Tag Godzilla

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Monsters of mass destruction

Godzilla and the other giant monsters of Earth are being held on Monster Island, a virtual prison which allows them to live in peace but will not permit them to escape its boundary. But then suddenly the monsters start appearing all over the world, wreaking havoc on major cities from Beijing to New York. It turns out that aliens called the Kilaaks have taken control of Monster Island and are using the Earth’s monsters to destroy the planet.

 

Like Universal did when they ran out of ideas for their famous horror monsters back in the 40s, Toho studios turned to pitting their famous giant monsters against each other in order to bypass the creative drought that the long-standing series had suffered. With Godzilla having already destroyed Japan back in 1954, how many times could the giant lizard repeat the same trick without it getting repetitive? The answer was once because in the sequel, Godzilla Raids Again, the big G was pitted against Anguirus. From then on, Godzilla found himself competing against a slew of giant monsters from Mothra to Rodan and even King Kong. After a few lacklustre efforts, Godzilla’s popularity was on the decline and so Destroy All Monsters was dreamt up as an all-guns blazing swansong to end the series on a high. Ironically, the film made Godzilla more popular than ever before and it still ranks up there amongst many fans favourite Godzilla film.

I must admit that I’m one of those fans. Destroy All Monsters is not just the pinnacle of the daft 60s and 70s Godzilla films where the monster became Earth’s saviour but it’s also an entertaining sci-fi film which delivers a whole mix of light-hearted action, comedy and groovy special effects. But let’s cut right to the chase– there is one sole reason why this is one of the, if not the most, popular Godzilla films and that’s because of the massive roster of monsters that make an appearance of some kind here. Toho really pulled out all the stops for this one, assembling a gigantic cast of monsters from their vast catalogue of films. Not only do you get Godzilla, the monsters with their standalone films like Mothra and Rodan, and previous series baddie King Ghidorah, but you get appearances from Anguirus, Spiega, Minya, Gorosaurus, Varan, Baragon and Manda. Some have more to do than others: Anguirus and Gorosaurus play integral roles in the final battle whilst Baragon and Varan literally have blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos (due to how poorly-maintained the monsters suits both were). But the fact that they’re all here adds a uniqueness to the film that would not be replicated until Godzilla: Final Wars.

The vast array of monsters involved lends the film to all manner of destruction. Mothra attacks Beijing, Rodan does in Moscow, Godzilla takes on New York and they all converge on Tokyo for one of the series’ most impressive city-stomping scenes yet. Not one or two but four monsters unleash their rage upon Japan at the half-way point of the film. Director Ishirô Honda really puts on a spectacular show of destruction with the monsters first smashing Tokyo to pieces and then the army mustering whatever they can to try and stop them. This scene alone in Destroy All Monsters represents a high point for the Showa series of films (those made up until 1975) with its use of pyrotechnics and miniatures – the knowledge that had been employed in the previous Godzilla films all comes to fruition. All of the material is new and there’s no use of stock footage from earlier film, though ironically enough since the footage here was so good, it crops up again and again in future films.

These scenes of miniature city-mashing pale in comparison to the film’s finale, an all-out battle royale featuring the monsters fighting at the foot of Mount Fuji. Yes it’s just a bunch of guys in suits hitting each other but it’s the series’ most entertaining moment and something that the series really tried to emulate in later films to no avail. It’s a bit one-sided as the Earth monsters team up to fight King Ghidorah but the space monster holds his own. The editing during this scene is top drawer, there’s plenty of special effects flying around and the camera does a good job of capturing the mayhem and, as the news reporter covering the scene proclaims, the “monsters’ cries of horror and sudden death.” It’s a crazy fight which only takes up about six minutes of screen time but it’s the most memorable six minutes of the entire series.

You’ll be much more inclined to forgive the silly alien story when there is the promise of a massive monster mash at the end of the film but the plot about the Kilaaks trying to take over the Earth is one of the most charming of the series. Yes, the alien invasion plot had already been used in the previous film, Invasion of the Astro Monsters, and would go on to be a series’ stalwart over the coming years but this is the best incarnation of it. Its charming comic books antics pit long-time Godzilla actor Akira Kubo into the hot seat as an astronaut who leads his crew on the mission to put a stop to the Kilaaks’ plan. The aliens, whilst not displaying the greatest sense of fashion in the world, are slimy and cocky and it all adds up to a rousing sub-plot which enhances the monster action. The cast is filled with a whole array of regular Godzilla faces and they’re all great.

Series composer Akira Ifukube brings to life the film with one of his most famous scores. From the opening chords of the pumping title theme to the classic Rodan theme playing and more sinister musical numbers for the Kilaaks, Ifukube populates the film with some sterling music which accompanies the scenes brilliantly, enhancing the action with bombastic nature or underscoring the devious nature of the alien invaders. Say what you want about the nature of the Godzilla films but Ifukube’s work across the series is outstanding.

 

Destroy All Monsters represents the pinnacle of what the Godzilla films came to embody and has rarely been matched for its popularity since. Holding itself firmly on the right side of the camp border and delivering some of the series’ most memorable set pieces, for sheer spectacle alone this one has never been topped. It’s essential viewing for not only Godzilla lovers but fans of kaiju the world over.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Roasting Anything In Its Path!

