Features Film Reviews

Godzilla Through the Ages (2000s)

Welcome to the final part of our epic journey exploring the history of Godzilla, the King of the Monsters. In 1995, Toho killed off Godzilla. But, with the disaster that was the 1998 American film, Toho decided to revive their iconic monster to show TriStar how it was done. Godzilla 2000 begins the “Millennium” era, with each subsequent film being a standalone sequel to the 1954 film. In this final part, we’ll go through each of these installments, the 2014 American film, and Godzilla’s triumphant return in 2016.

Godzilla 2000 (1999)

The story revolves around an alien lifeform, Orga, who arrives on Earth to wake up after a millennia. Orga spends most of the film as a flying CGI spaceship, which reminds me of the one from Flight of the Navigator. There are two forces that are working to study Orga and Godzilla. One team appears to be Godzilla chasers (like storm chasers), though it was a bit confusing if they are meant to be taken seriously or not. The other is the Crisis Control Intelligence, a Japanese unit, led by a man who glares angrily a lot.

I quite like the opening half an hour, where the Godzilla chasers have a close encounter with the big guy himself. Godzilla has a new look for this era, appearing more menacing but cool at the same time. Orga eventually floats above a skyscraper in Tokyo, absorbing data on Godzilla, until the King of the Monsters shows up. Orga then absorbs Godzilla’s cells and transforms into this large cobra-like monster and tries eating Godzilla. This backfires spectacularly as Godzilla just blows Orga up from the inside with his atomic breath. The film really is enjoyable and makes the human cast likeable, although I think Orga should’ve transformed a little earlier.

Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000)

When talking about production quality, I think Godzilla vs. Megaguirus has one of the best. Great costume work for the Kaiju, a spectacular final battle, and the special effect aren’t half-bad either. The film has a complex plot with a lot of world building involved. The main protagonist is Major Kiriko Tsujimori, a vengeful soldier wishing to avenge her teammates when Godzilla killed them. An experimental satellite is designed, which can fire miniature black holes, opening wormholes. Well, I’ll give the military this – they are coming up with new, imaginative ways to try and kill Godzilla.

The test run of the black hole machine goes a little wrong when a prehistoric dragonfly drops an egg through the wormhole. A little boy witnessing the test takes the egg to Tokyo, where it hatches and produces thousands of Meganulon. Interestingly, these insects first appeared in Rodan in 1956. They cause havoc, flooding the city, and steal Godzilla’s energy to create their queen Megaguirus. Megaguirus is a very intimidating antagonist, able to move at supersonic speeds, obliterate entire neighbourhoods, and fire a poisonous projectile from its stinger. The film’s highlight is when Godzilla fights Megaguirus in Odaiba – which is amazing to watch being a Digimon fan. The best moment is when Godzilla performs an aerial body slam on Megaguirus. The level of detail in the costumes and city models really show how far the series has come.

Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

The twenty-fifth entry is definitely one of the best. It also has the longest title of any Godzilla film ever – Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. Shusuke Kaneko, who also directed the three 1990s Gamera films, created a story with anti-war tones. This serves as another standalone sequel to the 1954 film, and reintroduces the original Godzilla as a zombie, haunted by the restless ghosts of those killed during the Pacific War. A journalist, hoping to boost her career, discovers the legend of ancient guardians who will awaken to defend Japan from Godzilla. In an upending turn of events, Godzilla is now the bad guy, while Mothra, Baragon, and surprisingly, King Ghidorah, are the heroes.

The film mixes Shinto mysticism with a critique of Japan’s political climate in the past and present. It is surprisingly dark at times, not hiding away from showing the devastation the Kaiju cause. One scene involves Godzilla apparently sparing a hospital, only to blindside it with his tail. The film is quite the spectacle when it comes to the monsters, and the special effects are a treat for the eyes. I think my favourite scene is when Mothra emerges from her cocoon, accompanied by a rendition of her theme song from Godzilla vs. Mothra.

Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla (2002)

Now here’s a film that does something quite interesting with MechaGodzilla. Heavily inspired by Neon Genesis Evangelion, the film serves as another direct sequel to the original film. Oddly, the film actually mentions that the original Mothra and War of the Gargantuans are part of this canon. The Japanese government dig up the skeleton of the dead Godzilla, building MechaGodzilla around it (referred to as “Kiryu” throughout). Kiryu is piloted by Lt. Akane Yashiro (Yumiko Shaku), a disgraced JSDF officer riddled by guilt when Godzilla squashed her buddies. Akane is befriended by a goofy scientist Tokumitsu Yuhara (Shin Takuma), and his daughter Sara (Kana Onodera), who mourns her mother, carrying a potted plant with her in memory. The cynical/optimistic dynamic between Akane and Sara is a highlight of the film.

Kiryu is deployed against Godzilla, but when its enemy roars, it appears to stir the spirit within the robot’s bones. This causes a genetic memory within MechaGodzilla, reminding it that it was once Godzilla, and it goes on a rampage before running out of battery power. I do particularly like MechaGodzilla’s design here, a mix of the 1970s look and the slicker 1990s design. The final brawl is one of the best, mostly through its cinematography, score, and the fluid movements of the costumes. Akane manually pilots MechaGodzilla and bonds with it similar to Evangelion. Interestingly, this is the only film in the “Millennium” series to warrant a sequel.

Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (2003)

A direct sequel to Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla, Godzilla: Tokyo SOS reintroduces Mothra…again. The film actually serves as a direct sequel to Mothra’s debut film, with Hiroshi Koizumi reprising his role as Dr. Chujo. Mothra’s fairies warn him and his family that MechaGodzilla’s bones must be laid to rest, or Mothra will declare war against humanity. I know Mothra likes to test humanity and their hearts, but would it kill her to do some things herself, instead of sending her fairies to lecture us and then leave when questioned. This sequel isn’t all that exciting aside from the usual city-trashing, and cast members from the previous film have bit parts. Still, MechaGodzilla’s departure from the story is certainly memorable.

Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

2004 was Godzilla’s fiftieth anniversary, and the old King of the Monsters’ popularity was waning again. So, Toho decided to retire their staple franchise for a decade. Needless to say, they decided to end it with one hell of a bang. Godzilla: Final Wars finally earned Godzilla a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A mix of Thunderbirds, the X-Men, and The Matrix, Final Wars is a ludicrously zany film from start to finish. It was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, a die hard fan of old school Godzilla films.

Mutants – yes, mutants – have been gathered to form an elite fighting group who can take on the Kaiju with Matrix-style martial arts. Kaiju start rampaging worldwide, but aliens called the Xiliens appear to save mankind. But, of course they are evil, and actually created the mutants from their genes and those of the dormant Gigan. Led by the badass Colonel Douglas Gordon, the main characters awaken the frozen Godzilla. From there on, it’s an hour of kung fu fights and monster brawls. It never stops and it is awesome. The best moment has to be when the American Godzilla turns up. Zilla, as he is called, appears in CGI and gets his ass kicked by the real Godzilla. Great stuff!

Godzilla (2014)

Last time America was trusted with Godzilla, they butchered his name. Now, Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. teamed up to start the “MonsterVerse”, beginning with the 2014 film. As a disaster film, it works quite well with a great atmosphere and a sense of destruction that the monsters (referred to as “MUTO”) are causing. Gareth Edwards served as director, who had previously made Monsters. But the same problems with that movie are replicated here. The characters save Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe are all boring.

Another problem is that the film is such a tease when it comes to the monster brawls. Every time it looks like Godzilla is about to fight the MUTO, we cut away to something else. The most irritating moment is when a pair of doors literally slam shut on the fight, almost like a middle finger to the audience’s expectations. Still, the film has some great moments. Cranston and Watanabe give great performances, with David Strathairn appearing as a refreshingly open-minded US naval commander. The MUTO are quite memorable and charming. There’s a pretty spectacular scene where paratroopers skydive through a hellish-coloured cloud cover. The film does have a lot of flaws, but it is a good atmospheric disaster flick, and I look forward to what Godzilla: King of the Monsters, has to offer. Seriously, that trailer was amazing!

Godzilla Resurgence (2016)

After a decade of silence and Legendary Pictures bringing him back to America in a favourable light, Toho decided to resurrect Godzilla. “Shin Godzilla”, or Godzilla Resurgence, is certainly an impressive film. The film is a reboot of the series rather than a sequel to the 1954 film, but is similar in tone. The film was directed by Hideaki Anno, best known for creating Neon Genesis Evangelion, and special effects master Shinji Higuchi. Godzilla’s appearance is particularly freaky and disturbing. At first, he looks a little silly, with huge boggled eyes, like the Giant Claw. Godzilla’s mouth splits apart like a Predator, and he can fire atomic breaths from his mouth, and energy beams from his dorsal fins and tail. Godzilla was created through motion caption, but at times, it looks like the traditional rubber suits.

The film spends most of its plot focusing on how the various Japanese government and civil service departments respond and deal with Godzilla. At first, it felt a little slow, with everyone just sitting around and discussing politics. But, over time, it becomes quite engaging seeing how Japan deals with such a disaster. The film takes much inspiration from the 2011 tsunami and earthquake, and the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown. Satomi Ishihara shows up as the sassy US-Japanese envoy, who randomly speaks in English on-and-off. The climax is one of my favourites and very original. The Japanese forces rally to use a chemical to freeze Godzilla from the inside out, and turn Tokyo into an explosive jungle gym to outwit him. Overall, Godzilla Resurgence captures the essence of the franchise.

Epilogue

Godzilla has evolved from the dangers of the atomic bomb, to a heroic figure, to a villain again, and now more recent disasters. One thing that has been consistent in the films is the unity of the Japanese people, their sense of endurance, survival, and nationalistic pride. The country, and Godzilla, have come a long way since 1954 and have mostly changed with the times. Each era of Godzilla has reflected the culture of Japan and the film industry. The series has had some amazing moments of tragedy, awe, and downright silliness. But, Godzilla remains the King of the Monsters, and the future looks bright for his career.

Now this isn’t technically the end of our Godzilla marathon. Netflix currently has two parts of an anime trilogy available. I’ve watched the first part, and wasn’t really impressed. It feels too similar to Attack on Titan. Perhaps when the final part is released, I’ll review the full trilogy. Plus, there is Godzilla: King of the Monsters to look forward to next year, and then Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020. In a concluding article, I’ll list my final ranking of all the Godzilla films from worst to best.

Which is your favourite Godzilla film of this era, or out of the whole franchise? Are you looking forward to Godzilla: King of the Monsters next year? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter or Facebook feed.

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Mark Russell

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