Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack
Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.
"I'm going to get the guy
who stole my pupils!"
Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (GMK for short, and heaven knows it needs a "for short") is the most eagerly awaited Godzilla movie in years. It was directed by Shusuke Kaneko, the man who revitalized the giant-turtle-monster Gamera series in the '90s. Expectations were high when it was announced that he would take on Godzilla, and even higher when he planned to make an epic movie starring four popular monsters. (Besides the three in the title, Baragon, from Frankenstein Conquers the World, also appears.) It will be a disappointment to some when we report that Kaneko has created a good movie, but not the great movie for which fans were hoping. As yet, Shusuke's outstanding trilogy of Gamera films remains the high-water mark for kaiju (Japanese giant monster) flicks.
GMK opens with a lecture on the problem of giant monsters by Lieutenant General Tachibana. Tachibana addresses the members of the Japanese Self Defense Force, and repeats the government's official story that Godzilla was defeated in 1954 by military might and hasn't been seen since. (This Godzilla sequel, like others before it, ignores all of the previous movies except for the first.) There have been other monsters since then, however, including a giant lizard in America that may or may not have been Godzilla. ("In the U.S., they said it was Godzilla, but Japanese scientists denied it.") However, one theme of the movie is that Godzilla doesn't seem real to the modern generation, so we have to assume that's it has been a long while since any monster has attacked the Japanese mainland.
For the best results, plant your
Ghidorahs early in the season.
The general's daughter, Yuri, works as reporter for a quasi-documentary show called Digital Q. While on an assignment to create a Blair Witch-type legend in a small Japanese village, Yuri runs across a real story. An old man who appears and disappears without warning explains that a recent sequence of mysterious events in Japan are indications that the guardian monsters of legend are being awakened, to defend the island of Japan from Godzilla. Godzilla has recently reappeared off the coast of Japan so Yuri can't quite disregard his wild statements.
After half an hour of holding us in suspense with half-glimpses of creature parts and giant monster silhouettes, Kaneko unleashes his kaiju upon the audience. Baragon bounds about the Japanese countryside like an overeager dog. Mothra appears in larval form and punishes a gang of teen vandals by imprisoning them in silk cocoons. And then, there is the event giant monster fans have been awaiting nearly ten years: Shusuke Kaneko's Godzilla emerges from the sea to ravage Tokyo.
Were pebbles the Zip drives
of ancient times?
The design of the Kaneko Godzilla is impersonal and fearsome, as unlike the "superhero" Godzilla as it could be while still remaining recognizable as the big G. Its eyes are pupil-less and cold, the spines not quite as exaggerated as they were in Godzilla 2000, and his overall profile is more dinosaur-like than it's ever been. None of the trademark personality of the King of the Monsters is evident in this incarnation. These things are all intentional, designed to set this Godzilla apart from his previous selves and establish him as a ghastly, unstoppable force pitted against Japan's "god monster" defenders. Much like Kaneko's revamp of Gamera, the result is more monster, less "friend to children."
The action, too, is scarier and more brutal than in other Godzilla films. Even Baragon, who is the creature most like his kin in the good-natured monster romps of the '60s, leaves death and destruction in his wake. These are not merely rubber-suited gents knocking over papier-mâché buildings these are horrific, god-like forces of nature, laying waste to cities and leaving twisted, blackened bodies behind. One of the most effective demonstrations of the fear these monsters can inspire is the scene in which a woman is stricken with terror as the entire contents of her restaurant kitchen come clattering to the floor the result of Godzilla merely passing by. Other films have depicted the interactions between giant monsters and the "real" world; even the American Godzilla of 1998 pointed out some of the convenient falsehoods of the playful giant creature films. (How exactly did Japan withstand multiple monster attacks without their infrastructure collapsing entirely?) GMK contains the most realistic depiction yet at least until the final showdown.
"I smell bacon!"
All of these things are marks in the movie's favor; we expected that Kaneko would remake characters like Mothra and King Ghidorah to his own liking, and he doesn't disappoint when it comes to most of the special effects. What the film lacks, however, is a compelling story, or at least the running time to fully flesh out the story that it does have. Kaneko throws a good deal of legend and mysticism into a genre that has recently been one of science fiction, not spiritual fantasy. This is an interesting direction in which to take the series (it harkens back to the films of the 1960s), but it really needs more development. One of the concepts most lacking in explanation is that of Godzilla's true nature, which we will not reveal, but which is never really resolved.
Given that each of these four monsters have headlined their own films, asking them to share a mere 105 minutes of screen time seems patently unfair. Mothra in particular gets the shaft, with her (?) larval form appearing only for a few seconds. In a throwaway bit of dialogue, Ghidorah is connected to Orochi (see Orochi: The Eight Headed Serpent) and seems to play the central role in the guardian monster hierarchy. This "leader of the pack" role is particularly ironic in light of the fact that this movie's plot is an inversion of Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster. Baragon is probably the most memorable of the supporting monsters, just because we've seen so little of him before. Kaneko's original plans were to cast Baragon, Varan and Anguiras as the three guardians. As those monsters are all pretty similar, it really wouldn't have mattered if one got more or less screen time. They certainly would have been more believable as guardian monsters of Japan. GMK must gloss over a few details to explain how Mothra could have anything to do with Japanese mythology.
"...oh, that was me!"
Kaneko seems unable to bring the innovations he brought to the Gamera movies here. Godzilla himself is fearsome, but as he is both the villain and the major focus of the film, he cannot be the misunderstood, grandiose figure that Kaneko made of Gamera. Sure, Gamera was scary and occasionally stepped on innocent bystanders or made crispy critters of the people who were between him and his foe, but that was an interesting exploration of the duality of a kaiju anti-hero. He was the monster you could root for. Gamera's wounds seemed all the more tragic because the humans who inflicted them were the same people who would depend upon the monstrous turtle to save their butts from other monsters. Godzilla, on the other hand, is the bad guy, and he ends up a victim of Kaneko's attempts to make him into an angry force of nature. How can an audience identify with unstoppable, inhuman rage? Still, the big G is the one who puts butts in seats, so the monster "heroes" of the picture are put on the back burner and the whole film suffers as a result.
West Nile isn't the biggest
The other major disappointment of this movie is that the human characters have so little to do. Yuri just follows the various monsters around Japan. Her story arc merely revolves around the young reporter conquering her fears and achieving some honest journalistic credits, and her father doesn't really do anything until the very end of the movie. In the best kaiju films, the human side of the story brings meaning and empathy to the larger battles carried out by the rubber-suited actors. GMK's human players exist merely to inject some mystic hokum and to explain the monsters' motivation for butting heads instead of sharing the contents of a bullet train as an appetizer.
A scene from the next episode of the Anna Nicole Show?
The final battle between the monsters occurs in Tokyo with all our main characters and monsters converging in one place. The special effects here, as throughout the movie, are remarkable and Kaneko continues his obsession with monster mutilation. This sequence is a return to type, and were it not for the unusual sight of Mothra's wings on fire, it could be a fight scene from any of the recent Godzilla pictures. As always with these kaiju battles, the human characters breathe a sigh of relief when it's all over. While we did not quite sigh with relief when the movie was over, we will confess to certain feelings of anticlimax.
Godzilla fans worldwide will tune in to GMK regardless of our analysis. Some will wag their fingers at us for daring to compare Godzilla to Gamera. Others will take that analysis to deeper, geekier places than we dare go. In the end, the legend of Godzilla will continue, and this will be one of the better-looking entries in the series, albeit one of unfulfilled potential.