Monday, December 13, 2004

Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002) (Gojira tai Mekagojira)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 December 2004 in Jay's Living Room (DVD)

I must say that I find the attitude that the more recent Godzilla movies take toward series continuity refreshing. Where other long-running series which have had multiple creators - think James Bond, Star Trek or Marvel/DC comics - force the later writers to work around convoluted, anachronistic, or flat-out contradictory history, the rules from Godzilla 2000 on seem to be simple - the original 1954 Godzilla is always in continuity, but aside from that, start as fresh as you want.

It's pretty much the ideal amount of flexibility - the characters in the new movie don't have to spend time learning everything the audience already knows about the big green guy, but the filmmakers can go in whatever direction they want. I didn't find it quite so well-made as the movie which preceding it (Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monster All-Out Attack!), but it's not bad. The inevitable part without men in suits are enjoyable enough, and there's some decent action too.

A the film opens, it's 1999. Godzilla isn't the only giant monster to rampage through Tokyo in the last forty-five years, but he was the worst, and when a new Godzilla appears, he easily rebuffs the weapons used by the AMF (Anti-Megalosaurus Force) to combat the likes of Mothra and Gaira. Japan decides on an audacious plan - to build a Godzilla-sized robot on top of the skeleton of the original Godzilla to combat this new one when he inevitably returns. Four years later - though scientist Yuhara Tokmitsu's (Takuma Shin) daughter Sara hasn't seemed to age a day - the robot is ready and armed to the teeth, with a controller (Shaku Yumiko) whose actions during the last Godzilla attack cost several soldiers their lives looking for redemption. Good thing, too, because a certain radiation-spewing giant lizard has been spotted off the coast. There's just one catch - the DNA-based computer used to run "Kiryu" uses Godzilla-DNA...

There's potential here - while to a certain extent, all you need here is Godzilla, a scale model of Japan, and competent direction, there are some interesting plot threads, and I'm not talking about the obligatory single dad with a daughter who has been withdrawn since the death of her mother being attracted to the guilty soldier. There's some interesting stuff off to the sidelines, such as concern from the world at large that Japan building a giant robot with all sorts of guns and missiles and an "absolute zero ray" just might be considered re-arming, which I imagine would make Korea, Russia, and other neighboring countries nervous. The DNA computer is a fun sci-fi concept, especially when it leads to a great "ghost in the machine" moment. The brief hope of a Godzilla movie worth watching for its story, though, is quickly extinguished.

And, to make matters worse, Godzilla doesn't even stomp Tokyo; he does in some military hardware and a gigantic water park. The action scenes are pretty keen, though - as much as CGI in a Godzilla flick seems wrong on a fundamental level, seeing the big guy blast plane out of the air with his radioactive breath is, in fact, cool. Same with a bunch of heat-seeking missiles homing in on him. It's too bad Mechagodzilla is such a relatively featureless design; even next to Godzilla, it looks fake.

It's an average Godzilla movie. You like Godzilla, you'll likely enjoy it. It probably won't become a favorite, but it won't be the opposite extreme, either.

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