Friday, May 16, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

Imagine if Steven Spielberg directed a Godzilla movie and you're halfway toward imagining the Legendary Godzilla.

After some cool opening credits with music that sounds like a throwback to 1950s sci-fi movies (in a good way), the opening scenes of the movie feel straight out of the '90s, when the prototypes of the huge blockbusters we have today were coming out. For one thing, there are multiple shots lifted straight from Jurassic Park. More broadly, back then, even in bad movies like Independence Day, there was an attempt to establish a feel for the world of the movie, so that when the big events happen they feel impactful, and that's what the early scenes in this movie feel like. That holds on even after the first 'action' scene, where the nuclear power plant in Japan that Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) work at gets destroyed.

The official explanation is that it was an earthquake, but Joe has been monitoring seismic readings and knows there was something else behind it. Of course, no one believes him.

The only other people who know it wasn't an earthquake are Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his assistant Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins). Before the incident at the plant, they investigated a cave in the Philippines, where they found the fossilized skeleton of a huge creature, as well as a pair of egg pods, one of which had hatched.

We then flash ahead 15 years to Joe's grown son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who travels to Japan when Joe is arrested for trespassing in the quarantined area around the destroyed plant. Even after telling his father he thinks he's crazy, Ford agrees to go in with him for some reason, and this time the both of them get captured.

It turns out the area is not radioactive like it's supposed to be, and an organization called Monarch, which Dr. Serizawa works for, is studying a weird cocoon thing where the plant used to be.

This is where the movie starts to fall apart.

Why do they let the Brodys see the cocoon? They bring in Joe because he used to work there and might know something, but what happens when they let them go? How are they going to keep it covered up? It doesn't seem like they were going to kill them or anything. Maybe they just thought no one would believe them? I don't know.

Anyway, the cocoon hatches and a giant bug pops out and starts destroying everything. Right away, the monster action is underwhelming. It just feels like any other generic CGI-filled movie. The only thing it really gets right is not having the monster move so fast that it loses its sense of scale.

Joe dies from injuries sustained in the attack, and Dr. Serizawa talks to Ford to find out what his father knew. He tells Ford about what the creature is...and, oh boy, is it a ridiculous explanation.

Apparently, millions of years ago, there existed gigantic creatures that fed on radiation. One of them was awakened by the first nuclear submarine back in the '50s and rose from the depths of the ocean. They called it Gojira for some reason (they randomly switch to calling it Godzilla after a while), and tried to kill it with nuclear bombs, but it didn't work. For some reason, Serizawa thinks Godzilla will come to kill the other creature. Something about nature restoring balance and order. He makes up so much stuff up that I wonder if he isn't related to Dr. Hayashida from The Return of Godzilla.

Okay...why have none of the remains of any of these other creatures ever been discovered? There aren't any notable dead areas of prehistory where we haven't found the remains of things from the time. When exactly where these creatures supposed to have lived? Did they naturally grow so huge, or was the radiation to blame? That question is less crucial, but they just gloss over everything and don't actually explain any of it. Even if it was the radiation, does that mean there were 300-foot creatures stomping all around millions of years ago? The MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) that hatched from the cocoon creates EMPs, seemingly at will from what we see later. How do the MUTOs know to use them at strategic moments? Why does Serizawa think Godzilla will try to kill the MUTO exactly? If the MUTO is so hungry for radiation, why isn't Godzilla? The nuclear sub is what woke him up in the first place. Is it because of all the bombs they used on him? Did they sate his hunger? Did they make him stronger?

Serizawa learns that Joe discovered the creature was communicating with something else, and they realize the first pod they dissected and left in a nuclear waste storage facility in Nevada is going to hatch.

How do they know it's that pod and not another one somewhere else? Or for that matter, that the MUTO is even calling out specifically for that creature? Couldn't it just be calling out to try to find another one? How does it know about that one? How could they have studied the pod and not realize that it could still hatch? How is it still alive? How are any of these creatures still alive? Are they literally the same creatures that were alive millions of years ago? Like, the same individual Godzilla was walking around back then? Or have there been other Godzillas reproducing over the years at the bottom of the ocean? What has Godzilla/the Godzillas at the bottom of the ocean been getting radiation from to survive? They say the MUTOs were preserved somehow, but they were in the same chamber as the fossilized skeleton. How does that work? If these creatures are so hard to kill, why aren't there others still around? How did they evolve to be the way they are in the first place? And if they lived on radiation, how exactly did they consume it? Later we see the MUTOs literally swallowing nuclear missiles--did they just eat lots of radioactive rocks in the past? 

The first MUTO heads to Honolulu, where of course Ford just happens to be, and the train he's on just happens to get attacked by the MUTO. Godzilla shows up, creating that tsunami you saw in the trailers. We see via news footage that the two of them fought and then headed east, and here my disappointment only mounted. We only see brief glimpses of the fight, but already it feels goofy compared to the relatively realistic tone set by the rest of the movie. They just look like a couple of CGI cartoon animals flailing around. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Serizawa arrives at the nuclear disposal facility with a bunch of soldiers. They go inside and open the door to the chamber that held the pod...only to see that the creature has already torn its way out through the wall.

