Friday, September 29, 2017

Number 24 - "Godzilla X MechaGodzilla" (2002)

Part of the problem I have with the majority of the Millennium series is how basic and uninteresting most of these films feel. Most of them act like coloring books by the numbers, with very generic and bland stories that we've either seen a dozen times before or just never do anything with its concepts. We've already seen this first-hand with entries like "Godzilla 2000" and "Godzilla X Megaguirus," both of which had cool ideas, like storm chasers that follow Godzilla or imagining a world where the first Godzilla never died, but ultimately does nothing of value with that.

We have yet another Millennium film that does just that with "Godzilla X MechaGodzilla." This is sort of another one of those "What if" story ideas, in this case is it "What if the Oxygen Destroyer still killed Godzilla, but did not destroy his bones?" It is a very minor change and one I do not mind, since the first Godzilla still died to the Oxygen Destroyer. In this case, the film's answer to that question is - The Japanese military has captured Godzilla's bones and now plans to make a giant robot around them to fight other giant you do.

"Godzilla X MechaGodzilla" once again takes place in its own little universe, separate from any other Godzilla movie outside of the first one. Although, strangely enough, the filmmakers say that some other Toho films from the 1960s happened as well, in particular "Mothra" and "War of the Gargantuas." Except this movie also changes the events of those films as well - In "War of the Gargantuas" there were two giant monsters, Gaira and Sanda, supposedly created from the remains of Frankenstein (long story, but check out "Frankenstein Conquers the World" if you're interested). But "Godzilla X MechaGodzilla" erases Sanda from history, saying there was only Gaira who was defeated by their newest invention, the Maser Cannon, because "Maser" sounds way cooler than laser.

The Millennium series seems to take joy in screwing with the history of Toho's giant monster movies.

The film begins in 1999, when a huge typhoon hits a Japanese island. But in the middle of that storm, a new Godzilla rises out of the ocean and starts causing chaos and destruction. The military is sent into deal with Godzilla, but a few tanks and a maser cannon can only do so much to him. The government is surprised to see Godzilla return again and they find themselves unprepared for another monster attack, since the last kaiju appearance was supposedly over 30 years ago. This leads the prime minister to enact a new battle plan to take care of Godzilla.

Japan's leading experts on biology, mechanical engineering and robots are called into to show that the government have gotten their hands on the bones of the first Godzilla. The government officials say they want these scientists to construct a cyborg body around the bones, which could potentially be their strongest weapon against Godzilla and any other monster that attacks Japan.

There's a simple question I've always wondered with this movie - Why do they need Godzilla's bones to be the base for their giant robot? It's not like the bones carry any special power or give the robot a power boost, they're just inside this thing. In fact, it sounds like it would be more trouble than its worth, since having the bones of a dead animal inside your fighting machine can go bad fast. If they needed it as a frame to build around, then just make a metal copy of Godzilla's skeleton and use that for your frame.

But no, they had to try and make it sound cool by saying this robot is built around Godzilla's bones, whether or not it makes any logical sense.

This leads us to our first look at MechaGodzilla, my favorite Godzilla villain. Of all the monsters Godzilla fought more than once, MechaGodzilla was always the one that seemed to give him the hardest time, easily able to overpower Godzilla and was almost always a few steps away from ending the King of the Monsters for good.

It's a pity that this MechaGodzilla leaves such a disappointing impression. The first slip-up is that they rename the robot Kiryu (which is Japanese for "Metal Dragon"). They hardly ever call this thing MechaGodzilla, even though that's his given name in the title. Any time they call MechaGodzilla Kiryu, I roll my eyes at their pointless need to give their robot two names.

But the bigger problem I have with Kiryu is how they present him during his fights with Godzilla. I'll talk about this more in detail when we get to other better entries that have MechaGodzilla, but Godzilla's mechanical copy is supposed to be leagues strong than Godzilla, equipped with weapons that can destroy entire city blocks, or send Godzilla's atomic beam back at him, or being able to pierce Godzilla's second brain and cripple him. He is the ultimate anti-Godzilla weapon.

This MechaGodzilla? His missiles and lasers hardly ever warrant a reaction out of Godzilla, the maser cannon in his mouth does little more than make Godzilla slightly annoyed, and all it takes is one or two blasts of Godzilla's atomic breath to bring Kiryu to a screeching halt. For the majority of the movie, it comes across like Godzilla has no problem walking right through MechaGodzilla, like he was made of cardboard and was tossing Nerf darts at him. This isn't an anti-Godzilla weapon, it's a five-year olds' attempt to play the same game as his older brother and only gets mangled as a result.

Admittedly, the movie is attempting to go for a realistic approach to MechaGodzilla...sometimes. Aside from the whole "the original Godzilla bones are inside our giant robot" thing, they also equip Kiryu with a cannon that can freeze anything to absolute zero. While that is a neat concept, it does go against the realistic approach to Kiryu, so why couldn't they at least give MechaGodzilla the ability to tank Godzilla's atomic breath like the previous MechaGodzilla's?

Also, every attempt they make to use the Absolute Zero Cannon on Godzilla goes horribly wrong, so the thing never works the way they want it to work. It also drains Kiryu's power cells every time he uses it, so it seems like a waste of space if they cannot get it to work right and use up all their power. Why not just build an Absolute Zero Cannon and attach it to a large tank? Why put on the fragile and malfunctioning robot that cannot fight Godzilla very well?

I don't think the "realistic" approach to Kiryu works well in this movie. Since Godzilla remains his usual unstoppable and unflinching self, having a robot fight him that's made from material that he can easily rip apart and toss around like it was nothing makes for a stale fight. It becomes even more annoying because they named it MechaGodzilla, a monster has nearly killed Godzilla on more than one occasion. If you're going to do MechaGodzilla properly, stay away from a realistic approach and go all-out crazy instead.

One thing people have pointed out about "Godzilla X MechaGodzilla" is that it feels very similar to an anime. In particular "Neon Genesis Evangelion," about giant monster gods that want to bring about the end of the world and humans combat these monsters by building their own robot cyborgs, which admittedly took a lot of inspiration from Godzilla in the first place. For a while, I didn't see the similarities, but now I notice a lot of the same tropes - An overly oppressive military force that does everything they can to protect their country, putting their fate in the hands of emotional and flawed individuals while they face an overwhelming threat.

One big difference between the two though is the sense of a war. Both "Evangelion" and this movie feel like they're fighting an on-going war against an impossible foe. In "Evangelion," that feeling makes sense, considering that there are multiple monsters that keep them on their toes. But in "Godzilla X MechaGodzilla," they only ever fight one enemy - Godzilla.

Can your "war" truly be considered a war if you're only fighting one creature? That's a fight or struggle, not a war.

As a result, I feel the military aspects of "Godzilla X MechaGodzilla" are overplayed, especially since they dominate most of the human scenes. Most of the characters only spout the same general platitudes about how strong the military is, and that they're capable of anything, and they'll never surrender. And then they get trounced by Godzilla, so now they just look like buffoons.

The fight scenes are okay, if a bit too long at parts. The entire third act is the final battle between Godzilla and Kiryu, with a few cool scenes after MechaGodzilla discards most of his missiles and lasers to gain better mobility and starts smacking Godzilla around. Since the remainder of the movie is pretty beam-heavy, it is nice to see MechaGodzilla wailing on Godzilla and then tossing him around by his tail.

