Folks….writing about the King of Monsters isn’t easy, but Agent Matt Benson returns yet again to finish out his report on all things Godzilla. I won’t even waste your time, lets move on ahead and read …
Previously on Godzilla vs The Agents of G.U.A.R.D.: Aspiring Godzollogist Matt Benson had embarked on a journey to see all of the Godzilla movies leading up to the release of the new one. When we last left him, he had finished the Shōwa series (1954-1975) and was about to continue into the Heisei (1984-1995), Millennium (1999-2004) and American (1998, 2014) part of his trek through kaiju history.
Something very interesting happened when Toho rebooted Godzilla in 1984, kicking off what came to be known as the Heisei series. It seems crazy to think about, but it was already a thirty year old, fifteen film franchise at this point. The Shōwa movies found a lot of success experimenting with different types of movies, but at a certain point, even that became stale.
So when Toho made The Return of Godzilla and its six sequels, they tried something different: consistency. For the first time, we got a series of Godzilla movies with connecting story elements and recurring characters. I wish I could say I liked the result more than I did.
This is without a doubt my least favorite period in Godzilla history, but it’s also the period when I came to really respect Toho as a company. The Heisei movies never really worked for me and watching them all in the span of a few days definitely felt like a drag at times, but there was always enough good in them that it didn’t feel like stubborn studio executives refusing to admit the franchise was broken. This is where it becomes clear that Toho, unlike maybe any other production company, was willing to try new things and not give up on them.
This was further evidenced by the Millennium series, where they totally abandoned rules and continuity in favor of following the craziest, most outrageous, most flat out fun ideas to their craziest, most outrageous, most flat out fun conclusions.
So now, once again (but slightly differently), I will break down the best and worst of the remaining Godzillas, from the perspective of a new, now die hard, fan of the franchise.
The Best: The Return of Godzilla aka Godzilla 1985 aka Godzilla Begins: Long before Warner Bros made the term “gritty reboot” synonymous with Batman and movies poorly trying to recapture the success of Batman, Toho came back from the outlandish later films of the Shōwa series with a giant monster film more grounded in reality (and then also ESP. Lots and lots of ESP).
The Return of Godzilla suffers from a lot of the problems that plagued the later Heisei movies (overlength, overseriousness), but makes the most of the impact that comes from seeing our zany pal Godzilla destroying buildings and causing mayhem again. It might not hold up as well as some of the others, but it can be tremendously satisfying viewed within the context of which it came out.
The Worst: Godzilla vs Destoroyah aka Godzilla vs Destroyah aka Gdzlla v Dstrya: This may be a bit of a reverse Godzilla vs Hedorah (see Godzilla vs The Agents of G.U.A.R.D. Part I) for me. Apparently well regarded, I don’t see the appeal of this movie. It attempts to give Godzilla a meaningful death (too late spoiler alert), but serious handling which was so refreshing in Return of Godzilla is seven movies stale at this point. That and a villain that’s super convoluted in the worst way make this a pretty skippable entry, despite bringing the Heisei era to a close.
The Best: Godzilla: Final Wars aka Stop Reading This And Watch Godzilla: Final Wars aka Even if You’ve Already Seen Final Wars, Watch it Again: Anyone who ever cut Spider-Man 3 slack saying that you couldn’t possibly make a coherent, watchable film with that many villains needs to shut their dumb mouths and watch Final Wars.
Final Wars has everything you could ever want in a Godzilla movie plus another entire movie’s worth of ideas plus Minilla riding a car wearing a seatbelt. Final Wars blatantly rips off the Matrix, almost to the point of personally calling the legal representation of Warner Brothers and begging them to sue them. And you know what? It works. Because Toho looked at what the Wachowskis were doing with the Matrix and said, “We can do better” and they were absolutely right.
I want to make it clear that I’m not saying Final Wars is so bad it’s good. It’s good. It takes everything you ever loved about Godzilla (and the Matrix and Star Wars) and crams into one movie. Then it takes everything you ever hated about Godzilla, mocks it hilariously, and crams that into the same movie and against all odds, it fits together in one perfect masterpiece.
The Worst: Godzilla 2000 aka Godzilla 2000 Millennium aka 2000dzilla: This actually has a lot going for it. Godzilla fights Orga, one of the better enemy monsters the series had seen in a while and you could definitely see hints of the awesome direction that the Millennium series would take. It’s actually a pretty good indicator of how great these last six films were that this is the worst. Its main problem is that it carries over a lot of the overseriousness of the Heisei period and ultimately feels more like 100 minute apology for the American movie than a movie itself.
