It’s always struck me that for as long as “big summer tentpole movie season” has been a thing, it generally starts on or around my birthday. It’s probably only contributed to my raging sense of self-entitlement that every year Hollywood seems to present me with a bright, shiny gift of special effects and noise. This year in particular seemed to have me in mind, with Gareth Edwards much-publicized Godzilla remake/reboot/apology/do-over hitting screens. I suppose I should thank Edwards for giving me such a nice gift, though not because the movie’s good, but because it should be piss-easy filling up a column talking about everything wrong with it.

The film stars Aaron Taylor Johnson as a military bomb disposal expert (who spends most of the movie with this flat, confused look on his face that kept reminding me of Jon Snow from Game of Thrones) whose crackpot dad is trying to prove that the government is hiding something at the site of the nuclear plant he used to work at, before it was destroyed under mysterious circumstances. Of course, he proves correct, and the duo are captured trying to break in. By -astonishing- coincidence, this happens on he same night that MUTO, the monster that destroyed the plant, finally re-awakens and escapes. Mankind’s only chance for salvation is Godzilla, who has apparently just been chilling in the ocean for the past few decades not bothering anyone and doing crossword puzzles, and the Big Guy emerges from the ocean to save the day. Now, if we just saw him get to do more of the saving, we might have had a decent movie on our hands.

Godzilla posterThe movie has a lot of problems, but when watching it, the one that came back at me most, that had me sighing with frustration constantly, was the very overt sense that Gareth Edwards just wasn’t that interested in making a monster movie. We’re constantly cutting away from the action, seeing the aftermath of rampages, or returning to the human characters, to the point that the first hour and a half is one long exercise in blue-balling. When Godzilla finally makes his triumphant grand entrance (no less than almost halfway into the damn movie) and lets out a triumphant roar, we immediately cut away to Johnson and co-star Elizabeth Olsen’s kid watching it on TV. The film keeps denying us any kind of significant monster action. Not even fights, just basic scenes of destruction and chaos as some overgrown blob of CGI smashes stuff, is that too much to ask? You could call it a bold directorial choice, but you could call walking into a biker bar dressed like Twilight Sparkle bold too and I seriously wouldn’t advise either.

Perhaps if the human characters were at all interesting and likable, I wouldn’t mind watching them rather than thousand-foot tall atomic monstrosities wrestling to the death (I mean, hypothetically) but what we get instead is a collection of mostly dead-eyed homunculi. Johnson spends most of the movie wandering around with his mouth ajar, constantly in the middle of the action and usually for contrived reasons. Bryan Cranston is the closest you can call a standout, but sadly he isn’t in much of the movie. Ken Wattanabe plays the token-est of token Asian characters, unable to say even the simplest thing without pumping it so full of mystery and woe that he sounds like a raving crackpot most of the time, like Emmet Brown if he were half-asleep and drunk.

As a general moviegoer, Godzilla often left me frustrated or outright bored, often denying me the effects-driven spectacle I came here for in favor of bland characters doing uninteresting things. As a hardcore fan of the Godzilla franchise and character, though, I’m even less charitable.

Godzilla ATJThe Big Guy’s gotten a new origin, one that completely strips him of any previous role or symbolism. Rather than being created by atomic testing, a true monster of mankind’s own creation, his existence is now entirely natural. Godzilla, the film now tells us, is from a time when the Earth was far more radioactive than it was now, a species that went dormant after retreating from the surface to get closer to the core’s radiation. The only one left, our hero, was awakened in the 50s by atomic submarines. Any and all connection to atomic testing (which we learn were actually attempts to kill it), and Godzilla’s role as a symbol of man’s nuclear folly coming back to haunt them, gets chucked down the tube like a used condom.

