Number 18 – “Godzilla: Tokyo SOS” (2003)

 

 

We are now officially out of the “Bad” tier of Godzilla movies. Now begins the “Okay” tier, the shortest category among Godzilla films. These next few movies are all pretty average or alright, where they either have the same amount of good and bad moments or are just plain from start to finish. And we begin this tier with my definition of an average Godzilla movie – “Godzilla: Tokyo SOS.”

This is the only Millennium film that doesn’t take place in its own separate universe, but rather is a direct sequel to “Godzilla X MechaGodzilla,” completing the Kiryu Saga. In many regards, it feels like the same movie as its predecessor, but has a few added benefits in the form of more monsters and better looking fight scenes, plus a reduced role for the bland human characters.

“Tokyo SOS” takes place roughly one year after the events of the last film, where the end of the battle between Godzilla and MechaGodzilla left both monsters heavily wounded, including the lose of Kiryu’s Absolute Zero Cannon and his right arm. Godzilla has gone into hiding for the last year, while the Kiyru squadron continues to repair MechaGodzilla. But it seems that Godzilla’s wounds have finished healing and he now begins to make his way back to Japan.

 

 

Meanwhile, in the snowy mountains of Japan, we are reintroduced to an aging doctor, Shin’ichi Chujo (Hiroshi Koizumi), one of the original explorers who was on the first mission to Infant Island in “Mothra.” One night, while spending time with his grand children, Chujo is visited by the Shobijin, Mothra’s tiny twin fairies. Rather than coming here to destroy humanity, like I am positive they truly want to do, the fairies are here to make a plea to all of Japan – Stop the MechaGodzilla project and send Godzilla’s bones back to the ocean where they belong.

Chujo, the fairies, and one of his grandsons Yoshito (Noboru Kaneko) debate about what should be done. The fairies say the dead should be left alone for all eternity and that mankind is trying to play god by resurrecting something long gone. Yoshito, who is a mechanic for the MechaGodzilla project, says that Japan needs Kiryu to protect the country from monsters like Godzilla. So the fairies make a promise – If they return Godzilla’s bones to the ocean, then Mothra will always be there to protect Japan from Godzilla.

This is a simple yet effective exchange between two sides that both make sense. From the perspective of the fairies, using the bones of a dead monster to fight other monsters is just asking for trouble, as well as the whole spiritual aspect. On the other hand, Japan is constantly attacked by giant monsters and, like it or not, MechaGodzilla is their best form of protection. I would also be hesitant to take the fairies promise, since Japan knows how strong Godzilla is and that Mothra, being a giant creature that will only attack sweaters, probably couldn’t do much to stop Godzilla.

 

 

Although, an interesting thought I had recently is that this Godzilla didn’t show up until just after the Japanese government got their hands on Godzilla’s bones, and as we will see this Godzilla is always heading right for MechaGodzilla. Even though we’re never told how this Godzilla was created, the theory is that the Earth made a new Godzilla with the sole purpose of getting the original Godzilla’s bones back into the ocean. Meaning that if the government were to send MechaGodzilla to the bottom of the ocean, this Godzilla would never bother them again.

Jeez, it’s almost like putting the bones of a dead animal inside your giant robot was a bad idea or something! Then again, the fairies are being just as cryptic as ever. They could just say how humanity messed up with Godzilla’s bones and that sending them back to where they came from would end Godzilla’s rampage. But nope, they have to be vague and non-descriptive!

Anyway, while Yoshito feels conflicted about the fairies message, the Kiryu squadron gets word that Godzilla is approaching Japan. The prime minister is reluctant to send MechaGodzilla out to fight him, mostly because repairs are not complete and he heeds the warning of the twin fairies. We get a pretty cool naval battle scene with ships and submarines attacking Godzilla, which leads into a neat sequence of Godzilla arriving in Tokyo Bay and the explosion of underwater mines matching up with his theme song.

But while the military strike feels massive in scale, it goes about as well as you’d expect on Godzilla. Like trying to take down an armored truck with foam noodles. Godzilla rampages through Tokyo for a little bit, appearing to head towards MechaGodzilla’s base. But just before Godzilla gets to the heart of Tokyo, the young grandson of Chujo, Shun (Itsuki Oomori), learns about a way to save Japan. He takes a page out of his grandfather’s book and constructs a large version of the Mothra symbol using school desks. And it actually works, the moment Shun finishes constructing the symbol, Mothra appears to defend Japan from Godzilla.

 

 

For me, Mothra is the best part of this movie. Without her, this is just another “Godzilla X MechaGodzilla” but with even more dull characters. Mothra adds so much variety to this movie and its fight scenes. Not only has she gotten a new bright and beautiful color scheme, but she fights unlike any other monster in the Millennium series – like a Showa monster! She has no beams or many weapons at her disposal, which means she has to think on her feet…or feelers I guess.