How did they not notice that already? When they open the door, there is a helicopter looking in from the other side of the hole. Wouldn't they have radioed and said, "Hey, uh, the MOFO or whatever already broke out and is heading for Las Vegas." One of the soldier guys even steps out and looks with binoculars and sees the creature walking away. How did they not notice that already? The guy shouldn't even have needed the binoculars, the creature was huge. The way he almost swung the binoculars past it as he looked made me laugh too.

"How did they not notice that already?" was definitely the thought that went through my head the most times during this movie.

Spielberg will often have characters do certain things to maximize the tension in a scene, even if their actions don't make sense logically. Like in Jurassic Park, when Dr. Grant and the kid are scrambling down the tree with the car falling after them. The car isn't that wide--it would be easier and faster to just move sideways out of its path, but where's the tension in that? He sacrifices logic in favor of creating suspense. It doesn't bother people that like to turn their brains off while watching a movie, but it pulls me right out and destroys the integrity of the movie for me.

This movie did something similar, where characters would suddenly realize something they should have noticed way either, sacrificing logic in favor of creating an impactful revelation. It happens at least six hundred times in the movie:

-When Serizawa and the soldiers realize the second MUTO has already broken out.

-When the soldiers notice the submarine on the slope above them in the jungle.

-When the soldiers notice all the burning wreckage going by in the river.

-When the soldiers realize they are standing right next to the leg of one of the MUTOs.

-When Godzilla pops up behind the second MUTO at the end.


They determine that the second MUTO is a female and that the two of them will meet up in San Francisco for some lovin.' Actually, this is an assumption they make, and while it is a logical one, it doesn't really make sense for them to automatically take it as fact and base all their plans around it.

Either way, they plan to lure the MUTOs away with a nuclear warhead and detonate it 20 miles off shore in hopes of killing both them and Godzilla. No thought is given to damage by fallout. Serizawa doesn't believe it will work (more flashbacks to Hayashida and his denouncement of the cadmium missiles in The Return of Godzilla). He wants them to just let Godzilla fix things. Normally in movies like this, when the military doesn't listen to the person who actually knows what they are talking about, you feel like the military comes off as stupid and deserving to have their plans fail. But here, nothing Serizawa says makes any sense.

Why does he think Godzilla will save them? How is letting three giant kaiju duke things out in the middle of a massive city a good idea? Why wouldn't he think Godzilla would just go after all the nuclear stuff himself after killing the MUTOs? If they are all just giant animals, why does he regard one as good and the others as bad? Serizawa must be related to Hayashida to be able to figure out so much from so little.

Ford goes with the soldiers transporting the nuke (by train, because the creatures can radiate EMPs), but of course one of the MUTOs ends up in their path and steals the nuke. There is some more Jurassic Park homage here with the soldiers trying to avoid being seen by the MUTO by not moving.

If the entire point of the nuke is to lure the MUTOs, why move it on a path that will go right next to one? Surely they could have flown it around the EMP's sphere of influence and then armed it? This movie should have been titled Godzilla vs. Logic.

Eventually, Godzilla fights the MUTOs in San Francisco while Ford parachutes in with a team to disarm the stolen nuke, which is now in a MUTO nest. It turns out to be damaged and they can't disarm it, so they have to transport it (on foot) to a boat to get it as far offshore as possible before it explodes. First, Ford blows up the nest. Why Ford? Because he's the main character.

The earlier question about how the creatures consume radiation is relevant here too. They find the nuclear bomb in the middle of the nest, surrounded by eggs. We've seen the MUTOs eat bombs, but how were the babies going to eat it? Do they just need to be near it? If the bombs are releasing enough radiation to keep them alive and attract them in the first place, are all the characters who came in contact with them going to suffer radiation poisoning? Realistically, that question also applies to the creature finding the nuclear plant at the start, and even Godzilla seeking out nuclear reactors in the Heisei and Millennium series--are the monsters that sensitive to radiation, or are these movies really a commentary on the lack of radiation shielding in reactors in Japan? They were using Geiger counters in the cave at the beginning, does that mean the creatures themselves are radioactive? Is everybody who was in the path of these monsters going to be sick/dead in the sequel?

While the queen goes to investigate the explosion at the nest, Godzilla kills the male MUTO, but a building falls on him, incapacitating him.

I haven't mentioned Ford's wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen). That's because she doesn't really matter to this movie. She is a nurse (in San Francisco of course). We see her talking to Ford on the phone occasionally, we see her cry, we see her send their son off to safety (he ends up on the Golden Gate bridge right as Godzilla gets there of course). And when the building falls on Godzilla, we see her get buried in the rubble. Make no mistake, that might sound important, but its really not.

After face-to-face moments with both Godzilla and the surviving MUTO that echo the '98 Godzilla (the last thing anyone wants to hear), Ford gets to a boat with the nuke, but the female MUTO comes after it. After another face-to-face moment with her (really?), Godzilla pops up literally out of nowhere and kills the MUTO (just like the T. rex at the end of Jurassic Park somehow popping up without any of the characters noticing he was there).

Godzilla stumbles back to shore and collapses. Ford is airlifted out and the bomb goes off offshore. Elle turns up alive (just like that damn kid at the end of Spielberg's War of the Worlds, although her survival isn't as aggravating as that) and is reunited with Ford and their son.