Now, the nuclear allegory is something that’s grown more and more distant since Ishiro Honda’s original film, but to completely strip away that aspect of the character feels inescapably wrong to me, especially in light of the new role haphazardly thrust upon him. When someome pushes him onscreen, Wattanabe will usually slur something about him existing to “restore balance”, of course without explaining why, or what the “balance” even is. Is Godzilla a savior? A giant, green guardian angel? Sure, it’s been done before, but when mixed with his new origin as a natural organism, something just doesn’t seem to work. If he’s a natural organism, why is is role to safeguard mankind? Maybe if the film had stressed his ambivalence more, treating humanity as a nuisance at best, and avoided painting him as a hero towards the end, the film overall would have felt less ideologically muddled. He needed to step on more people is the best way to put it.

When Godzilla finally actually gets going, and the film decides we’ve been patient enough to actually see some monsters fighting, it works. Even if we’re still constantly cutting back to Kick-Ass defusing a bomb or whatever, I’d even call it enjoyable. But it takes so damn long getting there, and the violent changing of gears in Godzilla’s role and origins seems spectacularly mishandled when you think about it too hard.

You keep hoping I’m gonna get bored with this, don’t you?

No such luck, pally, cause this week we’re diving back into the Godzilla franchise in a carefree cannonball. But sadly this won’t be a dive into lighthearted fun. This week…this week is gonna be a rough one, people.

Godzilla’s Revenge (1969)

Every franchise, in film or otherwise, has a low point. A Batman and Robin, a Never Say Never Again, if you will. Godzilla’s Revenge is, without any doubt at all, the low point for the Godzilla franchise, a fetid black hole of failure and shame, not entirely unlike my last relationship.

Here’s the setup. Our protagonist is a little boy named Ichiro, who gets mercilessly bullied and picked on. His absentee parents aren’t there to help, and his only solace is his obsession with Godzilla and other giant monsters. Now here’s a problem one right of the bat, who wants to spend time with a Kaiju fanboy? God, those people are boring.

Anyway, things get worse when Ichiro is caught by a group of thieves hiding out in the area and has to find a way to escape. Now by this point you’re probably wondering how Godzilla figures into this, and what he’s getting revenge for. The answers are “Hardly at all” and “No one”.

You see, in times of stress, Ichiro retreats to a fantasy where he’s on Monster Island palling around with that Godless abomination Minilla, who can shrink to human size and talk. Yep, talking Minilla. Let that sink in to your nightmares, people. Minilla is facing bully problems of his own, not to mention the stress of having to live up to his dad.

The setup already presents a number of problems. “Climactic battles between herculean monsters for the fate of all mankind? Screw that, let’s teach a little boy to stand up for himself!”, the movie seems to say.

And it can’t even be bothered to do that most of the time. To put it bluntly, this movie has more padding than an insecure cheerleader’s bra. There are entire fight sequences lifted from other movies and just airdropped in to supplement the film’s already pitiful 70 minute running time.

What new monster fights there are are passable, but mostly are played more for laughs and mostly hinge on Minilla being an annoying little scrote-wart.

There’s no being nice here. This movie just sucks. Hard. If you skip even one Godzilla movie, for the love of all that is holy make it this one.


Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971)

So you’d think that after the 70 minute session of franchise-harikiri that was Godzilla’s Revenge, Toho would want to return to what made the series great in the first place and get things back on track.

You’d think that…but you’d be wrong.

They followed up Godzilla’s Revenge with this perplexing film and…God, is it weird. I mean it’s weird. Weird, weird, weird.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Godzilla’s opponent this time is Hedorah, an alien monster that feeds off pollution. Right out of the gate, that’s a good setup. A creature created by man’s nuclear hubris squaring off against a being powered by our own slow murder of our planet, and whoever wins, we lose.

But…then the director, Yoshimitsu Banno came along. I can honestly imagine how he felt. A young, green, unexperienced director being handed the reins of Toho’s flagship franchise. His head full of wild ideas and visions of him spinning a new kind of Godzilla movie, a bold and original game-changer.

What he turned out wasn’t so much bold and original as it was pretentious, offbeat and…well, WEIRD. For one, the tone of the movie is just off in a way I can’t put my finger on. This is actually one of the darker Godzilla films in the original series, with on-screen deaths and everything.