Her opening fight with Godzilla might be my favorite scene in the movie, when she makes her presence known to Godzilla and then proceeds to cause hurricane force winds. It doesn’t bring Godzilla down, but it does bring up a lot of dirt to create a smokescreen, which Mothra uses as an opportunity to sneak behind Godzilla and send him hurdling to the ground. It returns to the classic days of monster fighting, when it wasn’t all about energy blasts and massive amounts of damage, but outsmarting your opponent and using your strengths and their weaknesses to your advantage. To my knowledge, this is the only monster fight like this in the entire Millennium series, and it is a welcomed change of pace.

Godzilla and Mothra spend a while fighting until Godzilla finally starts getting the upper hand and throws Mothra into a building. Mothra breaks out her “weapon of last resort” which are her scales. They weaken Godzilla and reflects his atomic breath back at him, but the more she uses her scales, the more difficult it becomes for her to fly. Once enough of her scales are gone, Mothra will become immobile and helpless against Godzilla.

This leads into another great moment where the fairies sing Mothra’s theme song. In previous Mothra movies, this song was heavily overplayed and butchered to the point that it lost all of its meaning. But this version is beautiful and sung wonderfully, complete with a nice background tropical island tune to make it unique. Because of Mothra’s struggle against Godzilla, the song feels natural at this particular moment and works nicely in this scene.

 

 

After the prime minister sees Mothra’s losing fight against Godzilla, he decides that he will not let Mothra sacrifice herself in vain, and immediately orders MechaGodzilla to join the attack. This leads to about a ten minute sequence of the Kiryu squadron prepping MechaGodzilla before sending him into combat. Again, they were going with a realistic approach, and I still say it was a dumb approach to MechaGodzilla in the first place.

But yeah, MechaGodzilla is send in to fight Godzilla while Mothra has been grounded due to losing too many scales. This leads into a fight between the two Godzilla’s that feels exactly like the last time they fought – with Kiryu barely making a dent and then going down to just one or two blasts of Godzilla’s atomic breath.

Are you starting to see why Mothra is my favorite part of this movie? Because without her, this is exactly like the last Godzilla movie.

There’s a couple of neat parts, like when Kiryu uses a building for cover and the two monsters basically fight around and through the building. Or when Kiryu shows off that his new rocket pack can cause a massive explosion upon impact that does send Godzilla to the ground. But other than, it is a copy-and-paste of the long fight from “Godzilla X MechaGodzilla.”

 

 

The fight changes up a bit when two Mothra larva show up in the middle of downtown Tokyo to continue to fight their mother cannot. But since they’re newborns, they do about as well as you’d imagine against Godzilla. But as all three Mothra’s gather for a tender moment, Godzilla has to ruin it by blasting the three with his beam and kill the adult Mothra. It is a sad moment to watch Mothra catch on fire and then explode from the inside out. Too bad it’s ruined by the noises the Mothra larva make that make them sound like chimpanzees.

At the same time, Godzilla causes a critical injury to Kiryu that incapacitates the robot. Yoshito happens to be in the area, to save his grandfather and nephew, and is sent in to repair MechaGodzilla. This leads into a long sequence where the Kiryu squadron has to get Yoshito to the robot, while the pilots protect them from Godzilla, and then the repair scene. This is low point of the movie for me, since it all feels way too basic and lifeless. It’s like I’m watching someone play a video game, trying to complete the mission and get to the next checkpoint, with no emotional investment in their struggle to get to MechaGodzilla or repair him.

In fact, that’s the problem with the majority of the Millennium series, it just feels like its going through the motions without understanding why it has to do that. Like every human character is just a checklist of clichés or plot points. Even if the Heisei series had plots that were ludicrous and made no sense, I’d still take the silly stories over the ones that don’t even seem to be trying.

 

 

As expected, Yoshito is successful in getting MechaGodzilla repaired and he reengages the fight with Godzilla. And suddenly, this is the point where Kiryu starts getting cool. First he wrestles Godzilla to the ground, while also destroying the old Tokyo capital building, then Kiryu turns his new right hand into a drill arm that pierces Godzilla’s skin and puts a massive hole in him. He follows that up by showing his replacement for the Absolute Zero Cannon – the Triple Hyper Maser Cannon. The pilots unleash the full force of that cannon, as well as the regular maser cannon in Kiryu’s mouth, right into Godzilla’s open wound. How come we couldn’t get a kick-ass MechaGodzilla like this in the last movie, or even earlier in this movie?

To top things off, as Godzilla is stunned by Kiryu’s onslaught, the Mothra larva wrap Godzilla up in their silk string so he cannot go anywhere.

The film ends with MechaGodzilla preparing to strike the final blow, only for the original Godzilla to take control of Kiryu’s body. He grabs the captured Godzilla and the two of them fly out into the Sea of Japan to finally bring things to an end. The people of Japan comment on how this feels like a hollow victory, since it cost them MechaGodzilla, but act like they’ve learned not to mess with the souls of the dead…even though the end credits reveal that they still have a vault filled with the DNA of every monster that’s ever attacked Japan, including the original Godzilla.

 

 

From what I understood, this was added to try and push Toho to make a third film in the Kiryu series that never happened. The plan for the third movie sounded pretty neat though, with robot versions of many different kaiju, including Varan, Baragon, and Mothra. But maybe that was for the best, since both entries in this series were average at best.