The music in "Godzilla X MechaGodzilla" is also pretty good. It was composed by Michiru Oshima, who also composed "Godzilla X Megaguirus" and led to a new theme song for Godzilla that is pretty catchy and atmospheric. There's a great sense of triumph and grandeur to the music here, which makes it stand out a bit more from the other Millennium films.

Overall, "Godzilla X MechaGodzilla" is a slightly-improved version of "Godzilla X Megaguirus," but only just barely. The story does its job well enough and the action sequences are alright, but it doesn't feel like it amounts to anything. The film doesn't do anything particularly well and just makes me wish I was watching better scenes with MechaGodzilla. There is nothing of value to be found here, but it isn't that terrible either. This is just a film that exists to take up space.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Movie Review - "The Band Wagon" (1953)

Any movie that has a musical number featuring dancing triplet babies that talk about buying a gun they can shoot their other siblings is at least worth a watch in my book.

That, and it is the only movie I've ever seen that combines musicals and film noirs. "The Band Wagon" literally has a sequence that plays out like a hard-boiled detective story, complete with femme fatales and over-the-top cheesy narration, while it plays out like ballet with elaborate dance sequences.

I'm not sure I need to say anything else - Babies that want guns and musical film noirs. If that does not peak your interest in "The Band Wagon," nothing will.

Or it could be that "The Band Wagon" is one of the last big musicals for Fred Astaire, as he plays a role that he was becoming more and more every day - an aging film star that had been forgotten by the Hollywood system and was looking for one last shot to remain in the limelight. Astaire goes all out on his musical numbers, especially one early on in the film where he dances around while getting his shoes shined and playing carnival games.

If my description of these events sounds odd, it's only because this movie is odd. The musical numbers are intricate and elaborate, while fully embracing the insane situations, including the now famous "That's Entertainment!" number that seems like a cut scene from "Singin' In the Rain." My personal favorite number is the aforementioned film noir musical bit, if only because I've never seen two genres that have nothing in common work so well together.

There are slow parts to "The Band Wagon," but when this movie gets good, it is impossible to take your eyes off the screen.

Final Grade: B-

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Number 25 - "Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla" (1994)

I like to divide my favorite Godzilla movies into different tiers, mostly defined by my own grading system. Everything that I've previously looked at, from "Godzilla: Final Wars" through "Godzilla's Revenge" was in the F-grade tier. Now we're moving up into the D-grade tier, the ones in this series that are still not very well made movies and should be outright skipped on their own, but they still manage to have one or two good moments. Basically, these ones are more bad than good, but maybe have a few things going for it.

To start us off we have the Heisei film that just barely missed being in the lower tier, "Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla." The title is our first indication that it is an unbelievably stupid and insane idea for a movie, but don't worry that's just the tip of the iceberg. It also doesn't help that this one probably has some of the worst special effects of any Godzilla movie, including a point where Godzilla's tail falls off in the middle of a shot, some very noticeable gears inside the mouth of a monster and the notorious asteroid belt fight sequence.

Let's start by talking about Godzilla's opponent, Space Godzilla. His creation is supposed to be the culmination of everything the Heisei series was building up. At this point in the series, two of Godzilla's previous opponents, Mothra, and Biollante, had gone into space with some cells of Godzilla attached to them. The theory of our main characters is that these cells fell off Mothra and Biollante at some point, combined together, then fell into a black hole, were pushed out through a white hole, and then combined with the explosions of stars and other planets to create Space Godzilla.

Every time I hear this plan, I burst out laughing just because of how ridiculous and impossible it all sounds. You cannot make any of that sound plausible in the slightest, but the movie tries its damnedest to make Space Godzilla seem threatening. Then you've got the giant shoulder crystals, the crystal tail and the overall blue design that just looks so silly. Space Godzilla might be the least threatening looking monster in the entire series. Hell, even Gabara from "Godzilla's Revenge" looked scarier than this thing.

Space Godzilla's personality consists of unexplained destruction and a need to rule over everything. So basically like every villainous monster in the Godzilla series. Other than that, um...

I think Space Godzilla is a terrible villain. His only strength is that he seems to have an endless supply of powers and energy weapons that he keeps pulling out of his ass, so he fits in with the beam-happy Heisei series. We'll see some other Godzilla villains later on in this countdown that seem to have lots of powers, but also have a distinct personality behind that power. They're not just a threat for Godzilla to take down, but something that both Godzilla and the audience fear. Space Godzilla does not fit that bill.

The film also continues one of the human organizations of the Heisei series, known as the G-Force. Their mission is to keep track of Godzilla and create something that could finally finish him off. Their previous attempt was to create MechaGodzilla (so this is two films in a row where Godzilla has to fight one of his clones), and that almost worked. Now they've created something supposedly even stronger than MechaGodzilla, known as M.O.G.U.E.R.A. (Mobile Operation Godzilla Universal Expert Robot Aero). This monster is actually a redesign of another kaiju from the 1957 film "The Mysterians" complete with pin arms, a drill for a nose and giant bug-eyes.

While Moguera was made to fight Godzilla, the G-Force eventually sees Space Godzilla as the bigger threat to the planet and sends it in to fight alongside Godzilla to take down Space Godzilla. I do see what this film was trying to go for - attempting to make Godzilla and the G-Force work together for once to take down a bigger monster, something neither of them could take on their own. But this is gummed up by our main cast of characters and just how unlikable they are.

I guess the lead character is Yuki (Akira Emoto), a man who lost his best friend to Godzilla back in "Godzilla vs. Biollante" and how now sworn to find a way to kill Godzilla as a way of revenge. He's tracked Godzilla to a remote island, befriends his adopted son Little Godzilla (imagine Minilla except not as cute or as convincing due to bad animatronics) and sets up tear gas mines all around the water front just for Godzilla. He's also developed a special blood coagulant that could supposedly kill Godzilla if Yuki hits him in his one weak spot, underneath his arm pit.

I like to think Yuki is just making up everything as he goes, because then he's just a crazy selfish man living on a deserted island for years and is far too absorbed in his need for revenge who doesn't realize that Godzilla's arm pit isn't his weak spot or that his coagulant is just Kool-Aid.

Also, Yuki shows his bare butt cheeks to our other main characters. So yeah, I stand by my statement that he's crazy.


In the final act of the film, Yuki ends up being the lead pilot of Moguera, for some reason. As expected, he takes every opportunity he can to turn on Godzilla and take him out instead of Space Godzilla. Our hero, ladies, and gentlemen!

But the most irritating character in "Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla" is none other than our dear friend Miki Saegusa, who has her biggest role of the series in this movie. In the last couple films, she has decided to join the G-Force and wants to start up a new plan to telepathically control Godzilla by placing in implant in the back of his head and using her own powers to make him leave Japan alone. This plan ends up taking up about the first half of the movie and ultimately feels like a waste of time, since after Miki tries to control Godzilla once and fails, the plan is basically forgotten.

It is never brought up or used during the final battle, even with Miki sitting on the sidelines watching Godzilla get stomped by Space Godzilla.

