For the love of God[zilla], please, please kill this series now. Euthanize it while it's merely ailing, before its condition gets worse and it truly disgraces itself. Not since the last years of Doctor Who has a series threatened to fall so far into decline. Speaking not as a detractor, but as someone who has enjoyed kaiju movies since early childhood, I'm begging Godzilla's producers to stop making sequels before it's too late.
Godzilla 2000 gave me reason to hope that the series had some life in it yet. That film featured solid storytelling, appealing characters and good production values. It even avoided the traditional ending of Godzilla stomping off into the sea, concluding instead with the Big Guy in mid-rampage, an unappeaseable force of nature. With its charm, its self-deprecating sense of humor, and its respect for Godzilla as a towering, frightening monster, G2K promised to be the first episode in a new appraoch to kaiju cinema.
It turns out to have been a false hope. The latest Godzilla film, Godzilla vs. Megaguiras, is a flat-footed retread of all the clichés of the genre. In addition to all the familiar stock characters (to whom I will refer in this review by their stereotype alone, rather than dignifying them with a character name), we have the usual hyperbolic super-weapons, the same ludicrous "science"... all the elements that make the giant monster film so laughable. But added to these are a handful of other hackneyed ideas from bad movies of all kinds, making Godzilla vs. Megaguiras one of the most ridiculous films of the series.
There are one or two good things about Godzilla vs. Megaguiras, but they aren't nearly enough to save the film as a whole. Certainly the opening is brilliant: we are given a revised Godzilla timeline, starting from the monster's first appearance in 1954 -- here the new suit has been edited into footage from the original movie. We then see not only a revised timeline for the series, but also for Japanese history: a shot of Tokyo's Diet Building pulls back to reveal that the seat of government has been moved to Osaka. All that's missing here are some Tsuburaya-type special effects shots of the building being flown to Osaka by rocket engines... Next, we see Godzilla on the rampage in 1966, when Japan's first nuclear reactor goes on-line. Attracted by the source of energy, G. demolishes the reactor, after which Japan decides to abandon nuclear power and develop alternative sources of energy. By 1996, Japan has discovered a new, clean source of power -- plasmic energy -- in time for G. to come back and destroy that power plant, too.
Everything up to this point has been great, from the integration of the new G. design into footage from 1954, to the recreation of footage from the 60's even down to the costumes and film stock. But once we get to 1996, the film takes a turn for the worse. We're introduced to an (ahem) elite taskforce of anti-Godzilla commandos. One of them, evidently a recent addition to the team, is a rather uncertain looking young woman. I don't suppose it makes much sense to question the wisdom of sending a small group of foot-soldiers against a monster who's made short work of the entire JDF air corps. Well, naturally, during the useless mission, the new girl goes amok. Her commander attempts to restrain her. As they delay, some debris comes raining down on them. Of course, rather than tackle her and carry them both out of harm's way, the commander shoves her aside, so that he alone can be smashed under the rubble.
When the girl looks up, everything suddenly stops and goes silent. She sees her commander buried in debris. His dog-tags, miraculously, have been thrown clear of his body. Consider for a moment how this could even be possible. As the girl picks up the dog-tags, God pushes the PLAY button on life, and we're back in the noise and confusion of G's attack.
Now we've been provided with a Hero Whose Single-minded Pursuit of Godzilla is Motivated by Revenge (come back, Space Godzilla: all is forgiven). Fast-forward to 2001, when our Hero Whose Single-minded etc. etc. is head of a new counter-G organization. In place of G-Force or the Godzilla Prediction Network, we are now faced with a group called G-Grasper, an outfit charged with finding plans that are even siller than its name. It's time to meet our next Stock Character, the Young Genius. The Young Genius (YG) has been recruited by his former physics teacher to build the ultimate weapon in the war against Godzilla: the Black Hole Bomb. That's right: they're going to build a black hole right here on Earth. But don't worry: it's only a little black hole, just 6 feet across.
It takes YG only a few days to build the Black Hole Bomb. G-Grasper decides to test this dangerous new device in the middle of a populated area, with a perimiter so lightly guarded that our next Stock Character, the Kenny, can simply wander in and see it.
(I'm not sure to whom I owe the credit for the term "the Kenny"... whether its' the guys at Stomp Tokyo or Ken Begg at Jabootu, or whether they in turn may have got the term from someone else. But any kaiju eiga fan will recognize the reference, taken from 1966's Gamera. It refers to the obnoxious little kid in tight shorts that became a fixture of Japanese monster movies from the mid-60's on.)
The test of the Black Hole seems to produce 2 instabilities: first, an instability in space and time, which allows a brief glimpse into the ancient world ("Look!" everybody says, "An instability in space and time!"); and second, a disturbance in our heroine, who lets the Kenny go back home after he promises, cross his heart, not to blab about the super-top-secret weapon he just saw being tested.
Our next Stock Character is the Prehistoric Monster that Flies Through the Dimensional Instability... just in time to lay its egg, and to be seen by the Kenny. The Kenny, by remarkable coincidence, is about to movie to the city. Of course, he brings the PMtFTtDI's egg with him. Once the Kenny gets to town, the egg starts leaking, so he nervously dumps it into the sewer.
Bad move, Kenny.
The egg hatches into an enormous crawling insect, which eats a few cardboard victims before metamorphosing into an enormous flying insect. The big bug takes off just in time to be seen by -- wait for it -- the Kenny, watching from his balcony window. Note that he is the only person to see it.
The flying insect is identified by scientists (with astonishing speed and conviction) as a Meganuron (fans may remember the original Meganuron was the species of giant bug that terrorized South Japan at the beginning of Radon / Rodan, before winding up as food for the giant pterosaurs). Here the film gives us yet another Stock Character, the Wise Old Scientist, who is never directly involved in the action, but who is always on hand to provide information about Meganuron's transformations, and about the eventual emergence of the queen insect, Megaguiras. Naturally, the Wise Old Scientist's information is always too late to be of any use.
