"Mechagodzilla? Again? I've
killed him three times!"
Is it possible to become accustomed to attacks by Godzilla? The human characters in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (the latest installment in the famous Toho series), take a siege by Godzilla as something barely worth mentioning, and that helps to make this the Godzilla movie with the least compelling non-monster scenes yet. Anyone who saw Godzilla vs Megaloncan tell you -- that's really saying something.
A scene from the end of the
Toho remake of Bringing Up Baby.
The movie starts out with a neat sequence in which Godzilla lands in Japan during a storm. The local military mobilizes quickly against the monster, attacking Godzilla with tanks and "Anti-Megalosaurus" maser weapons. The weapons aren't terribly effective, but Godzilla seems annoyed and eventually leaves. In the confusion of the battle one of the maser truck drivers, Akane (Yuriko Shaku), inadvertently allows another army vehicle to drive off a cliff, where it gets crushed flat by Godzilla's footfalls. Imagine filling out the insurance forms for that accident.
"Hi soldier! I'm Kenny, and I just
got back from Sweden!"
Next up comes the obligatory scene in all the "Millennium" series films in which the history of Godzilla thus far is explained -- and often redefined. The creators of these alternate "histories" usually begin with the big G's first appearance in 1954 and then either ignore all other Godzilla films, or choose some subset of the previous films to set the stage for the continuity of the current film. In Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, this exposition is delivered by way of a conversation between Prime Minister Tsuge (Kumi Mizuno, veteran of such Toho films as Matango, Gorath, and Godzilla vs Monster Zero) of Japan and her Science Minster Igarashi (Akira Nakao). Godzilla attacked Tokyo in 1954 (as seen in Godzilla) and was killed by the oxygen destroyer. In a rather clever use of previous Toho history, we learn that Japan was then attacked by a succession of monsters, including Mothra (as seen in Mothra) and Guilia (as seen in War of the Gargantuas). We also know that Kameba, the giant turtle from Yog: Monster From Space will be appearing in the sequel to Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, and it seems safe to assume that other Godzilla-less Toho monster movies occurred in this continuity, including Rodan, Varan the Unbelievable, and Frankenstein Conquers the World. The Godzilla in this film must be a new creature, though there is no hint as to where it could have come from, and no one in the film expresses any interest in figuring that out. Monsters are inevitable to these people, like typhoons.
"...that's what this movie needs
more of... Godzilla!"
Because Godzilla will undoubtedly return to trample more of Japan's citzenry, Igarashi initiates a new plan for some anti-Godzilla weaponry. A number of Japan's top scientists are recruited to build a mechanical Godzilla. We've often wondered why exactly Japan's scientists felt it necessary to create robot versions of monsters in order to fight them (doesn't that just mean two giant monsters to crush buildings?), but this film at least provides an interesting rationale for the creation of such a robot, which we won't reveal here. Suffice it to say that the new mechanical monster carries a large variety of weapons and is partially controlled by a DNA computer that uses DNA recovered from the body of the original Godzilla! It's never clear why a DNA computer is necessary at all, and you don't have to be Stephen Hawking to tell that a Godzilla-based DNA computer is a bad idea -- a "letting Albert Pyun direct a Captain America movie" kind of bad idea.
Mechagodzilla - now with a
One of the chief scientists on the Mechagodzilla project is Dr. Yahara (Shin Takuma), who comes equipped with this movie's Kenny, his daughter Sara (Haruna Onodera). Yahara also has the hots for Akane, who, despite the driving mishap in the opening scene, has been assigned to the piloting crew of the new Mechagodzilla, dubbed Kiryu. (We had a few flashbacks to this summer's S.W.A.T. when we saw Akane's reinstatement to Team Godzilla, but the distinct absence of anyone approaching Sam Jackson's entertainment value in this movie quickly put further comparison to rest.) This situation sets up many, many conversations about Akane's lack of a social life and whether or not she should get closer to people. Other subplots include Akane's clashes with a team member whose brother was killed in her previous accident, and the political machinations that result from Igarashi's rise to the position of Prime Minister.
These parts of the film mention Godzilla so rarely that almost all awe is removed from the character. Far from the horrific force of nature he was previously, Godzilla is little more than a distraction in this film, or worse, simply a Maguffin to spur the characters into action. Pardon us -- shouldn't you guys be cowering in fear when a stories-tall monster goes tromping by? Shouldn't the thought of being trampled to death by a monster who has proven his penchant for strolling through cityscapes occupy your every waking moment? The terror so exquisitely extracted from actors in GMK, the previous Godzilla film, is nowhere to be found in this installment, and we felt its absence keenly.
It's all fun and games until someone
puts out Godzilla's eye.
Enough about the puny humans, what about the monsters? The new Mechagodzilla looks inspired by the popular Zoids toy series, and has good screen presence. They've made this Mechagodzilla very agile and fast with the help of computer generated imagery, and the range of missile and beam weapons featured in this robot is invigorating, as if Toho finally got in touch with their anime-obsessed, gadget-loving audience. Godzilla comes off less well. The much smaller head, compared to the Godzilla 2000 Millennium body that is the basis for this design, isn't as jarring as we thought it would be, and this suit seems capable of better expressiveness than the Millennium suit. But there are a few scenes in the movie where Godzilla appears to be portrayed by an empty suit that is simply propped up on the set. Sure, even the older, higher budget films would use an empty suit when Godzilla would get thrown through the air, but here the empty suit is used when Godzilla is standing on the ground. The complete lack of movement is disconcerting, and pulled us out of the film every time. There are, however, a number of good miniature cityscapes, including one of a popular Japanese water park, which falls at the hands (feet?) of Godzilla in an early scene.
Despite some great monster fight action this is, overall, the weakest Godzilla film in recent memory. Luckily Toho has one more chance to make it right as for the first time in nearly a decade the next Godzilla film, Godzilla X Mothra X Mechagodzilla: Tokyo S.O.S., will be a direct sequel to this film. However, we aren't exactly thrilled that Toho will shoehorn Mothra into a movie that features MechaGodzilla, a monster who has faced off against Godzilla in four movies, especially considering Mothra has co-starred in five films with Godzilla and four of her own. Aren't there other critters in the Toho pantheon who deserve a revival? And are there no original monster ideas left?