A spotter plane pilot for a Japanese fishing fleet crash lands on a barren island where he witnesses two giant monsters fighting each other before falling into the ocean. He reports his findings to the Japanese government as soon as he is rescued and their worst fears are realised. Another giant monster, similar to the original Godzilla, is alive and well and there is also another giant monster. Without the oxygen destroyer weapon that killed the original Godzilla, the Japanese people must find another way to stop these rampaging monsters before they destroy Japan and each other.

 

Within six months of Godzilla smashing Tokyo to pieces in Godzilla, Toho had this sequel ready to go to ride on the success story that the original had turned out to be. Considering the special effects sequences involved in this one, that’s a staggering turnaround in such a short space of time. Like Son of Kong was to its predecessor, so too does Godzilla Raids Again suffer immensely from being too much of the same too soon.

The rushed production schedule is evident in the lack of a real story to the film. Yes, Godzilla films are hardly known for their intricate plots but this one literally just dumps a pair of giant monsters into Japan and has them fighting each other for a bit. At least the later Godzilla films introduced all manner of weird alien (who all looked Japanese anyway) races trying to conquer Earth as their human subplot to fill the human screen time. This has nothing of the sort and as a result, barely squeezes over the hour mark for running time. Given that there’s also some flashback footage from Godzilla, the whole thing smacks of being a quick cash-in.

Godzilla Raids Again introduces what would become the staple of the Godzilla film for many, many, many years to come – that of Godzilla fighting another giant monster. It’s perennial fan-favourite Anguirus who makes his debut here, giving him the distinction of being only the second kaiju to appear in the long-running Toho franchise. Anguirus would later go on to become one of Godzilla’s most faithful allies (and would regularly get his ass kicked by King Ghidorah or Mechagodzilla). Whilst later fight scenes between Godzilla and his giant monster opponents were more drawn out affairs, the fights, or I should say scraps, between the two monsters are pretty timid affairs. They claw and scratch at each other a lot, more primeval and animalistic than the later tag-team cheese fests, and the fight scenes are strangely filmed at a faster rate, giving the impression of a Benny Hill sketch. The monster suits also look a bit cheap and nasty, especially Anguirus. But the first fight scene between the monsters is a historic moment marking the first time that any two monsters did battle in a Japanese kaiju flick.

It’s clear that everything was done quickly and some of the effects look really dated, even in black and white. But I’ll give credit to the miniature makers as the city sets look fairly detailed and there’s plenty of buildings being smashed to bits. A common failing of later Godzilla film was that the monsters started fighting in the city but conveniently ended up in fields and hills where the studio set consisted of little more than a grass floor. Here, the monsters tussle with each other right in central Osaka, making sure that no buildings are left in their wake.

Bizarrely, the big fight between the two monsters, usually the epic finale of these films, comes at the halfway point in the film which means that for the rest of its running time, Godzilla Raids Again plays out like a poorer retread of the original with Godzilla getting back to finishing the job he started on Japan. Osaka is the target this time around, presumably because Tokyo was still in such a mess from before. That said, Godzilla than handily hops across to a couple of remote islands in order for the finale on top of a glacier.

Like the original Godzilla, Godzilla Raids Again was re-edited for American audiences and released under the strange moniker of Gigantis, the Fire Monster. Taking away Godzilla’s name took away the fact that this was a sequel. I don’t get the logic in that but hey, I’m not a producer. Either way, the film still serves little point in existing. There’s no new story to tell, the nuclear messages have been toned down and the monster fights are grossly underwhelming.

 

Make a sequel that’s virtually the same as the one before it with less money and told to do it in six months is no mean feat so it’s a good job at least something managed to click with Godzilla Raids Again and it stumbled upon the template for many Godzilla films to come. Few fans would regard this in their top five Godzilla films with the opposite being more likely. It’s the weakest of the first few films in the series by a long way.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla Vs Destroyah (1995)

Godzilla Vs Destroyah (1995)

It’s a Major Monster Meltdown!

Godzilla’s heart is on the verge of a nuclear meltdown and he is nearing death, which is worrying for the planet as the eventual radioactive fallout would create a huge firewall around the world, destroying all life. The G-Force, an anti-Godzilla task force set up to stop Godzilla, are tasked with finding a solution to this rapidly-approaching problem. Meanwhile, the remnants of the oxygen destroyer weapon used to kill the first Godzilla has somehow mutated into a horrid monster which threatens to destroy Japan. Can Godzilla stop the beast before meltdown?

 

After a successful resurrection in the late 80s and early 90s, Toho decided it was time to time to kill off Godzilla as they had ‘creatively run out of ideas’ for him. It’s a bit rich that they said that, having made twenty-one other films about a giant radioactive monster! Having just signed the rights across for the disastrous 90s American version too, Toho also felt that it would be impractical to have two competing franchises running at the same time so the time was right to retire their version (oh how they wish they had been in possession of a crystal ball!). I’m not revealing any spoilers here that I shouldn’t do because it was public knowledge that Godzilla would be killed off in Godzilla Vs Destroyah. Toho publicised the hell out of it for obvious cash reasons and made sure that, for once, a Godzilla film would have a definite ending.

Simply put, Godzilla Vs Destroyah is one of the finest Godzilla films ever made. Toho put everything they had into giving him an amazing send-off. Gone is the ludicrous camp that infested the 70s. Gone is the silly comic book vibe. Gone is the tag team wrestling. Gone are the alien invasion plots. Godzilla Vs Destroyah is the most dark, grim and downbeat film in the series. This is brutal, physical and no-holds barred monster movie making at its most lethal and disheartening. It is the culmination of years of trying to mesh modern day special effects with the old man-in-a-suit methods of monster making from Toho’s past. They’ve come a long, long way from the days of trying to spot the zipper on the rubber suit.