Even worse, Miki has supposedly joined this military operation to take down Godzilla of her own free will, yet won't stop talking about it is wrong to kill Godzilla. That he's a living creature and that women are so much better than men because all men want to do is destroy other living creatures. Anytime she opens her mouth about how Godzilla deserves the right to live I just want to slap her and remind her of all the lives Godzilla has taken and will continue to take if he isn't stopped. And if you're so against killing Godzilla, then why did you join G-Force?

Miki's incompetence is really on display in this movie and anytime she tries to accomplish anything, it just comes across as annoying and unnecessary. Her plot takes up the first two-thirds of the movie, when she wants to control Godzilla and then she gets kidnapped so some shady organization can use her psychic powers for their own use, and it is almost always cringe worthy.

Now I did say early on that these particular Godzilla movies do have one or two good points, and while it is small, I do think there is one redeemable factor to "Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla" and that is its final battle. The fight between Godzilla, Moguera, and Space Godzilla in the middle of downtown Fukuoka is filled to the brim with nothing but laser blast after beam war and goes on for what feels like 45 minutes, but I was never bored during the fight. In fact, there's a lot of fun parts in this final battle, like when Moguera separates into two vehicles to goes underground to disable Space Godzilla's power source.

While Godzilla's plan of attack just seems to be hit Space Godzilla over and over, Moguera's pilots keep the fight from getting stale by using different tactics. They vary up their plans and weapons and it actually works on Space Godzilla, to the point where his shoulder crystals get destroyed and he begins to lose power. It is a change of pace compared to the other Heisei films to have an extended fight scene that isn't interrupted by human interactions. I like how both Space Godzilla and Moguera constantly seem to have this rivalry going on that evolves from annoyance to pure rage and hatred and both get plenty of battle scars from the other as a result.

If anything, Godzilla feels like a third wheel to the ongoing fight between Space Godzilla and Moguera. But then Godzilla brings back his red spiral ray at the end of the film to land the killing blow on Space Godzilla, and it is glorious to see this beam in action, making everything it touches explode in a massive ball of bright-red flames.

While the fight does go on for much longer than it needs to, it is an entertaining exchange. It's just too bad that we have to sit through an hour of pointless and terribly acted scenes with our characters to get to it.

Overall, "Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla" is not good by any means, but it does have a surprisingly fun finale. The villain kaiju is a mess, the acting is atrocious, the plot doesn't go anywhere and the effects range from passable to laughable. The only reason this film isn't lower on this countdown is because I was sometimes entertained by its badness and because the final fight was handled competently. It is certainly not the worst Godzilla film out there, but you can definitely find way better ones out there.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Number 26 - "Godzilla's Revenge" (1969)

I've actually debated about not including this in my countdown, mostly because there are many Godzilla fans that do not see this one, "All Monsters Attack" or "Godzilla's Revenge," as a Godzilla movie.

To be fair, I see where they are coming from on this. Unlike every other Godzilla film where the King of the Monsters plays an active role and most certainly exists in that world, one could argue that Godzilla does not exist in "Godzilla's Revenge." Instead, the film takes place basically in our world, where Godzilla is nothing more than a movie character and made to sell toys. Any time Godzilla is brought up by our main character, Ichiro, a seven-year old boy, the other characters role their eyes, like they are aware that Godzilla isn't real since all of this takes place in Ichiro's imagination.

Since Godzilla isn't really in this movie that makes it hard for me to talk about. What I will say is that, as a kid, I despised this movie, probably more than I hate "Godzilla: Final Wars" now. If you're going to advertise the movie as Godzilla getting is revenge on something, I expect to see Godzilla throwing his biggest rampage of all time, with an unbelievably angry Godzilla ready to destroy plenty of monsters. Instead, what we got was a film about a some little kid who wanders around empty warehouses and gets kidnapped by bank robbers, and ony briefly cuts to Godzilla.

But what really made me angry as a kid was that anytime the movie cut to scenes of Godzilla, they were just stock footage fights taken directly from other movies in the franchise, in particular "Ebirah, Horror of the Deep" (or "Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster") and "Son of Godzilla." Anything cool about this movie was taken directly from other movies, so why even bother with this one? I could just put in my copy of "Son of Godzilla" and watch the best parts of "Godzilla's Revenge" there.

It also did not help that I utterly hated Godzilla's son, Minilla, when I was young. I just thought he was annoying and took away from the better parts of Godzilla movies, and he was even worse here because they gave him an annoying voice. Oh yeah, Godzilla's son talks in this movie, and can change his size too so he can interact with Ichiro. My opinion on Minilla has changed since then, but my thoughts on "Godzilla's Revenge" haven't changed too much (clearly, otherwise it wouldn't be this low on my list).

Strangely enough though, a few years ago I started noticing that some Godzilla fans admitted that they loved "Godzilla's Revenge." For the longest time, I couldn't understand why - all the best parts of the movie were taken from other better movies. But this peaked my curiosity, so I looked into this a bit further.

To these fans, "Godzilla's Revenge" isn't about Godzilla at all, but an entertaining children's story about standing up for yourself against bullies. Ichiro lives in the industrial district in Tokyo, his parents are always working so he spends most of his time playing with his Godzilla toys and imagining what it would be like to meet Godzilla. He has a very vivid imagination and has grown accustom to lonliness.

But anytime he begins to enjoy himself in public, the school bullies seem to be right around the corner ready to ruin Ichiro's fun. At first, he never stands up for himself and just lets the bullies do what they want to him. He nicknames the lead bully "Gabara" and retreats further into his fantasies. Eventually, he goes as far to imagine himself on Monster Island, befriending Minilla as the two watch Godzilla reenact many of his fights from other films. Minilla's life seems to be just as chaotic as Ichiro's though, as Godzilla keeps pressuring his son to be more like him and stand up to a monster that is bullying him, also named Gabara.

The point that lovers of this film make is that they were Ichiro at his age. They played with their Godzilla toys, they imagined what it would be like to meet him, while at the same time having to deal with the difficulties of growing up and standing up for yourself. Ichiro isn't meant to be some annoying little brat that moves the story along, he's supposed to be every little kid who admires some fictional character. His vivid imagination is what makes him so relatable, since we've all done something like that at one point in time.

And to the fans of "Godzilla's Revenge" I say that I understand where you're coming from and I respect that you love the movie on such a deeper level than I ever thought of when I was a kid.

That being said, I think most Godzilla fans either love or hate this movie, and it all depends on how you reacted to it as a child. If you found Ichiro relatable, sympathetic yet at the same time heroic, and didn't come just for the stock footage monster fights, you probably liked "Godzilla's Revenge" then and love it now. But if you didn't care about Ichiro or his struggles through childhood, only interested in who Godzilla has to get his revenge on, then you probably hated this one and that isn't going to change anytime soon.

Personally, I fall into the latter group. While my hatred for this one has died down in recent years, I cannot bring myself to enjoy any of it. This one has a big focus on monster scenes, even if it wants to tell a story about a little kid. So when you make that a large portion of the film, but mostly focus on stock footage, it is bound to leave very little impression on me.