But there’s also these strange little animated segments that seem almost like the kind of running societal meta-text you’d see in a Paul Verhoeven movie, minus all the cleverness and insight.

There are strange visuals, probably meant to be some kind of artsy psychedelia, like when one character in a bar hallucinates everyone around him has fish heads.

This was actually the first Godzilla film in the franchise’s history to be produced without the oversight of producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, who was hospitalized during the production. When he got out, he told Banno that he had ruined the Godzilla franchise. And if you need any further proof that he was probably right, check this out.


Godzilla vs Gigan (1972)

So how do you follow up two indelible black marks on a franchise’s history? Make something almost entirely forgettable and generic, apparently.

Godzilla vs Gigan is a movie so generic, it probably would have been forgettable even if it weren’t following up to two of the more memorably bad entries in the franchise. I suppose it could be worse, I’d rather something that’s just adequate over another a trilogy of movies that all make me want to pour bleach in my eyeballs.

The plot to this one is more or less straightforward. Evil aliens have a plan to take over the Earth, which for some reason involves creating a Godzilla-themed amusement park. A lowly comic-book artist is the only one who can stop them, and it all culminates in a brawl between Godzilla, Anguirus, King Ghidorah and newcomer Gigan.

The ending fight is laced shamelessly with stock footage, but also gets pretty violent at times, even featuring the first time the Big Guy ever bled on screen.

The only really remarkable thing in the movie is one scene in which Godzilla and Anguiras actually speak. In the Japanese version their dialogue appeared in word-balloons, but in the English dub they had full on voices. And if you think that’s really trippy to see…you’re very right.

Welcome to part 2 of our look back at the venerable Godzilla franchise. This week, we dive head first into the campiness and outright sillyness that would define the series, so let’s get started.


Ghidorah The Three-Headed Monster (1964)

This was the first real big “monster brawl” movie where multiple beasts team up for one big throw-down. In this case Godzilla, the giant Pterodactyl Rodan and Mothra (but only one, and it stays in larval form the entire movie) team up to fight the three head-headed space dragon King Ghidorah.

King Ghidorah will be showing up a lot in future films, he’s the closest thing Godzilla has to an arch-nemesis. And before you ask, I’m not really sure what Ghidorah is king of.

This film changed the franchise quite a bit. It’s the first film where Godzilla is portrayed as a hero, and the first one where he and the other monsters display sentience. In one scene, Mothra has to talk Rodan and the Big Guy into teaming up to fight King Ghidorah, which is translated to the human characters by Mothra’s fairies.

This is definitely where the series shifted more into kiddie entertainment than serious sci-fi, but it’s mostly harmless fun and an enjoyable watch.


Invasion of the Astro Monster (1965)

And here’s where things get really silly.

While on an expedition to Planet X (yep), a team of astronauts meet the planet’s native people, who wear antennae on their heads and fly hokey looking flying saucers (yep..) The planet is being repeatedly attacked by King Ghidorah, and the aliens implore Earth to let them borrow Godzilla and Rodan (but not Mothra for some reason) to fight King Ghidorah in exchange for a cure for cancer (yep…..).

Of course it all turns out to be a double-cross and the aliens take control of all three monsters in a bid to conquer Earth (of course!).

This one is just….dumb. It’s a dumb, hokey, silly 70s sci-fi movie, and for me, this is the real turning point for the original series from serious sci-fi to kiddie fare. And if you need proof, after initially beating King Ghidorah…..this happens

Yeah, that just happened. Godzilla is doing a victory dance. I hope it’s worth it big guy, ’cause you’re dancing away your credibility for the next 20 years.


Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster (1966)

 I gotta wonder at the meeting that led to this movie.

“So gang, in our last two movies, Godzilla fought a giant, three-headed, flying space-dragon. We need to follow up with something amazing, any ideas?”

“Uhh…well, that lobster I had last night was pretty good….what if Godzilla fought a giant lobster?”

“That……is brilliant! Film it!”

Cause yeah, in this movie Godzilla fights Ebirah,a giant lobster. Oh, and the whole thing is set to twangy surf-music.