Godzilla Vs Destroyah was the biggest Godzilla production that Toho had produced and very penny of the budget goes up onto the screen in some form. The new Godzilla suit, brought to life with a fiery orange glow and blowing out smoke every few minutes, is a remarkable special effect which must have been hell for the stuntman inside. Godzilla looks more reptile-like than ever but the addition of the glowing orange skin really makes this version of the monster more human than ever before. We can almost feel the pain of the monster as he roars and breaths fire, slowly dying a horrible death. It’s a shame that they didn’t let loose the chains and have him completely run riot across Japan like never before and he conveniently serves the bulk of his rage for Destroyah.

Destroyah is one of Godzilla’s most physically imposing opponents ever envisioned. There are numerous stages to the monster’s development but it is the final incarnation which provides the ghastly Devil-like creature that Godzilla battles during the finale. It’s like something out a H.P. Lovecraft tale. Destroyah gets billed as Godzilla’s most fearsome rival and whilst the two monsters do battle, the result is never really in question. Godzilla doesn’t lose, ever…or does he in his final fight? Regardless of who wins, the two monsters smash the hell out of Tokyo in the amazing night time battle at the end of the film.

This final confrontation is one of Toho’s finest special effects extravaganzas. I thought the three way battle between Godzilla, Rodan and Mechagodzilla in 1993′s Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla was impressive yet this blows the socks of it by a mile. There is all manner of beam weaponry exchanged between the two monsters, with explosions, sparks and clouds of smoke going up every few minutes. The superbly detailed miniature cities take a pummelling here and the whole thing is captured with some fantastic shots. Shooting the fight at night really hammers home how much Toho had learnt about these type of scenes.

The main problem with Godzilla Vs Destroyah is the rather weird detour it takes quite early on during one of Destroyah’s early stages of development. This turns into some sort of pseudo-Aliens flick as a team of soldiers is picked off one-by-one by loads of mini-Destroyahs inside a warehouse. The human aspect of Godzilla films was never really embraced as anything except filler in between the monster fights and there are no exceptions here. Some of the faces from the previous films return for one last hurrah, including Megumi Odaka as Miki Saegusa, who sets a record of six consecutive appearances in Godzilla films. Toho were never ones to adhere to any sort of continuity with the Godzilla series so to see her back again is a bit of a shock. This is even more puzzling when you consider that Godzilla Vs Destroyah cherry picks what it wants to take from the previous couple of films including Godzilla Vs Space Godzilla but mainly refers back to (and includes footage from) the 1954 original.

Of course, what would a Godzilla film be without a classic soundtrack courtesy of Akira Ifukube. Not only was Godzilla bowing out but this was Ifukube’s swansong for the series and he saves some of his best until last. The fight music is riveting as always but it is the final piece during Godzilla’s meltdown which not only draws an end to Godzilla’s career but Ifukube’s as well. It’s a highly emotional pairing and if you’re a fan of Godzilla, I dare you to remain dry-eyed as we witness the colossal monster wither away before our eyes.

 

Godzilla Vs Destroyah was and still is the pinnacle of Toho’s Godzilla films. It’s an absolute must for any true Godzilla fan – action-packed, featuring the best special effects of the series and featuring an unforgettable finale. Whilst Toho would resurrect Godzilla only a few years later in Godzilla 2000, this, for me, is his ultimate swansong.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah (1991)

Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah (1991)

Travelers from the future arrive in present day Tokyo bringing news with them that that in the next century, Godzilla will return to Japan and destroy it once and for all. They have a solution though: to travel back in time and destroy the dinosaur that eventually mutates into Godzilla after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Earth people agree but they find out that it is a dastardly plan by the time travellers to unleash their new monster on Japan: King Ghidorah. Without Godzilla to save them, who will save Japan from this three-headed terror?

 

The feeble Return of Godzilla in 1984 and the disappointing Godzilla Vs Biollante in 1989 certainly revived interest in Godzilla after a nine year gap but the results had been somewhat underwhelming. Had Toho made a mistake in shelving Godzilla for so long before he was reborn in the 80s? Return of Godzilla was a poor man’s remake of the original with more cutting edge special effects and Godzilla Vs Biollate saw the giant lizard return to his old school roots by pairing off against another giant monster. But they were hardly classic entries in the series which had become more known for its city-stomping and monster tag team fights than any serious post-atomic messages. With Toho’s 50th anniversary approaching, they wanted to celebrate in style by giving Godzilla an old school opponent to fight. King Kong was primarily considered but the rights were too costly and so Toho decided to take a step into Godzilla’s past and resurrect one of his most famous and feared (and my favourite) opponents – King Ghidorah – in order to give their anniversary some major box office clout.

Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah is arguably where the second wave of Godzilla films really kicked off in earnest. Whilst it doesn’t totally eschew the more serious nature of the previous two films, it allowed some more of the camp and alien invader nonsense of the past to creep back in and soften the edges somewhat. What you get is one of the best instalments of the entire franchise, if you can make it past the first half an hour of complete and utter gibberish that is. The film is ambitious, I’ll credit it with that. Not just content with introducing some aliens with a blatantly-sinister agenda like the 60s and 70s had in abundance, the film borrows from The Terminator with a futuristic android who can run faster and is stronger than anyone as well as a confusing time travel story.

