*. Talk about a mouthful of a title. It’s often abbreviated as GMK, which I think I’ll go with.
*. The Godzilla movies of the Millennium series only accept the original Gojira as pre-existing (though there is a funny dig at Hollywood’s 1998 Godzilla in the opening scene here). Indeed, we’re told that Godzilla’s last rampage was so long ago that even people who were there at the time are apparently having doubts as to whether it actually happened.
*. Given such a blank slate, in this movie Godzilla can be a bad guy, as he was in 1954, while King Ghidorah makes his only appearance in the franchise as a heroic monster. The title promises a line-up of famous names, but it’s only the names that have stayed the same.
*. In addition to being one of Japan’s Guardian Monsters, Ghidorah is also smaller than Godzilla now. But then, everything looks smaller next to what has to be the fattest Godzilla ever. Apparently the intention was to have him move in a more bent-forward position but this was too difficult to achieve. Instead he should have just tried tucking himself into a ball and rolling through Tokyo.
*. Another change in his appearance is the absence of pupils in his eyes. This has the effect of making him seem less cartoonish and more malignant, but it also made me think he might have gone blind in the ocean depths.
*. Then there’s the matter of his back story. No longer the product of atomic testing, and thus erasing even Gojira as a foundational text, we’re told now that Godzilla somehow embodies the “collective will to survive” of the souls of all those who died in the Second World War. Or at least those who died in the Pacific theatre. I wasn’t sure.
*. In his book Godzilla On My Mind William Tsutsui says that this part of the plot is “based on an interpretation of Godzilla long favored by right-wing critics in Japan,” with Godzilla representing “the unquiet souls of the soldiers and sailors who died in the Pacific during World War II, returning to Japan to wreak vengeance, to demand belated acknowledgment, and to rekindle national spirit.”
*. That’s the sense I had at first as well, but then the strange holy man who is explaining this stuff seems to suggest that what Godzilla really represents is not the Japanese war dead but the souls of the victims of Japanese aggression. At least that’s the way I understood it from the subtitles.
*. In any event, what you’ll gather from this is that GMK is a movie with a pronounced supernatural flavour. If Godzilla is some kind of otherworldly avatar of revenge his opponents are three Guardian Monsters (Baragon, reduced to a punching bag without his heat ray, Mothra, and Ghidorah) who are related to ritual statues, as well as to each other in some weird way. They can’t really die but instead they dissolve into gold dust and rise again, reconstituted Phoenix-style.
*. One unfortunate result of all of this supernaturalism is that it’s hard to feel anything much is at stake. You can’t kill these magical monsters as they’ll just keep reforming and coming back. The movie’s bizarre final shot even plays a bit like the end of some ’80s slasher flick, with Godzilla now cousin to one of the immortal killers of that era.
*. The human story has some nice comic touches playing with the reporters for BS Media (“the bargain basement of the airwaves”), but it ends on a schmaltzy note. The effects are poor. The fight scenes are reasonably well done, but uninteresting. Godzilla vs. Baragon is especially pointless. Surprisingly it is the military this time out that administers the coup de grâce, something that I don’t think I’d seen since Godzilla Raids Again. Which just underlines how odd an entry this is in the franchise. And when you go the route of being odd you have to take the good with the bad.