Thursday, November 6, 2014

60 Years of Godzilla - Godzilla vs. Megaguirus

Cody learns a whole new history.

Having successfully brought Godzilla back to the screen with Godzilla 2000, Toho Studios was off and running on the production of a new era in the kaiju series, the Millennium era.

Godzilla 2000 had established what would become the trademark of this era, the way the films would play with continuity. 2000 didn't necessarily have a connection to the films that preceded it, Godzilla was just a known threat to Japan who would show up every so often and cause destruction. He was essentially a living natural disaster.

The next Millennium goes a step further in breaking free of any continuity by not just having no connection to Godzilla 2000, but even being set in its own separate universe.

Godzilla vs. Megaguirus marks the directorial debut of Masaaki Tezuka, who would go on to direct a couple more Godzilla movies and had previously been an assistant director on such films as Rebirth of Mothra II and III. With a screenplay by Hiroshi Kashiwabara (Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, Godzilla 2000) and Wataru Mimura (Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II, Godzilla 2000), Tezuka's film creates an entirely new backstory for Japan's experiences with the King of the Monsters.

The opening sequence establishes this alternate history, beginning with an old fashioned newsreel report on Godzilla, beginning with his attack on Tokyo in 1954 (which was, of course, the year of the original Gojira's release.) The first shot of Godzilla occurs within the first thirty seconds of the movie, and appears to have been accomplished through stop-motion animation.

The first shot of live action Godzilla smashing through the burning city follows soon after. Reprising the role from Godzilla 2000, and wearing the same suit that was made for that movie, is Tsutomu Kitagawa.

After the '54 incident, Japan's capital was moved to Osaka. Tokyo was rebuilt, things returned to normal... And then Godzilla returned in 1966 to destroy the country's first nuclear power plant, located in Tokai Village. Deducing that the monster had been drawn to the power plant so he could feed off the nuclear energy, government officials gave up on nuclear power to keep Japan safe.

Thirty years of trying to find an alternative that could match up to nuclear energy led to the creation of plasma energy. Plasma energy was clean, and yet it still drew Godzilla back onto land for a rampage through Osaka in 1996.

By 2001, plasma energy has also been banned. A special military anti-Godzilla defense unit has been assembled to collect data on Godzilla, search for him, and plan how to handle the situation in case he returns. In this unit are combat troops called the G-Graspers, the ones who will do battle with Godzilla if necessary. The head of the G-Graspers is Kiriko Tujimori, who has previous experience with Godzilla, having encountered him in 1996. At that time, she inadvertently caused the death of her commanding officer when she ignored his order to retreat. She wants revenge.

We're introduced to the anti-Godzilla unit through the eyes of its latest recruit Hajime Kudo, who isn't a professional scientist but has the skills to be one. Kudo's recruitment was recommended by his former physics teacher Miss Yoshizawa, played by Yuriko Hoshi, who previously appeared in the '60s Godzilla films Mothra vs. Godzilla and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster.

Yoshizawa is involved in the development of a plasma weapon called Dimension Tide, which will open up a targeted black hole intended to suck Godzilla into it and keep him prisoner for eternity. That's the idea, anyway. They need Kudo's help to make it work... and they need to work fast, because there are signs that Godzilla may soon be returning.

Dimension Tide is constructed. A test firing is conducted. An old building is successfully swallowed up in a manmade black hole... and then a wormhole is briefly left shimmering over the area. After the anti-Godzilla unit has left the test site, a giant insect flies through the space-time distortion. It only sticks around for a short while before flying back into the wormhole, but in that time it lays an egg that is discovered by a young boy who lives nearby.

When the boy's family moves to Tokyo, he takes the egg with him. And when the egg starts leaking a clear liquid, he throws it out... dropping it into the sewer.

Dimension Tide is launched into orbit on a satellite, ready to blast Godzilla with a black hole as soon as he shows his face, no matter where he is on the planet when that happens. But other creatures show up in Tokyo before Godzilla does. Large, bloodthirsty insects called Meganulon, which then molt into winged Meganula, a type of dragonfly that the wormhole has brought back from 350 million years in the Earth's past. These monsters are a new take on the prehistoric pests that first appeared in 1956's Rodan.

Radioactivity in the ocean suggests the imminent arrival of Godzilla. G-Graspers go out to the sea to try to verify the presence of Godzilla... and when he rises from the sea right underneath them, Tujimori has a very close encounter with her hated enemy. She even ends up riding on Godzilla's side for a moment, during which time she fires a transmitter into his side, making his movements more easily traceable.

