Sunday, June 15, 2014

War of the Blogorium Monsters: Godzilla on Monster Island vs. Godzilla (2014)!

 Okay, gang! The time has come to discuss the King of the Monsters, Godzilla, and because it's not fair to compare the original Gojira with Gareth Edwards' reboot-quel, we'll go with the only other frame of reference I have (because I just watched it): Godzilla on Monster Island (aka Godzilla vs. Gigan). Is it a fair fight? Probably not, but I'm in no mood to talk about Godzilla: Final Wars, Godzilla 2000, or G.I.N.O. (Godzilla In Name Only, aka Godzilla '98), so we're going with the really silly one from 1972 with the Godzilla Tower. It turns out they have a few things in common.

 If you've never seen Godzilla on Monster Island, I am not surprised. I had never seen it, and while I am no authority on kaiju movies (as discussed in my Pacific Rim review), I did know that it follows Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster (Hedora), which I might have seen. This one continues the environment message (kinda) but is mostly a very silly movie. (For the record, I watched the film in Japanese with English subtitles, so please don't jump to the comments to criticize me for watching a dubbed version. I may be approaching this review from the point of general ignorance, but at least I stuck to the rules). In Gojira, the titular character is frightening and a metaphor for nuclear weapons, etc. We all know this, so I don't feel like I'm blowing your minds or anything, and besides, by Godzilla on Monster Island, that really has no bearing on Godzilla as a character.

 The Big G isn't even messing around with Tokyo at the beginning of the movie; he's chilling on Monster Island with the other monsters, many of whose asses he kicked in previous movies (that must be awkward at cookouts), specifically Anguirus (from Godzilla Raids Again). Like most of the Godzilla movies I've seen, it's not really about the monsters for a while, and instead is about a comic book artist named Gengo Kotaka (Hiroshi Ishikawa) and his girlfriend Tomoko Tomoe (Yuriko Hishimi), who, uh, knows Judo. That's the only information about her I really remember, mostly because it's the only thing we find out about her that has any bearing on the story.

 Gengo is having trouble getting jobs with Manga companies because he draws stupid things like "The Monster of Homework" and the monster of "Disapproving Mothers" or something like that which has a resemblance to Tomoko, and you'd better believe she doesn't like that. She sends him on an interview to World Children's Park, a theme park devoted to peace that also features a giant Godzilla Tower. The director, Kubota (Toshiaki Nishizawa) and chairman, Suda (Zan Fujita) of the World Children's Foundation think his dumb monsters are kind of cute, so they hire him. Gengo almost screws it up on his first day when he runs into a woman hightailing it out of the building. She drops a tape and he picks it up, but Kubota and some goons are looking for her and the tape. Gengo lies, which seems like a poor way to make a first impression.

 Meanwhile, the audience is wondering what this corporate espionage has to do with Monster Island, because we paid good money to see a Godzilla movie, dammit, and instead Gengo runs into the girl, Machiko (Tomoko Umeda) and some dude that looks like a hippie, Shosaku (Minoru Takashima) who are out to prove this corporations plans for "peace" are anything but. And, of course, they are right: (SPOILERS) Kubota and Suda are Space Cockroaches using the bodies of dead humans to take over Earth. Why? Well, the planet they come from has been destroyed by pollution and while Earth is also on that path, they're Space Cockroaches and they figure they can curtail it, or something.

 That part of their plan isn't really covered in depth - mostly the film is concerned with the part of their plan that involves killing Godzilla. The tape is one of two parts that, when played, controls Gigan and King Ghidorah in space and will bring them to Earth. But not to kill Godzilla. Oh no, that would be too simple: (MORE SPOILERS) they use them to lure Godzilla to the Godzilla Tower at World Children's Park to shoot lasers at the Big G, because they love technology.

 Gengo, Machiko, and Shosaku play part of the tape and obviously can't understand it (it's in monster), but Godzilla hears that shit and sends Anguirus to check it out. If you don't remember Anguirus, I wouldn't blame you, but he's the kaiju that looks like a spiked armadillo, and is notable for the fact that you feel bad for the "Man in Suit" who has to crawl around and be mostly submerged while swimming to Japan from Monster Island (by comparison, Godzilla is mostly head above water). He kind of sucks and when the Japanese military attack him for trying to come ashore, he says "forget this" and swims back to Monster Island. I can't blame him - he was just doing what Godzilla said to do, nobody said anything about rocket attacks. Sheesh.