So while I appreciate that love for "Godzilla's Revenge" has grown in recent years, far more than I ever expected, this is still a bad Godzilla movie to me. Maybe it gets better if you don't look at it as a Godzilla film, but I've never seen it as anything else since Godzilla still plays a major role in the movie. This will always be about Godzilla to me, and in that regard, I've always had a bad time with it.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Number 27 - "Godzilla X Megaguirus" (2000)

As a whole, the third series of Godzilla films, known as the Millennium or Shinsei series, is just as spotty and hit-or-miss as the Heisei series, but takes it in the opposite direction of that era. While the Heisei films focused on having a continuous continuity between entries, the Millennium series were mostly self-contained entries, with each movie taking place in its own little universe where none of the other Godzilla films happened outside of the first movie. Even then, these movies would often change the events of the 1954 movie to suit their needs.

We've already seen one film from the Millennium series, "Godzilla: Final Wars" and that didn't turn out so well for anyone. Now we meet another terrible entry in that series, "Godzilla X Megaguirus." This is one of those movies that changes things about the first Godzilla film, namely that after Godzilla's initial rampage on Japan, rather than using the Oxygen Destroyer to kill him, they decide to do nothing and let Godzilla continue to roam the oceans. There is no mention of the Oxygen Destroyer or it's inventor, Dr. Serizawa. They simply just let Godzilla go free after leveling Tokyo.

To me, the Millennium series is a bunch of "What if" questions, but most of the time they're not interesting questions. It can often be great to explore alternate paths through history, especially with established fiction, to see how differently the worlds we've come to know and love would change, as well as its characters. But with "Godzilla X Megaguirus," the question it wants to pose is "What if the Oxygen Destroyer was never used on Godzilla?"

Well, then Godzilla would still be at large. There, that was an easy answer.

If the question is a simple and boring one, then it's going to lead to a simple and boring movie. If they wanted to go with a far more fascinating route, they could have asked something like "What if Dr. Serizawa chose not to use the Oxygen Destroyer on Godzilla?" Not only could they still continue their many of the plotlines this movie starts, but have the addition of Dr. Serizawa still being alive and watching the destruction Godzilla causes, possibly regretting every day his decision to protect his invention from the world. Or maybe he doesn't regret it, thinking that he made the right decision because the Oxygen Destroyer could have killed far more people than Godzilla ever could if it fell into the wrong hands.

There would not only be a plot about a helpless military trying to combat Godzilla, but also one about the most classic human character in a Godzilla movie getting another chance at redemption. I think that would have made for a far more intriguing monster movie while still staying within the confines of the Millennium series. But instead, we get a bare bones monster movie with extremely unlikable characters and poor pacing. Think of "Godzilla X Megaguirus" as the "Godzilla Raids Again" of the Millennium series.

The film opens with a timeline recap, showing how Japan rebuilt after Godzilla attacked in 1954. The country shuts down all of its nuclear facilities, focusing instead on alternative fuel and energy sources, moves the capital of Japan from Tokyo to Osaka and eventually develops a new form of energy based on plasma. But every time the Japanese make further strives in that field, Godzilla shows up and destroys everything they've worked on.

So basically, Godzilla's role in this movie is to come yell at Japanese scientists every time they try to play God.

Eventually, the Japanese defense force gets tired of Godzilla always attacking their country and decides to find a way to get rid of him for good. Rather than developing a new Oxygen Destroyer, they come up with the next most sensible plan - creating a black hole gun!

Normally, I am all for ludicrious plans to deal with equally ludicrious threats, but this is one that I never got into because of how idiotic it is. Disregarding the science of creating an artificial black hole, that could be far more dangerous than Godzilla. Keep in mind that, as far as we currently know, nothing can survive or escape the grasp of a black hole. How do they know the black holes they create to contain Godzilla won't continue on for all eternity and consume our entire solar system? Or that someone won't hijack the black hole gun? Or what if it misses and ends up destroying an entire city (or even the world)? There are so many ways creating black holes on Earth can go horribly wrong that you have to step back a bit and ask yourself, "What the hell were they thinking?"

Of course, this is also Godzilla we're talking about, a monster that survived five years inside of an active volcano and fought off a monster made from machinery from the 23rd century like it was nothing. You also have to ask if this black hole gun will even work on him.

So while scientists are testing out their black hole gun, nicknamed Dimension Tide, they fire off a round and immediately notice dimensional rifts starting to form near the impact sight. They theorize that they've opened up a portal to another dimension. Because I am sure having a gateway to another plane of existence won't go wrong at all.

Immediately following this, a large dragonfly-like monster breaks the barrier between the dimensions and starts to lay her eggs all over the place. And yet the defense force continues to support Dimension Tide, saying it is the only way to defeat Godzilla, despite releasing another dangerous monster upon the world.

This other monster is known as Megaguirus, a giant dragonfly that can suck the energy out of just about anything and can fly really fast. And that's about it. We don't learn more about the dimension Megaguirus comes from, why she feels the need to cause destruction or what her ultimate goal was. She's just another monster created to fight Godzilla, leaving little impact on the story outside of some little kid trying to explain that she's based off the Meganulon and Meganula.

When I first watched "Godzilla X Megaguirus" I felt there was something off about it that I could never put my finger on. It just didn't feel like a good monster movie. While part of this is because of the slow as molasses pacing, taking over an hour before Godzilla even gets close to Japan and spending way too much time with the little kid, I think I finally figured it out on my most recent viewing of the movie, and it comes down to the characters.

Every single character in this film comes across as a smug asshole, where they feel compelled to handle everything on their own and tell anyone trying to help them to piss off. Our protagonist is Kiriko Tsujimori (Misato Tanaka), the leader of the "G-Grasper" unit of the defense force and always seems to have a chip on her shoulder. She constantly feels the need to show off in front of her subordinates, even tell her fellow pilots to sit out their final mission because "It's my show."

There's also Hajime Kudo (Shosuke Tanihara), a young tech-wizard who constantly infiltrates computers and technology that doesn't belong to him. Like Kiriko, he sends away all support and help when Dimension Tide starts to collapse so he can take all the glory when things start going his way. Even the little kid acts like he knows better than anyone else when he starts describing Megaguirus' evolution process, like everyone else is an idiot for not seeing it and he should be the supreme leader of Japan.

Honestly, of all the Godzilla films, "Godzilla X Megaguirus" probably has the most selfish, poorly written and unlikable cast of characters. There wasn't a single person in this cast that I enjoyed or didn't want to see trampled by Godzilla. Since they're a huge focus on the film, that made the majority of it a hard one to get through.

There are many Godzilla movies I have watched over a dozen times because they're so much fun and bring me so much joy. Since the release of "Godzilla X Megaguirus" in 2000, I think I've seen this one two times. It is poorly paced, boring, and has some of the worst characters in the entire franchise. The scenes with Godzilla are few and far between and his fight with Megaguirus is okay but made worse by pacing problems. The only redeeming quality is the music by Michiru Oshima, as it provides some amount of atmosphere and tension. Other than that, don't bother with "Godzilla X Megaguirus."

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Number 28 - "Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth" (1992)


Now we move on to one of the more controversial eras of Godzilla, the Heisei era.

This would be every movie in the franchise that was made between 1984 and 1995, which spans seven movies, most of which are a mixed bag at best. This was also a series that tried to have an ongoing continuity where each film leads into the next one, though very often the continuity nods were small and often insignificant.

