Monday, September 15, 2014

60 Years of Godzilla - Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla

A new-but-familiar monster picks a fight.

Toho Studios and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka had made a trio of Godzilla entries featuring updated versions of classic Goji opponents (King Ghidorah, Mothra, MechaGodzilla and Rodan) after the box office failure of 1989's Godzilla vs. Biollante, which had pitted the king of the monsters against a kaiju created specifically for that film, convinced them that audiences didn't care about seeing new creatures. But with five years of distance from that disappointment, they took a chance... Although, since the new kaiju introduced in their 1994 production is just a version of Godzilla who has a strong resemblance to the series' star, how much of a risk can it be considered? If MechaGodzilla draws people in, why wouldn't SpaceGodzilla?

(Biollante had also been a mutated version of Godzilla, but not quite as obviously.)

The screenplay for Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla was a collaboration between Kanji Kashiwa, who has this film as the sole credit on his filmography, and Hiroshi Kashiwabara, who would go on to write a couple more Godzilla movies. Hired to bring their script to the screen was Kensho Yamashita. Yamashita had previous experience with franchise, having worked as the chief assistant director on Terror of MechaGodzilla.

Akira Ifukube, composer of the majority of the Godzilla scores since it all began with 1954's Gojira, sat this one out, and in the veteran's place was hired novice composer Takayuki Hattori, who did a decent job.

The film begins with the crystal-encrusted form SpaceGodzilla floating through space, energy coursing through its body as it heads toward Earth. Crystalline meteors sent ahead slam into a small island in the Pacific. The explosive impact awakens Godzilla from his slumber in the sea only about 80 seconds into the movie... His silhouette backlit with red lighting, Godzilla lets out a roar. The title appears.

We're then introduced to people who work for Japan's Counter-G (G for Godzilla) Force, including psychic Miki Saegusa, a character who is returning for the fifth film in a row here and is, as always, played by Megumi Odaka.

There are dueling projects being developed at Counter-G, different approaches to dealing with the threat of Godzilla. A reluctant Miki is at the center of Project T (T for Telepathy), which will use machinery to amplify her psychic abilities so she can control Godzilla with her mind.

The competing project is simply another robot designed to kill Big G. Built from the shattered remains of MechaGodzilla, which nearly successfully killed Godzilla at the end of Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II until the mutant pteranodon Rodan merged his essence with Goji, this new robot is called the Mobile Operation Godzilla Universal Expert Robot Aero-type. Moguera.

A different version of Moguera was originally featured in the 1957 film The Mysterians, in which it was the creation of an alien race that came to Earth to mate with human females.

The fact that a large monster is approaching the planet from space is signaled by the destruction of a NASA vessel, torn apart by the creature's claws and crystal spikes, and confirmed when Mothra's companions the Cosmos, who are flying through space with the winged kaiju, telepathically contact Miki to warn her. SpaceGodzilla intends to kill Godzilla, and with Godzilla out of his way, Earth can be easily conquered.

Meanwhile, a pair of G-Force members are sent to join fellow soldier Yuki on the small island seen at the beginning of the movie, Birth Island, where Yuki has been stationed quite a while. Living on this island is the young Godzillasaur from the previous movie, now grown from a baby into a toddler stage. Called Little Godzilla, this guy is really starting to resemble Godzilla's son Minira/Minilla/Minya from the '60s movies. Which is to say, he's extremely adorable.

Godzilla has been known to appear in the area of Birth Island as well, so the men of G-Force are setting the place up with booby-traps like tear gas mines. Yuki, whose friend was killed during Godzilla's rampage in Biollante, knows that none of what G-Force has around the island will really have an effect on Godzilla, but he has something he believes can be used to kill the king of the monsters. A handmade bullet that he says contains blood coagulant. He intends to avenge his pal and fire it into a weak spot near Godzilla's armpit.

When SpaceGodzilla is spotted nearing the atmosphere, both G-Force projects are put into action: Moguera is sent off to fight SpaceGodzilla in space, and Miki and a tech crew are sent to Birth Island so they can perform Project T as soon as Godzilla shows himself.

The group doesn't have long to wait. 23 minutes into the movie, Godzilla comes wading ashore, with returning Goji performer Kenpachiro Satsuma wearing a newly re-designed suit. Tear gas mines are detonated, Yuki misses Godzilla's armpit with his blood bullets, but the telepathy amplifier is successfully attached to Godzilla... Then the machinery shorts out before Miki can accomplish much.