This is one really perplexing film where the film messes around with its own timeline so much that it gets out of control. It tries to be clever, toying with the story by jumping backwards and forwards in time with the old cause and effect routine but it’s not as smart as it thinks it is. Temporal paradoxes are not the strongest point of Godzilla films and if you even try to decipher the logistics behind most of what happens here (events here also effect the following sequels which make reference to this a fair bit) then you’ll be left scratching your head in confusion. The idea behind going back to reveal Godzilla’s origins is good but the execution is appalling as the film flits between 1904, 194 and 2204. At some points during the film, Godzilla is the hero and Ghidorah is the bad guy and then roles are reversed once the films shifts the time continuum. To be honest, once the fights begin, the head-scratching ends.

Forgetting the silly story and focusing on the stronger points of the Godzilla films, Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah eventually delivers giant monster battles all brought to life with then-modern special effects of the 90s. The miniature cities look convincing and there’s plenty of explosions and buildings crashing down as the monsters fight each other hand-to-hand and then later with their beam weapons. This is the first of the modern day Godzilla films to really go to town on the destruction and it all looks fantastic, giving you a tantalising taste of what was to come later in the decade.

King Ghidorah gets a sleek new update for the 20th century, having his majestic and awe-inspiring three-headed form retained in earnest. My only disappointment with this new version of the monster is that it lacks the classic roar that the old King Ghidorah had. This new roar sounds pretty feeble and couldn’t be any less intimidating if it tried. Godzilla retains more of the animalistic look that the previous two films had given him, a far cry from the cheesy perma-grinning superhero of the 60s, and he’s back to being really angry with Japan. It’s a suit made to look primal, aggressive and dinosaur-like and it succeeds in keeping the monster from becoming too human. In a funny way, when the monsters fight each other it’s almost like they remember their prior history – impossible since this takes place in a different timeline but you still get the sense of some deep personal issues between the two!

Sadly, the English language release of the film contains some of the worst dubbing I’ve ever heard – the travellers from the future, two of whom are American, are dubbed by some atrocious English-speaking people that I wouldn’t even call voice actors. Whoever was doing the hiring seems to have gone out of the way to find the two silliest voices to dub over. Thankfully a lot of their droning is drowned out by the quality score by returning composer Akira Ifukube, brought back to the series to give it some much-needed audio impact. He resurrects some of his classic old themes including the brilliant Monster Zero March.

 

With an ambitious, if convoluted, story, some excellent special effects and plenty of monster fighting, Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah is one of the most entertaining instalments of the series. But both Godzilla and King Ghidorah come a little too late in the film to hold it back from being one of the true classics.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla – Mothra – King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

Who will be the last to survive!?

After his original path of destruction through Tokyo, the Japanese planned and prepared for Godzilla’s inevitable return. However when Godzilla does return, it seems that their efforts to stop him are still as futile. So an ancient religious cult awakens three guardian monsters to fight Godzilla in a battle to the death.

 

Shûsuke Kaneko’s Gamera trilogy in the 1990s literally blew Toho’s Godzilla series out of the water with its amazing special effects and high energy production, becoming the new benchmark for kaiju films and setting the bar high for future giant monster movies. But Shusuke Kaneko always wanted to make a Godzilla film so after the success of his Gamera trilogy, he was given the chance. Godzilla – Mothra – King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (or GMK for short since it is a long title!) thus became one of the most eagerly anticipated Godzilla films of all time.

Alas, he fails to do the same for Godzilla as he had done for the giant turtle with the in-built jetpacks. GMK is incredibly underwhelming. Given his track record and given the monsters on display, there’s no way that this twenty-fifth Godzilla film should be as so ordinary. Kaneko pushes the reset button yet again (a common failing with the Millenium series of films, always pretending that the only other Godzilla film to exist was the first one) to try and breathe some life into the series but what he ends up with is yet another overblown Godzilla film which promises a lot but doesn’t deliver.

GMK does manage to continue Kaneko’s depiction of the damage that such giant monsters would create, showing scenes where fleeing humans are killed by the monsters. Its little interactions like this which make the films a little more personal as rarely in the past have we ever seen anyone get harmed despite the amount of times Tokyo has come under attack. Special effects are top notch once again as each of the monsters is brought to life in spectacular fashion and, during the night time fight sequences, the monsters radiate with beam weapons and energy blasts.

Kaneko had wanted to resurrect Anguirus and Varan for this one but was overruled by the producers and forced to make do with the usual suspects in the shape of Mothra and King Ghidorah (though it is nice to see Baragon back). Whilst they are two of the most popular monsters, I’m sure that everyone was sick of seeing the same monsters fight Godzilla time and time again (Mothra, King Ghidorah and Mechagodzilla being the repeat offenders) and it would have been nice to see other monsters get a reboot.

Considering today’s budgets and special effects, you would have expected the monsters to get more screen time but they probably get less screen time here than they do in any of the previous films. It seems that the inclusions of King Ghidorah, Mothra and Baragon were there solely to get their asses kicked time and time again and to make Godzilla look good. Mothra is given the worst treatment, getting little more than a cameo in her larvae stage before getting her ass kicked later on in her full form. Baragon fairs a little better (no doubt because he hasn’t been over-exposed in previous films) and there’s a decent fight between him and Godzilla but the Big G never breaks sweat. King Ghidorah doesn’t really appear until the finale where – you guessed it – his job is to get destroyed by Godzilla.