The problem I have with the Heisei series, along with most other Godzilla fans, is that most of these movies have no staying power. You want to watch most of them once and then you are done with them, while we'll be seeing many films later on in this list that have plenty of rewatchability. The Heisei series focuses far too much on sparkly effects and selling toys and not enough on having quality storytelling or likeable characters.

Case in point, "Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth" is everything despicable about the Heisei series all rolled into one. As a kid, I sorta liked this film, but mostly found myself skipping the human scenes and going straight to the monster fights, a common occurrence to the bad Godzilla movies when I was young. But even back then, I knew this one wasn't that great. Now that I've had more time to think about it, this one just constantly had me shaking my head at the terrible writing and the characters who are even worse.

The film opens up with our "hero" Takuya Fujita (Tesuya Bessho) literally reenacting the first scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." He's infiltrated some ancient temple in search of its hidden treasure, only to run in to a bunch of booby traps, before stumbling upon the treasure, which sets off everything and the temple starts falling apart. He of course makes it out by the skin of his teeth, only to be immediately apprehended by Japanese officers.

Right off the bat, this movie tells you that it lacks shame. It'll blatantly rip off more successful films in an attempt to make everything seem epic and grand, when in fact its nothing but a poor imitation. Trust me, this will not be the last time this movie does something like that.

After Takuya is taken to prison for...achelology I think, his ex-wife Masako (Satomi Kobayashi) gives him an ultimatum - spend the next fifteen years in prison or go on this dangerous mission with her to a remote island. He chooses the later and he accompanies his wife and the right-hand man to the owner of a company known as Marutomo to their destination of Infant Island.

Upon arriving, they notice how the island looks terrible, with large landslides, empty planes and more Indiana Jones-style traps, this time from "Temple of Doom" when they get stuck on a rope bridge that breaks in half. But these three constantly keep making comments about how terrible man is for causing such destruction. This makes me tilt my head, since the opening of the film establishes that a large typhoon, caused by a huge meteorite that crashed in the south Pacific, was what led to Infant Island looking this way. This wasn't a man-made tragedy, a goddamn meteor caused this.

But of course, with this being the famous Infant Island, the three eventually run into a giant monster egg and two tiny twin fairies known as the Cosmos, the speakers of Mothra.

I am going to take this opportunity to say that something about these twin fairies has always rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe its because they always seem so happy and will always speak the same words at the same time, often very cryptic words like "Mankind will be punished" or "There's no need to worry. Mothra will save us." I always imagine these two laughing on the inside, like they're aware of all our impending doom and just want to watch us suffer. They're like if the twin girls in "The Shining" got control of a giant monster.


Anyway, the Cosmos give the three of them Mothra's backstory - she's been a protector of the Earth for thousands, if not millions, of years and will take care of anything that threatens all life on the planet. But as our protagonists point out, "anything that threatens the planet" could eventually extend to eliminating humanity if they continue to pollute and destroy the planet. Suddenly, our heroes feel guilty for causing such destruction.

Again, I tilt my head at the claims these guys are making. The film never directly shows us how mankind is ruining the planet, nor do these characters tell us exactly what we are doing that's hurting the planet. While it is implied that the film is referring to pollution and deforestation, if you're going to put a "Save the Earth" message in your movie and make claims that we should treat our planet better, then at the very least you should tell us what we're doing wrong, but this movie dances around that question.

It would be like if I saw you were doing math homework and all I said was, "Goddamn, just answer these questions correctly already!" without saying anything else and walked away.

So remember when I said this movie was full of rip-offs of better movies? Well, after our protagonists consult with the Cosmos, they convince these little hell-spawns to take Mothra's egg with them back to Japan, where it will be the main attraction at a new theme park. So not only do the Cosmos see no problem giving up their God to be treated about as well as the world's largest ball of twine, but now we get a plot ripped straight from "Mothra vs. Godzilla."

Of all the routes to go with involving a giant egg, including scientific research, philosophical curiosity or even religious implications, why did they have to go with the same type of story as a near perfect monster movie? There's no way they could tell it better than "Mothra vs. Godzilla" did, not when you open your movie ripping off Indiana Jones. Again, no shame.

But of course, as they transport Mothra's egg back Japan, they run into a massive fire-breathing problem - Godzilla. It seems that same meteorite landed very close to where Godzilla was hibernating (that's a happy convinience!), and now he's pissed off and wants to wreck their ship. At this point, the right-hand man reveals his true intentions and says that he plans to sell both Mothra's egg and the Cosmos to his company, which Takuya fights him for until Mothra erupts from her egg to fight Godzilla.

Before I go any further, I should briefly mention the third monster in this movie, Battra. The Cosmos describe Battra as an evil Mothra, who sees mankind as the true threat to the planet and will stop at nothing until we're all eliminated. To me, Battra is a huge waste of potential - an evil-version of Mothra is a great idea in concept, but the film doesn't do anything with it. If we got to see all of Mothra's unqiue concepts turned on their heads, like a truly evil version of Mothra's fairies or a island that worships Battra like a God and hear their philisophy that would have been amazing. But instead, Battra is just another monster for both Mothra and Godzilla to fight and that's about it.

It also doesn't help that Toho gave Battra the same roar as another one of their monsters, Rodan. Lame.

After Godzilla and Mothra fight for a while, Battra suddenly shows up and interfers in the fight, going after Godzilla specifically. The two start battling underwater while Mothra uses this opportunity to escape. Eventually, an underwater volcano just so happens to erupt right underneath Godzilla and Battra (that's a happy convinience!) and the two are swallowed up by the volcano, with everyone assuming the two are dead, even though this particular Godzilla survived five years inside of a volcano already.

Spoiler alert: Godzilla and Battra survived the underwater volcano! Though this does eventually lead to the coolest scene in the movie: Godzilla making Mt. Fuji erupt so he could climb out of it, with the implication being that he swam through molten lava from the south Pacific all the way to Japan. Badass.

Oh wait, I actually said something good about this movie! Let's balance that out with another movie this one rips off, the original "Mothra." The right-hand goon ends up stealing the Cosmos away from Takuya and Masako when they're not looking and he takes them back to his boss. Almost immediately, the Cosmos start singing to Mothra, the sign that she is on her way get the two of them back.

It's not enough that this film wants to rip off not just one successful Mothra movie, but two. This was the major story focus in the 1961 film - a bunch of greedy selfish assholes steal from Infant Island and Mothra rampages her way through Tokyo to get the fairies back. It gives off the feeling that this movie lacks soul of its own, just bits and pieces borrowed from other films and pieced back together to make it look whole. But if you look in the right places, you see the cracks and how the pieces don't fit together.

So Mothra waltzes through Tokyo, the military cannot do anything, the selfish assholes realize they messed up and ruined their company by bringing the fairies here, and then Mothra starts her metamorphosis into her adult winged-form. At this point, Godzilla, and Battra show up again, Battra changes into his winged form (with a little less pomp-and-circumstance, unlike Mothra who emerges from a cocoon to a crowd of thousands of stunned on-lookers and the Cosmos singing to her: Battra just flips a switch and boom, he has wings). This all leads to our big showdown in the heart of Yokohama between our three monsters.