 Speaking of which, when Godzilla and Anguirus come back to Japan later in the film, the head of the Defense Force says they "escaped" but it didn't look to me like there was anybody guarding Monster Island. It just seemed more like they kick it on the island, not bothering humans, and come visit if they feel like. I honestly wasn't that familiar with the concept of "continuity" in Godzilla movies, so I apologize if this is a plot element from one of the other eleven movies I forgot about.

 Unlike Anguirus, Godzilla is totally welcome when he gets to Tokyo, or maybe the Defense Force is just too worried about King Ghidorah and Gigan destroying everything to notice. Gigan is the new threat in this movie, and he has metal claws and feat, a metal beak, and a buzzsaw in his stomach so that he can do fly-by's and really ruin someone's day. Godzilla, specifically, but I imagine that it wouldn't be fun for other kaiju to be in his path. Because Anguirus is useless when it comes to almost everything, the Big G has to take on both of the monsters and the Tower, and I'm not going to sugarcoat this: he gets his ass kicked. There's some serious bloodletting here, which was impressive in that I wasn't expecting (SPOILER) to see Gigan fly by and slice Godzilla in the neck with his blade, or the accompanying arterial spray. It's pretty brutal stuff.

 Fortunately our stupid human heroes (SPOILER AGAIN) blow up the Tower by putting dynamite in the elevator behind a drawing of them (good job, Gengo, I guess?) and getting the goons to shoot it. It sucks to be the Space Cockroaches, even though they get an emotional death scene about their hubris which is amusing because you're literally looking at two cockroaches with flames superimposed over them. Their grand plan was for naught, but now that they're no longer controlling Gigan and King Ghidorah, the fighting just becomes about who is the bigger kaiju badass. If you think Godzilla will prevail, you might be right, but not before he gets his ass handed to him some more.

 At some point, Anguirus remembers that he can propel himself backwards and into King Ghidorah, which might have come in handy, oh, any time during their fight, but what are you gonna do. Godzilla has Ghidorah in a three head lock, and he motions for Anguirus to do the only thing he does best, and then to do it again, and then again. I guess they follow the "comedy rule of threes" in kaiju movies, because Godzilla then gives Ghidorah three "belly to neck" suplexes until the King and Gigan decide they've had enough of a whupping and fly back into space. The Big G and Anguirus swim back to Monster Island while a lounge singer extolls their heroism. Godzilla even looks back when Tomoko yells "Thanks!" and kinda waves.

 This idea of Godzilla being less of a threat and more of a "monster we can count on to beat up other monsters" seems to be the prevailing theme in Godzilla on Monster Island, which is also how we seem to view him in the considerably higher budgeted version from this year. Director Gareth Edwards (Monsters, not the sequel to the Charlize Theron movie or the prequel to Monsters University - a pre-prequel, I suppose) doesn't really make any effort to reintroduce Godzilla's origin story to us, and nor should he. The opening credits cover some of the imagery associated with Gojira and uses a clever redaction technique, and later in the film there's a very quick "here's how we know that Godzilla exists" exposition scene from Project Monarch's Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (KenWatanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins).

 What's much more interesting about that scene is Serizawa's total faith that Godzilla exists as a natural balancing force when monsters get out of hand. Since Pacific Rim already used "kaiju" in an American movie from a foreign director, Edwards opts for MUTO, or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism (I had to look it up because I forgot the "massive" part). It's a good way to get people to remember what to call them instead of "thing that looks like the Cloverfield Monster" and "other thing that looks like the Cloverfield Monster, but with wings." They feed on radiation and are using echo location to tell each other it's time to get it on. Godzilla is listening in on this (from under the sea, not Monster Island), and will have none of that. No monster scrogging on his watch, thank you very much. Think of him as the Jason Voorhees of kaijus.

