Godzilla returns, in this second installment of Jaz’s retrospective of the–seemingly endless–franchise. The rabbit holes here are endless, but I shall try to navigate them. Have you got your bag of breadcrumbs at the ready?
Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)
So, the team behind Godzilla got a bit of a breather as, at the dawning of a new decade, they actually got to skip a year. Maybe they needed to regroup after the strange, twilight zone of All Monsters Attack.
After 16 years of two directors playing hopscotch over the production of the Godzilla franchise, we also see a new name appear in the director’s seat: Yoshimitsu Banno. One of the opening shots, in a what looks like a disco, gives me a strange Godzilla-meets-Austin Powers vibe. It doesn’t take long to notice the difference in atmosphere from the previous films.
Apparently, Banno deviated so far from the cookie-cutter Godzilla recipe that the producers ended up hating the end result. The characterisation is not on point and the pacing could be better, but at least we have an interesting adversary this time. Battling Hedorah can’t be easy, as at one point, the creature is aquatic, at other times it’s a land-walking kanji, and yet other times, we see Hedorah as a cross between a flying saucer and a giant stingray zooming across the sky.
I don’t know what to think of the soundtrack, to be honest. Is it supposed to not-too-subtly mock the oblivious nature of humans? Or is it just a clumsy give away of the suspenseful moments in the film? Perhaps watching the whole thing would give me a better sense of how to interpret it, but I have quite a few movies to cover still, and I can’t possibly watch all of them all the way through.
However, if you have thoughts on this, please do share. I’d love to discuss this further.
Godzilla vs. Gigan
OK, so, Godzilla vs. Hedorah was a nice change, I’ll give you that.
But a year later, we’re back. And colour me not-impressed. Apparently, no one in charge was impressed with Yoshimitsu Banno, as Jun Fukuda is back in the picture.
From what little I watched, some of the footage looked eerily familiar. Way past the point of ‘Am I having a deja-vu?’ to ‘Holy Guacamole, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this before.’ Now if I, who admittedly didn’t watch all of the preceding films in their entirety, gets that feeling, imagine being a die hard fan who knows these by heart?
Some research into reviews confirmed my suspicions. Pumping out a film per year is taking its toll, and it shows. The crew is forced to cut corners, and apparently recycle footage from previous films. Supposedly, things even went as far as one of the suits ripping up mid-scene, but I have to admit I didn’t have the heart to trawl through the entire length of the film to spot that glorious moment.
Bright side: Space dinosaur Gigan looks fierce and the fight scenes are a wee bit gorier than the fans of the franchise have been accustomed to so far, so they get some points for that, I guess?
Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
OK, another year on, and I’m getting a distinct sense of less recycling going on here. But something strange is afoot. You’ve got the typical cast of assorted kaiju, with this time, Godzilla, Anguirius, Rodan, our friend Gigan who is also back for a repeat performance, and of course Megalon.
And then you get a mecha character. Jet Jaguar. Have we seen these before?
Now, all the zillas are blurring together somewhat, but I do not believe we’ve seen a mecha character yet.
We begin with more nuclear testing, because what else are humans going to do? However, apparently, beside Monster Island, where all the Kaiju live, earth also has a thus far undiscovered underseas civilisation (Atlantis, anyone?). These guys are sick of all the nuclear tests disturbing their peace time and time again, so they send Megalon to the surface to deal with the idiotic humans once and for all.
These Seatopians try to steal the not-quite-completed Jet Jaguar, but their first attempt fails, and the robot gets finished after all.
Much happens, while Jet Jaguar is first hijacked by the Seatopians to guide Megalon’s attacks, then retaken by humans who send him to Monster Island to fetch Godzilla to once again save humanity, and then our metallic friend JJ grows to giant proportions and starts acting with some more initiative. With Godzilla still en route to the fight, JJ faces off with Megalon and lands the whole conflict in an impasse.
Then our old friend the space dinosaur, AKA Gigan, reappears, and Godzilla and Jet Jaguar go on a double combat-date with Megalon and Gigan.
So, call me critical, but this all seems very muddled in terms of plot.
Of course Megalon and Gigan end up capitulating and retreating (how will they ever recycle them for next movies if they end up getting killed, right?) and Godzilla and Jet Jaguar shake on it. Godzilla returns to Monster Island, probably hoping the humans won’t do more stupid stuff that lands them in trouble yet again, and JJ shrinks to his former size and returns to the mundane life of a robot.
So, some thoughts. Why, if it’s a Godzilla movie, is Jet Jaguar getting so much attention? Is the mecha being set up for a nice long run of sequels, or maybe a spin-off franchise of his own? Hmm. Because for being titled Godzilla vs. Megalon, not a lot of priority was being given to Godzilla. Even for the franchise, which is known for putting the big guy at the heart of an ever growing team of kaiju.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
Another mecha, on the opposing team this time. Returning director Jun Fukuda seems to have found a new trope to play with.