The fight scenes here are okay. They're pretty standard compared to the other Heisei films, with a particular focus on beam and energy weapons that cause lots of sparks and grunts and very little physical contact. Films like this and the next one, "Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II" are what gave the Heisei series the nickname of "The Beam Wars" or "The Beam Era," where every monster had an energy-based attack, even ones who didn't use them before like Mothra. So because every monster is always throwing beams around that leave no visible damage marks on the opponent, it's often hard to feel invested in these fights when it feels like nothing is being accomplished.

Finally, I didn't care for a single character in this film. Every single one of them felt like they were too far up their own asses to care about anyone other than themselves. Takyua constantly endangers his wife and daughter, as well as all of Japan, on multiple occassions, while Masako hardly ever shows any emotions towards her husband aside from contempt and regret, taking every opportunity to ridicule him. The right-hand goon gets a lot of screentime and he is all over the map, sometimes feeling bad about what he does and then moments later being fine with selling a God to his boss.

And then you have the glue that holds the Heisei series together, Ms. Miki Saegusa. She appears in six of the seven Heisei films and has little to no personality outside of having psychic powers, and mostly just uses those powers to know that Godzilla has already landed in Japan. As you can probably guess, I don't like Miki. She is annoying, pointless, and continues to show the wasted potential in the Heisei series by introducing individuals who have psychic powers and yet never doing anything with it. This is her most minimal role, where she can somehow track the Cosmos when they're lost, but we'll be seeing a lot more of Miki Saegusa soon.

Overall, if you want to watch "Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth," save yourself the trouble of watching this terrible movie and just watch the two great ones that this mostly rip-offs, "Mothra" and "Mothra vs. Godzilla." Otherwise, this is the bottom of the barrell and my pick for the worst Heisei film.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Number 29 - "Godzilla Raids Again" (1955)

Now that we've got the disrespectful and terrible Godzilla movies out of the way, we can move to just the terrible ones!

These next three or four entries are all ones that are simply awfully put together movies that are mostly harmless, but I would still rather watch two hours of C-SPAN than turn on these Godzilla movies again. Of these entires, the worst of them is my pick for the most boring entry in the series - "Godzilla Raids Again."

This one was made less than a year after the release of the first Godzilla film in 1954 and is the only other movie to be shot in black and white. The film also sees the introduction of Godzilla's long time ally, Anguirus (or Anglias, or Angurus, or Anguillas...he has more names and pronunciations than any other Toho monster), the spiky-backed Ankylosaurus that seems to be the only sticking point from this film.

Set roughly a year after the events of the first film, when the first Godzilla was killed by a chemical weapon known as the Oxygen Destroyer, the world is shocked to learn that there is not only a second Godzilla but another monster entirely, noting that these two kaiju love to fight each other. The forces of Japan scramble to come up with a solution to fight off the two monsters, or at the very least keep them away from Japan.

But that's not the important part of the film, because far more than half of "Godzilla Raids Again" is spent with Shoichi Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizumi) and Koji Kobayashi (Minoru Chiaki), two airplane fishing scouts, and their every-day drama. They both live in a small fishing town in a tightly-knit community, Shoichi has a girlfriend whose a radio operator and Koji is terrible with the ladies. They're the ones who find Godzilla and Anguirus on a remote island when Koji's airplane is forced to make a water-landing.

Are you starting to see why "Godzilla Raids Again" isn't the most well-received among Godzilla fans?

Godzilla feels like an after-thought in this movie, with the main focus being some pilots. It would be one thing if we cared about these guys and their struggles, but the film never gives us any reason to like or give a damn about them. Shoichi is too busy talking to his girlfriend that half the time he doesn't do his job, and Koji is dim-witted and too focused on finding love. These elements would be fine if this was just a Japanese melodrama about finding love in a small fishing town, but this is the direct sequel to one of the darkest and most disturbing giant monster movies of all time. Everything involving these guys doesn't feel like it belongs here.

While "Godzilla Raids Again" has one of the shortest runtimes of any Godzilla movie, just 82 minutes, the pacing is excruciatingly slow. While we get a glimpse of Godzilla and Anguirus fighting at the beginning, it lasts all of ten seconds, and then we don't see the two again for what feels like an eternity. We're given a recap of the events of the first film through recycled footage, though with no audio or music, so it's about as exciting as your uncle showing you slides from his vacation to Mt. Rushmore. Then the military spends about ten minutes trying to come up with a plan and every single general takes his sweet-ass time to give his two cents.

And you would think that once Godzilla and Anguirus show up that would be the focus of the movie. But nope, there is a long scene dealing with prisoners trying to escape while being transported, only to set most of Osaka on fire, and Shoichi's girlfriend constantly looking at the destruction from about five miles away at a safe location. To be fair, this leads to the only cool shots of the movie, as we slowly but surely see Osaka get engulfed in flames.

My point is that it takes this movie more than half of its runtime before we finally get to see Godzilla and Anguirus throw down. More than 45 minutes of slow, dull, uninteresting conversations that feel like they don't amount to anything.

Even when we do get to the monster fights, the camera work gets strange. When focusing on solo shots of the two kaiju, their movements seem slow and lumbering, as they should be. But when the two are forced to fight, the camera movement speeds up to 11 and every little movement feels unnatural, like Godzilla and Anguirus are on drugs.

But strangely enough, after the two fight for a little while, Godzilla actually kills Anguirus and just leaves Osaka. Yet the film isn't over. In fact, there's still about 25 minutes left. And we end up spending most of with the pilots again and their drama. The big climatic battle between your two monsters wasn't the end of the movie? We had to get 20 more minutes with these forgettable characters before one last showdown with Godzilla?

The film could have ended after everything in Osaka and our torture could have ceased! But hey, we had know if Koji ended up getting a girlfriend, right?

This leads to one last scene with Godzilla where the local fishing pilots literally start bombing the snowy mountains around him to encase the monster in ice. Let that sink in for a moment - you plan to surround a giant fire-breathing irradiated lizard with snow and ice. Yeah, I'm sure that will hold him for all of five minutes. Also this one mountain seems to have an endless supply of snow, since I swear these guys bomb the mountain about fifty times, each one as uninteresting as the last one.

There's one last thing I'd like to point about "Godzilla Raids Again" and that is the English dub. I won't normally talk about the differences between the Japanese version and English version in these reviews, but this one deserves special mention. Mostly because, in the English dub, all mention of Godzilla is removed from the movie. Instead, the movie is called "Gigantis, the Fire Monster" and Godzilla has now become the titular Gigantis. They also replace most of Godzilla's roars with Anguirus' roars, but don't do anything with Anguirus' roars, making it twice as confusing when you cannot tell which monster is roaring.

The explanation the scientists give for this is to say that Gigantis and Anguirus are of the same species. I don't know if any of these scientists looked at a picture of these two monsters that look nothing alike or if they're blind, but in any case I'm calling bullcrap.

In fact, I call bullcrap on the entire English dub; it takes an already slow, boring movie and makes it even harder to get through, with two monsters that have the same roar and below-average dubbing for the 1950s.