The Worst: Godzilla (1998) aka Tuna Eating Lizard: Before I saw the new flick I was planning a fun goof wherein I declared this the best of the American films and gave a number of pseudo plausible justifications for this idea. I thought it would be a fun challenge to come up with those pseudo plausible justifications.
As soon as the credits rolled on the new movie, I realized that this would have been grossly irresponsible. It wouldn’t have been fair to Gareth Edwards. It wouldn’t have been fair to Godzilla and it wouldn’t have been fair to the American people.
The 1998 Godzilla (henceforth referred to as “‘Zilla” in the tradition of Final Wars) is a very, very bad movie. I don’t know what I can say about it that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll try to keep this brief. The central problem with ‘Zilla is that it’s really nothing more than a series of rip offs of other, better films. Only, it doesn’t even try to rip off the franchise it’s supposed to be based on.
It’s the opposite of Final Wars. It took a wide array of influences, stripped away everything good about them, and added a bunch of pointless, nothing scenes to waste time.
The Baby ‘Zillas look like somebody saw the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park and said, “Let’s do that, but dumb”. Godzilla looks like somebody did the same with T-Rex. It tries to be something terrible, fails, and becomes something even more terrible. Avoid at all costs.
The Best: Godzilla (2014): Let me say something right off the bat. I LOVED this movie. I didn’t want to leave the theater when it was over. I didn’t stop smiling for a full day after the movie was over. If it was socially and financially acceptable, I would see this movie every day that it was in theaters.
I do recognize that, objectively, there are some problems with the film. Even though I can’t be bothered by them, no matter how I try, I will attempt to address them here. Heads up, there may be spoilers from this point forward in the review.
You don’t see as much of Godzilla fighting in this flick as you might in the average Toho entry. This is the inherent disadvantage of a CGI Godzilla versus a man in a suit. What it lacks in quantity of monster fights, it more than makes up for in quality of monster fights. There’s a moment when Godzilla rips another monster’s face open and atomic breathes down its fucking throat and if that didn’t make you want to leap into the air screaming with excitement, I don’t know why you’re watching this movie.
Another thing you could say is that the characters are a little underwritten. Elizabeth Olsen is only there to give Kick Ass someone to save and Kick Ass himself isn’t much better. Bryan Cranston is the only actor who really got much to do and he dies half way through. This is the kind of next level thinking that takes it from a good movie to a brilliant movie. A lesser script would have kept this character around until the end, but to be honest, he has nothing to contribute to the second half of the story. A lesser actor would have looked at the script and said, “I just did Breaking Bad, I’m not going to be in half of a movie”.
Cranston serves a very important purpose in the first hour. He gives us someone to connect to and a reason to want the humans not to die. And then he dies, because, and this is important, it’s not his story. The movie isn’t called Bryan Cranston or Kick Ass or Elizabeth Olsen. It’s called Godzilla.
Basically, it’s the same story we’ve seen many times in Godzilla (and Mothra, for that matter) movies. The giant monster only wants to help and the stupid humans won’t let that happen, but there’s a twist that makes it so much more than that. This movie doesn’t try to guilt the American army for trying to blow up Godzilla, because again, it’s not about the humans. This is a movie where a radioactive dinosaur does the right thing even though it’s not the easy thing.
For the first time maybe ever, Godzilla is the true protagonist of a movie. Godzilla faces unmovable obstacles, gives everything to overcome them, and walks away a better monster. So how do take a character who doesn’t talk, has limited range of facial expression, and is a giant lizard and tell its story? You tell it in the reflections of characters who can talk. If these characters had been more developed, we wouldn’t get as clear a picture of Godzilla, because we’d be looking at them. They need to be blank canvases for the movie to work.
Godzilla is a phenomenal achievement in the history of kaiju cinema. It takes what had been established by the Toho films and expands on them in a way I didn’t think possible. I cannot recommend it enough and I cannot think of a better way to end this crazy, thirty film journey.
Matt Benson is someone who likes to scream about pop culture. For a small fee, he will come to your party/place of business/current location and do so at you. To hear him scream quietly (some people call this talking) into a microphone, you can listen to the variety of podcasts he hosts at benviewnetwork.com. To see him do this in 140 characters, you can find him @drmattbenson on twitter.