“Godzilla: Tokyo SOS” is a definite improvement over “Godzilla X MechaGodzilla,” if only for many of the Mothra scenes. This film emphasized how beautiful and majestic Mothra is, while also how different she is from any other monster in the Toho movies – one that relies on intelligence and wit instead of brute strength. Some of the fight scenes between the two Godzilla’s were better here, but only near the end when MechaGodzilla broke out his new weapons. The human characters and the story are still just as bland as ever, but at least they seem to be downplayed this time. Overall, I wouldn’t call this one a bad Godzilla movie, but it certainly isn’t a good one either.

 

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Number 24 – “Godzilla X MechaGodzilla” (2002)

 

 

Part of the problem I have with the majority of the Millennium series is how basic and uninteresting most of these films feel. Most of them act like coloring books by the numbers, with very generic and bland stories that we’ve either seen a dozen times before or just never do anything with its concepts. We’ve already seen this first-hand with entries like “Godzilla 2000” and “Godzilla X Megaguirus,” both of which had cool ideas, like storm chasers that follow Godzilla or imagining a world where the first Godzilla never died, but ultimately does nothing of value with that.

We have yet another Millennium film that does just that with “Godzilla X MechaGodzilla.” This is sort of another one of those “What if” story ideas, in this case is it “What if the Oxygen Destroyer still killed Godzilla, but did not destroy his bones?” It is a very minor change and one I do not mind, since the first Godzilla still died to the Oxygen Destroyer. In this case, the film’s answer to that question is – The Japanese military has captured Godzilla’s bones and now plans to make a giant robot around them to fight other giant monsters…like you do.

“Godzilla X MechaGodzilla” once again takes place in its own little universe, separate from any other Godzilla movie outside of the first one. Although, strangely enough, the filmmakers say that some other Toho films from the 1960s happened as well, in particular “Mothra” and “War of the Gargantuas.” Except this movie also changes the events of those films as well – In “War of the Gargantuas” there were two giant monsters, Gaira and Sanda, supposedly created from the remains of Frankenstein (long story, but check out “Frankenstein Conquers the World” if you’re interested). But “Godzilla X MechaGodzilla” erases Sanda from history, saying there was only Gaira who was defeated by their newest invention, the Maser Cannon, because “Maser” sounds way cooler than laser.

The Millennium series seems to take joy in screwing with the history of Toho’s giant monster movies.

 

 

The film begins in 1999, when a huge typhoon hits a Japanese island. But in the middle of that storm, a new Godzilla rises out of the ocean and starts causing chaos and destruction. The military is sent into deal with Godzilla, but a few tanks and a maser cannon can only do so much to him. The government is surprised to see Godzilla return again and they find themselves unprepared for another monster attack, since the last kaiju appearance was supposedly over 30 years ago. This leads the prime minister to enact a new battle plan to take care of Godzilla.

Japan’s leading experts on biology, mechanical engineering and robots are called into to show that the government have gotten their hands on the bones of the first Godzilla. The government officials say they want these scientists to construct a cyborg body around the bones, which could potentially be their strongest weapon against Godzilla and any other monster that attacks Japan.

There’s a simple question I’ve always wondered with this movie – Why do they need Godzilla’s bones to be the base for their giant robot? It’s not like the bones carry any special power or give the robot a power boost, they’re just inside this thing. In fact, it sounds like it would be more trouble than its worth, since having the bones of a dead animal inside your fighting machine can go bad fast. If they needed it as a frame to build around, then just make a metal copy of Godzilla’s skeleton and use that for your frame.

But no, they had to try and make it sound cool by saying this robot is built around Godzilla’s bones, whether or not it makes any logical sense.

This leads us to our first look at MechaGodzilla, my favorite Godzilla villain. Of all the monsters Godzilla fought more than once, MechaGodzilla was always the one that seemed to give him the hardest time, easily able to overpower Godzilla and was almost always a few steps away from ending the King of the Monsters for good.

It’s a pity that this MechaGodzilla leaves such a disappointing impression. The first slip-up is that they rename the robot Kiryu (which is Japanese for “Metal Dragon”). They hardly ever call this thing MechaGodzilla, even though that’s his given name in the title. Any time they call MechaGodzilla Kiryu, I roll my eyes at their pointless need to give their robot two names.

 

 

But the bigger problem I have with Kiryu is how they present him during his fights with Godzilla. I’ll talk about this more in detail when we get to other better entries that have MechaGodzilla, but Godzilla’s mechanical copy is supposed to be leagues strong than Godzilla, equipped with weapons that can destroy entire city blocks, or send Godzilla’s atomic beam back at him, or being able to pierce Godzilla’s second brain and cripple him. He is the ultimate anti-Godzilla weapon.

