HEAVY METAL MONSTER
GODZILLA 2: CITY ON THE EDGE OF BATTLE (15)
Review: David Stephens
There’s a bit of a question mark hanging over the future of Godzilla. The big fella’s stomping away in Legendary Studio’s “Monsterverse”, and recently blew the roof off San Diego Comic Con with the full trailer for next year’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”. And then we have more shenanigans promised in “Godzilla vs. Kong” in 2020. But beyond that, things are a bit uncertain. The contractual agreement between Legendary and Toho runs out in 2021, so nobody really knows what will happen with the US version after that. At one point, it looked like Toho would continue the “Shin Godzilla” arc, with that version of the creature depicted as a mindless-but-evolving force of nature. However it now seems that the Japanese filmmakers have been swayed by the US version, and will be setting up another shared Kaiju universe for Big G’s new adventures. Be that as it may, the deadliest/biggest version of Godzilla is romping across Earth in the distant future in this ongoing anime trilogy produced by Toho Animation and animated by Polygon Pictures, in association with Netflix. Earlier this year in “Planet of the Monsters”, we found humanity returning to a decimated Earth after being chased from it by the titular monster 20,000 years ago. After defeating the still-alive Godzilla (hurrah!), they were shocked to find that he was merely the smaller spawn of the original creature (bloody hell!), which is now over 300m tall (!) and rises to swat away humankind again. The sequel is now on Netflix and YGROY takes a look at the only threat bigger to us than climate change…
The film continues from the post-credits scene from “Planet of the Monsters”, with Haruo Sakaki (English vocals by Chris Niosi) recovering from his devastating defeat at the hands of the “real” Godzilla. He has been rescued by a tribe of indigenous humanoids called the "Houtua", who appear to be the surviving remnants of the original population. Haruo soon discovers other surviving humans from his squad, along with their alien allies, the Exif and the Bilusaludo. They realise that they must find a way to contact the orbiting mothership, before it shrugs its shoulders and leaves the Milky Way forever. Whilst working with the Houtua to achieve this, the group make an astounding discovery from the past, and it might just be the key to finally ridding Earth of its monstrous ruler…
It’s important to reiterate some of the repeat issues with the second film in this trilogy. It’s primarily focused on the plight of the human/alien characters and the Big Guy himself has pretty limited scenes. The emphasis is on the futuristic scenario and a single-minded objective to formulate a plan to kill the massive Kaiju, along with numerous other sci-fi touches and lengthy expositions. To that end, Godzilla doesn’t even make a significant appearance until well after the one hour mark, and there’s no attempt to characterise him at all beyond his simple destructive power. Something that may also irk long-time fans of the franchise is the way in which it was teased that this would be a Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla tussle. And it is… but that confrontation in no way takes the form that you would expect from a Toho film, animation or not.
Possibly as a result of this (or from reactions to the first film), this movie absolutely bombed at the Japanese box office when it was released there on May 18 this year. It charted at #8 and went downhill from there, and is easily the lowest earning Kaiju theatrical release. But it’s a little unfair to call-out the movie on that front as this trilogy was originally planned as TV series. With Netflix’s involvement, the extra cash made has enabled Toho to float the trilogy out to domestic cinemas without worrying about a loss. So in some ways it’s probably best to think of these films as TV specials, rather than authentic Godzilla movies. And as they stream on Netflix, that’s where Western audiences will catch them anyway.
And despite its shortcomings, they are still things to like about this middle-child of the trilogy. The opening has a nice retro atmosphere, and evokes memories of “Planet of the Apes” crossed with “Battle of the Planets”. In fact, the whole narrative is much more cohesive than in the previous film, as it has an A-to-B progression and some actual impetus, rather than the flimsy structure previously adopted. The final act has a suitably epic feel to it, with some sumptuously destructive visuals. Godzilla himself doesn’t exactly overflow with charisma, and his large size means that he’s not exactly nimble. In fact he makes Shin Godzilla seem like a ballet dancer in comparison! But just like that interpretation of the monster, this one looks great when projecting heat rays, surrounded by explosions, or letting loose that iconic roar. Just more of him would have been nice… And the whole way in which “Mechagodzilla” is incorporated into the plot should probably be applauded for originality, even if it deprives fans of the classic confrontation that they expect.
From those few comments, you’ll probably know if you want to catch this or not. Obviously if you’ve seen the first one and enjoyed it, this is a must-see. Otherwise, it’s probably best to tread carefully before downloading it. There are the usual anime tropes of clunky exposition and badly-worded monologues (“This atmosphere is the same as 20,000 years ago!”). But there are also some underrated neat ideas that could use some developing, like the technical religion of Bilusaludo, and the twist on the Gaia theory (with Earth’s flora and fauna emulating the alpha life form on the planet). Anime purists and sci-fi fiends are likely to get extra kicks from those details. Although the introduction of nanotechnology and it’s never explained “endless energy” (say what?) feel a little too deus-ex-machina at times, with the pace notably dragging at the midway mark.
Of course there’s another post-credit scene, and a single word that provides a mouth-watering final tease. There also seems to be hints that another Kaiju may pay a visit. (NB: Psychic twins, you say? Hmm…) The final movie is called “Godzilla 3: The Planet Eater” and will be released in Japan in November, likely turning up on Netflix just before the end of 2018. Hopefully this one might be a balls-to-the–wall Kaiju-fest that will end the trilogy on a high, and make-up for these slightly lack-lustre additions to the franchise.