Everyone seems to think Godzilla is dead (even though he seemed perfectly fine when he killed the second MUTO), but he gets up and swims away.

The End.

The movie disappoints on every major front. 

Story-wise, the movie just makes stuff up as it goes along whether it makes sense or not. The explanations for everything probably wouldn't bother me if they weren't trying for such a sense of realism, but it just made for unintentional laughs. It was over the top, like a parody of monster movies. Then there is the way the characters just happen to be in the way of the monsters all the time. The attempt to have some of the characters be important doesn't really work either. Joe didn't know anything Dr. Serizawa shouldn't have figured out already, and once the second pod hatched and Dr. Serizawa told everyone about Godzilla, he didn't know anything more than anyone else either. They were only tangentially important to explaining what was happening, and their explanations usually made no sense anyway. Ford always manages to be in the midst of the monster stuff, but he doesn't have much of an impact on what's happening with the monsters themselves. 

The movie started out promising character-wise. The first fifteen to twenty minutes felt like genuine character development, and the actors did a good job with it. But once the monsters showed up, all that got tossed out the window. Ford is always just kind of there, even when stuff is happening, his wife has nothing to do, Dr. Serizawa just looks dazed and mumbles incoherent nonsense about Godzilla (that scene where he pulls out his father's watch...goes nowhere), his assistant has no point in the entire movie. At least they didn't make Admiral Stenz the stereotypical moron authority figure, but he gets nothing more to do than give a face to the military.

It doesn't help that, despite Ford being the main character and being involved in pretty much every major action scene, the focus often shifts for those scenes to children (or even a dog) that are not actual characters in the movie. The idea behind it isn't a bad one--putting us in the place of a child is a good way to emphasize the enormity of the situation and the helplessness of what it would be like to be there. But those children aren't in the movie for more than a few minutes and so get no development of their own, and we already have main characters in the same situations. If the movie is going to go to the trouble of finding some excuse for the characters to be there, why not focus on them and give them something to do?

Monster-wise, there is nothing interesting here. Obviously, discussing monster designs largely comes down to personal opinion and preference, but to me, the MUTO designs are completely forgettable. It looked like they wanted them to be like giant bugs, but at the same time not just giant bugs, so they gave them spindly, bug-like legs, but with a layer of skin over everything, and with more reptilian heads. They felt to me like more bug-like versions of the Cloverfield monster, and the design of the monster in that movie was already not very interesting. It didn't help that they had no personality to them. They were just creatures going after food. They didn't have any particularly interesting ways of attacking either, basically just prodding at Godzilla over and over.

Godzilla's design isn't much better. Many people have complained that he is too fat, and I would have to agree. I would add that his eyes are too small, and I'm not a fan of his elephant feet. I would have liked an animal that large to have splayed toes to better spread out his weight. 

His breath effect was disappointing too. The introduction of it was interesting, but when he used it the first time, it didn't really seem have an effect on the MUTO. Changing it from a beam was an odd choice too. I never thought I would actually see Godzilla breathe fire in a movie. It took away from the sense of power that comes with a beam that makes things explode. 

And although Serizawa sets Godzilla up as an "alpha predator," and some of the scenes with him try to set him up as some kind of badass, he really doesn't seem much more powerful than the MUTOs. It kind of undercuts what they are trying to do when Godzilla keeps getting knocked around like a small child being tossed back and forth by a pair of bullies.

This is a minor complaint, but Godzilla's roar is exactly the same one you hear in all the trailers. I thought maybe they were saving something closer to the original roar for the movie, but nope. Not that it sounds bad, but it lacks the iconic quality of the original.

Speaking of sound, there was a notable lack of impact to the sound in the movie as a whole. Giant monsters, exploding missiles, falling buildings--these things should be loud and impressive, not things you might not even realize are there if you happen to look down at your popcorn while they are on the screen. Part of this is the fault of having characters not notice things until they are right in front of their faces (it really takes you out of the movie and makes you say "what???" when something that should have been making sounds for the entire scene doesn't start until halfway through). But even when there are explosions and monsters fighting all across the screen, you start to wonder if maybe the acoustics in this world just don't work the same way as ours.

As mentioned earlier, the music started out promising during the opening credits. However, if it had continued in the same '50s style, it wouldn't have been appropriate, and sure enough it changed once the movie got going. Early on, it had a very Bernard Herrmann feel, calling to mind his Mysterious Island score in particular (very cool). But as the movie continued, it kept shifting into different styles, giving a very inconsistent feel and not always fitting what was happening. Sometimes it was still cool, even if it didn't fit, but the awful not-quite-fanfare that played when Godzilla defeated the second MUTO gave me flashbacks to the painful Avengers score, especially the terrible fanfare that accompanies the shot of all of the characters standing in a circle toward the end. At other times it feels like it tries to do what The Dark Knight did, which is to push racing, energetic music through scenes where nothing exciting is happening to give the impression of non-stop action and momentum. I find this extremely annoying, but, unfortunately, that tactic does seem to work on many casual filmgoers. Personally, I would also have liked the classic Godzilla theme somewhere, but it's nowhere to be found.