So another alien race tries to take over the earth, but these apelike ones have been watching the other attempts and taking notes, it seems. They’re determined to not have Godzilla mess with their coup, and build a mecha version of the big guy to keep him occupied and out of the picture.
The movie opens on a promising note. After a series of ominous events including prophecies and other strangeness afoot, Godzilla emerges, but seems to have lost his benevolent disposition in favour of another rampage like he used to have in the good old days. His usual comrade Anguirus appears to try and fight him off but almost ends up getting killed. However…
Before throwing in the towel, he wounds Godzilla, exposing something shiny and metallic beneath Godzilla’s skin.
Then a second Godzilla appears on the scene to try and fight himself. I mean. It’s the classical fight with an evil twin. And in the end, no one can tell who is who.
But during the fight it become clear who the real Godzilla is. The other one turns out to be a huge robot equipped with fancy weaponry and disguised as Godzilla.
Both monsters end up retreating but Godzilla is severely wounded. Back at Monster Island, some very convenient lightning strikes him, restoring his energy reserves.
A new kaiju with some mythological history (in the story world anyway) is summoned to join the fray and Godzilla ends up using the electricity stored in his body to defeat Mechagodzilla, along with the newly awakened King Ceasar. After the battle, they shake on it and ajoin to their respective homes.
Who wants to bet we’ll be meeting good old Ceasar in another movie?
All in all, I enjoyed my snippets of this movie a lot more than I did some of the other Fukuda films, it still can’t beat the kitschy charm of the original.
Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)
Things keep looking better and better. Along with the return of the original crew led by director Ishiro Honda, we see a new screenwriter appearing. And a woman no less. Let’s give a warm welcome to Yukiko Takayama.
The overdone monster designs are taking a backseat, and we get to see some more of that bleakness the original Godzilla movie was so steeped in, as well as a stronger notion of the social commentary that we got to see in the earlier films. I am a bit sad that the human antagonist is somewhat of a stereotyped mad scientist. The original films did better in that respect, as far as I’m concerned.
Still, there’s a lot of interesting material in the film. You’ve got the mad professor, who is proclaimed dead by his daughter Katsura. Then there’s the scientists trying to recover scraps of Mechagodzilla for research purposes (they clearly didn’t watch the other movies or they’d know this type of thing is a bad idea). And then one of these scientists accidentally gives the orphaned Katsura some inside intel about Mechagodzilla.
And of course aliens have to poke their nose in. Meanwhile nobody has a clue our scientist isn’t dead at all. They’re equally clueless about the fact that Katsura is in fact a cyborg who, under control of the aliens herself, will end up controlling both of Godzilla’s adversaries, Mechagodzilla and Titanosaurus.
In the end, the humans manage to distract Titanosaurus, leaving Godzilla free to take on Mechagodzilla. In the end, Katsura is freed from the aliens’ control and commits suicide to destroy Mechagodzilla’s remote control device, which is implanted in her body.
Godzilla then helps the humans to defeat Titanosaurus and returns to the sea.
Teamwork makes the dream work, right?
The Return of Godzilla (1984)
Sadly, Terror of Mechagodzilla ended up flopping at the box office. Was this the reason for the nine-year hiatus? Or did the makers just need a break, some snacks, and a serious nap after so many years of annual movie releases?
Whatever the reason was, the makers behind The Return of Godzilla seemed to feel that a clean slate was in order. This film resumes the story after the original 1954 film, and ignores all that was produced after, thus introducing the Heisei era of the franchise.
You can tell we’re in the 80s now, from the special effects alone.
But the whole film is not what we’ve come to expect from the franchise. Gone are the kaiju extravaganzas in which teams of monsters battle on both the sides of good and evil. Ditto for the intentional–or unintentional–moments of comedy and the caricaturised characters. This movie makes a clear break with the franchise and its quirky, kitschy crew of monsters.
Instead, we get more of the political undertone as we first saw it in the 1954 film, but clearly painted against the backdrop of the Cold War. This time, Russians and Americans are trying to get permission from Japan to launch nukes at Godzilla so they can save the world. Japan, having learned its lesson in movie number one, puts its foot down and sends both nations packing.
However, the beastie creates an international incident that could lead to global conflict when he destroys a Russian submarine. The nations of the world now have to band together to face the threat Godzilla poses.
In terms of worldbuilding, I found this movie to be quite interesting. In the original Godzilla, the monster is portrayed allegorically, as an atomic bomb. In these films, rather than behaving like a weapon himself, he seems to be feeding off nuclear energy. When he attacks a power plant on Japanese territory, he ends up feeding off the reactor. His physiology seems to be thought through a bit more in this iteration.