I was expecting a huge showdown with all four monsters at the end instead of smaller fights scattered through the film where each individual monster is easily taken out. I never felt like Godzilla could lose. The fights are generally entertaining but they are constantly inter-cut with scenes of the human characters doing things that are of little interest.

It’s this problem which eats away at GMK – there isn’t a compelling story to hold everything together. The script plays around with mystical mumbo jumbo but little of it means anything, especially when giant monsters are smashing buildings. There is more of a focus on the human characters this time around as the film tries to re-centre itself as a film about humans having to cope with a giant monster invasion as opposed to giant monsters fighting each other with silly humans meddling around the sides.

 

GMK was a disappointment, although not a total dud. Shusuke Kaneko tries to recapture the Gamera trilogy magic for Godzilla but the story isn’t strong enough to hold it all together and the treatment that some of the individual monsters get is a bit shabby given their popularity. As it stands, his Gamera films still stand up as some of the best this kaiju genre has to offer and unfortunately Godzila has never really reached the same level…yet.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla Vs Megaguirus (2000)

Godzilla Vs Megaguirus (2000)

The Japanese have developed a huge weapon called the Dimension Tide which creates artificial black holes fired from a satellite in space. They plan to use it against Godzilla the next time he appears. After a test run of the weapon, a small boy finds an unusual egg near the site and takes it with him when he moves to the city. Dumping it in the sewers, the egg eventually grows in size and hatches into a big insect which in turn lays more eggs. Godzilla shows up and just when the Dimension Tide is about to be used against him, the insects swarm the machine and cause it to malfunction. Godzilla survives and the

 

Well it’s a long, drawn-out sequence of events which finally lead to Godzilla and another giant monster squaring off in the middle of the city in Toho’s twenty-fourth Godzilla film, Godzilla Vs Megaguirus. After the middling reboot that was Godzilla 2000, Toho needed to do something more dramatic with this entry. So they decided to chose an obscure third-rate monster from Rodan and balloon it up to gigantic size – yes, that’s called a weird decision. I’m not sure why Gigan or Megalon couldn’t have been rebooted for the modern era but Megaguirus will have to do.

Godzilla Vs Megaguirus is definitely a step up from it’s predecessor, delivering a tighter-knit and faster-paced story which will blatantly drag whilst the script builds ahead of steam for the final fight but will then deliver in spades. Only now, the studio had the finance and the capability to produce bigger and better effects and we get them in abundance. CGI slowly creeps into the series, with the smaller Meganula being rendered on computers. But the Godzilla suit looks bad ass as always, even if Megaguirus looks like another flying puppet in the same vein as Mothra and Battra, being able to fly without hardly flapping its wings and having tiny little legs which move every now and then. The use of modern day technology along with the tried-and-tested men-in-suits on miniature stages philosophy works reasonably well. Actually it works better than reasonably since the final fight takes place during the day, a rare thing indeed for this series which usually had its monsters battle at night to hide deficiencies in the effects.

In their haste to improve the visuals, the makers of the film seem to have recycled ideas from previous Godzilla films and spruced them up with new effects. An example of this is the fight between Godzilla and the smaller giant bugs, the Meganula, where they try and swarm all over him. It’s highly reminiscent of the scene from Godzilla Vs Destroyer where the monster battles the smaller version of Destroyer on a construction site.

Once again the script takes pseudo-scientific ideas to the extreme, offering up a variety of implausible solutions and impractical resolutions to Godzilla like the creation of a black hole weapon. Obviously we’ve got to stomach the fact that a giant monster, born from atomic radiation, is out to destroy Japan first before we believe anything else. But the incredible weapons that this series keeps coming up with just take the whole thing to new levels of ridiculousness.

Another annoying trait of Godzilla Vs Megaguirus is, like the other Millenium films, it cherry picks what it wants to reference from previous Godzilla films, pretty much disregarding everything and resetting the timeline back to scratch again. Showing a bit of continuity between films was the way to go forward and it’s no surprise that, in my opinion, the best all-round films of the entire series were the ones from Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah onwards which were all linked by various plot threads and recurring characters. There seemed to be logical progression with an overall story arc and it was nice to see.

One step forwards/backwards (depending on your view point) is that it returns somewhat to the cartoon-violence style escapades of the 70s as Godzilla delivers a body slam to Megaguirus and there are other attempts at monster humour during the battles. It’s groan-worthy but it’s certainly a highlight of their fight as the last couple of giant monsters that Godzilla has faced have all been rather serious affairs. Megaguirus is a decent opponent for Godzilla and the fight between the two monsters during the finale is solid and they get into a lot of close, physical combat. I always preferred to see my giant monsters physically duking it out with each other instead of standing at a distance and firing their beam weapons as was the case during many of these later Godzilla films. But on the flip side, Megaguirus lacks a real physical presence and doesn’t seem to pose any threat to Godzilla – you know the outcome of the fight from the opening minute. Godzilla’s best opponents like King Ghidorah and Destroyer took him to the limit.

 

Toho doesn’t seem to show the same faith or creativity in Godzilla as it once did and Godzilla Vs Megaguirus is proof of this. It’s basically a rehash of ideas from previous films with some better special effects. Decent but hardly the most memorable Godzilla film.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Son of Godzilla (1967)

Son of Godzilla (1967)

Japan’s Greatest Foe Delivers an Heir!