This whole film just baffles me. The human protagonists literally just find Godzilla sleeping in a cave after washing up on an island where some evil cultists or something are doing evil cultist stuff, and in order to fight Ebirah they wake up Godzilla by attaching a lightning rod to him.

There were a lot of new faces behind the scenes, and this film was actually originally meant to star King Kong, which explains a lot of it.

I would honestly have enjoyed this movie more if it wasn’t for that damn soundtrack. I guess they figured since it involves water a lot, the soundtrack from a beach party movie would be appropriate?


Son of Godzilla (1967)

Sigh……and so it begins.

Let’s talk about Minilla. Or Minya. Or just…baby Godzilla. He’s basically Godzilla’s adoptive son, a giant cutesy annoying little Jar Jar of a creature and I just can’t hold it in any longer, I hate this little bastard.

He was clearly created solely to sell plushies and appeal to kids and he’s just sooo damned annoying, waddling around and bleating like a lamb with its foot in a threshing machine.

The film is set on an island where some scientists are doing weather experiments and they discover Godzilla and some mantis creatures called Kamacuras and the…abomination. It all culminates in a half-decent fight between Godzilla, Minilla and Komonga, a giant spider, before the scientist freeze the whole island.

The film is just generally abysmal over all. By this point the Godzilla’s suit design has morphed into this duck-billed looking mess, the human characters are forgettable and far too much screen time is devoted to Minilla waddling around looking “cute”.

I wish to God I could say this is the last we’ll see of Minilla, but it gets worse…it gets so much worse….


Destroy all Monsters (1968)

…but before it does, we do get at least one reprieve from the horror of Minilla, with a film that was basically the Avengers of its’ day.

This one is set in the far-off future of 1999, where all the world’s monsters have been collected on the conveniently named Monster Island for study. Apparently the people of 1999 are freaking insane. So you want to take this highly volatile, in some cases nuclear powered engines of destruction, and throw them all together on one island? Genius! And don’t even dare to act surprised when some evil aliens take them all over, you brought that on yourselves.

And also, how exactly did the people on Infant Island feel about you taking Mothra away? I can see it now

“Hi, we’re here to take Mothra to our new island for study”

“But…he’s our god. You can’t do that”

“Yes, we can, it’s for science!”

“But…he’s our..”

“No but, it’s for science!!”

Anyway. The movie touts itself as having a ton of monsters in its cast, and while a ton of monsters do appear, a lot of them show up in very brief clips taken outright from previous films. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a pretty massive cast but still, it isn’t quite the all-monster jamboree you may expect.

One thing as well is that a LOT of focus is put on the human cast, more so than before, I think. This is something we’ll see more and more of, but this film seems to have that problem in particular.

Also, as odd as it sounds…I almost don’t consider this a Godzilla movie. It’s a movie with Godzilla, but as I said, it’s almost like The Avengers, it’s like a giant monster ensemble piece. Godzilla is in it, in a fairly prominent role, but I don’t think he’s really the star.

This one is definitely enjoyable and one of the better films from the era.

For Part one please click here

Welcome one and all, to a new ongoing project here at Friday Film Review!

In a move I’m sure the FTB staff will come to regret, I’ve been given leave to indulge in one of my nerdiest film passions: Godzilla! So welcome to The Godzilla Retrospective, where for your entertainment I shall be (briefly) reviewing every single Godzilla film, from the 1954 classic to the series’ current end: 2004’s Godzilla Final Wars.

Now don’t panic, this is NOT gonna be happening every week, my current plan is once every month or two. Otherwise it will be business as usual around here

So without further ado let’s get the ball rolling by starting at the beginning

Godzilla (1954)

The one that started it all, the original classic that began the franchise. For those who haven’t seen it (shame on you), the plot is relatively straightforward: nuclear detonations have awakened an ancient, unstoppable beast, named for a mythical creature from Japanese folklore: Gojira (anglicized to Godzilla in North American releases).