This MechaGodzilla? His missiles and lasers hardly ever warrant a reaction out of Godzilla, the maser cannon in his mouth does little more than make Godzilla slightly annoyed, and all it takes is one or two blasts of Godzilla’s atomic breath to bring Kiryu to a screeching halt. For the majority of the movie, it comes across like Godzilla has no problem walking right through MechaGodzilla, like he was made of cardboard and was tossing Nerf darts at him. This isn’t an anti-Godzilla weapon, it’s a five-year olds’ attempt to play the same game as his older brother and only gets mangled as a result.

Admittedly, the movie is attempting to go for a realistic approach to MechaGodzilla…sometimes. Aside from the whole “the original Godzilla bones are inside our giant robot” thing, they also equip Kiryu with a cannon that can freeze anything to absolute zero. While that is a neat concept, it does go against the realistic approach to Kiryu, so why couldn’t they at least give MechaGodzilla the ability to tank Godzilla’s atomic breath like the previous MechaGodzilla’s?

Also, every attempt they make to use the Absolute Zero Cannon on Godzilla goes horribly wrong, so the thing never works the way they want it to work. It also drains Kiryu’s power cells every time he uses it, so it seems like a waste of space if they cannot get it to work right and use up all their power. Why not just build an Absolute Zero Cannon and attach it to a large tank? Why put on the fragile and malfunctioning robot that cannot fight Godzilla very well?

 

 

I don’t think the “realistic” approach to Kiryu works well in this movie. Since Godzilla remains his usual unstoppable and unflinching self, having a robot fight him that’s made from material that he can easily rip apart and toss around like it was nothing makes for a stale fight. It becomes even more annoying because they named it MechaGodzilla, a monster has nearly killed Godzilla on more than one occasion. If you’re going to do MechaGodzilla properly, stay away from a realistic approach and go all-out crazy instead.

One thing people have pointed out about “Godzilla X MechaGodzilla” is that it feels very similar to an anime. In particular “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” about giant monster gods that want to bring about the end of the world and humans combat these monsters by building their own robot cyborgs, which admittedly took a lot of inspiration from Godzilla in the first place. For a while, I didn’t see the similarities, but now I notice a lot of the same tropes – An overly oppressive military force that does everything they can to protect their country, putting their fate in the hands of emotional and flawed individuals while they face an overwhelming threat.

One big difference between the two though is the sense of a war. Both “Evangelion” and this movie feel like they’re fighting an on-going war against an impossible foe. In “Evangelion,” that feeling makes sense, considering that there are multiple monsters that keep them on their toes. But in “Godzilla X MechaGodzilla,” they only ever fight one enemy – Godzilla.

Can your “war” truly be considered a war if you’re only fighting one creature? That’s a fight or struggle, not a war.

 

 

As a result, I feel the military aspects of “Godzilla X MechaGodzilla” are overplayed, especially since they dominate most of the human scenes. Most of the characters only spout the same general platitudes about how strong the military is, and that they’re capable of anything, and they’ll never surrender. And then they get trounced by Godzilla, so now they just look like buffoons.

The fight scenes are okay, if a bit too long at parts. The entire third act is the final battle between Godzilla and Kiryu, with a few cool scenes after MechaGodzilla discards most of his missiles and lasers to gain better mobility and starts smacking Godzilla around. Since the remainder of the movie is pretty beam-heavy, it is nice to see MechaGodzilla wailing on Godzilla and then tossing him around by his tail.

The music in “Godzilla X MechaGodzilla” is also pretty good. It was composed by Michiru Oshima, who also composed “Godzilla X Megaguirus” and led to a new theme song for Godzilla that is pretty catchy and atmospheric. There’s a great sense of triumph and grandeur to the music here, which makes it stand out a bit more from the other Millennium films.

Overall, “Godzilla X MechaGodzilla” is a slightly-improved version of “Godzilla X Megaguirus,” but only just barely. The story does its job well enough and the action sequences are alright, but it doesn’t feel like it amounts to anything. The film doesn’t do anything particularly well and just makes me wish I was watching better scenes with MechaGodzilla. There is nothing of value to be found here, but it isn’t that terrible either. This is just a film that exists to take up space.

 

 

 

Number 27 – “Godzilla X Megaguirus” (2000)

 

 

As a whole, the third series of Godzilla films, known as the Millennium or Shinsei series, is just as spotty and hit-or-miss as the Heisei series, but takes it in the opposite direction of that era. While the Heisei films focused on having a continuous continuity between entries, the Millennium series were mostly self-contained entries, with each movie taking place in its own little universe where none of the other Godzilla films happened outside of the first movie. Even then, these movies would often change the events of the 1954 movie to suit their needs.

We’ve already seen one film from the Millennium series, “Godzilla: Final Wars” and that didn’t turn out so well for anyone. Now we meet another terrible entry in that series, “Godzilla X Megaguirus.” This is one of those movies that changes things about the first Godzilla film, namely that after Godzilla’s initial rampage on Japan, rather than using the Oxygen Destroyer to kill him, they decide to do nothing and let Godzilla continue to roam the oceans. There is no mention of the Oxygen Destroyer or it’s inventor, Dr. Serizawa. They simply just let Godzilla go free after leveling Tokyo.