Moguera doesn't have much luck with SpaceGodzilla, either. Rather than impede the monster's process, the robot's crew is nearly killed.

The meteors that previously hit Birth Island open up and begin flashing with energy to herald the arrival of SpaceGodzilla. Landing on the island, SpaceG begins absorbing energy from these things while a frightened Little Godzilla looks on. Space G attacks Little G with energy beams, which doesn't sit well with Godzilla at all. Big G once again goes into battle with another kaiju.

This flying, crystal-coated version of himself makes quick work of Godzilla, and it's quite sad to see Goji getting beat up while simultaneously trying to comfort Little Godzilla, who gets trapped in one of SpaceGodzilla's meteor pads. With the kid trapped and Godzilla weakened, SpaceG flies off rather than completing its mission of murder.

Cells gathered by Moguera during the confrontation in space shows that SpaceGodzilla's cells are exactly the same as Godzilla's. The theory is that Godzilla cells carried into space by either Biollante or Mothra must have gotten sucked into a black hole and then pushed out through a white hole. It evolved, assimilated crystal organisms, was exposed to the explosions of stars, and became SpaceGodzilla.

Moguera is tooled with to boost its capabilities in preparation for a rematch, while Project T goes completely off the rails when Miki is kidnapped by the Yakuza so they can force her to control Godzilla and make him destroy things for them... One of the stranger twists to be featured in a Godzilla storyline, but it really only serves to set up an action scene with G-Force members having a gunfight with Yakuza henchmen.

Miki is rescued just in time for focus to switch back to the SpaceGodzilla situation. The monster flies over mainland Japan, wreaking havoc, then decides to really mess up Fukuoka. One of its meteor-things is blasted into the ground, causing crystal stalagmites to erupt from the ground all over Fukuoka City. These crystals draw energy from the Earth, feeding it to SpaceGodzilla through Fukuoka Tower, making him more and more powerful while draining the life out of the planet.

Godzilla makes landfall at Kagoshima Bay and causes mass destruction himself as he strolls across Japan, headed to Fukuoka City for a rematch with his evil doppelganger, but before Godzilla can get there, the newly revamped Moguera engages SpaceGodzilla in a rematch of its own. Piloted by a team that includes Yuki, the robot takes on the monster with the rays its blasts from its eyes, spiral grenade missiles shot from its arms, the plasma lazer cannon in its abdomen, and the drill on its beak.

On its home ground, Moguera fares much better against the creature than it did in space, but SpaceG still proves to be too powerful. When Moguera has been knocked down, Godzilla arrives on the scene.

SpaceGodzilla continues to prove itself to be a formidable foe for Godzilla, blasting him with the energy beam it emits from its mouth, moving Godzilla around with its telekinetic power, tossing jagged crystals at him. It appears that Godzilla is going to take another beating... until he gets the idea to start destroying the crystal stalagmites.

Seeing the effect the destruction of the crystals has on the space monster, the crew of Moguera figure out that they need to further cut off SpaceG's energy source by destroying the tower. In their effort to do so, Moguera is split into two sections, half of it becoming a vehicle called the Star Falcon.

The climactic battle sequence involving Moguera's halves and the two monsters take up a solid half hour of the film, and while it provides a good amount of entertainment, it's also never quite as engaging as I would like it to be. Powerful though he is, I don't find SpaceGodzilla to be a very interesting kaiju. It feels like more could have been done with the concept.

Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla has a very odd tone overall, a mixture of Heisei era darkness and Shōwa era goofiness. At times on Birth Island, it feels like a '90s version of the island-based installments Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla, especially with the presence of the silly looking Little Godzilla... And honestly, it's been so long since those movies, I enjoyed the return of that tone.

The script is kind of lacking and sloppy, with time being wasted on the inclusion of elements that barely matter in the long run (like Project Telepathy). This installment is really all about the fight scenes and it certainly tries to deliver in that area, but just didn't connect with me.

I don't really have positive or negative feelings toward GvsSG... just neutral... The movie is about as middle ground as it gets.

The battle ends with Godzilla emitting a blast of atomic energy that is more powerful than his average atomic breath, the regular blue stream replaced by an ugly red and yellow flame. It's an effective weapon, but it's also a bad sign for Goji's health, something the next film will pick up on. With that blast of energy, the end of an era has begun.

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