*. For people who care about these things, the Godzilla canon is often divided up into different periods. Things kicked off with the Showa Era, which ran from Gojira (1954) to The Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975). After this the franchise was mothballed for nearly a decade, being revived in the Heisei Era (1984 – 1995).
*. The Showa and Heisei Eras would be followed by the Shinsei (or Millennium) and Reiwa Eras in Japan, and the Legendary MonsterVerse franchise that kicked off with 2014’s Godzilla. The names are taken from Japanese emperors. I’ve posted notes on many of the Showa films but I won’t be talking as much about the Heisei Era. They are not as well liked by most people, myself included.
*. To give the Heisei films credit, the effects, as you would expect, are markedly better. These are better looking productions all around, and even the dubbing is superior. They also eschew a lot of the craziness and juvenility of the Showa productions. However, as summarized by William Tsutsui in his companion book Godzilla On My Mind, “despite all their bells and whistles, the Heisei films did lack that most important of elements, heart.”
*. Heart is a good word for what’s missing. In my initial notes I had scribbled that this movie was no fun, which comes to nearly the same thing.
*. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (which, despite the numbering, is not a sequel to any of the previous Mechagodzilla appearances) was originally intended to be the last Godzilla movie because Toho didn’t want to have to compete with the American Godzilla directed by Roland Emmerich that was coming down the pipe. As things turned out, they had nothing to fear. But that’s another story. So in fact the Heisei Era would continue on for a few more years.
*. We get off to a shaky start as the opening voiceover tells us that “The year is 1992 AD” Wow. That anno domini really helps clear things up. Then the English titles tell us that this is actually Godzilla® vs. Mechagodzilla® II. Two registered copyrights in one title! That wouldn’t be topped until 2001’s Godzilla®, Mothra® and King Ghidorah™: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.
*. The rest of the movie feels like a recycling operation. Mechagodzilla is back, this time being operated by the military’s G-Force instead of aliens from the Third Planet of the Black Hole. Which made me wonder just how advanced those aliens were since this is a more powerful Mechagodzilla in pretty much every way. Rodan is back too, this time being pronounced (apparently correctly) Radon. And finally there is Baby Godzilla, who looks slightly better than Minilla from All Monsters Attack but that’s about the best I can say for him.
*. There are a number of pointless fights. It has been discovered that Godzilla actually has a second brain in his ass, so the “G-Crusher” strategy is developed to target this sensitive spot. This works well until it doesn’t. I’m not sure what the relation was between Godzilla, Rodan, and Baby Godzilla but they end up on the same side. Mechagodzilla bites the dust again, though Godzilla doesn’t tear his head off. So back to the old drawing board. They can always rebuild him.
*. There is one nice moment where the romantic leads take a short flight on an air scooter over Baby Godzilla’s pen. I thought that was the best part of the movie. The rest of it isn’t bad though. There are some good monster fights, if that’s what you came for, though these are less fanciful than the Showa entries and I just hate seeing a machine beating up on monsters. The whole thing seems to be missing something though, whether you want to call it heart or fun or whatever. It also feels caught between two worlds: the earlier campy suitmation and the CGI extravaganzas to come. It was 1992 AD.
*. It’s not that bad.
*. When this Godzilla came out, the first to be produced solely by a Hollywood studio, it was thoroughly trashed by critics and Godzilla fans alike (William Tsutsui even calls it “beyond Reptilicus bad,” which is surely going too far). Indeed, many of the people behind the film, cast and crew, later said how much they disliked it and apologized for how they screwed things up.
*. So it’s not good. But I wouldn’t call it terrible either. I don’t much care for it, but I do find it watchable. In fact I’ve watched it a few times now. And while I don’t like it any better today, I don’t hate it any more.
*. An initial question to ask: Is it really a Godzilla movie? Fans had their doubts, and took to calling it GINO, or Godzilla In Name Only. Director Roland Emmerich hadn’t been interested in the Toho monster and took the job only on the condition of being able to do his own thing. In this case his own thing meant replacing the roly-poly figure of a man in a lizard suit with a CGI dinosaur escaped from Jurassic Park.
*. I don’t mind the creature’s design, but the head is too big and it doesn’t have any expressiveness or character (in the twenty-first century the head would shrink, almost to the point of appearing deformed). As for the CGI, at the time I seem to remember thinking it was pretty good, though Roger Ebert’s contemporary review called it shoddy. Today, however, it definitely looks subpar. As I’ve had occasion to remark many times before, that’s the double edge of cutting-edge technology. You live by it, you die by it.
*. Another thing that bothered me about the monster (in both its adult and hatchling form) is that in all the chase scenes it moves so much faster than whoever its pursuing, but is never able to catch up. Of course this is something that happens in a lot of movies — it’s a way of dragging out chase scenes — but here it happens so often and it’s so obvious that it really got to be a distraction.
*. Complaining about believability, however, is kind of pointless in this movie. How Godzilla is moving around through the subway tunnels is a mystery that’s not even worth thinking about. And other points have become part of the franchise. Like, for example, the military thinking that some guys with machine guns might be able to take Godzilla down. They don’t even have the tanks and rocket launchers that the Japanese army regularly brought out (to no avail). Or we may think of the way Godzilla magically disappears from the middle of a major city, a vanishing act which goes back to The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms as well as previous Godzilla films. At least here this is recognized as ridiculous. “How could something so big just disappear?” one character asks. You tell me.
*. The script, I think, is very bad, punctuated with a litany of predictable lines that are played for smiles or applause. But they’re either so obvious or telegraphed so far in advance that they can’t be enjoyed. The pilot of the helicopter gunship who blazes away at nothing and exclaims “I think we got him!” Everybody in the audience knows you didn’t get him. Just like everyone in the audience knows Broderick is going to end up telling us that Godzilla is pregnant but we have to wait forever for him to say the words. Meanwhile, the long-running gag of Mayor Ebert bickering with his sidekick Gene is so laboured as to fail at its introduction.
*. Sure all mass entertainment is manipulative in this way, but it shouldn’t be so blatant in its pandering. Like at the end where we’re clearly supposed to cheer along with all the cheering people watching the same show we are on TV. Another example of the same manipulative effect is when Broderick stops to watch the baby dinosaurs slipping on the jawbreakers and basketballs. It makes no sense for him to do this, but it’s a shot that’s meant to signal to us that we’re supposed to be enjoying this as well.
*. So it’s stupid. And it’s not really a Godzilla movie. And it’s much too long. But Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno do their best and the movie doesn’t stint on what you came in for. I was actually surprised at how early Godzilla is introduced. I doubt I’ll ever end up watching it again, but I think I’ll probably always remember it better than Legendary’s reboot of the franchise in 2014, which I saw once and then forgot entirely a few weeks later. Which may just mean that in a contest between the bad and the bland, don’t bet against failure, however epic.