To me, the Millennium series is a bunch of “What if” questions, but most of the time they’re not interesting questions. It can often be great to explore alternate paths through history, especially with established fiction, to see how differently the worlds we’ve come to know and love would change, as well as its characters. But with “Godzilla X Megaguirus,” the question it wants to pose is “What if the Oxygen Destroyer was never used on Godzilla?”

Well, then Godzilla would still be at large. There, that was an easy answer.

 

 

If the question is a simple and boring one, then it’s going to lead to a simple and boring movie. If they wanted to go with a far more fascinating route, they could have asked something like “What if Dr. Serizawa chose not to use the Oxygen Destroyer on Godzilla?” Not only could they still continue their many of the plotlines this movie starts, but have the addition of Dr. Serizawa still being alive and watching the destruction Godzilla causes, possibly regretting every day his decision to protect his invention from the world. Or maybe he doesn’t regret it, thinking that he made the right decision because the Oxygen Destroyer could have killed far more people than Godzilla ever could if it fell into the wrong hands.

There would not only be a plot about a helpless military trying to combat Godzilla, but also one about the most classic human character in a Godzilla movie getting another chance at redemption. I think that would have made for a far more intriguing monster movie while still staying within the confines of the Millennium series. But instead, we get a bare bones monster movie with extremely unlikable characters and poor pacing. Think of “Godzilla X Megaguirus” as the “Godzilla Raids Again” of the Millennium series.

The film opens with a timeline recap, showing how Japan rebuilt after Godzilla attacked in 1954. The country shuts down all of its nuclear facilities, focusing instead on alternative fuel and energy sources, moves the capital of Japan from Tokyo to Osaka and eventually develops a new form of energy based on plasma. But every time the Japanese make further strives in that field, Godzilla shows up and destroys everything they’ve worked on.

 

 

So basically, Godzilla’s role in this movie is to come yell at Japanese scientists every time they try to play God.

Eventually, the Japanese defense force gets tired of Godzilla always attacking their country and decides to find a way to get rid of him for good. Rather than developing a new Oxygen Destroyer, they come up with the next most sensible plan – creating a black hole gun!

Normally, I am all for ludicrious plans to deal with equally ludicrious threats, but this is one that I never got into because of how idiotic it is. Disregarding the science of creating an artificial black hole, that could be far more dangerous than Godzilla. Keep in mind that, as far as we currently know, nothing can survive or escape the grasp of a black hole. How do they know the black holes they create to contain Godzilla won’t continue on for all eternity and consume our entire solar system? Or that someone won’t hijack the black hole gun? Or what if it misses and ends up destroying an entire city (or even the world)? There are so many ways creating black holes on Earth can go horribly wrong that you have to step back a bit and ask yourself, “What the hell were they thinking?”

Of course, this is also Godzilla we’re talking about, a monster that survived five years inside of an active volcano and fought off a monster made from machinery from the 23rd century like it was nothing. You also have to ask if this black hole gun will even work on him.

 

 

So while scientists are testing out their black hole gun, nicknamed Dimension Tide, they fire off a round and immediately notice dimensional rifts starting to form near the impact sight. They theorize that they’ve opened up a portal to another dimension. Because I am sure having a gateway to another plane of existence won’t go wrong at all.

Immediately following this, a large dragonfly-like monster breaks the barrier between the dimensions and starts to lay her eggs all over the place. And yet the defense force continues to support Dimension Tide, saying it is the only way to defeat Godzilla, despite releasing another dangerous monster upon the world.

This other monster is known as Megaguirus, a giant dragonfly that can suck the energy out of just about anything and can fly really fast. And that’s about it. We don’t learn more about the dimension Megaguirus comes from, why she feels the need to cause destruction or what her ultimate goal was. She’s just another monster created to fight Godzilla, leaving little impact on the story outside of some little kid trying to explain that she’s based off the Meganulon and Meganula.

When I first watched “Godzilla X Megaguirus” I felt there was something off about it that I could never put my finger on. It just didn’t feel like a good monster movie. While part of this is because of the slow as molasses pacing, taking over an hour before Godzilla even gets close to Japan and spending way too much time with the little kid, I think I finally figured it out on my most recent viewing of the movie, and it comes down to the characters.

Every single character in this film comes across as a smug asshole, where they feel compelled to handle everything on their own and tell anyone trying to help them to piss off. Our protagonist is Kiriko Tsujimori (Misato Tanaka), the leader of the “G-Grasper” unit of the defense force and always seems to have a chip on her shoulder. She constantly feels the need to show off in front of her subordinates, even tell her fellow pilots to sit out their final mission because “It’s my show.”

 

 

There’s also Hajime Kudo (Shosuke Tanihara), a young tech-wizard who constantly infiltrates computers and technology that doesn’t belong to him. Like Kiriko, he sends away all support and help when Dimension Tide starts to collapse so he can take all the glory when things start going his way. Even the little kid acts like he knows better than anyone else when he starts describing Megaguirus’ evolution process, like everyone else is an idiot for not seeing it and he should be the supreme leader of Japan.

