with the armed forces trying to stop him, the matured progeny of the dragonfly shows up, drawn to Godzilla’s nuclear energy like moths to a flame.
Godzilla manages to kill a bloody lot of the bugs, and the human contingent does most of the ones left by turning on the black hole machine again. Probably because that turned out so well the first time. But some of the creepers manage to steal some Godzilla DNA and inject it into a huge dormant larva. When it molts, out pops Megaguirus.
Megaguirus’ attacks as well as Godzilla’s countermoves are quite fun to watch. The one where she tries to stab him between the eyes with her stinger and he bites it off definitely belongs in the Godzilla hall of fame, if you ask me.
All in all, as far as reboots go, this one is not too shabby.
Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-out Attack (2001)
So we’re really doing reboots only from now on, are we? We’re going back to the original film, and retconning all that came after Godzilla.
And let’s make one thing very clear. A wider variety of monsters is not always a good thing. But while I think we already established that in All Monsters Attack, director Shunsuke Kaneko clearly disagrees.
They did try to innovate here and there, flipping King Gidorah from baddie extraordinaire to good guy. But all in all, this reboot did not live up to its direct predecessor if you ask me.
Godzilla against Mechagodzilla (2002)
How much do I love that in this poster, Godzilla is outshone by one of his human opponents? And she’s a woman, too. You go, lady. It immediately creates a sense of the type of story to expect. Now let’s see if this film delivers.
We begin with Lieutenant Akane Yashiro, a maser-cannon technician. In 1999, 54 years after the original attack, she fails to kill a new relative of Godzilla’s in her first fight. She then further falls from grace when she knocks a vehicle off the mountain to be crushed by Godzilla and ends up on desk duty.
However, during the battle, the tiny detail of Godzilla’s immunity against maser fire is discovered, so the Japanese have just realized that their military’s main staple is basically useless. Oopsie.
Scientists set out to design a solution, and build a biomechanical cyborg, based on the original Godzilla’s bones. So the big guy died after all. Huh. Go figure.
Akane ends up piloting this giant contraption, called Kiryu (those who listened to our Japan episode may notice the reference to the Japanese word for dragon, ryu).
However, not everyone has forgiven her, and we meet the brother of one of the men killed in that first fight of hers. He is one of her squadron mates. Yay. This is what we call progressive complications, and I love those. Writing 101: Be mean to your character. Very, very mean.
But it does make for excellent characterization of our protagonist, and Second Lieutenant Hayama becomes sort of an external embodiment of the guilt she carries around.
Anyway, when this Mechagodzilla is finally revealed to the world, of course Godzilla shows up. And his roar awakens something in the biological components inside Kiryu. That something, surprisingly, is the soul of the first Godzilla, and the memories of his death.
Organic Godzilla retreats to the ocean after a job well done, and Kiryu goes on a rampage as though no time has passed at all since his last one. Akane and the team can only sit horrified and watch from the jet which was supposed to be Kiryu’s control center.
He stops when his batteries die. Sorry, I had to chuckle at that one. Mighty Godzilla robot destroys cities until battery runs out like a common smartphone.
While they attempt to debug Kiryu, Akane has to deal with Hayama, who is clearly not her biggest fan.
Kiryu is repaired and sent back into battle with Godzilla. As they are about to deploy the biomecha’s Absolute Zero Cannon, which sounds so much cooler (get it?) than freezing ray, Godzilla’s atomic blast disables Kiryu’s remote control system.
Akane, on her way to the robot to assume manual control and continue the fight, is wished good luck by Hayama. Heartwarming, really.
Of course, they prevail and drive Godzilla back into the ocean with a severe injury. And we get a happy ending. Whoot!
Other than the excellent characterisation here, (can you tell I really liked Akane?), I find the simplicity of the plot and the lack of fifty other monsters a refreshing changes. This film gets a solid two thumbs up. And yes. The poster did deliver on its promise if you ask me.
Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)
This time, we continue where Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla left us. With Godzilla injured and retreating, and Mechagodzilla in desperate need of repairs. And then the little twin guardians of Mothra appear, to warn against Mechagodzilla, since his origins are questionable, and the bones incorporated in the design will continue to attract Godzilla’s attention.
The decision is made to scrap Kiryu and sink him to the bottom of the ocean. In its place, Mothra will protect humanity.
However, Mothra seems out-powered by Godzilla and Kiryu is needed to even the odds. So the plan is not watertight, it seems.
In a second fight, two larvae newly hatched by Mothra, join their mother in holding off Godzilla, but Mothra ends up sacrificing herself to save the day, humanity, and her offspring, by taking the hit when Godzilla uses his atomic breath. Kiryu gets repaired just in time to end the fight a second time.