As Godzilla advances on Tokyo, the Meganula have been busy multiplying, the eggs clogging up the sewer, causing a large portion of the city to flood. Soon there are so many prehistoric bugs flying around, wiping all of them out would seem to be an impossible task.

Kudo and Yoshizawa aren't sure how well Dimension Tide will work when fired from orbit, the machine needs more fine tuning, but they're out of time. When Godzilla makes landfall, they're to blast him. Luckily, the first bit of land in his path is the small, uninhabited Kiganjima Island. The perfect type of place for the black hole to open up on.

Godzilla reaches Kiganjima Island, with G-Graspers antagonizing him on his way there to make sure he stays on course. Dimension Tide is on standby, ready to fire. Then as soon as Goji walks up onto land, he's suddenly swarmed by Meganula. The giant dragonflies flying all around him makes it hard for Kudo to directly target Godzilla with the Dimension Tide satellite. The bugs crawl all over Godzilla, sinking their stingers into him. The stingers glow as they draw energy out of him like mosquitoes sucking blood. He slaps them with his hands, smashes them with his tail, burns them up with his atomic breath. Once he has made a major dent in the Meganula population, he has also unknowingly given Dimension Tide a better shot at himself.

The weapon is fired. A black hole opens up on Kiganjima Island. When it disappears, there's nothing but a crater and some stray Meganula in the spot where Godzilla was.

Godzilla rises from the crater. Dimension Tide was unsuccessful, and the weapon can't be fired again until it has cooled down for one hour.

The surviving Meganula fly back toward Tokyo, and Godzilla follows. His target is expected to be the National Chemistry Institute in Shibuya, where a top secret project has been in the works. The further development of plasma energy, which some officials haven't been able to let go of, more focused on the wealth Japan could gain from it than the danger of drawing Godzilla back to the city.

At the bottom of the flooded section of Tokyo, there lies a massive cocoon. The Meganula swim down to the cocoon and sink their stingers into it, feeding it the power that they absorbed from Godzilla. The Meganula die, and from the cocoon emerges their Queen, Megaguirus.

When Godzilla reaches Tokyo, he's greeted by the G-Graspers and Megaguirus, who attacks him, seeking to drain more energy from him through her own stinger. Megaguirus whizzes around Goji at high speeds, battering him, cutting him with the edges of her wings, blasting him with a version of his own atomic breath. Her wings beat so fast that they emit a high frequency wave that shorts out electric equipment, which causes the G-Grasper aircraft Gryphon to crash and also has an effect on the Dimension Tide equipment.

The Dimension Tide computer system shorts out. The satellite starts to fall out of orbit. Kudo has to fix the system and fire off a shot before the satellite comes back through the atmosphere. The only way he'll be able to properly target it is through the efforts of Tujimori at the scene.

As with Godzilla 2000, the monster battle in this film ends with Godzilla pulling off a move that is cheer-worthy.

I wish I could say I felt the movie as a whole was cheer-worthy. There are some very interesting ideas in Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, but the execution of them feels dull and lifeless. Although Godzilla's finishing move on his opponent is awesome, the overall fight isn't all that good.

The Meganulons provide the most entertainment of the different types of Mega for me, thanks to a scene in which they attack a man in an alleyway and it's presented like something out of an '80s horror movie. Watching Godzilla get swarmed with Meganula can't match up to that, and his fight with Megaguirus feels like it's playing out in slow motion.

Nearly everything in the movie feels like it's rendered pointless by the storytelling. The alternate history created is intriguing, but has no real bearing on what happens. We didn't need that background just to show Godzilla going for a plasma energy lab.

Dimension Tide is also an intriguing idea, but it really accomplishes nothing beyond providing some nice CGI spectacle. If the most it does in the movie is cause some damage and suck up some Meganulas, what good is it? The idea that it might have vanquished Godzilla is only held onto for a few seconds at a time.

Something about the special effects feels lacking here, too. Not just the CGI effects, which aren't quite convincing, but even the miniature work is at times less impressive that you might expect, especially at this stage in the franchise.

Godzilla vs. Megaguirus isn't a bad movie, it's kind of fun, but I'm just left with the feeling that it was a missed opportunity. If you're going to build an alternate universe for a Godzilla movie, you can do more with it than this.

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