Honestly, of all the Godzilla films, “Godzilla X Megaguirus” probably has the most selfish, poorly written and unlikable cast of characters. There wasn’t a single person in this cast that I enjoyed or didn’t want to see trampled by Godzilla. Since they’re a huge focus on the film, that made the majority of it a hard one to get through.

There are many Godzilla movies I have watched over a dozen times because they’re so much fun and bring me so much joy. Since the release of “Godzilla X Megaguirus” in 2000, I think I’ve seen this one two times. It is poorly paced, boring, and has some of the worst characters in the entire franchise. The scenes with Godzilla are few and far between and his fight with Megaguirus is okay but made worse by pacing problems. The only redeeming quality is the music by Michiru Oshima, as it provides some amount of atmosphere and tension. Other than that, don’t bother with “Godzilla X Megaguirus.”

 

Number 31 – “Godzilla: Final Wars” (2004)

 

 

There aren’t many movies that make me angry. Some leave a bad taste in my mouth when they squander great things, while others make me annoyed through bad storytelling or terrible acting. But once in a blue moon, a film will come along that makes me want to pull my hair out and reduce me to the point where watching Barney the Dinosaur sounds better than watching this crap.

“Godzilla: Final Wars” brings this kind of anger out in me. It is not only my pick for the worst Godzilla film, but one of the worst movies I have ever seen. This is not just because of generally bad filmmaking, third-grade level writing, and acting so bad that even Ed Wood would want to try filming the scene again, but a misunderstanding and disrespect towards the source material that it takes all the fun out of the movie.

It’s bad enough that “Final Wars” is poorly put together, but then it had to go and defecate over everything that was awesome about Godzilla.

“Godzilla: Final Wars” was released in 2004, the year of Godzilla’s fiftieth anniversary, a milestone landmark for any franchise to reach, especially one that was normally seeing the release of a new film every year. At this point, “Final Wars” was the 28th entry in the series (not counting the 1998 American film, but we will get to that) and Toho wanted to celebrate this occassion with a movie that honored the tradition of Godzilla. Toho spent a ridiculous amount of money making this movie, roughly two billion yen or 19.5 million American dollars. At the time, this was the third most expensive movie Toho had ever made. That’s not even taking into account the advertising “Final Wars” had, which was advertised all over the world due to Godzilla’s fiftieth.

Toho tried to pull all the stops out for this one – Bringing back as many classic Godzilla monsters as they could, attempting to make the movie feel like a classic old Godzilla movie, and for the first time, having not only monster fights, but also human fights!

And they messed all of that up!

 

 

Oh sure, it has the largest roster of Toho kaijus, ranging from the obvious like Mothra and Rodan to the more obscure like Hedorah and Ebirah, but most of these monsters are on screen for less than a minute, serve no purpose to the plot, don’t act anything like they did in previous movies, and most of them are killed off uncerimoniously. The majority of these monsters are just here to fill up screentime and to get the audience’s nostaliga hype up.

Does the film feel like a classic Godzilla movie at any point? Absolutely not. It might take plot elements from other Godzilla movies, in particular “Invasion of Astro-Monster” (or “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero”) by revolving around aliens trying to conquer earth by controlling monsters, but the Godzilla franchise wasn’t the first to cover that type of plot and it will not be the last. Instead, the movie focuses on its bland cast of idiots who would rather punch their way through their problems. “Final Wars” ends up borrowing plot elements from about a dozen different movies, in particular “The Matrix” because of our characters choices in fashion and its over-reliance of kung-fu fight scenes, the “X-Men” franchise because of its mutant characters who can fight a giant sea monster with wire-fu, which isn’t nearly as cool as it sounds, and the “Star Wars” franchise because of one scene near the end that feels like a carbon copy of the Death Star trench run. “Final Wars” is a strange hodgepodge of cinematic references, doing none of them well at all, and the one it does the worst is the Godzilla series.

And those human fight scenes? They take up the majority of the movie. In a film that was supposed to celebrate fifty years of Godzilla and represent everything great about the franchise, instead of showing some dream monster match-ups like, for example, King Ghidorah and MechaGodzilla fighting Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and Anguirus, we instead get lots of martial arts scenes that were cut from “The Matrix Reloaded” for being too silly.

 

 

But the absolute worst thing that “Final Wars” does is something simple – In the film’s two hour runtime, Godzilla is on-screen for all of twelve minutes.

This was supposed to be Godzilla’s big shining moment. Fifty years of making movies, creating an entire genre of filmmaking and some of the most iconic monsters of all time, and a franchise that had has more entries than Star Wars, Star Trek and the Lord of the Rings combined. And the filmmakers cannot even be bothered make him the central focus of the movie or give him a fight that lasts more than two minutes.

That is not just bad filmmaking, it is downright disrespectful and insulting to Godzilla and his fans. We didn’t watch any of the previous Godzilla movies for the chance that the humans would fight. We came for Godzilla. We came because of his strength and his awe. Something so simple as hearing his roar or watching his spines glow bright blue brings a smile to so many people’s faces, and it comes across like these filmmakers don’t give a damn about any of that. They would rather imitate other popular franchises poorly, instead of paying tribute to a legacy that is older than most of the people working on this movie.