As such, his reasons for attacking are also more logical.
While this isn’t the campy kitschy fun we’ve seen before, I quite liked the gravity of this reboot.
Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)
When looking at the poster for this film, my eyes began to sparkle. (https://filmmomaticreviews.files.wordpress.com/2019/04/godzilla_vs_biollante_poster_01.jpg?w=723) You see Godzilla facing off against a giant, dark pink flower. What’s not to love about that? My first impression of Biollante was flesh-eating plant meets buddhist mandala.
But lets check out what this movie is about.
It really combines the best of both worlds, retaining it’s message of “atomic experiments are bad” without losing the excitement of new and inventive opponents for our favourite lizard. And what an adversary. I mean, Biollante beats any of the previous ones, if you ask me, from the giant moth, to the alien species, to the space dinosaurs.
Bring on the killer flowers.
It all begins with another mad scientist, though this one is more grief-stricken than anything else. After his research facility–where he was trying to genetically modify plants to be more resilient, with the help of some cells collected from Godzilla–gets blown up, resulting in the death of his daughter, he combines her genetic material with that of a rose, in an attempt to preserve what he can of her. Later, he adds Godzilla cells to those same roses, leading to the spawning of a plant monster, called Biollante.
While Godzilla is not quite a good guy yet, it seems he can’t resist a good fight, and he ends up taking down Biollante. Afterwards, he disappears into the ocean.
Godzilla vs. King Gidorah (1991)
This movie takes me back to one of my favourite ones from the previous cycle, also known as the Showa era. We see our three-headed friend King Gidorah making a return here, with infinitely stronger special effects bringing him to life. Instead of aliens mucking things up, the external antagonists here are not aliens but time travelers from the future, come to stop Godzilla before he can wreak the havoc he has in their own time. However, after eliminating the proto-Godzilla and planting the unevolved version of King Gidorah in his place, ready to be mutated by the blast of radiation, they return to the present (1992) where they now have King Gidorah to use as leverage against the Japanese government.
However–oopsie–it is then discovered that the Bering Strait, where they ditched the dinosaur that would become Godzilla, is the site of more nuclear pollution, in the form of a sunken submarine.
This allows Godzilla to still become his lovable self and defeat King Gidorah. The Futurians launch another attempt with a mechanised version of Gidorah, but this too fails.
All in all, I’ve seen worse in the franchise, and I’ll take this over the older Gidorah cameos in the franchise any day.
Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)
So, since the beginning of the Heisei period, we’ve seen newer names in the director’s seat, and less of a long-standing dynasty with two names alternating each other, as in the Showa era. I’m going to stop keeping track, unless they do worse than my least favourite one so far, Fukuda, because this is getting hard to keep track of.
That being said, let’s talk about the movie. Because of course, they had to bring the giant moth back. It started in the previous film, and the trend continues here. We’re slowly–or not so slowly–slipping from semi-plausible sci-fi into more and more of a fantastical story.
This one is a bit of a rollercoaster. The trailer I found on Youtube shows a neoclassical building enveloped in webbing, with Mothra perched on top, looking adorable as ever. Two caged fairies are singing to her. Then it cuts to a spiky head emerging from the sea and sprouting some scary-looking wings and insectoid legs. And of course Godzilla makes an appearance as well.
So let’s look at what’s happening here. Of course, the stubborn stupidity of humans must prevail, as explorers find a giant egg, as well as two very small humanoids imploring them not to disturb the egg. But do they listen?
What do you think?
Of course not. They clearly didn’t watch the other movies, or they’d know better by now. The two tiny creatures, called Cosmos, also talk about a second insectoid monster, called Battra. Apparently Battra was created by an ancient civilisation that tried to control the planet’s weather. Huh. Humanity really doesn’t learn, I guess.
Anyway. Battra and Mothra manage to evolve from larva to mature form and work together to fight off Godzilla. While carrying him to the ocean, Godzilla manages to bite and kill Battra, after which Mothra manages to magically trap him beneath the surface of the ocean and, together with the Cosmos, she departs earth to save it from an oncoming meteor.
All in all, this was a fun movie, and some of the scenes in the opening sequence took me right back to Indiana Jones, as the scientists search for Mothra’s egg. Thumbs up from me.
Let’s take a break for now, guys.
This series has that ‘Just one more’ effect on me. I keep thinking I’ll stop after the next one, which, in this case, would be Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. But I have so much to say about this one, that it would take us way too far, so I’ll have to keep you waiting for another week on that.
Stay tuned for Godzilla Goodness.
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.