Overall, "Godzilla Raids Again" is not only the most boring Godzilla film, but also the most forgettable. You could marathon the entire series but skip this one and ultimately nothing of value would be lost. There are no note-worthy scenes here, the characters are unlikable, and the pacing is atrocious. As a direct follow-up to the first Godzilla film, this film misses all the marks.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Number 30 - "Godzilla" (1998)

Part of me feels like I shouldn't be reviewing this movie. This one is so far away from how other Godzilla films feel and act that it should not count. The 1998 "Godzilla" is like an alien trying and failing to blend in with a group of humans. But, it has Godzilla in its name and a monster that uses bits of Godzilla's roar, so I guess I'll give my thoughts on the film.

I remember going to see "Godzilla" in theaters when I was eight years old on Memorial Day. I had been excited to see this movie for months, thinking how amazing it would be see my favorite monster on the big screen. Then I went to the theater and was almost immediately disappointed.

Keep in mind that I was in second grade at the time, so it was very easy to keep me entertained. Just put on something pleasant or slightly intriguing and I won't move for hours. But even as a little eight year old, I was so bored and uninterested in "Godzilla" that it still blows me away to this day. How could this film mess up one of the most simple concepts - have Godzilla rampage through New York City and have lots of eye-candy visuals. That shouldn't be hard for the director of "Independence Day," Roland Emmerich, which had some of the most memorable movie images of the 1990s when the Empire State Building and the White House were destroyed. But like "Godzilla: Final Wars," the filmmakers found a way to screw it up royally.

The film follows Dr. Niko Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick), a scientist who is researching the growth rate of earthworms around Chernobyl (fascinating work, I'm sure). He gets called in by the military to study contaminated areas in Panama and Jamaica that had recently been attacked by a giant monster. Unbeknownst to Niko and the military that same monster suddenly shows up in New York City and makes a slight mess.

And when I say "slight mess" I'm not being sarcastic - to start things off, the monster only slightly damages the harbor around NYC. Throws a fishing boat here, knocks part of a roof off a building there, nothing that cannot be fixed in a day or so. I'm not even sure Godzilla killed anyone in first attack on the city.

So the military is called into deal with the monster, and they do a real bang-up job at first. To start things off, they lose track of the beast almost immediately. In a city filled to the brim with vast skyscrapers and state-of-the-art technology, you lose track of a giant dinosaur. This thing isn't like a spy that can easily blend into the background of a city with eight-million people, it is a monster the size of a small building. The film wants you to believe this is because the monster is an expert in stealth, but I don't buy that for a second. It's because this military sucks at their job.

Don't believe me? Then I give you exhibit two of the moronic military and wasted potential - After they have successfully drawn the monster out of hiding, they panic and open fire all their weapons on the creature...except every single missile and bomb misses and destroys the surrounding buildings. A whole squardon of helicopters chases down the monster through the city, while the monster just casually avoids the buildings causing no real damage, and the military continually fires everything they have got only to miss and destroy major landmarks in the New York area, like the Chrysler Building.

In other words, it's not the monster that destroys New York, but the incompetent military that never bothers to stop and aim at their target.

But anyway, let's address the elephant in the room - I have yet to refer to the monster in this movie as Godzilla. That's because, for all intents and purposes, it's not Godzilla. You don't need to be a detective to look at this monster and the classic design of Godzilla to see these two look absolutely nothing alike. This monster looks and behaves like a slightly bigger T-Rex with a few spikes on its shoulders. It is fast, hunched over like most dinosaurs and loves to eat fish. You know, those classic Godzilla traits!

I'd be willing to forgive all that if we got the two things Godzilla is mostly known for - his indestructibility and ability to breathe fire. And we don't get either of those. The best we get is that he can breathe a flammable gas that can cause a bit of fire when exposed to a flame, but that's not even close to being the same thing. Then, as the film ends, the mosnter gets caught in Brooklyn Bridge, giving the military a clean shot at him, and he gets killed by just four or five standard missiles.

This Godzilla is pathetic, with a lame design and no cool abilities that make him standout. The only reason he's remembered today is because of the name, the only thing he has in common with his Japanese counterpart. Which is why most Godzilla fans have taken a liking to the name GINO, an accronym for "Godzilla In Name Only." What's even more hilarious is that Toho bought the rights to this monster in the early 2000s and renamed it to Zilla, because this character is unworthy of having "God" in its name.

This also leads to the only slightly good scene in "Godzilla: Final Wars" where Godzilla and Zilla fight, with Zilla being utterly oblierated, but the fight is over in five seconds so we don't get any time to savor the defeat. It's also set to a Sum 41 metal song that feels very inappropriate for that fight.

If you asked me a few years ago why I hated this movie so much, I would have told you it was only because of how disrespectful it was to the character of Godzilla. Other than how it treated a classic character, it was an okay B-movie. That if the monster wasn't called Godzilla and they changed the title, this film would have been fine.

Nowadays, while I'm still upset at how awful Godzilla is handled, I have come to realize this is a terrible movie all-around. Aside from the military that sucks at every aspect of their jobs, the characters are all selfish arrogant pricks who all think the world revolves around them. They don't care if the city or the world is in danger, they just want to use this opportunity for their personal needs, like Audrey Timmonds (Maria Pitillo) who sells out her boyfriend and ruins his career to get a news story that doesn't even go her way. Or Philippe Roche (Jean Reno), a French agent who thrusts "duty" upon himself by trying to bring down the monster without anyone's help by sneaking into the city and blowing up a nest full of velociraptor eggs.

It also doesn't help that none of these characters seem to learn anything or change. Audrey feels sorry for actions getting her boyfriend fired, but by the end of the film she still comes across as the same smug douchebag who will do whatever it takes to get a story. Character development is non-existent in this movie.

There is also a strange sense of hate in this movie, like no one in this film trusts or likes other characters. Characters like Dr. Tatopoulos, Audrey, and her "quirky" cameraman Animal (Hank Azaria) lack chemistry because they only ever show contempt for each other. Even a giant monster destroying their city doesn't bring out positive emotions for other people.

But the oddest feeling of resentment comes from two side characters, the mayor of New York simply named Ebert, and his aide named Gene. This movie doesn't even try to hide it - these two are supposed to be parodies of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, the famous film critics. These two act like bumbling morons, with the Ebert character being obsessed with candy and Gene basically being a "Yes man" to everything Ebert says.

Of all the things to parody in your giant monster movie, why Siskel and Ebert? My best guess is that the two of them gave director Roland Emmerich bad reviews on his previous films, including "Stargate" and "Independence Day." Here's an idea Mr. Emmerich, instead of handling negative criticism like a five-year old, you take what they say to heart and learn to make better movies. Because if that's your response to someone saying your movie sucks, then it comes across like Siskel and Ebert know more about good filmmaking than you do.

But the wierdest part of all this? Nothing that bad happens to the Siskel and Ebert parodies in the movie. You'd think if Emmerich hates the two enough to put them in his monster movie that he'd have his giant creature either eat or stomp them, but they're fine at the end. Why go to all this trouble if they don't have a gruesome ending?