However, before Godzilla can be killed by Kiryu’s pilot, Godzilla’s roar wakes up the spirit inside Kiryu’s bones again. It carries itself and Godzilla out to sea, but does turn to let the pilot bail out before diving into the ocean.
Lots of food for sequels, and fun action scenes that hold up, but really, the story in no way measures up to Godzilla against Mechagodzilla, as far as I’m concerned.
Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
Fifty years after we first got to meet Godzilla, we get Godzilla, Final Wars. To the credit of the filmmakers, there is not a slow moment in this movie, as far as I could tell. There’s like, monsters (a lot of monsters), humans, mutant humans used as soldiers, and the Xiliens are back too. And everyone is basically fighting everyone else. Oh and Minilla is back too, with all the cuteness of yore.
There’s a lot of throwbacks to earlier films as well, which is fun for the fans of the franchise.
But. You knew there was going to be a but, right? The action goes from fight to fight at a pace I would have a hard time following for a whole movie. As it was, it left me reeling. Sometimes, as a viewer, you need to breathe and digest what you just saw before diving into the next fast-paced sequence.
And OMG. Hold a plot summary up to the light, and you could see through it, it’s so thin. Fun and high-paced, yes. But not a high flier in my book. Thank Goddess for Minilla’s cuteness.
And Hollywood is back with another (yes, really) reboot. I really enjoyed the look of the film. Godzilla’s design is well-done and the overal cinematography is impressive, as a kaiju movie deserves. Not all the action is reserved for monsters and aliens either. Do have a look at the skydiving scene, accompanied by swelling ominous music that builds until your skin crawls, while the divers head into a storm cloud, lit up by lightning. Stunning imagery, right there.
But generally, the characterisation is weak. Not, I think, because the actors are, but because of the script they were given to work with. The father-and-son theme played out through the characters of Joe and Ford Brady had a lot of potential, and these two characters are more relatable than some of the others, but it doesn’t quite grab me.
Still, as a whole, the movie is far more memorable than the first Hollywood attempt.
Shin Godzilla (2016)
Some more time elapsed between this Japanese film and the previous one and it shows in the creativity. It’s like a political satire with a lot of sharp, dry humour, delivered with such seriousness that it becomes irresistible, even with subtitles. The way bureaucracy is portrayed here is just hilarious.
As far as Godzilla himself goes, this is a throwback to the 1954 version, with its less-is-more philosophy. The approach works and brings menace and a sense of danger back to the screen, rather than the good-natured kitsch of the monster extravaganzas we’ve come to expect.
And despite getting less screen time, Godzilla takes the main role. Apparently, Shin Godzilla makes an excellent entry point into the franchise. Why did no one inform me of this before? Seriously. At any rate, this just means the whole film will end up on my to-watch list, when I have time to savour it.
Godzilla evolves and mutates throughout the story, creating a sense of both expectation and dread, even though you know you’ll get what was promised in the end: Massive destruction. Bring it on!
Again, we end with lots of sequel potential, but in this case, I’m curious more than rolling my eyes and going “Uhuh, of course.”
I just want to watch this one again. Wow.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters (2019)
And to close off this retrospective, Hollywood strikes again. Third time’s the charm. Right?
The film picks up where we ended in 2014, and really, it does what it says on the box. Monsters. Lots of them. Well designed, and placed into spectacular battle scenes. We’re also seeing settings across the world, which adds a bit of scope and extra visual appeal.
We’ve also come a long way from the suitmation filming techniques devised for the first kaiju movies. The monsters here move like the animals that inspired them, rather than a man in a suit. Don’t get me wrong. I have the utmost respect for the actors who would climb into these suits. It cannot have been easy at all. But the things that can be accomplished these days with CGI is just utterly stunning at times.
And, despite the monster extravaganza, the film still holds an underlying theme that provides definite and interesting food for thought. No, I’m not telling. You’ll have to watch.
So I guess Hollywood pulled it off this time after all. Good job.
And now, I have to move on. Leave Godzilla behind. Well, except for Shin Godzilla. I want to re-watch that one in its entirety. And of course I’ll be checking out the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong.
Are you a Godzilla fan? Did you watch one? Or a couple? Which one is your favourite? Hop on over to our Discord channel, and let’s talk nuclear dinosaurs. 😉
Jaz, also known as the Wolf Mother, is a writer, poet, narrator, and vessel of chaos. She is eternally grateful for her mother’s refusal to curtail her children in their choices–whether that was literature, spirituality, studies, or appearance–and grew up devouring her older brother’s collection of fantasy novels. In hindsight, telling stories of her own seems inevitable, but it took her a while to accept this and find the courage to begin.