In the meantime, Godzilla has been sighted from a satellite, with his head conveniently turned so that the profile may be seen from space. He is surfacing "for the first time in three years", according to G-Grasper. That would put his last appearance at 1998 in this film's history... as I thought: this film assumes that the events of Godzilla 2000, the best G film since the 60's, also never took place.
It also proves that this is the fifth Godzilla timeline we have to keep track of. The first began with the original and went through Terror of MechaGodzilla in 1975, with Destroy All Monsters -- made in 1968 but supposedly taking place in 1999 -- technically marking the end of the series. The second timeline started with Godzilla 1984, which was intended as a direct sequel to the original as though none of the earlier sequels had ever been made. Midway through the second timeline came Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, which (through its over-complicated and silly time-travel plot) established a loopy third timeline for the Big Guy. The concluding episode of the Heisei G series, Godzilla vs. Destroyah reverted to the second timeline, and ended with Godzilla's death and the emergence of Godzilla Jr. as the Heir Apparent. Some have considered Godzilla 2000 to be a continuation of that timeline, but there's no internal evidence to support this assumption. So we can consider G2K yet another continuation of the original film. Now, this film throws everything else away and leaves us struggling to come to terms with a fifth Brand New Start.
Somewhere along the line, the Kenny exits the story, having served his purpose. As events progress, the Young Genius develops the inevitable crush on the team leader. He even uses a little early-Nintendo style cartoon of her as an animated icon in his own computer operating system, which he uses for the Black Hole Generator. He also claims his OS is ten times faster than any other. Here I was wondering if his OS would be 1000 times faster if he ran it from the command line, instead of wasting valuable CPU resources on his stupid animations. But I digress: the operating system becomes crucial later in the story, after, umm, Osaka is flooded, and a swarm of giant Meganura make life miserable both for Japan and for Godzilla.
You see, Japan has mounted the Black Hole device in a satellite, and G-Grasper is planning to use it on G from high above (now just a minute: Japan has a weapon in orbit which can pinpoint a moving target and obliterate it with a black hole?? How did the US, Russia and China feel about this, let alone North Korea?). ANYWAY, surprise! The machine malfunctions when Megaguiras uses his ultrasonic cricket-chirp. Yes, apparently Megaguiras' sound waves are audible even in the vacuum of space. The satellite breaks down, and all attempts to repair the damage from earth fail. It's up to the wounded Young Genius to save the day, by switching to his proprietary OS (which suggests that the Young Genius, like Bill Gates, has engaged in some nasty anticompetitive procedures during the original software install...)
The repairs are too little too late, though. The satellite -- this is only the start, mind you -- drops out of orbit. Its orbit doesn't decay, it simply STOPS, and drops straight back down to the ground! But even as it falls back into the atmosphere, and even after its antennae and guidance systems have all burnt off, ground control still retains enough control over it that they plan to aim and fire the weapon as it free-falls back to Earth. They plan to use the Heroine's aircraft as a temporary target. She then plummets her craft almost vertically down to where Godzilla is standing, with the falling satellite's weapon system locked on (and I sincerely hope they evacuated Osaka before they thought of deploying the black hole...). As the plane (and the satellite) come screaming down to the ground, the Heroine has time to pause and fondle her dead commander's dog tags. And then, just as she's about to smack into the ground, she ejects... and is promptly torn to pieces by the force of acceleration. JUST KIDDING! Of course, she escapes from the plane and lands in a swimming pool, shattering every bone in her body before embedding herself in the pool's concrete foundation. HA HA! JUST KIDDING AGAIN! She jumps out of the pool unscathed.
All this might be OK if it were played for laughs. But unfortunately, the only part of the film that isn't taken seriously is Godzilla himself. Here he's more anthropomorphic than he's been in a long time. At one point, he launches himself as Megaguiras in a move that's horribly like the flying tackle he used in Godzilla vs. Megalon (though at least it's head-first this time). When Megaguiras unleashes his fireball weapon for the first time, Godzilla actually does a double-take. And when the fireball hits, he stands there for a moment -- like Wiley Coyote, blinking and singed after an explosion -- before falling flat on his face. And at the climactic moment in the fight, the action suddenly freezes in a Matrix-like moment that makes no sense at all, and looks perfectly ridiculous.
Godzilla vs. Megaguiras is technically well-made, but stupid and uninspired. Series fans will find themselves counting references (and sometimes actual shots) from other monster movies, including Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Destroyah, and Gamera III, among others. But I did mention earlier that there are some good things about the movie. The opening is a big one, and another is the startling moment when rescue teams in flooded Osaka suddenly discover the side of a buidling behind them is covered in Meganuron larvae.
But it's simply not enough. Those who don't believe me are welcome to see for themselves: Godzilla vs. Megaguiras is available on VCD and Region 3 DVD from Poker Industries, where I got mine. But be warned: you'll most likely find yourself thinking nostalgically of other series entries as you watch this uninspired retread.
P O S T - S C R I P T
...a last word (maybe an obituary) for the American version of Godzilla.
Godzilla 1998 was not a particularly good film, and it's one which has even fewer friends now: it's no longer particularly entertaining to see huge buildings fall in New York. G2K was, in my opinion, a fine parody of the US film, which deserved the ribbing; but the "science" in Godzilla vs. Megaguiras makes G 98 look like Andromeda Strain. This most recent episode proves that the Japanese can make as rotten and superficial a monster movie as Devlin and Emmerich could. If you hated the American Godzilla, you have no excuse (except reverse chauvinism) to stand up for this lackluster installment of a series which is way past its prime.
End of tirade.