Overall, "Godzilla" is just a bad time. If it's not resorting to terrible disaster movie cliches, it is doing a disservice to the character of Godzilla. The action scenes are irritating due to the inept military and devoid of tension because of how unlikable these characters are. Like with "Godzilla: Final Wars" save yourself the time and headache and stay away from this movie.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Number 31 - "Godzilla: Final Wars" (2004)

There aren't many movies that make me angry. Some leave a bad taste in my mouth when they squander great things, while others make me annoyed through bad storytelling or terrible acting. But once in a blue moon, a film will come along that makes me want to pull my hair out and reduce me to the point where watching Barney the Dinosaur sounds better than watching this crap.

"Godzilla: Final Wars" brings this kind of anger out in me. It is not only my pick for the worst Godzilla film, but one of the worst movies I have ever seen. This is not just because of generally bad filmmaking, third-grade level writing, and acting so bad that even Ed Wood would want to try filming the scene again, but a misunderstanding and disrespect towards the source material that it takes all the fun out of the movie.

It's bad enough that "Final Wars" is poorly put together, but then it had to go and defecate over everything that was awesome about Godzilla.

"Godzilla: Final Wars" was released in 2004, the year of Godzilla's fiftieth anniversary, a milestone landmark for any franchise to reach, especially one that was normally seeing the release of a new film every year. At this point, "Final Wars" was the 28th entry in the series (not counting the 1998 American film, but we will get to that) and Toho wanted to celebrate this occasion with a movie that honored the tradition of Godzilla. Toho spent a ridiculous amount of money making this movie, roughly two billion yen or 19.5 million American dollars. At the time, this was the third most expensive movie Toho had ever made. That's not even taking into account the advertising "Final Wars" had, which was advertised all over the world due to Godzilla's fiftieth.

Toho tried to pull all the stops out for this one - Bringing back as many classic Godzilla monsters as they could, attempting to make the movie feel like a classic old Godzilla movie, and for the first time, having not only monster fights, but also human fights!

And they messed all of that up!

Oh sure, it has the largest roster of Toho kaijus, ranging from the obvious like Mothra and Rodan to the more obscure like Hedorah and Ebirah, but most of these monsters are on screen for less than a minute, serve no purpose to the plot, don't act anything like they did in previous movies, and most of them are killed off unceremoniously. The majority of these monsters are just here to fill up screen time and to get the audience's nostalgia hype up.

Does the film feel like a classic Godzilla movie at any point? Absolutely not. It might take plot elements from other Godzilla movies, in particular "Invasion of Astro-Monster" (or "Godzilla vs. Monster Zero") by revolving around aliens trying to conquer earth by controlling monsters, but the Godzilla franchise wasn't the first to cover that type of plot and it will not be the last. Instead, the movie focuses on its bland cast of idiots who would rather punch their way through their problems. "Final Wars" ends up borrowing plot elements from about a dozen different movies, in particular "The Matrix" because of our characters choices in fashion and its over-reliance of kung-fu fight scenes, the "X-Men" franchise because of its mutant characters who can fight a giant sea monster with wire-fu, which isn't nearly as cool as it sounds, and the "Star Wars" franchise because of one scene near the end that feels like a carbon copy of the Death Star trench run. "Final Wars" is a strange hodgepodge of cinematic references, doing none of them well at all, and the one it does the worst is the Godzilla series.

And those human fight scenes? They take up the majority of the movie. In a film that was supposed to celebrate fifty years of Godzilla and represent everything great about the franchise, instead of showing some dream monster match-ups like, for example, King Ghidorah and MechaGodzilla fighting Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and Anguirus, we instead get lots of martial arts scenes that were cut from "The Matrix Reloaded" for being too silly.

But the absolute worst thing that "Final Wars" does is something simple - In the film's two hour runtime, Godzilla is on-screen for all of twelve minutes.

This was supposed to be Godzilla's big shining moment. Fifty years of making movies, creating an entire genre of filmmaking and some of the most iconic monsters of all time, and a franchise that had has more entries than Star Wars, Star Trek and the Lord of the Rings combined. And the filmmakers cannot even be bothered make him the central focus of the movie or give him a fight that lasts more than two minutes.

That is not just bad filmmaking, it is downright disrespectful and insulting to Godzilla and his fans. We didn't watch any of the previous Godzilla movies for the chance that the humans would fight. We came for Godzilla. We came because of his strength and his awe. Something so simple as hearing his roar or watching his spines glow bright blue brings a smile to so many people's faces, and it comes across like these filmmakers don't give a damn about any of that. They would rather imitate other popular franchises poorly, instead of paying tribute to a legacy that is older than most of the people working on this movie.

It makes "Godzilla: Final Wars" feel empty and hollow; insincere in its "love" for Godzilla and his monster companions and never giving the audience enough time to truly appreciate the short monster scenes.

Godzilla doesn't even appear until the halfway point in the movie, and then he proceeds to get into many monster fights that last less than 30 seconds. In these fights, Godzilla basically walks right through his opponents, including Gigan, Zilla (the 1998 American Godzilla - yes, he is in this movie), the giant spider Kumonga, the giant mantis Kamakuras, Hedorah, and Ebirah. These monsters do little more than slow Godzilla down as he makes his way from Antarctica to Tokyo. So not only are the fights too short to enjoy, but Godzilla expends zero effort to defeat them that it takes all the drama and tension out of the scene. One blast of his atomic ray is enough to defeat most of these monsters.

I have seen fight scenes in "My Little Pony" that are more exciting to watch than these ones. At least I will not miss those fights if I have to blink.

To add to this growing mountain of crap, "Godzilla: Final Wars" gets even worse because its boring. For a film that is basically action scenes galore, and often has the entire fate of the world at stake, the pacing is so slow in the early parts that it makes everything dull. "Final Wars" spends its first hour trying to build the mystery behind the alien invaders, the Xiliens, when anyone with two functioning brain cells can figure out that they are evil and want to destroy us.

Then there are the main cast of characters, including the bland Neo-ripoff Ozaki (Masahiro Matsuoka), his mutant rival who is about as mindless as a newborn puppy Kazama (Kane Kosugi), the supermodel turned biologist that can hack any computer (because biology means computer hacking in this world) Miyuki (Rei Kikukawa), and the American captain who only speaks in one-liners (Don Frye).

By the way, Don Frye made a name for himself in Japan through their equivalent of the UFC, called Pride. In other words, he's a boxer/wrestler/fighter turned into an actor for this one movie. Congratulations Toho, you've hired the MMA version of Stone Cold Steve Austin or Hulk Hogan to be one of the lead actors in your giant monster movie attempting to celebrate fifty years of Godzilla. Thanks for continuing the sad tradition of turning wrestlers into movie actors and proving that it often fails miserably.

In any case, the film gives us no reason to care about our protagonists. No humanity to latch on to, since they all act like spoiled brats who will throw a temper tantrum if they don't get what they want. Now imagine that those idiot are in charge of saving the world from aliens and monsters and you might start to see why these characters suck.

As we get further up this countdown and move away from the bottom, I'll be pointing out any redeeming factors these Godzilla films have to offer and show that there is something of value. "Godzilla: Final Wars" has nothing of value. It is devoid of joy and awe, never once making an attempt to develop its own identity. It does a terrible job of trying to pay tribute to Godzilla with how little it cares about the character or his history, with little more than some references with no substance behind them. This is the "Epic Movie" of the Godzilla franchise - it is best left forgotten and never talked about again.