The persistent, pushing music leads us to what is by far the biggest problem with the movie: once Godzilla shows up, the movie is a flat line. Usually movies like this will build up to monster fights, then have story advancement as they build to the next one. The movement of the story is the build up, with the monster action as the payoff to what is happening. This movie just keeps pushing forward. 

Even if Godzilla isn't always there, the MUTOs are, and scenes that are supposed to be big action scenes just feel like more of the same. When something big happens, like the fight in Hawaii, there is no time taken to explore the consequences of it. The movie just moves on to the next thing. If events have no consequences, then there is no reason to care about the events in the first place. The effect of actions is what drives a story forward and motivates the characters, but in this movie the effects of the monster destruction are never felt.

The movie even gave them a free chance to fix this when Elle was buried in the debris. If she had died, the story would have benefited from it, showing that the monsters are actually affecting things and giving her character a real function in the story other than simply being a reason for Ford to volunteer to go with the team into San Francisco (so he can get back to her). It also would have given Ford a bit more to deal with as a character.

Plus, we had already seen several other children reunited with their parents. Elle dying could have acted as a counterpoint to that, showing that things don't always turn out so well. Seeing such massive disaster scenes where no one seems to die not only makes them feel inconsequential, it feels thoughtless in a world where disasters seem to happen all the time. Instead, they have Elle survive, which adds nothing to the story because she never mattered anyway.

But even after all that, the movie still had an out. If the monster fights were well executed, the movie could at least have still been entertaining. But the fights weren't interesting either. The only two action beats that stuck out as potentially memorable were Godzilla slamming the first MUTO with his tail and using his breath on the second one at the end. But the first one just felt like another part of the fight, not the finishing move it was supposed to be. The second one could have been cool if I wasn't distracted by how stupid it was that Godzilla showed up so suddenly and wondering why he didn't just do that earlier.

Everything else about the monster fights just made me groan. In a movie striving for realism, seeing the monsters fighting like cartoons doesn't work. I half expected to see Godzilla doing somersaults and using karate moves. It was painful.

The trailers teased a serious, realistic take on a kaiju movie, but what we got was a movie that wasn't sure what its own tone was, veering from realistic at the start to moments of pure cheese. It's not as bad as the previous American attempt at a Godzilla movie, and not as bad as some of the Japanese ones, but this new Godzilla is certainly not one that I'll look back on with fond memories.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Return of Godzilla / Godzilla 1985 (1984)

Before the ten year break between Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) and the Legendary Godzilla (2014), the longest period that audiences had to wait between Godzilla movies was nine years, from 1975's Terror of Mechagodzilla to 1984's The Return of Godzilla, released in Japan as simply Gojira.

By the '70s, Godzilla had come far from where he started in 1954. Originally a dark harbinger of destruction, Godzilla had gradually transformed into a superhero defending Earth from kaiju controlled by invading aliens, fighting pollution in the form of smog monster Hedorah, and even teaching kids to defend themselves from bullies. Although Toho Studios tried to reverse the trend a little in the mid-seventies, Terror of Mechagodzilla pulled in another low box office number, cementing the fact of Godzilla's waining popularity and ending the original series of Godzilla films.

When Toho decided to bring Godzilla back for his 30th anniversary, they settled on doing it with a direct sequel to the original movie, ignoring all the previous sequels and returning to a darker, more realistic tone.

The Return of Godzilla begins with shots of a volcano erupting, before cutting to a ship, the Yahata-maru, being tossed around by a violent storm. As if that weren't enough for the crew to deal with, the island they are passing by starts to break apart in bright flashes of light. It could almost be another volcanic eruption if not for the familiar roar that comes with it.

A reporter named Goro Maki comes across the derelict ship some time later and decides to investigate. In a scene reminiscent of the sequence in The Thing where they go to the Norwegian base, he finds the crew dead and seemingly drained of blood.

Unfortunately, he doesn't find particularly good special effects to go with the bodies.

More exploring turns up a live crew member, but before Goro can bring him to consciousness, he is attacked by a giant bug. Later we learn that it is a sea louse, mutated from living off of Godzilla. It's called Shockirus, although they never actually call it that in the movie itself.

The Shockirus effects are a little better, but the puppet is too stiff and the way it jumps/flies around is kind of goofy. You can see a harpoon sticking through it in this shot.

Goro is saved by the surviving crew member, Hiroshi Okumura, who tells him about the monster he saw destroy the island before the two of them are picked up by a helicopter (did Goro just abandon the boat he came in...?).

Okumura tries to tell people about what happened, but the only one who listens to him is Professor Makoto Hayashida. Goro wants to print the story, but the Japanese Prime Minister is aware of what's happening and orders that any information about Godzilla be kept secret to avoid panic. The public is told the Yahata-maru is still missing and Goro's rescue is hidden. It sounds like a typical plot element for a monster movie, but it kind of makes sense here. There's no reason to believe Godzilla will attack Japan, and being that this is during the Cold War, news about a monster that is essentially a walking nuclear weapon could create some big problems.

