Monday, 8 July 2013

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (Film Review)

With Pacific Rim only a few days away, more than a few film geeks are hyped to see robots fighting giant monsters, and really who can blame them. You have the creator of Hellboy on-board, working with what he knows best, and it's about giant attack mecha fighting Japanese city destroying monsters. Given that Michael Bay set the bar for giant fighting robot films so low, all Guillermo del Toro needs to do to win audiences over is not feature the line "I'm directly below the enemy's scrotum."

Still, as fun as the film's going to be it's hardly the first to feature humanity using advanced technology to combat kaiju by making monsters of their own. As such now seems to be the best time to take a look into the next installment of the Heisei era of Godzilla films: 1991's Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.

Set some time after the cataclysm which released Godzilla and created Biollante, a mysterious UFO is seen passing over Japan and then landing outside one of its cities. However, it's soon revealed that its occupants aren't alien invaders, but time travellers from two hundred years into the future.
The travellers carry a dire warning: By their time Godzilla will not only have grown stronger but left much of the world in ruin thanks to his rampages. There is seemingly no hope for victory, as such they are playing their hand in one final gambit. Someone in modern day Japan knows the exact creature Godzilla was prior to being effected by atomic weapons. They wish to find him, then use his knowledge to change events to make sure Godzilla never comes into being.

As with all plans however, this one is not without its secrets and a potentially greater horror is born from their actions...

The time travelling element is easily the film's biggest breaking point when it comes to dividing audiences. Following no apparent set of rules and opening up a fair number of paradoxes, it's easy to get distracted or irritated by just trying to make sense of things. Present day and the future only seems to be partially effected by major changes in the past, with everyone still remembering the now erased timeline. It never makes full use of even half the ideas available with altering a sizable chunk of history or the potential for "what if?" scenarios.
At the same time however, the actual plan the time travellers use does make a degree of sense, just not the mechanics of it. It's also used as an excuse for the inclusion of set-pieces and events which would otherwise be barred from the plot: Godzilla's origins, the use of King Ghidorah as more than just another monster, the hints of the future moving the lizard's threat to the next level and laser gunfights.

It's really one of the sorts of films where half the plot seems to be more an excuse to get to the good stuff, and it wholeheartedly embraces the cheesiness of the early 90s. More or less every single charmingly flawed or atrocious yet fun element really is in full effect here. The bad dubbing is even more over the top than usual and the physics of the monster fights is dubious to the point of having the wires visible. What makes it work is how the film embraces the themes. In the same way American 50s Science Fiction films would take themselves with an absurd degree of deadpan seriousness, this film never tries to directly wink at the plot or show it's in on the joke in obvious ways. Instead it reserves itself to the dubbing, which ramps up the ham to the point where a character legitimately uses "make my day" as a pre-explosion one liner. Even Commando never quite achieved such levels of ridiculousness. This would usually be enough in of itself, but add some decent special effects and suit designs for the time and the film becomes incredibly fun to watch in the right mindset.

The monster battles themselves are decent and definitely fun. While the film takes its sweet time getting to them the creators were obviously determined to get their money's worth out of the suit. The initial fight between Ghidorah and Godzilla is an eight minute long slugging match involving far more graphic damage than was shown in the last two films, with holes being punched through bodies, attempts to throttle one another to death and heads being ripped off. This is only taken further in the rematch between the two monsters, with the loser of the original fight getting a significant upgrade.

It's the final battle the film is most famous for and the height of its insanity, but one well worth the wait: They resurrect the giant gold three headed dragon from the dead, replace its destroyed parts with cybernetic equivalents, and pilot it as a mecha. That takes a special kind of insanity and it's as glorious as you'd hope. Pacific Rim is going to feature humanity building monsters to fight monsters. Godzilla featured humanity performing cyber-necromancy and hijacking them.

The environments in which the monsters fight in has also undergone a significant upgrade, with buildings and how the destruction is shown to audiences. There are far more interior shots from buildings as they are torn down and close-ups of roads broken apart, emphasis upon the damage but the buildings themselves are a different environment than what was usually seen. Unlike many cities designed in previous and future films, the one the final battle takes place in is more a series of gigantic city blocks than a true metropolis. This allowed for greater freedom of movement during their battle and also more visible damage, with towering structures partially torn down rather than completely demolished.

While Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah requires a specific mindset to truly enjoy when watching, it's a film definitely worth your time. When it's bad it's enjoyably bad and when good it is fun enough to hold your interest until the end. While probably better served as fodder for riffing material these days, definitely look this one up if you're looking for a rubber suited monster film. What it lacks in boat swords it easily makes up for with Terminator stand-ins and practical effects.

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