It makes “Godzilla: Final Wars” feel empty and hollow; insincere in its “love” for Godzilla and his monster companions and never giving the audience enough time to truly appreciate the short monster scenes.

 

 

Godzilla doesn’t even appear until the halfway point in the movie, and then he proceeds to get into many monster fights that last less than 30 seconds. In these fights, Godzilla basically walks right through his opponents, including Gigan, Zilla (the 1998 American Godzilla – yes, he is in this movie), the giant spider Kumonga, the giant mantis Kamakuras, Hedorah, and Ebirah. These monsters do little more than slow Godzilla down as he makes his way from Antarctica to Tokyo. So not only are the fights too short to enjoy, but Godzilla expends zero effort to defeat them that it takes all the drama and tension out of the scene. One blast of his atomic ray is enough to defeat most of these monsters.

I have seen fight scenes in “My Little Pony” that are more exciting to watch than these ones. At least I will not miss those fights if I have to blink.

To add to this growing mountain of crap, “Godzilla: Final Wars” gets even worse because its boring. For a film that is basically action scenes galore, and often has the entire fate of the world at stake, the pacing is so slow in the early parts that it makes everything dull. “Final Wars” spends its first hour trying to build the mystery behind the alien invaders, the Xiliens, when anyone with two functioning brain cells can figure out that they are evil and want to destroy us.

 

 

Then there are the main cast of characters, including the bland Neo-ripoff Ozaki (Masahiro Matsuoka), his mutant rival who is about as mindless as a newborn puppy Kazama (Kane Kosugi), the supermodel turned biologist that can hack any computer (because biology means computer hacking in this world) Miyuki (Rei Kikukawa), and the American captain who only speaks in one-liners (Don Frye).

By the way, Don Frye made a name for himself in Japan through their equivalent of the UFC, called Pride. In other words, he’s a boxer/wrestler/fighter turned into an actor for this one movie. Congratulations Toho, you’ve hired the MMA version of Stone Cold Steve Austin or Hulk Hogan to be one of the lead actors in your giant monster movie attempting to celebrate fifty years of Godzilla. Thanks for continuing the sad tradition of turning wrestlers into movie actors and proving that it often fails miserably.

In any case, the film gives us no reason to care about our protagonists. No humanity to latch on to, since they all act like spoiled brats who will throw a temper tantrum if they don’t get what they want. Now imagine that those idiot are in charge of saving the world from aliens and monsters and you might start to see why these characters suck.

As we get further up this countdown and move away from the bottom, I’ll be pointing out any redeeming factors these Godzilla films have to offer and show that there is something of value. “Godzilla: Final Wars” has nothing of value. It is devoid of joy and awe, never once making an attempt to develop its own identity. It does a terrible job of trying to pay tribute to Godzilla with how little it cares about the character or his history, with little more than some references with no substance behind them. This is the “Epic Movie” of the Godzilla franchise – it is best left forgotten and never talked about again.

 

 

 

Movie Review – “Coraline” (2009)

 

 

While I certainly feel that “Kubo and the Two Strings” is Lakia’s most visually enthralling and captivating film, “Coraline” is Lakia’s most well-told story with mesmerizing visuals that both astound and terrify. It shows that Lakia isn’t just about making one-of-a-kind stop-motion movies, but can tell a tale that encases a multitude of emotions that can be enjoyed by people of all ages.
The movie follows its titular character, Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning), a young girl who just moved from the midwest to the west coast into a rundown boarding house. Her parents are far too focused on completing their gardening catalog to pay attention to her, and her new neighbors would rather talk about themselves instead of listen to what she has to say. But one day, Coraline discovers a secret door in her new house that ultimately leads to some sort of alternate world where everyone is nice, pleasant, and wants to make life exciting for Coraline. She is eventually presented with the possibility of staying in this world, but at the cost of having her eyes replaced with buttons.

 

 
Part of the reason “Coraline” is so enthralling is because of the pacing, which is just slow enough to cast doubt on this colorful world but to see why it is worth living in. Information about this “other world,” and especially Coraline’s “other mother” is slowly fed to us in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or forced, so we put the pieces together just as Coraline does. It also helps that she is a clever protagonist who just wants to belong in the world. She completes the well-rounded mystery by making you want to pursue the truth.
The animation style is far more like “The Nightmare Before Christmas” than any other Lakia picture, with lots of vibrant colors that often take disturbing shapes, especially with the puppet motif in “Coraline.” It helps that this movie had the same director as “Nightmare,” Henry Selick, as he adds his visual hellish landscape-vibe to this movie.
Add in the well-paced story, a well-written main character, plenty of mystery and horror, yet still making it enjoyable for both children and adults, and you get a smart, fulfilling experience. “Coraline” is one the better Lakia movies and is certainly worth checking out.
Final Grade: A-

 

Movie Review – “In the Mood for Love” (2000)

 

 

Love and loneliness often walk hand-and-hand with one another, and it is impossible to fully appreciate one without the other. They are also concepts that break cultural boundaries, as seen in Wong Kar-wai’s Hong Kong 2000 film “In the Mood for Love.”