Goro visits Prof. Hayashida, whose parents were killed by Godzilla in 1954, leading him to devote himself to studying the monster. Goro recognizes Hayashida's assistant from a photo Okumura had on the boat (and that Goro now has, for no logical reason but to have audiences see the photo again to make the connection). Hayashida tells him that the girl, Naoko, is Okumura's sister. She hasn't been told about her brother being found because of the news embargo, so Goro decides to tell her. With her perfectly round head/hair, big, round eyes, and sharp nose, she looks like she stepped right out of an anime:

Meanwhile, a Soviet nuclear sub in the north Pacific fires torpedoes at an unknown target that they assume is an American submarine. Of course that doesn't stop it, and it rams the submarine, causing it to explode. By the way, the sub is captained by a guy who looks like Jay from Half in the Bag:

The Japanese Prime Minister is notified that the Soviets blame it on the Americans. With nuclear war imminent, the Prime Minister lifts the blackout and officially announces that Godzilla was responsible, with a photo from a Japanese plane to prove it. Okumura is also there at the press conference, and after talking about what happened declares that he wants revenge on Godzilla, which is pretty goofy.

There's a brief scene where Naoko sees a photo of her and her brother in the paper and voices her displeasure to Goro, who she thinks just wanted the scoop (a subplot that disappears after this scene), before we cut to the Godzilla Emergency Countermeasures Headquarters. 

The first lines there are from a guy standing in front of a map, saying "We will attack Godzilla with everything available until we defeat it! That is all I have to say," before taking a seat. What a good plan. Thankfully, the rest of them are a little more intelligent, and continue to discuss the issue of whether they can deal with Godzilla's "death ray" and actually beat him. They reveal the existence of the Super-X attack craft designed to protect the capital. The plan is to load it with cadmium missiles to use against Godzilla, "as cadmium is used in the seal of a nuclear reactor." Looking up cadmium's usage in nuclear reactors, I'm skeptical that it would work the way they use it, but they seem pretty confident about it, and I'm not a scientist. Either way, it's a cool idea.

We cut back to Prof. Hayashida, looking at the photo the plane took of Godzilla:

Hayashida sure is perceptive.

Looking at that photo, he determines that Godzilla is 80 meters tall. How he figured that out when there is nothing to judge scale from is beyond me, but like I said, I'm not a scientist.

Hayashida states for the first time in a Godzilla movie that Godzilla feeds on nuclear radiation, and that he will return to Japan to feed. There was no indication of this in the first movie, nor has there been any reason to believe it is the case so far in this one. I'm starting to think Hayashida faked his degree.

The search for Godzilla goes on in the ocean all around Japan, but somehow they don't find him until he walks right up to a nuclear power plant. Even the guard on patrol only notices him when the ground splits open right in front of him, by which point Godzilla is already looming over him:

I hope that guy got fired.

We get the stock shots of people in the plant rushing everywhere and answering phones:

We then get the laziest excuse ever for why Godzilla was not noticed earlier:

I hope that guy got fired too.

These shots don't make sense because the footage on the screen was clearly just footage shot for the movie that they stuck up on there. There's a shot were the camera glides along sideways at almost ground level, which wouldn't be possible if someone was there filming it in real life.

Hayashida somehow arrives at the scene in a helicopter immediately, with Goro and Okumura, who has a thermal imaging camera with a directional microphone.

There's a goofy shot of some guys "falling" off a collapsing catwalk in the plant: 

Followed by a close up of one of them falling in slow motion, because why not:

Godzilla tears his way in to the reactor core and starts absorbing the radiation:

He gets distracted by a flock of terribly animated birds flying by, and wanders after them, back into the ocean:

When they get back to Hayashida Bioscience Institute (which is itself on the 20th floor of a larger building--I really don't think Hayashida is a real scientist), Hayashida proves he is a real scientist by analyzing the thermal imaging footage of Godzilla:

He must be a scientist if he can get that from just a blue splotch, right? But even though we have the Japanese Einstein in the room, it's Okumura who realizes that the birds drew Godzilla away, something even children in the audience figured out the first time around. 

And in the photo Goro took, the birds are just painted in:

What is it with this movie and not being able to just point a camera at some real birds?

Hayashida still tries to tie it in with his whole magnetism idea and sends Okumura off to visit his geologist friend, Minami, at Mount Mihara, which gives us a pointless little scene of Minami checking out the volcano. It is worth noting that Minami is played by Hiroshi Koizumi, who starred in many previous Godzilla movies, beginning with Godzilla Raids Again way back in 1955. Even after this, he turned up again in Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. in 2003. Gotta admire his dedication to the series.

Minami and Hayashida present a plan to the government to lure Godzilla to the volcano and force-erupt it. Another veteran Godzilla actor, Yoshifumi Tajima, probably best known for playing one of the villains in Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) shows up here as part of the cabinet.

While American monster movies tend to portray authority figures as ignorant, overconfident fools who ignore the people who actually know what they are talking about, Japanese kaiju movies generally go the opposite way, and this is no exception. Instead of saying "No monster can beat our army!" the Prime Minister makes sure to cover all his bases. He orders the military to be ready, but also tells Hayashida and Minami to go ahead and prepare their plan.

The Soviets and Americans send envoys to Japan to discuss the issue with the Prime Minister, and they both tell him straight up that they want to nuke Godzilla. The Soviet guy says "Nothing else will save Japan," and the American guy reaches halfway across the room to point at him and say, "He's right!" It's also funny because the American guy is not a great actor, and because the Soviet guy has such a blatantly villainous air about him.

