Godzilla Against is, like the previous few films of the Millennium era, a film set within its own timeline. It takes the original film, with the change that the original Godzilla’s bones were left intact, picks a few points from Toho’s monster movie history such as Mothra and War of the Gargantuas, and returns Godzilla to modern Japan with the nation prepared to take him on. Only they’re not prepared enough and must do something a little crazy if they hope to defeat Godzilla again. Click the link below for my review.
Once the bones of Godzilla had been salvaged by the Japanese Government their goal was to use it’s DNA to use as a biological computer that would control the new Mechagodzilla, called Kiryu in this film. Some years earlier a Japanese solider Akane Yashiro (Yumiko Shaku) had been made a scapegoat for a failed attempt to stop Godzilla when he first reappeared. She is brought out of the desk job she was demoted too in order to pilot Kiryu. This upsets a few of her fellow soldiers. As Akane trains for her task she befriends the daughter of the scientist that created the DNA computer technology used to make Kiryu and the two philosophise on the worth of life and the meaning of death. Not kidding. Eventually Godzilla goes up against Kiryu.
You may guess from that description that this is a quite different beast compared to the previous film, GMK. Whilst Godzilla is still the villain there’s been a step back to the kinds of Godzilla films that most people are used to. The lighter sci-fi action focus is, admittedly, where Godzilla films will most comfortably fit. But after watching GMK it is a little disappointing to not follow up on that film’s story, which did include a little cliff hanger style tease, or to even maintain the tone. It is the remit of the Millennium Era films, though, to feature new takes on Godzilla’s history with each passing film. Due to the way the film’s backstory is a collection of various points in Toho’s monster movie history there is a slight feeling of this being a bit of a fan project. That’s no bad thing though. It shows a love for Toho’s monster films on the part of the director, this time around it’s Masaaki Tezuka, who does a fine job of creating almost a best of monster movies feel.
The monster fights at the end of the film feel a lot like the director had watched the previous Vs Mechagodzilla films and wanted to so something about the robot’s mobility. At first Kiryu is a rather statuesque sight that relies on ranged weaponry but gradually he loosens up and gets to do a lot more close up and fast moving action than he’s ever been capable of before. There’s punches being exchanged. leaps through the air a few times. He can even use his tail now. A cool moment for Kiryu, and a sub-plot that wasn’t really used enough, involves his Godzilla DNA waking up and him going on a rampage that the JSDF cannot halt. This leads up to one of my favourite shots of a Godzilla film monster just not giving a shit as Kiryu plain walks right through a building as if it wasn’t there. If there’s anything this film succeeded at it was providing me with a moment I can add to my pile of favourite things in Godzilla movies.
A number of features common to Godzilla films, that weren’t present in GMK return here. Firstly, the suit from Godzilla 2000 and Vs Megaguirus makes a return, albeit in a modified form. The skin colour is returned to its traditional grey, along with the spines no longer being purple. The head has been reduced in side and the mouth made to a much less ridiculous size. The new suit still has the heavily anime awesome style look it had before but it’s a lot more muted. The second element that returns is one dimensional characters. Whilst many Godzilla films do a fine job of presenting entertaining characters, they’re usually a little flat. Here, every character seem monocular in their characteristics. It’s OK to have a singular goal for a character but you need a little extra meat on them bones to make them actually pop. Akane has a couple of moments where she comes out of her hardened warrior trying to make good shell but by that point she’s just not an interesting enough person to care about anyway.
There’s just none of the emotional heft GMK had here. Compared to earlier films I’d say it sits right about in the same tone and story quality of the Heisei era films. It really does feel a lot like a Heisei film at times too. The sets have a similar feel. There’s a focus on military scientific characters. The plot progression is practically the same as Vs Mechagodzilla II. Robot is built, robot fails, Godzilla reappears, robot succeeds because people tried even harder. There’s a lack of a compelling through line in the storytelling linking the actions of the human characters to the action on screen. The main purpose of Akane’s story is to prove her worth and that just means she eventually actually pilots Kiryu from within, rather than the remote pilot system used up to that point. The thing is, this basic characterisation doesn’t detract too much from the quality of the action moments. There’s still plenty of enjoyment to be had for anyone that doesn’t expect much more than monster fights.
The effects work is pretty well handled with a lot less of the ropey CGI seen in the first two Millennium era films. There’s a few stand out effects shots that just work well because they’re practical. The previously mentioned Kiryu walking through the building looks great. The city set used for the final battle is a little more cramped than usual which actually helps authenticate the models look. Usually the city based fights take place in locations with much smaller buildings and the odd tower. Here, ever building is at least waist high and the cramped nature of the environment means there’s plenty of chance to see buildings getting trashed in that way only Toho really pull off. The Kiryu costume is also a nicely made piece and looks a lot more flexible and practical for action scenes than any previous Mechagodzilla.
So whilst this film does feel like a bit of a step back after the genuinely excellent GMK, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla is at least an entertaining 88 minutes. It is another step towards the style focused approach to the films that culminated in the gloriously over the top Final Wars (reviewed Wednesday!), which many fans really don’t like. Here it hasn’t reached the point of being obnoxious when placed against the human side of the story. An issue Final Wars also avoided by making the human side just as ridiculous as the monster fights. Next up is the only direct sequel in the Millennium series, Godzilla: Tokyo SOS.