 

The film is set in 1962 in a Hong Kong apartment complex, when two tenants move in on the same day, both young married couples but all of them devoted to their work. The wife of one couple, Shu Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung), and the husband of the other, Chow Mo-whan (Tony Leung), have jobs close to home, but their spouses’ careers lead them overseas to Japan, leaving them alone most nights in a town that doesn’t speak their language. Chow and Shu become friends and see a lot of each other, especially when their significant others are out of town an increasing amount. The two slowly begin to realize their spouses are out of town at the same time and piece together that they are having an affair with each other.

 

“In the Mood for Love” excels at creating an atmosphere of isolation and the need for companionship and understanding. Shu and Chow go about the same daily routine, avoiding contact with foreigners as much as possible, only to return to an empty tiny room to eat the same noodles, day in and day out. Their only comfort comes when they get to be with each other, as they talk about writing a script for a marital arts television program and their spouses. The two discuss having an affair of their own, but Shu becomes skittish and shuts down the moment romance is mentioned.

 

 

 

The film portrays Shu and Chow as being entirely alone in the world and are looking for some sort of acceptance in the world, but both are doing it in different ways – Chow wants to be with Shu, but Shu might hope to get back with her husband. It delves deep into the unspoken rules of marriage in China and Hong Kong and how society treats those who cheat and go through divorce, mostly through Maggie Cheung’s repressed emotions and reserved nature around Chow. She hates her husband for what he did, but she doesn’t want to be an outcast.

 

But I will remember “In the Mood for Love” for its color palette and cinematography. The colors are stylized yet tasteful, subtle yet bold, where every room, outfit and camera angle has an impact on an emotional level. From the billowing red curtains to a jade-green dress, the look of this film is breath-taking and supremely beautiful.

 

Overall, “In the Mood for Love” is a subtle, somber film about two lost souls longing for acceptance in different ways. It is deeply enriched in the customs of the Chinese culture and the diversity of Hong Kong in the 1960s, so be aware of the cultural differences. But if you ever see a Chinese film that doesn’t have to do with martial arts, be sure to check out “In the Mood for Love.”

 

Final Grade: B

Mini-Review – “Mission: Impossible III” (2006)

mi3

Remember when I said that Ethan Hunt went on his most personal mission in “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”? Well, I take all that back now that I’ve seen “Mission: Impossible III.” Not only does Tom Cruise get a chance to do more than just run and perform amazing stunts, but he gets to hold a grudge and do questionable things that keep this spy thriller interesting.

I have no problem saying this is the best film in the “Mission: Impossible” series.

This is mostly due to the superb acting from not only Tom Cruise, but also the ever-elegant Philip Seymour Hoffman. He plays the elusive Owen Davian, a black-market dealer who has funded terrorist organizations with money and weapons for years, yet has never been close to being captured. When Davian kidnaps one of Hunt’s former students, Ethan makes it his personal mission to hunt down this criminal and bring him in, especially before he gets his target, an unknown device called the Rabbit’s Foot.

From the beginning, we’re told that Ethan is done with the secret agent business and has decided to settle down. Normally, this would be a cliché way of getting the older veteran back into the action one last time, but with “Mission: Impossible III,” Cruise makes it all seem legitimate. Hunt has found a woman he is willing to settle down with and raise a family, get a normal job and go about living like a regular man. He never stops smiling when he’s around his fiancée, Julia (Michelle Monaghan), and takes every opportunity to be near her. It comes across like he doesn’t miss the agency, and only takes the mission when he learns the woman he treats like his little sister is missing.

That’s what makes this so personal – Ethan was ready to give it all up, only for a despicable man to take his shining chance at happiness and force him to watch it die right in front of him.

It is difficult to get a beat on Hoffman’s character, whether he takes a delight in causing pain in others like the Joker, or if he only does it because he feels he has to, like Anthon Chigurh from “No Country For Old Men.” Owen Davian falls somewhere in the middle, where he will resort to brutal and under-handed tactics to get what he wants, but his facial expressions suggest that he is either keeping his happiness hidden or feels nothing. This is due to Hoffman’s brilliant acting, with the right mix of creepiness, subtlety and mystery.

Of course, like the other films in the franchise, “Mission: Impossible III” has some great stunt work, especially when dealing with leaping from tall buildings in Shanghai with nothing to cling to but a small parachute. With Tom Cruise still doing all of his own stunts and little to no CGI, the moment where we see Ethan nearly slide off a slippery skyscraper has quite an impact.

Overall, “Mission: Impossible III” was a blast to watch, with a great mix of drama, suspense and comedy when it needed to. The gadgets are not overused and fit in nicely with the world these films have built. Cruise and Hoffman turn in some great moments together and give this movie the emotional punch that it needed. I highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys spy films of any kind.

Final Grade: A-