He even makes it clear that he doesn't actually care about what happens to Japan by saying that Godzilla's next target will be a Soviet missile base, and the Soviets "have no intention to wait to be destroyed!"

The cabinet members debate things amongst themselves, and both sides have legitimate stances. A nuclear bomb would cause lots of destruction and fallout, but it could be relatively controlled and people could be evacuated beforehand. But there would be no way to predict whether the damage caused by Godzilla would be as bad, or if the bomb would even work on him. 

In the end, the Prime Minister decides against it, and the Soviet and American envoys voice their displeasure. The Soviet guy basically yells a lot and says that Godzilla already sank one of their subs so they should have the right to kill him, and the American guy says, "This is no time to be discussing principles!" The Prime Minister calmly refutes him and says he will not accede to their wishes because letting them use nuclear weapons would make them a viable option in the future again, obviously something that would rather be avoided.

If it seems like I'm going on about the political stuff, it's because this movie treats it seriously and presents things in a realistic way. One of the best aspects of this movie is that it actually gives gravity to the concept of a giant monster in our world, where most movies just skip past that.

Anyway, we cut to American and Soviet satellites with nuclear missiles on them. It's a strange editing choice, because we then go back to the Prime Minister telling his advisors that the American and Soviet leaders finally understood when he asked them to think about what it would be like if Godzilla were in their country and they had to order a nuclear strike that would kill their own people. 

Seems like they should have left those shots of the satellites out, especially since the next scene is "Soviet Political Operative Colonel Kashirin" looking all suspicious as he gets out of a car and boards a Soviet freighter. He rolls his eyes about a hundred times as he tells one of the men on the boat that "The government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided not to use nuclear weapons!" while punching buttons on a panel that, through a crosscut with a shot of the Soviet satellite, we know controls the missile launches. Why not just introduce the satellites here?

A helicopter pilot spots Godzilla's dorsal spines heading toward Tokyo Bay, leading to a mercifully brief evacuation/panic montage. Goro and the others haven't shown up for a while, so we get a short scene with Hayashida scribbling something in a notebook as Goro asks if the cadmium will be effective. Hayashida says, "Godzilla is like a living reactor. I don't think it will work." At least he didn't try to make up a bunch of stuff this time.

The military sets up explosives around the volcano and we get the prerequisite military forces preparation scene as they set up tanks and missile launchers along Tokyo Bay. They have helicopters using sonar to search for Godzilla, but I guess good observational skills aren't a big thing in Japan, because this happens:

A bunch of jets appear out of nowhere and fire on Godzilla, and he zaps a couple of them with his beam. There's explosions, and smoke, and water splashing...and we see that the Soviet ship is still there in the bay, sitting right next to the action. What??? It makes no sense, but it does give us a cool shot from the boat:

Godzilla submerges, causing a huge wave that knocks the boat into the pier and--oh, no!--damages the missile control panel. As if that weren't bad enough, Soviet Political Operative Colonel Kashirin is knocked unconscious!

Godzilla reemerges closer to shore and is absolutely bombarded by the military. There are missiles flying everywhere, huge explosions in the water, everything is obscured by smoke. Even the sound effects keep cutting each other off, there's so much going on.

And after the smoke clears...Godzilla is still standing. There's a really cool shot where the camera does a quick zoom into Godzilla's eye as he snarls angrily. We'll talk a little more about the American version later, but one thing I actually like better about it is that they added a sound effect for the zoom that fits so perfectly that it seems to be missing something without it.

The soldiers cower and back away (why are there so many soldiers just standing around with rifles anyway--what the hell were they gonna do?), but Godzilla sweeps the area with his atomic ray and, in about ten seconds, wipes out the entire force arrayed against him. The scene as a whole doesn't last long, but the intensity of it makes it one of my favorite Godzilla vs. military scenes.

Back on the Russian ship, Soviet Political Operative Colonel Kashirin recovers and tries to get to the controls--but gets fried by an explosion before he can get there.

Godzilla comes ashore and shoots down a helicopter, somehow starting a chain reaction of explosions down a car-crowded highway that literally creates as much, if not more, destruction as when Godzilla used his beam on the army. I hope Japan doesn't still build their cars entirely out of extremely explosive materials.

Then a train comes by (apparently no one on board heard about a giant radioactive dinosaur approaching the area) and the panicked conductors break it to a stop right in front of Godzilla. You can guess what happens next:

The acting from the extras in this movie is top notch.

The districts in Godzilla's path are ordered to evacuate, but of course one guy sticks around to steal food. Actually, we'll see later that there are still tons of people in the area, so I'm not sure how this works. It's also not clear if he was a vagrant beforehand, or if he just saw an opportunity and took it. Either way, he pops up here for some reason. There's even a moment where Godzilla looks down at him and roars before moving on. I don't know.

Godzilla passes by the building Hayashida, Goro and Naoko are in, and they test out the lure they created for Godzilla. It seems to work, but Godzilla gets distracted by laser cannons and slams the building with his tail. The lasers draw Godzilla away, but now the elevators aren't working and emergency shutters have come down in front of the stairs (?), so they're trapped in the building.