The beast soon arrives in Tokyo, bringing chaos and destruction with him, and all man’s military might can barely slow him down.

People often dismiss the movie, more do to exposure to the campyness of the later movies, but this is actually a solid piece of film making. Toho studios is renowned for its work in miniatures and models, and it’s easy to see why here: the scenes of destruction during Godzilla’s rampage are impressive even today.

But more important is the subtext. I could write a whole column about the subtext of Godzilla alone. Themes like the dangers of nuclear proliferation, the risk of science being perverted into weaponry, the futility of man’s struggle against nature and of evocation of the bombing of Hiroshima during World War 2.

The series may have gotten pretty silly later on, but this is serious, evocative sci-fi.

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Hot on the heels of the mega-success of the original, in which another Godzilla (Spoiler alert: the monster of the first film was eventually killed by an experimental weapon) wreaks more havoc and squares off against Anguirus, a mutated Ankylosaurus.

This entry is noteworthy for several reasons. Firstly, it featured the first monster fight in the franchise’s history, though Anguirus was defeated in the second act, leaving Godzilla to kinda putter around with nothing to do for most of the third.

It also features one of the few films in the original run of films to feature a returning human character from the previous film, with Taksashi Shimura reprising his role as Dr. Yamane.

Finally this is one of very few times that Godzilla is defeated by humans without the aide of another monster or some piece of sci-fi technology. In the end, the Big Guy is taken out when a group of fighter pilots (including the main human character) bury him in an avalanche.

The film itself isn’t nearly as good as its predecessor, eschewing potent themes and imagery in favour or more action. This began the descent of the series into pure camp, but the film does still try to take itself seriously and create dramatic moments and well-rounded human characters.

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

After a seven year absence from movie screens, Godzilla returns in his first wide-screen and colour movie, and facing none other than King Kong to boot! This one is actually the most successful Godzilla film to date, which is unsurprising given Kong’s popularity in Japan at the time (he was even more popular than Godzilla).

I have to admit, I have a love/hate relationship with this one.

On one hand, this is where a lot of the camp and lightness of tone that would define the series up until the 1980s really started. The film is definitely played more for laughs than the dramatic tone of the previous two films.

It definitely is more camp than the series had been before. In one unfortunate scene, native islanders are even portrayed by Japanese actors in blackface. Ouch…. This is also the point where the Godzilla suit designs started to look less scary and more comical.

On the other hand, the actual fight between the monsters are really impressive, especially the final showdown.

A big point of contention for fans is the basic issue of who really wins in the end. After King Kong is struck by lightning and develops electric powers (yeah, you heard me), the two tumble into the ocean and only Kong is seen swimming away.

Some see that as a sign of Kong’s victory (Including Toho themselves), but you know what I see? A big scared monkey swimming away with his nonexistent tail between his legs, that’s what! In my books, the Big Guy remains undefeated.

Bonus trivia: For one scene, a giant octopus was portrayed by four seperate live octopi. After filming, three of them were released. The fourth made a tasty dinner for the effects director.

Mothra vs Godzilla (1964)

This film sees the first time Godzilla would appear alongside frequent co-star Mothra, a giant moth (duh) from Infant Island, where she is worshipped by the natives (including two magical doll-sized women for some reason).

Mothra actually debuted in her film in 1961 and continued her solo career outside of the Godzilla franchise with a trilogy of films in the late 90s.  Nevertheless, she is one of the most iconic monsters of the series, and appears in all three “eras” of Godzilla movies.

The effects and rampage scenes in this one are actually really good, but where it really loses me is the ending. The elder Mothra is defeated by Godzilla, but her egg (which is a central plot point) hatches, revealing two larval Mothras (Mothrai?) who defeat the Big Guy by engulfing him in silk and dumping him in the ocean.

At the risk of overreacting: No. Freaking. WAY. You’re telling me Godzilla, the King of the Monsters, gets taken down by two giant caterpillars spraying silk at him and hiding behind rocks? Nu-uh, man, the king was robbed! I call shenanigans on this! Rematch, I demand a rematch!