Radiation experiments on an island create giant preying mantis and humongous spiders to come to life. The scientists there also discover a giant egg, which hatches and is revealed to be the son of Godzilla. With lots of nasty monsters lying in wait, it’s up to Godzilla to protect his son.

 

Most critics signal the juvenile low budget antics of Godzilla in the 70s as his lowest ebb. The likes of Godzilla Vs Megalon were cheap, full of stock footage and suffered from an overriding sense of camp and live action cartoonery. But in my opinion, he was never at his more obvious least when he had to play the role of dad in both Son of Godzilla and Godzilla’s Revenge, the two films which are the nadir of the Godzilla series in my eyes.

In an attempt to make the Godzilla series more appealing to younger viewers, Toho introduced the world to Minya (or Minilla depending on which film you see him in), the annoying son of Godzilla. Thus was born one of the worst outings ever for the big monster as instead of destroying Tokyo with anti-atomic sentiments or saving the Earth from alien invaders, Godzilla now had to play the protective parent and keep his son from being harmed by other monsters. This is not a serious entry in the slightest and the camp and jokey nature of the film is actually embraced by everyone in it.

Godzilla is more of a cartoon character in this one instead of the ferocious beast he once was. The fights between Godzilla and Kamakiras (the giant preying mantis) and Kumonga (the giant spider) are comical and it’s like watching the Three Stooges eye-poke and knuckle shove each other in monster suits. Though Kamakiras outnumbers Godzilla three to one, they’re no match for the Big G and he smashes them to pieces before squaring up against Kumonga in the finale. Surprisingly, the introduction of these new monsters means that no stock footage is re-used from earlier films and all of the action (and there is a fair amount, signalling that the budgets were still decent at this time) is newly shot, although the footage of these new monsters would be re-used in following films. This at least gives the film a fresher film even if director Jun Fukuda keeps Son of Godzilla looking a little too much like his earlier Ebirah, Horror of the Deep at times with the jungle and island setting.

Despite the ludicrous sight of Godzilla and his son embracing at the end, it’s still quite an emotional scene and one of the only times in the entire series that I can recall Godzilla showing some true sign of emotion. It does get a little too ‘cute’ and sentimental for its own good, notably in the earlier scene where Godzilla tries to teach his son how to blow the radioactive breath and Minya just blows out smoke rings.

Like the majority of the Godzilla series, it takes some time before the big monster shows up and without any city-stomping antics it means that the human characters and the story have more time to fill up. The plot is simple padding, keeping things ticking over until Godzilla finally turns up and never really threatening to do anything except keep the film going from A to B. Without Godzilla smashing Japan to pieces again or aliens trying to take over the world, the plot is actually one of the more original in the entire series and there is no strict formula for it to follow. The cast is made up of a batch of actors who had appeared in numerous Godzilla films over their career, including Akihiko Hirata, Kenji Sahara and my particular favourite, Akira Kubo. Energetic to the end, though suffering from bad dubbing, the characters are entertaining enough if the plot never threatens to do anything serious with itself.

 

You’ll be hard-pressed to take anything from Son of Godzilla except a strong hatred of the title character. Minya would pop up as a main character again in Godzilla’s worst outing, Godzilla’s Revenge, and then be re-imagined for the later 90s films. His debut here is not the worst of the series though if it hadn’t been for the fact that it doesn’t follow the usual Godzilla formula and structure, it would have been a close run thing.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Earth: Out-numbered, Out-monstered, Out-done.

Earth is a transformed place. Whilst the planet is constantly under threat from giant monsters, some humans are discovered to have mutant abilities and are part of the international ‘M-Group’ task force designated with stopping the monsters. When a UFO arrives and seemingly removes the monsters in the interests of peace, the planet looks to have a bright future. That is until it’s revealed the aliens are simply ‘farming’ the population of Earth for food. They take the monsters under their control and order them to destroy the planet when humans resist. However there is one monster they can’t control. One monster that mankind has tried for decades to kill with no luck. Now Earth’s only hope lies with Godzilla!

 

Godzilla: Final Wars was the fiftieth anniversary production for Godzilla and was heralded as the last Godzilla film to be made for a long while – the big monster was going to go into semi-retirement in order to give the series a much-needed break (though they have retired Godzilla twice before so I take this with a pinch of salt). In an attempt to give the fans what they’ve been dying for and send Godzilla off on a high, Toho decided to rehash one of the most popular of the Godzilla films – Destroy All Monsters – for the modern era. A classic monster mash-up from the 60s, it was famous for featuring pretty much all of Toho’s iconic screen monsters in one go.

Bringing in director Ryuhei Kitamura (of Versus fame, one of the craziest Japanese films I’ve seen for a long time) was a sign that fresh blood was being pumped in to the franchise in order to give the old ideas some new bite. The return of the ‘aliens taking over the world’ plot was a great throwback to the films of old as this was the staple diet of all the late 60s and 70s Godzilla films. So with a talented director at the helm, a serious old school vibe and with modern advances in technology and special effects to bring the monsters, cities and destruction to life like never before, this surely has to be a winner, right? Well yes and no.