As a side note, I'm not sure why they thought testing the lure while Godzilla was only a few feet away was a good idea. What would have happened if the lasers hadn't drawn his attention? Proving the lure worked only to have Godzilla tear the building down wouldn't have been very beneficial. And wouldn't they have wanted to make sure it worked from a longer distance anyway? They're trying to lure Godzilla away from the city off to a volcano on an island, not to the Burger King down the street. I wouldn't trust Hayashida with being able to tie his own shoes at this point.

The Super-X finally gets launched, and as it heads for the area, they try to use the lasers to control Godzilla, but people still keep getting crushed. This is one of the few movies where we actually see people running away while buildings are coming down right next to them.

When the Super-X arrives, it launches flares above Godzilla, causing him to look up and roar, which in turn allows the Super-X to shoot the cadmium shells into his mouth. The effects of the cadmium are pretty much instantaneous. Godzilla starts to move sluggishly and we hear his heartbeat slowing. So much for Hayashida's expertise.

Unfortunately, right at that moment, a missile launches from the Soviet satellite, and Soviet Political Operative Colonel Kashirin isn't around to stop it anymore. The Soviets immediately notify the Japanese that the missile was accidentally launched and will hit in thirty minutes. What I want to know is why the missile was aimed at Tokyo. Were the Soviets just that sure that that was where Godzilla would show up? Actually, they keep saying "the missile will strike Godzilla." Is it some kind of super-smart missile that knows to target Godzilla specifically?

Godzilla fires his beam at the Super-X, but it has no effect and he succumbs to the cadmium, collapsing into a building. A massive mob of people immediately starts crowding in, only being held back by officers in riot gear. How they knew to deploy exactly there is also something I'd like to know.

Hayashida sees that Godzilla has been incapacitated, but still insists that they have to get the lure to Mt. Mihara. There is another evacuation (are all Japanese as stubborn as Hayashida and these Tokyoites?) as America launches a missile of their own to intercept the Soviet one before it hits.

Okumura returns from Mt. Mihara in a helicopter. They rescue the professor from the building and get the lure, but leave Goro and Naoko to fend for themselves. It's not really clear why. They say they 'have to hurry' and something about strong winds, but it would still make more sense to just pull them out.

I really like Naoko's response to everything. As she applies first aid to an injury Goro sustained to his arm while trying to open one of the shutters, she says, "The professor is confident of the Americans, but the missile is still heading for us. Godzilla will wake up soon, and the helicopter may not make it to the island in time. Maybe we're all going to die." Goro tries to comfort her, but doesn't seem to believe his own words when he says they won't die. Normally these kind of movies don't get so serious, and I appreciate this one for trying to maintain a realistic tone.

The American missile succeeds in destroying the Soviet missile (I wonder how this movie did in the USSR), knocking out power in the area and turning the night sky a flickering red.

The Super-X starts having difficulties, just as lightning starts flashing, striking Godzilla and reviving him. The stupid crowd finally decides to get the hell out when Godzilla comes lumbering toward them.  

The desperate Super-X crew, now out of cadmium shots, fly the vehicle around behind a building, but Godzilla blasts right through it. They unload on him with missiles and lasers, but Godzilla just keeps coming. He manages to damage the Super-X by blasting it while it's missile bays are open, forcing it to land. Then he drops a huge building on it, and that's the end of the Super-X.

Meanwhile, Goro and Naoko manage to get past a destroyed stairwell by shimmying down a fire hose they tie to a railing. That weird maybe-homeless guy shows up again to hold it steady as they climb down. I really don't know why he is in this movie.

Goro and Naoko run off safely, but for some reason Godzilla targets the maybe-homeless guy, and...well...we get this slow-motion shot (I swear I'm not making this shit up, this is not photoshopped or edited):

I guess Godzilla kills him...? We don't actually see what happens, but Godzilla then goes after Goro and Naoko. I don't know why he's focusing on these individual people when there was a huge crowd here just a minute ago. At the last second though, Godzilla responds to the lure 'Prof.' Hayashida set up at Mt. Mihara and starts to leave.

The movie wraps up pretty quickly. Godzilla makes his way to the volcano and they set off the explosives. When he tumbles into the volcano, we see his shadow fall in after him, being cast on the side of the crater. It's a really cool effect. Actually, it looks like he purposely jumps into the volcano. I don't know if it's intentional or not, but it feels like it might be. I'm not sure what that says about Godzilla either, but I like it because it implies that there's more to the monster than we understand, that he knows what he is doing and is doing it for some kind of purpose. Then again, maybe I'm full of it, I don't know. But if Hayashida can pull stuff out of his ass, I can too. I should go to Japan and get my Scientist Degree.

Interspersed with the shots of Godzilla in the volcano, we see the Prime Minister and Hayashida looking on reverently. The Prime Minister even looks like he's about to break out in tears. The moving music here also gives things a melancholy feel, as if we should feel bad for what is being done to Godzilla. It might sound ridiculous, but it really works. At least until the credits roll and we get to the (admittedly catchy) song "Goodbye Godzilla" and English lyrics like "Take care now Godzilla, my old friend."

The End.

This is an interesting entry in the Godzilla series. Obviously, most of the movies don't try so hard (or at all) to be serious. And even though there are some goofy things, occasional weird editing and effects that don't always work, the movie pulls it off. It's not as dark as the original, but it does feel like a fitting sequel.

