Thursday, May 8, 2014

GodzillaMania #12: Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla/Destoroyah

Plenty of cinephiles started their movie love with Star Wars, Indiana Jones or Disney. As a film-loving kid, these were all part of my steady diet. But before anything else, I loved Godzilla. To me, the King of the Monsters was the end-all, be-all of movie creations, and programs like TNT’s MonsterVision with their Godzilla marathons (and awesome promos) had four-year-old me hooked. With the new Godzilla coming in May (fingers crossed it doesn’t suck), it’s time to run through 60 years of one of cinema’s greatest monsters with the (SPOILER-heavy, sorry) GodzillaMania.

Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla: 39/C

By the time Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla rolled around in 1994, the series had already run into the problem of repetition. Earlier entries brought back old foes like Ghidorah, MechaGozilla and Mothra in battles that seemed a bit too familiar. The sixth film in the Versus series brought a new monster in for the first time since 1989’s Godzilla vs. Biollante, but the film is still mostly a dud that gave the signal that the second series (the Versus series) was running out of steam.

The film sees yet another monster borne out of Godzilla’s cells, which, are exposed to radiation from a black hole after being brought into space by Biollante’s death and Mothra’s departure from earth. This creates SpaceGodzilla, which travels to earth to wreak havoc and, for whatever reason, trap Baby Godzilla in a giant cage of crystals (don’t ask). Luckily, the Japanese Self Defense Forces has put together Moguera, a new self-defense robot for the purposes on fighting Godzilla, and the King of the Monsters himself doesn’t take too kindly to seeing his offspring attacked by the invader.

SpaceGodzilla has an intriguing premise, but it’s killed by the worst pacing in the Versus series (and that’s saying something). The film takes forever to introduce SpaceGodzilla as a real threat, and it runs into sidetracks involving Mothra (who doesn’t return) and the Yakuza kidnapping the psychic who can sometimes control Godzilla (again, don’t ask). And while the name “SpaceGodzilla” is enough to get any inner five-year-old excited, the monster doesn’t amount to much more than a slightly meaner-looking Godzilla with giant crystals on its body. The film tries to inject dramatic stakes with a character determined to kill Godzilla being forced to help it, but it’s all for naught, especially when put against an endless final battle with two very similar monsters. It’s the weakest of the Versus series, less Godzilla and more Godzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Godzilla vs. Destoroyah: 68/B

The dull SpaceGodzilla wasn’t the reason Toho decided to make its sequel the final in the series – it was more a kindly gesture from Toho to give the spotlight to TriStar’s upcoming American remake. But studio reasoning aside, the awesomely titled Godzilla vs. Destoroyah is a film trying its damndest to get everything right for the second series’ final note. It pays off: while it doesn’t reach the heights of the original film or the first series’ (or Showa series) Mothra vs. Godzilla, it still stands as the best of the Versus series, and as a highlight before a crushing low.

There’s something wrong with Godzilla: his stomach and chest have taken on the color of lava. It turns out that Godzilla’s heart essentially behaves like a nuclear reactor, and that it’s going into meltdown; when Godzilla dies, it will cause the destruction of earth. Scientists create a new formula for the Oxygen Destroyer, the invention that Dr. Serizawa of the original film used to kill the first Godzilla, as well as himself in order to keep it being used as a weapon. The new formula has a disastrous side effect, mutating Precambrian organisms into giant crablike creatures that terrorize Japan. The JSDF desperately try to lure Godzilla to Tokyo in order to have him destroyed by the final Precambrian monster, which has evolved into the giant creature Destoroyah.

The film immediately recalls the original with the opening sounds of Godzilla’s stomps and roars rather than the colorful, in-your-face credits that had become the series modus operandi. It’s not the last throwback to the original film: along with mentions of Dr. Serizawa and the return of his weapon, the film features Momoko Kōchi returning as Emiko Yamane, the female lead of the original, while her father (Takashi Shimura’s character) is mentioned explicitly and her niece and nephew are among the people trying to save the day. There’s a sense of the young having to deal with the problems caused by the old, as well as a greater sense of peril in general. Godzilla’s meltdown is the ultimate example of nuclear technology going too far, being allowed to exist until the point where disaster is imminent and even the best solution will leave thousands dead.

That’s not to say that the film isn’t good, absurd fun. It features giant crablike creatures fighting the military in sewers in what plays like a cheaper but still entertaining version of Aliens (complete with extending inner jaw), and there’s still great monster vs. monster material in the final battle. But amidst the sillier pleasures and the typical Versus series sluggishness lies the real thrill in watching desperate people find ways to keep the worst from happening, from using freezing weapons to keep Godzilla from reaching meltdown to having to pushing for a potentially destructive battle with Destoroyah when no other options remain. It’s a film that constantly reinvents the conflict, a rare case for a Godzilla movie.

When the film finally does reach its critical moment (with some solid melting effects), it’s hard not to find a certain amount of pity for Godzilla, a giant creature borne of war and hatred that was destined for destruction. The film manages to find a satisfying way to carry out Godzilla’s death, keep the world from reaching the brink, and finding a way to leave the door open for a future series (Baby Godzilla absorbs the potentially destructive nuclear energy, turning him into a full-sized Godzilla) without feeling like a cop out. It’s a fitting end to a mostly solid second series, one that captures the strengths of the fighting kaiju Godzilla without giving up the original film’s allegorical power.

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