For a start, Toho finally heeded someone’s advice and decided to resurrect not just one or two of the same old monsters they always bring back (Mothra and Mechagodzilla have been in more Godzilla films than any other monsters), but they decided to bring back pretty much their entire back catalogue. Yes Mothra is back again but that is forgiven as Anguirus, Rodan, Manda, Kumonga, Kamacuras, Hedorah, Ebirah, King Caesar and Gigan are all brought to life once again. I’m especially glad to see Gigan back as I always loved him in the old films and he was one of Godzilla’s nastier opponents. There are also a couple of surprise monsters in the film, namely the return of Godzilla’s most famous nemesis (I won’t spoil it but fans know who I mean) and the inclusion of none other than the American version of Godzilla, from the dreadful 1998 film. Yes the ridiculous salmon-eating critter from Roland Emmerich’s stinker is here as ‘Zilla’ and needless to say, he gets what’s coming to him in a big way.

Visually, the film blows the socks out of nine out of ten Hollywood summer blockbusters. The monsters are all superbly realised, with their city-stomping antics being brought to vivid life like never before. Most of the new suits look great especially Gigan’s kick-ass new makeover. But here is the first major issue I have. You see so little of some of the monsters that it’s pretty pointless them being included in the film. Ebirah isn’t in for long, Hedorah makes a cameo (I heard the scene with him was cut) and some of the others don’t fair much better when it comes to screen time. Godzilla is pretty much unstoppable here and he finishes off most of the monsters in record time. He’s no match for them at all. Just a quick blast of his radioactive breath or a quick whip of his tail and the other monsters are finished. We know that Godzilla is ‘King of the Monsters’ but does he really have to destroy everyone else so easily as it lessens the reputations of the likes of Rodan and Anguirus to see them treat so shabbily.

Godzilla: Final Wars also relies too much on in-jokes and referencing previous kaiju films, with things like the look of the aliens being modelled on those from Invasion of the Astro-Monsters. Not content with simply rehashing old kaiju plots and scenes, Kitamura also blatantly borrows scenes and ideas from The Matrix, Independence Day and X-Men to name a few. When the monsters aren’t fighting (which is for a good portion of the film it has to be said), the film relies on old plots with new twists to keep the story moving. I’m not overly hot on the story here as it’s just an excuse for plenty of Matrix-esque action set pieces with aliens wearing shades and leather jackets like Neo clones and an over-reliance on fancy, pointless special effects. However, the actions of the human and alien characters have a massive bearing on the monsters’ actions so you can’t just write this off. As we all know, having a couple of actors standing talking meaningless jargon to pad a few minutes is a lot more cost-effective than having two guys in expensive rubber suits trashing miniatures that have taken ages to build!

 

I have to say I was slightly disappointed because I was expecting a hell of a lot more monster mayhem akin to Destroy All Monsters. Those in it purely for the fighting will have to endure lengthy periods of unhealthy Hollywood plagiarism with the human sub-plots. Godzilla: Final Wars is still arguably the best Godzilla flick since Godzilla Vs Destroyer in 1995 and even the appearance of Minilla, Godzilla’s son, does little to detract from the kick ass approach to the film. It is style over substance all of the way but when a kaiju film has as much style as this, who cares?

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)

Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2002)

Two is company but three is a very big crowd!

One year after the fight between Godzilla and Mechagodzilla, the Japanese Defence Force is rebuilding the cyborg in case Godzilla returns. But the tiny little twin fairies who speak for Mothra warn them that Mechagodzilla should be laid to rest in the ocean because it was built using bones from the original Godzilla and it needs to rest in peace. If the authorities will lay Mechagodzilla to rest, Mothra would step in and act as Japan’s defence against Godzilla. But if not, she will declare war on humanity. Their concern is evident when Godzilla does show up again to destroy Japan. Mothra joins forces with Mechagodzilla in an attempt to rid Japan of this menace once and for all.

 

Perhaps more so than the majority of other genre, kaiju eiga films (that’s monster movies for those who don’t speak Japanese) are bound by the sorts of things that its specific target audience expects from any entry. The Godzilla series, the Gamera films and the miscellaneous other giant monsters that have had big screen outings can do all they like with the plot and characters but when it comes down to it, the fans of this type of film want to see giant monsters smashing up cities and then smashing up each other. That’s the bottom line. The latest batch of Godzilla films, dubbed the Millenium series and beginning with Godzilla 2000, have been relatively hit and miss when it comes to this aspect. Whilst the advances in technology are clear to see in the special effects, the new series is lacking something that made the 1990s Godzilla films some of the most entertaining of the entire series and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is definitely the prime example.

Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is one of the first Godzilla films for a while to directly follow on from its predecessor without re-writing history which is a nice starting point as each new film usually picks and mixes whatever it likes from the previous films and most often pretend that every other film except for the original Godzilla doesn’t exist. Things are different this time around as it not only directly follows on from Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla but, in a nice nod to the original Mothra as well, Hiroshi Koizumi returns to play the same character he did back in 1961. The story is thread-bare though and is just an amalgamation of previous Toho outings involving all of the featured monsters. When the monsters aren’t fighting (which they don’t for the first half), the film is too bogged down with muddled characters and flimsy padding. It’s the same problems that faced the old 60s and 70s films but at least the camp and cheese values of the likes of Godzilla Vs Megalon and Invasion of the Astro-Monsters kept the human side of things entertaining, if only for the wrong reasons. Here none of the characters get enough screen time to make an impression and you’ll be sat watching the clock and waiting for the big fight anyway.

Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. was the most visually impressive entry to date (though bettered with the following Godzilla films) and the monsters do battle in an hour-long fight which takes up the bulk of the running time. CGI is kept to a minimum and at the end of the day the monsters are still guys in suits smashing up miniature cities on a sound stage but the mixture of old and new technology really brings these monsters to life as they fight each other in a battered city. Godzilla looks as bad ass as ever, Mechagodzilla’s new design looks like it was lifted from one of these Manga comics and Mothra is easily the most beautiful, elegant and fragile monster Toho ever created. Their mixed array of beam and laser weapons look superb, if relied on a little too much, and the miniature sets look as good as they have ever done. When a monster falls into a building here, it looks like it’s collapsing for real.

My major gripe with Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is that Toho has once again delved into the past and wheeled out the same line-up of monsters for Godzilla to do battle with: Mothra and Mechagodzilla. Whilst I can acknowledge the fact that the more popular monsters will get more cinematic appearances, it also means that the films themselves become too alike. You know that Mechagodzilla is going to break down during a fight and have technical problems. You know that Mothra will at some stage be represented in the form of the twin caterpillars before hatching into the beautiful butterfly. No matter how many physical makeovers both monsters get (and a whole new arsenal of weapons in Mechagodzilla’s case), they are the same characters and bring nothing new to the table. Toho has such a great catalogue of monsters from the past that any one of them could be given a bad ass new makeover for this new series (I’m looking at you Gigan)

 

Technically superb, Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is the best looking Godzilla film to date (at time of writing) and it’s clear that a lot of time and effort has been put into bringing this series up-to-date with the technology available. It’s a shame that Toho keeps regurgitating old stories and old monsters instead of giving us something fresh that we haven’t seen before. Stop playing it safe and take a chance.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla (1974)

Godzilla-Vs-Mechagodzilla-1974

Mechanical Titan of Terror!

When Godzilla re-emerges after a long disappearance, he seems a lot more aggressive than normal, destroying buildings and even attempting to kill fellow monster Anguirus. Then to the shock of Japan, another Godzilla appears. After the two monsters fight in Tokyo, it emerges that one of the Godzilla’s is actually a mechanical monster created by aliens to destroy the planet. Can Godzilla put a stop to their plans and defeat his mechanical doppelganger?

 

All film franchises suffer from repetition after a number of sequels. Arguments can be raised against the Bond films, the Star Trek series and it’s definitely the case for the numerous horror franchises out there. But when you have a gigantic radioactive monster that just destroys Japan for a plot, there’s not really much room to manoeuvre, is there? Having originally been mankind’s enemy, Godzilla turned into the good guy in the 60s, defending the world from all manner of extraterrestrial conquerors and the weird and wonderful monsters they brought with them. Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla is the FOURTEENTH Godzilla film so anyone who expects anything remotely different from the preceding thirteen films had better get their head checked. Expect men-in-rubber-suits, miniature cities, 70s Japanese fashion, aliens trying to take over the world and a pulsating soundtrack.

Considering how cheap the previous couple of entries looked, it’s a bit of a surprise to see that this one at least looked like it’s getting back on the right track. Gone was the majority of the juvenile humour and silly shenanigans of Godzilla Vs Megalon (tag team monster wrestling) to be replaced by something a little more serious. Those who doubt this new direction only need to watch the fight between Godzilla and former friend Anguirus, whom he beats within an inch of his life and attempts to break his jaw. Unfortunately the majority of the screen time is spent with the silly human sub-plots and the aliens attempting to take over the world angle that had become so over-used by this point.

Granted there was a recession in Japan at the time so Toho couldn’t afford to be splashing out on loads of fancy special effects. But what we get is something like a poor man’s James Bond with Interpol agents, dumb professors and aliens who look like gorillas all thrown into the mix. Throwing around mystical mumbo jumbo, random science about space titanium and spies wearing sunglasses at night, the script isn’t shy about doing what it can to keep the viewer entertained in between monster fights. The script does a reasonable job at this task – it’s nowhere near as boredom-inducing as some of the earlier 60s efforts and the amount of daft camp on display at least makes everything suitably compelling.

Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla sees the introduction of one of Godzilla’s most famous and successful enemies, his mechanical doppelganger, Mechagodzilla (the Japanese were not known for their originality in these films). Bringing to the table a multitude of weapons, Mechagodzilla is one of Godzilla’s toughest opponents and takes him to the limit and then some. The fights between the two are well-crafted and some of the best of the 70s. Even the design of the monster is visually rewarding and makes for an impressive sight when it’s first revealed in all of its robotic glory.

Sadly, they had to go and throw another monster into the mix. King Caesar is given a lot of build up throughout the film so when he finally comes to life and reveals himself at the end, the results are ridiculous. He looks like some big shaggy dog that needs a bath. Definitely one of Toho’s most uninspiring creations, King Caesar looks like a guy in a dog suit running around a miniature set. I know that’s all he is but the majority of Toho’s other creations at least give the illusion of something real. King Caesar brings nothing to the table in terms of the action and, despite being on Godzilla’s side, he ends up being more of a hindrance, getting in the way and just growling and slobbering all over. Stupid dog – there’s no wonder that it was thirty years before he made another appearance in the Godzilla series! Godzilla is his usual bad ass self, with the suit looking well-worn at this point but at least he still manages to get down and dirty in the fighting when it crops up.

 

For the time and the economic troubles in Japan, I suppose this is the best anyone could have hoped for considering some of the previous entries. Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla is still one of the sillier entries in the franchise but it’s not as bad as it could be thanks to the impressive fights between Godzilla and his mechanical buddy.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