 Anyway, as one MUTO heads from Japan to the West Coast of the U.S. to meet the other one, Admiral Stenz (David Strathairn) and his fleet follow, with Godzilla swimming along, sometimes in between the ships. It is an admittedly very cool visual, and I like that Edwards conveys just how big Godzilla is in relation to the ships with the water displacement. It plays a major factor when the Big G gets to San Francisco and (SPOILER for X-Men: The Last Stand, Pacific Rim, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, and this movie) destroys the Golden Gate bridge. In Godzilla's defense, he was a little pissed off that the Navy opened fire on him so that he wouldn't destroy the bridge. I guess that's ironic? Maybe?

 Like Godzilla on Monster Island, we spend the lion's share of the movie with people we couldn't care less about; in this case it's Kick Ass's Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Marcy Martha May Marlene's Elizabeth Olsen, who display the necessarily sibling chemistry that will no doubt be needed from them in The Avengers: The Age of Ultron,when they play Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch (no relation to Magneto by ruling of 20th Century Fox, thank you.) The problem is that they're supposed to be married and he spends most of the movie trying to get home to her, and yeah, can we please get to Godzilla fighting the MUTOs, thank you very much.

 I am only partially kidding there, because while neither of them are that bad or boring, I really didn't care about either of them. Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche have more chemistry in the five minutes they're on screen together as Taylor-Johnston's parents than he does with Olsen in the entire film. Hell, Watanabe and Hawkins have more chemistry, and they aren't even a couple as far as I could tell.

 Speaking of Bryan Cranston, I hate to tell all of the Breaking Bad fans who were telling me that he was the reason they were so excited to see this some bad news, but here it is: he's not in much of the movie. (STORY ARC SPOILERS) Cranston is in the beginning of the movie, during the meltdown at the nuclear plant he and his wife (Binoche) work at (Janjira) and then he is regarded as a "conspiracy" nut fifteen years later for being convinced it wasn't a meltdown. He is, of course, right, and his son is with him when the first MUTO hatches at the plant, and then he dies... after the walkway he's on collapses. Not even a cool way to go, and then he just dies on the helicopter ride out of there. So yeah, maybe Kick-Ass fans should be more excited to see this, because he's in most of the movie.

 Taylor-Johnston is Lt. Brody, whose job description is "guy who disarms bombs for the military" and who can command the respect of soldiers without providing any credentials at all. He ends up arming a nuclear missile with old fashioned technology that EMP's the MUTOs can release won't knock out. That was weird because the arming mechanism resembled the one I saw the night before in Goldfinger, so head's up if you're planning to watch Goldfinger in the same time frame as Godzilla 2014.

 I'm not really sure what the position on nuclear weapons is in this film, as it's both bad (the MUTOs feed on it and steal the missile) and good(?) (if what I think happened at the end did happen, then that's what maybe saves Godzilla from the epic beat down he endured). Anyway, I guess it's okay that Brody got the bomb out to sea but didn't disarm it and was somehow far away enough from the shore that nobody gets massive doses of radiation while outside the following morning. And Godzilla got enough of a recharge that he was good to go when everybody thought he died. Haha, fooled you guys!

 But in all seriousness Godzilla 2014 is pretty good stuff. I give it some grief but generally speaking the monster fights at the end are worth the price of admission. I liked that Edwards decided to show most of the MUTO mayhem from the perspective of the people on the ground, where they lose sight of monsters in the dust or are falling from a carrier plane and can see part of Godzilla as the descend through the clouds. It's a good visual hook for the film and does convey the sense of carnage better than the obvious miniatures in Godzilla on Monster Island. Although those miniatures are pretty funny looking and are actually being smashed (or being burned with a flamethrower, in the case of tanks) I did chuckle every time Strathairn said "Godzilla," which wasn't nearly as often as I'd hoped.. In most ways, the newer film has the better budget and conveys the power and size of Godzilla better, but it also doesn't have Space Cockroaches.

 And let's be honest here, if you had your druthers, if I offered you a Godzilla movie with your choice of "Cloverfield Monsters" or Space Cockroaches, I think I know which one you'd take. Either way, you're not going to regret it, but Space Cockroaches. I mean, come on.

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