Like the original movie, this one has clear themes underlying everything. The first one wasn't overly subtle, but this movie shoves it right in your face. At one point, Hayashida straight up says: "I think he's a monster created by man. Humans don't think about the monsters… Godzilla is a living nuclear weapon, capable of mass destruction." Later, he says, "Godzilla is a warning. I just want to send it home." It's pretty heavy handed, but I can't help liking it when Godzilla is treated as something more than just a giant animal.

As for Godzilla himself, this is something of a mixed bag. We get an unusual amount of lip action from Godzilla here, and I don't mean between him and Mothra like in your fan fictions, you pervert. I mean he snarls a lot, showing off some especially long and pointed teeth. The close ups can be a little stiff, and from the side Godzilla has a strangely shaped head, but overall these shots are very effective. You can really feel Godzilla's rage coming through.

Unfortunately, these shots of the 'cybot Godzilla,' a 16-foot (!) robot built for the movie, don't match the suit Godzilla at all. The suit used in this movie feels very stiff, especially in the face. Godzilla's eyes have a dumb zombie look to them, and he looks too chunky overall, like they had a design that they meant to refine and just never got around to it. It's not a bad look per se, but it feels too generic and lacks detail. It's the suit's stiffness and lack of emotive ability that makes it a big disappointment in a movie that strives for a realistic tone. It just always looks like a suit.

He looks like a chubby dope.

There are a few shots where we see more of the cybot Godzilla from about the waist up. The shots right after the Super-X uses the cadmium don't look bad because Godzilla is barely moving, but there is one shot in particular when the jets are shooting him that looks ridiculous, with the cybot's arms jerking up and down. It makes me think of the giant robot Kong they built for the 1976 King Kong and ended up using only briefly because it looked like shit. At least the close ups look pretty good.

Ken Tanaka (Goro) with the cybot Godzilla

The cybot was gigantic, but they still built a life-sized Godzilla foot too. The shots of the foot almost never look good. It's just too hard to work with something that big. If they just dropped it they'd probably damage it, so every time he steps it looks like he's trying to be gentle and not hurt anyone. Either that, or the foot will kind of hover as it knocks into cars or buildings. It was a cool idea, but it didn't really work out.

His beam is a little disappointing too. There's not much detail to it, it's just matted-in blue. And it curves the way it does in some of the older movies, like Destroy All Monsters, which I never understood.

The human actors do a good job overall, especially Ken Tanaka as Goro. In particular, the scene where Okumura arrives in the helicopter when the others are trapped in the building and they pull Hayashida out all feels very genuine. And I appreciate that they didn't try to push a romance between Naoko and Goro. The problem is that most of them aren't given a lot to do. By the end of the movie, you don't really care what's happening to the characters, you just want to see what happens to Godzilla.

Going back to the effects, the Super-X is a very simple design that works because it feels practical. The same goes for the mobile lasers they use to direct Godzilla, even if the optical effect of the lasers themselves isn't great. For that matter, none of the optical effects are all that good, including the lightning, the red sky and Godzilla's ray. They don't look terrible, but there's not much detail to any of them, and they end up feeling cheap.

Some of the miniatures, like the laser cannons, sometimes don't fare super well just because of how the camera is used, but generally things don't stick out as looking fake. In particular, the buildings feel much more like real buildings here than they usually do.

As I mentioned, the Shockirus doesn't quite work, but the idea behind it is great. It also calls back to the trilobite discovered in one of Godzilla's footprints in the original movie. Unfortunately, they never come up again in any of the later movies (Cloverfield had it's own take on parasites living on a larger monster though).

Akira Ifukube's classic Godzilla music is nowhere to be found here, but Reijiro Koroku's score is a good fit. It feels much more like a horror movie score than anything we've heard in a Godzilla movie up to this point, and helps to separate this movie from the increasingly child-oriented sequels of the '60s and '70s. It's also much more orchestral than typical scores for kaiju movies and can be very moving when it needs to be.

Overall, an interesting movie that unfortunately somewhat drops the ball where Godzilla himself is concerned, but still rises above the majority by choosing a serious tone and sticking to it. Along with its follow up, Godzilla vs. Biollante, this movie handles Godzilla in a far more realistic way than we are used to, and largely pulls it off.

This movie was brought to U.S. theaters as Godzilla 1985, but of course it wasn't quite the same movie. The entire thing was chopped up and reedited, and new scenes were inserted, with Raymond Burr reprising his role as reporter Steve Martin from the American version of the original movie. Those scenes are terribly written and often terribly acted, adding a level of unintentional humor. Characters will say things that make no sense and, unlike the clever reediting of the original, none of the characters end up having anything to do with what happens in the Japanese version. I do like that Martin talks even more about Godzilla being a force of nature though. He is utterly convinced that there is nothing we can do to stop Godzilla, but doesn't actually offer any beneficial information. The fact that a Dr. Pepper machine seems to stand at every corner of the Pentagon is also worth mentioning.

Unfortunately, the Japanese version of The Return of Godzilla was never released stateside, and even the American version isn't on DVD, so you might have to go out of your way for it, but if you're looking for a serious approach to a Godzilla movie, I recommend checking this one out. (UPDATE: The Return of Godzilla is being released on DVD and Blu-ray September 2016 .)